Someone school me on AM hardtail riding technique vs full suspension?- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Someone school me on AM hardtail riding technique vs full suspension?

    I started mountain biking on a Specialized XC hardtailand bought a used Giant Trance a few months ago. It's a great bike, but it's abit too much and I'm kind of bored. I'm in the Midwest US, so all we have is shortpunchy climbs (and lots of roots.) I miss the rapid acceleration of a hardtail.

    I got to ride a Rootdown a few months ago and itwas nuts how all the bumps in the rear went away like it had a shock when I"rode the fork" and shifted my bodyweight constantly. Kindaunforgettable.

    I want to know all there is to know about thisstuff, it's really interesting. Why do Chromag Doctahawks exist when fullsuspension cross country bikes also exist? I got down the rabbit hole ofreading about suspension linkage and anti squat and all that stuff, and learnedhow hardtails steepen in geometry under lots of compression or a turn whilefull suspension slackens.

    Does that mean that the muscle memory for ridinga slack hardtail is so different that I wouldn't be able to ride a downhillbike if I rented one at a park once or twice a year? For logistical reasons itisn't possible for me to own two bikes, so if I sold the trail bike and got aslack hardtail, it would be my only bike. I still want to ride with my friendswho own full suspension, however. For my trails, I'm pretty sure the Chromagwould be more than enough, but I don't want to slow anyone down.

    If anyone wants to do a deep dive into ridingtechnique that would be amazing. Thank you so much. I've googled everything and looked through pages and pages of discussion but I'm still unclear about the big picture.


  2. #2
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    I don't think there's that much to it. Riding the fork makes it sound like a separate technique but all it really means is unweighting the rear as needed. A change in technique does not negate the benefits of having rear suspension. As you ride through a rock garden the bike is getting bumped and rocked back and forth. The rear is still hitting bumps regardless of technique. Unweighting the rear may help but it also means the bumps cause the rear to bounce even higher and you're in a less central position on the bike.

    I have a Pedalhead (steel, slack hardtail). It's a bit of niche bike honestly. It pedals well but it's also over 30 lbs. The short rear center also means the balance is a bit off and the front going over bumps causes that imbalance to be even more noticeable.

    There are advantages and trade-offs as far as riding style goes. A hardtail teaches you to uses your arms and legs to absorb bumps. However, on an enduro bike you're usually better off staying in a strong neutral position and letting the bike do most of the work. In other words, you can be too loose and trying to get your legs and arms to conform to every bit of trail is a bad habit when it comes to enduro/DH.

  3. #3
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    I had a Trek Rumblefish, 29" 120mm, hell of an awesome bike, in fact so awesome it made my local trails boring, and that was my only problem with it, but thats also a big problem
    Now lm on a Commencal Meta AMHT, and loving riding again.
    Im nowhere near as fast on the same trails as l was, but lm having a lot more fun.
    YMMV
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  4. #4
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    Honestly, I don’t ride hardtails any differently than I ride full suspension bikes. But I started out my riding career on rigid bikes and hardtails, then moved into full suspension when it became available (the first handful I had were terrible).

    What riding a hardtail does is it teaches you that your arms and legs are actually very effective at absorbing terrain. That doesn’t change when riding a full suspension bike either. I always descend standing, and in the attack position (even on my 180mm enduro bike), using my arms and legs to absorb and pump.

    On hardtails, I would not advocate “riding the fork” as a habit. Just be neutral on the bike, ride kind of loose, but centered on the bike more or less. Apply as much weight as needed (and WHERE it is needed) to maintain traction at both tires.

    Actually, now that hardtails have caught up with the intelligent modern geometry trend (ie, not based on road bike geometry), I’m finding that I am as fast or faster in most situations than on my pig of an enduro bike. The only difference is I get more flat tires. :/

  5. #5
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    Spending more time on a AM HT will make you a smarter rider. You're going to have to pay more attention to line choice. You simply can't just mow over stuff like you can with a FS. You will benefit more if you learn some DJ skills. You can learn to send it on large rollers, launch off of steep drops, and land on both wheels, equally, each time. A FS bike corrects more for errors in riding style. In addition, once you got the HT skills dialed in, hopping back on your FS bike will pay dividends. You already know the best line, now you can just push harder on the FS bike.

