When I was growing up, we didn’t have a choice of which type of bike to choose from, unless you count colour that is! And not being that old, Mountain Biking must therefore be quite young, which means it’s probably still developing, both as a sport, and as a technology.
In recent years, bikes have become lighter, frames more taught as metals evolved and suspensions added to both the front & rear. All of which combine to allow riders to push the boundaries of speed and agility.
Good mountain bikes are designed to handle anything you care to throw at them, from trail paths and hill descents to rocks and jumps. An increasing number of gears, help to cope with steep climbs and fast pedalling descents. Fat, knobbly tyres give traction over mud & rocks.
Hardtail & Full Suspension
Mountain bikes are broadly divided into two styles; hard tails and full suspension bikes. Hard tails have front fork suspension but no rear suspension. Full suspension bikes have both front and rear suspension, which are designed to absorb greater shocks from riding over uneven terrain. However, each style of bike handles very different to the other. Choosing which style is right for you will very much depend on your own style of riding and also the type of terrain you commonly ride.
For many, a hard tail bike will provide enough suspension. It will also feel like you have greater control over the bike as the rear is more stable. This generally gives those new to mountain biking, greater confidence.
However, for those looking for more adventure, a full-suspension bike can make the experience more comfortable and more exciting. However, be careful what you buy, as cheaper full suspension bikes can be a poor buy as they may be of inferior quality and as such may be unreliable. As such, it may be more value for money to buy a good quality hard tail.
Many cross-country racers favour hard tail bikes as they tend to offer the best climb:weight ratio, ie. lightweight bikes for uphill climbs. However, as technology develops, full-suspension bikes are getting lighter and therefore no longer bring a weight penalty, if you go for a top end bike.
There are now several full-suspension bikes on the market as light as hard tails. Whether you opt for front or full suspension, XC race bikes have slightly less travel than the trail bikes as the emphasis is on speed not comfort. Cross-country bikes tend to have steeper head angles than trail bikes and cross-country riders still favour flat bars and bar ends for more efficient climbing and flat sprint speed.
In conclusion, your primary decision is hardtail or full suspension. In our opinion, if you are unsure, you should go for a hard tail bike. This gives more control to the less experienced rider and will build confidence. As your experience and ability progress, you will become more aware of your own riding style, and in turn, which bike best suits you.