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  1. #1
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    Maintenance differences: Hardtail vs. Full Suspension

    I'm a long time bike commuter looking to get his first mountain bike. The threads on this forum have been extremely useful, so I thank all of you.

    One question I can't find the answer to: How much more maintenance does a full suspension bike take as compared to a hardtail?

    I always see "less maintenance time and cost" listed as pluses to hardtails, but I haven't been able to get a feel as to the magnitude of the difference. 10 minutes a ride? 10 minutes a month? $50 a year? $150 a year?

    I'm used to doing basic maintenance on my commuter bike, but have never dealt with shocks before. Is the FS/HT maintenance difference only in the shocks and pivots or does the increased complication and movement mean more derailleur adjustment and other tweaks for the FS?

    If it matters, I'm likely buying a bike in the $800-1000 market range. If it was a FS, it would certainly be used, most likely from a friend who I know maintains his bikes well. A HT I might buy either new or used, depending what is on the market. I would do most of my riding in CT, MA, and VT.

    Thanks a lot!

  2. #2
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    My dad's Specialized Stumpjumper took new rear linkage bearings and a shock rebuild. The bike has been run, and run hard for 5 years.
    Bearings were $75, and the shock rebuild was $160.


    The cost "detriment" of full suspension is way overblown in my book.

  3. #3
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    I think it depends. Some people trash their rides and throw them down in the muck (look at all that muck) every chance they get. Some people stay on top of basic maintenance, which helps the longevity of components and gear. So it depends, but comparatively speaking, the difference is not that much.

  4. #4
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    It depends the design ,My Intense would start squeaking ,too often. Take it apart ,clean put it together. My friend's Ellsworth during the same type of riding was never touched. I also replaced the bearing and shock bushing . Fox says you should service forks every 30 hours,that includes replacing the seals.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by DethWshBkr View Post
    The cost "detriment" of full suspension is way overblown in my book.
    Maybe overblown, but it's there. And the time/cost depend heavily on where you ride, how often you ride, how hard you ride, and under what conditions you ride. Ok, sure, so $75 for bearings and $160 for a shock rebuild in 5 years. Take a rider who rides harder, is not as good about maintenance, and rides in $hitty conditions and let's be conservative and say we need those things in 2 years instead of 5. And let's toss on some new seals annually for another $25/yr. Since the rebuild would include new seals, let's only include them once. Now we're at $260 additional maintenance every 2 years. You can bring that lower by doing more of the work yourself, but that ups the time requirement.

    Also increasing time is the need to keep the pivots and shock wiped down between rides. You don't want them rolling in grime all the time because that shortens maintenance intervals, and increases your cost and time again. Not to mention time where the bike is not rideable because the suspension is pulled apart. Oh wait, you got a shock that needs a nitrogen charge as part of servicing. Can't do that yourself, so have to ship it out. Now we're looking at a week or more where the bike isn't rideable.

    I ride a full suspension and prefer the ride over a hardtail. But I am realistic about the maintenance it needs. When I get a new creak, every pivot point is a spot I have to check. That's diagnosis time. Maybe frustration if I can't find that creak right away and I have to listen to it for a few rides before I figure it out. HT has fewer potential culprits.

    I also press my own bearings and I replace my own seals and fluid on my FS, and I've been riding the same bike for 12 years now.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by GelatiCruiser View Post
    I think it depends. Some people trash their rides and throw them down in the muck (look at all that muck) every chance they get. Some people stay on top of basic maintenance, which helps the longevity of components and gear. So it depends, but comparatively speaking, the difference is not that much.
    +1 on this

    Well said, couldn't agree more!
    Last edited by Max24; 03-07-2015 at 08:20 AM.

  7. #7
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    My dad has gone WAYYYYY beyond what he should. He does not do what he should to a bike to keep it up.
    Example - the reason he rebuilt the shock was because my brother and I told him he needed to. It had no "brain" function, and had no damping. He said the bike was riding somewhat poorly, but he just rode it. Dumb, but he did it.

    His bearings were completely shot. Bike had been squeaking for over a year, and the rear was very sloppy. Dad is also not a typical 61 year old rider. He rides over pretty knarly stuff. Sure, not downhill racer stuff, but stuff that I truly believe 90% of riders would not. That bike is not babied.

    While yes, there is a cost (who can deny that) I think what I am saying, is the recommended intervals and costs, are way overblown.
    IF dad would have followed the recommended intervals to service, he would have had to have the fork/shock re-done at least 8 times per year. That's $200 per year. Why would you do that? Why not run it till it fails, then send it back and pay $160?

    We're not talking about our motocross bikes here, where if you don't maintain it properly, you can have an engine lock up and send you into the face of an 80' double, and cost over $1300 to rebuild.

    I don't do 25-50 bucks worth of maintenance to my bicycle, in a few years, it costs me $160. Sounds like pretty much a wash.