  6. #6
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    Agree with others, I don't "change" my riding style when on a hardtail (which I much prefer locally).
    Rigid SS 29er
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    Stop asking how much it weighs and just go ride it.

  7. #7
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    Your riding style has to change.

    You'll be going slower (it might feel like you're going faster) on a HT vs FS on chunky terrain.

    Again if terrain is gnarly, you'll need to ride a little more weight on the front and a little less weight on the rear. Generally a lighter approach/feel.

    If terrain is smoother and flowy, pumping the terrain will give greater returns on a HT.

    Jumping is just easier on a HT, no getting bucked.

    I love riding my AM HT on gnarly trails and keeping up with my cohorts.

    On FS you can more easily point and shoot aka straight line jank. Hit drops (to flat-ish) with greater reassurance.

    With HT's you'll need to dissect the trail and link features on a more continual basis.

    Standing and mashing, sitting and spining... makes very little different whilst climbing on a hardtail.

    Even with pedal levers, I prefer not to stand and mash on an FS rig. As a 245lb Clyde, there's always bob.

    Pedal strikes are more prevalent on an FS whip. On technical climbs you'll have to time your pedal strokes better.

    I've read and heard that technical climbing is easier on a FS. Yes and no.

    If the terrain is loose or greasy FS generally will allow greater smoothness going up. Power spikes will be somewhat curbed/absorbed by the rear shock.

    If the trail is dry and rocky/rooty, give me a HT everyday and twice on Sunday. I just climb better on a hardtail.

    You'll feel more beat up on a HT after riding gnarly trails. Personally, I find it more rewarding riding hard stuff on my HT.

    As I'm getting older though, my self preservation part of the brain, whispers a little louder when it's time to ride and I first look at my HT... 'Take the FS. Your knees are sore, your back aches. Go on... FS FTW'.

    In the end they're different and require slightly different approaches.

    But both are still a hoot to ride.

    They say variety is the spice of life.

    Why would I want all my bikes to feel/ride the same way. That would be boring.

    YMMV

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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Timothy G. Parrish View Post
    Spending more time on a AM HT will make you a smarter rider. You're going to have to pay more attention to line choice. You simply can't just mow over stuff like you can with a FS...In addition, once you got the HT skills dialed in, hopping back on your FS bike will pay dividends. You already know the best line, now you can just push harder on the FS bike.
    But mowing straight through on an enduro is often the faster and arguably better line. I'd arguing riding the FS let's you discover what line is possible that you thought wasn't on the hardtail.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeremy3220 View Post
    But mowing straight through on an enduro is often the faster and arguably better line. I'd arguing riding the FS let's you discover what line is possible that you thought wasn't on the hardtail.
    Yeah, that would be the fastest line because you have rear suspension to accommodate. Unless you've learned those skills on a HT, I see plenty of destroyed rear wheels in your future. That was the point of this discussion.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by targnik View Post
    Again if terrain is gnarly, you'll need to ride a little more weight on the front and a little less weight on the rear. Generally a lighter approach/feel.

    Jumping is just easier on a HT, no getting bucked.
    Also...
    If the terrain is gnarly and you're going "fast", you'll find your rear tire basically bouncing around and often off the ground. Fun in its own way, but realize this means bad traction (control) and poor braking ability. This is just the nature of a hardtail. Sure, can help it a bit by staying fluid, etc, but control when going fast on bumpy trail is a top advantage of FS. Also, if you're riding your front/fork, be really careful -- if trail is really gnarly, your back tire can get hung up, which can lead to easy OTB since your weight is already biased toward the front.

    Regarding jumping, a big difference if you want to "pop" off fo jumps. On a hardtail, you need to do a quick stomp/pop right before you leave the jump. It needs to be quick and late into the ramp because the hardtail will respond/push back right away.
    A FS responds slower to a stomp. So for a jump, you need to compress earlier in the jump, then gradually rise with the ramp.

