If you’re like most mountain bikers, you probably started off on a hardtail. For some, a hardtail is the only bike they’ll ever ride; while many others view hardtails as a good entryway into the world of mountain biking…until they can afford a full suspension. Hardtails just aren’t as capable as full suspension bikes when it comes to more challenging skills – like jumping – right??
Hardtails are excellent for learning correct jump technique. They’re also lighter and more durable than full suspension bikes, making them easier to maneuver in the air and less likely to get damaged if you don’t stick the landing (which tends to happen when you’re first learning).
If you’re a hardtail rider who’s interested in learning how to jump, there’s no need to buy a full suspension bike! You’ve got an ideal platform to learn on. Let’s take a look at what makes a hardtail so great for jumping – among other skills!
Can You Jump a Hardtail (Is It Hard?)
In my opinion, jumping a hardtail is actually easier than a full suspension bike.
When you’re learning to jump, one of the hardest skills to master is preloading your suspension right before you go off the jump. As you approach the face of the jump, you need to compress your suspension by pushing down into the bike with your hands and feet. As your wheels leave the jump, you release that compression.
What does this do?
Compressing your suspension will cause it to rebound right as you’re taking off. This is what propels you into the air in a nice arc (or is supposed to if you do it right!)
If you don’t preload your suspension, it will compress harshly as you ride up the jump, shifting your weight forward and possibly causing you to nosedive after takeoff…not a good situation!
The rear shock is the likely culprit if you’re not preloading properly and find yourself landing nose-heavy. A hardtail solves this problem by removing the rear shock as a factor altogether! With nothing in the back to compress into the jump face, there’s nothing to send you over the handlebars if you get the preload wrong!
Learning to jump on a hardtail is easier, but it’s also more efficient when hitting subsequent jumps back to back. This is why dirt jumpers – bikes specifically designed for, well, riding steep dirt jumps – are hardtails.
Can You Jump a 29er Hardtail?
So what if your hardtail has big ol’ 29er wheels? 29ers may have plenty of advantages for trail riding, but are they more difficult to jump?
The answer is…not really. If you can jump a bike with smaller wheels, the larger wheels won’t pose an issue. All wheel sizes have their pros and cons, but these often balance out.
For example, 29er wheels take more power to get moving and may be less maneuverable, but they maintain that forward momentum easier and roll over trail obstacles that may push smaller wheels slightly off course. So which wheel size is “easier” to jump really comes down to individual preference and what each rider feels more comfortable on.
If you want more information about getting your 29er in the air, check out our separate article that is all about jumping and climbing on 29ers.
Can You Jump a Carbon Hardtail?
Compare two of the exact same bike: one with an aluminum frame and one with a carbon fiber frame. The carbon frame will cost you roughly $1,000 more! So what do you get for all that extra money?
Carbon bikes are quite a bit lighter – usually one or two pounds. This may not sound like much, but it does make a considerable difference in all areas of riding. Carbon frames are also much stiffer, meaning rider input is transferred directly into action more efficiently than on an aluminum bike.
You CAN jump carbon framed hardtails, and the lighter weight and stiffer frame can even make jumping easier.
Jumping is all about good technique and timing. If your bike is lighter, it will be easier to maneuver it exactly how you want to. If it’s stiffer, your window of time to make those movements widens considerably.
Is a carbon hardtail that much easier to jump than an aluminum bike? No. If you have the money to spend, is a carbon frame worth it? Yes! It offers a ton of benefits in all aspects of mountain biking, so it’s definitely something to consider.
If you have a fixed budget, an aluminum hardtail with quality components is a much better choice than a carbon hardtail that has to spec lower quality components to keep costs down. Look at the fine details before making your purchase!
What Are Hardtail Bikes Good For?
First and foremost, hardtails are great for introducing people to mountain biking. They’re cheaper, require less maintenance and, when compared to similarly priced full suspension bikes, deliver better components and superior value in general.
If someone is just starting out and doesn’t want to commit to the price of a decent full suspension mountain bike – which will cost more than $2,000, even for something very basic – buying a hardtail is the perfect way to still enjoy most trails without forking over tons of cash right away.
Hardtails are great teachers. They’re better for practicing many beginner techniques because they aren’t as forgiving as full suspension bikes (which allow you to use less than ideal form and still achieve the desired result.)
Line choice is one of these things. If you plow down a steep rocky trail on a full suspension, it doesn’t matter so much how you get to the bottom…it may be a bumpy ride, but the rear shock will compensate. On a hardtail, you need to choose the smoothest way down possible. Transition back to a full suspension, and that smooth line ends up being the faster line!
Whether you ever want to try a mountain bike race or not, learning to make good line choices will make you a better, smoother and faster rider.
Hardtails are more efficient pedalers as well, especially on the climbs. No rear suspension means no shock to bob up and down under pedaling forces, so you won’t waste any energy. If your trails are relatively flat and flowy, or have a lot of climbs, there’s really no reason to switch to a full suspension!
What Hardtails Don’t Do Well
What if your trails are pretty gnarly, with lots of rocks, roots and steep descents? Well, you just aren’t going to feel as comfortable – or in control – riding a hardtail. Even though bike brands are creating hardtails that are more aggressive than ever before, they just won’t be able to keep up with a full suspension for the average rider.
Can You Ride Downhill (or at Bike Parks) on a Hardtail?
Remember those aggressive hardtails I was talking about a second ago? Buy one of those, and you can shred downhill right alongside the full suspension bikes! You won’t be as fast, and a hardtail isn’t necessarily the best tool for the job, but it can be done.
There is one caveat however.
Whatever hardtail you pick, make sure its frame is rated for the type of riding you want to do. Frames are given a rating of 1-5 (1 is for light off-road use, while 5 is for serious downhill riding). Don’t take any bike with a rating below 4 to a bike park! Or, at least don’t ride any expert trails on it!
For more information on downhill hardtail riding, the frame rating scale, and even some examples of good aggressive hardtails to buy, be sure to read Can You Ride a Hardtail Bike Downhill? (Or at a Bike Park?).
Full Fun at Half the Suspension!
I think every serious mountain biker has a soft spot for hardtails…after all, it’s how a lot of us were introduced to this great sport! There really is a hardtail designed for every riding discipline. If you spend most of your time sending it on big jumps, there may not even be a reason for you to get a full suspension at all!
And if you already have a full suspension bike, here’s your excuse to buy a hardtail. You know you’re constantly shopping for another bike anyway!