    I am not condoning or recommending ignoring a bike. They do need work and money to maintain, but someone asking about the costs and extra maintenance should not be frightened away by people saying it costs more.

    Probably a good way to put it is this - if you ride it hard enough and long enough to need suspension work, you will spend more money on a single good tire than your suspension.

  8. #8
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    There definitely is some additional maintenance (worth it to me). Costs can vary a lot across different bikes and shocks. You can rebuild your garden variety Fox air shock at home for something like $20. At an enthusiastic weekend warrior level, you would probably go a minimum of 2-3 seasons between service. Same goes for shocks. I usually get at least that, though like anything, stuff does just go south on occasion, but not all that often IME. That 30 hour recommendation is a joke, in most cases, you can easily add another '0' to it and still be conservative.

    Frame design and quality also play a big role, as do bushings vs bearings and how they're applied, how many and what types of pivots, leverage ratios, riding conditions and style, etc. I'm one of those guys with muck all over over my bikes; some bikes just shrug it off, some complain, some are a mixed bag. I've had some that needed a fair amount of love, and some that just keep on marching (yay for grease ports!).

    One of the main things you want to do with suspension is make sure it's dialed in right for you. Your friend should be able to help you out. What kind of bike are you looking at?
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    Are you a "stop and smell the roses: cyclist, or "all-out, rock and roll!"?

    I ride a couple of old rigid bikes and a klunker, when I'm not riding my hardtail 29'er. I unloaded a FS XC bike because it wasn't for me. An old man riding a klunker on a single black diamond trail can convince himself he's on the ragged edge of disaster at 10 mph; riding a cushy couch allows enough more speed to really get hurt.

    A $1000 hardtail will be provided with "OK" level components. But instead of rebuilding the fork when it gets tired upgrade to a better one. Same with the rest. Better yet, move down the ladder to entry-level components if you're not sure you're in it for the long haul. You take less of a bath unloading the entry-level bike if you don't like it, and on many marques, the frame is the same until you get to a lot higher price. Deore-level and Rockshock is supposed to be the entry-point, but you can beat Alivio and Suntour pretty hard while you're figuring out what you like.

    Just my 2 cents.

  10. #10
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    Fox says you should service forks
    every 30 hours,that includes replacing the seals.[/QUOTE]

    Wow, that could mean every month for me.

  11. #11
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    I have a Turner so it only takes a few squirts of grease twice a year. I replace the seals on the rear shock every 300-500miles. I also replace the rear shock DU bushings every 1k miles. Not really a big deal.
    Killing it with close inspection.

  12. #12
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    Thanks for all the info and advice, everyone! I really appreciate it.

    Quote Originally Posted by slapheadmofo View Post
    One of the main things you want to do with suspension is make sure it's dialed in right for you. Your friend should be able to help you out. What kind of bike are you looking at?
    The FS is a 2010 Trek Fuel EX 6. Some of the components have been upgraded as they've worn, but I believe that fork and rear shock are original.

    I have a wider list of possible hardtails if I decide to go that way (or my friend decides not to upgrade his bike this year).

    Quote Originally Posted by Oldfatbaldguy View Post
    Are you a "stop and smell the roses: cyclist, or "all-out, rock and roll!"?
    I don't really know yet for mountain biking. Riding my bike around town, I like to move fast, but I'm not bike messenger level aggressive in urban situations. As a downhill skier I'm much closer to the second. I would hope to stay away from that level of aggressiveness on a mountain bike for a few years though for self-preservation reasons.

  13. #13
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    Now that I have a FS, the difference it's made in every-ride maintenance is negligible. Yes, I have one more stanchion to wipe down every ride. I already tried to give my fork stanchions and chain a wipe, it's not like adding a whole procedure or something. It's a little more important to wipe down the frame now and then, but I was already trying to be better about caked-on dirt around the rear triangle and front derailleur. So, meh. Definitely worth it for me - I like this bike a lot better on my local trails.

    Annual maintenance, it's added more. I'd already started trying to get a shop tune once a year on whatever my most-ridden bike was. I think a thorough tune once a year is helpful, and haven't really had time to do it myself for the last couple. Adding a shock rebuild adds something like $75 to that bill. Haven't had to do the pivots yet. (I'd be pissed! Bike only has about 580 miles so far.)

    For reference I think I've put about 80 hours on this bike over the last 8 months or so. I usually get a longish ride on Sunday, but sometimes weather or spraining my wrist interferes. Sometimes shorter rides sprinkled in during the week and on Saturday but I have some others that I often ride those other times.

    I have run a couple forks into the ground on my other mountain bike. One's still on there - doesn't really compress well anymore, but it still tracks okay.

    A big cost driver is whether your local shop can handle this stuff or if they send it out. In my new location, I'm lucky enough to have a better riding spot closer; there's also a stronger MTB scene and my nearest shop does rebuilds themselves. Not sure if they'll have to send out my shock for a charge - honestly, I'm not even sure if it has nitrogen. :-P
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

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