    There's different jump techniques (and experts can do anything; i'm not one), but the above is my experience.

    Jumping (and landing) on HT really does teach one to be smooth and fluid with arms, legs, and whole body.

    btw, my main bike is HT. I ride my FS when my body feels tired and beatup from riding my HT too much

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by kevin_sbay View Post
    Also...
    If the terrain is gnarly and you're going "fast", you'll find your rear tire basically bouncing around and often off the ground. Fun in its own way, but realize this means bad traction (control) and poor braking ability. This is just the nature of a hardtail. Sure, can help it a bit by staying fluid, etc, but control when going fast on bumpy trail is a top advantage of FS. Also, if you're riding your front/fork, be really careful -- if trail is really gnarly, your back tire can get hung up, which can lead to easy OTB since your weight is already biased toward the front.
    Yep, shifting your weight forward on the HT is definitely a compromise. With no rear suspension to move the rear wheel up and over obstacles all of that displacement goes into the bike pitching forward and if you've already shifted your weight forward to 'ride the fork's that can lead to a bad time...either an OTB or your feet getting bounced forward off the pedals as the rear hangs.

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    Thank you for all the replies. I've learned a whole lot: that it won't mess up my muscle memory if I do it properly as plenty of people ride them, but FS is a skill in itself. I definitely won't start riding the fork.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Timothy G. Parrish View Post
    Yeah, that would be the fastest line because you have rear suspension to accommodate. Unless you've learned those skills on a HT, I see plenty of destroyed rear wheels in your future. That was the point of this discussion.
    Is there a reason that hardtails are so often prescribed for learning to be fluid on a bike but fully rigid bikes never seem to be? Is destroying rear wheels even with rear suspension a risk because more of my bodyweight is on the rear?

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by brushybrushy View Post
    Is there a reason that hardtails are so often prescribed for learning to be fluid on a bike but fully rigid bikes never seem to be?
    I'm a hard tail aficionado - love it. But, if you are learning technique today - I advocate learning on a full-suspension bike (that fits!). As you progress, it'll have a widened tolerance zone that helps with the uncertainty (encourages you & feels approachable) and make obvious things like preloading the suspensions. etc. When it comes time to dial-in your precision, the hardtail is a great tool. IMHO, best is when you already have the technique and want to dial it in - the margin of error is greatly narrowed and it will expose all your weak points.

    tl;dr:

    Learning a new technique = full suspension
    refining precision / dialing-in = hard tail

    PS - full rigid even further exasperates this concept.
    Working to stomp out redundancy, I repeat, working to stomp out redundancy.

  15. #15
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    Most of us learnt to ride on HT's...

    They're more affordable.

    I do believe a HT requires a steeper learning curve.

    You'll get to the same place as an FS (learning wise) just a wee bit quicker.

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  16. #16
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    I learned on a bmx so it's hard for me to say if it's better to learn on a hardtail or not. I think it's going to be a fairly small difference. The biggest factor is how determined you are to work to get better.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by brushybrushy View Post
    Is there a reason that hardtails are so often prescribed for learning to be fluid on a bike but fully rigid bikes never seem to be? Is destroying rear wheels even with rear suspension a risk because more of my bodyweight is on the rear?
    Rigid HTs are not as popular, which is probably why. Unless you rode a MTB in the late 80's, MTB with forks were the norm shortly after. Learning on a rigid may provide even more skill, I assume, since you'd really have to pay attention to your line. I rode a Huffy clunker around my local trails a few times and decided it sucked, so I have little experience there.

    You can destroy a wheel on any type of bike if you hit something hard enough, but with no rear suspension on a HT, there's a higher chance of damage since you don't have a rear shock to absorb the hit.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeremy3220 View Post
    Yep, shifting your weight forward on the HT is definitely a compromise. With no rear suspension to move the rear wheel up and over obstacles all of that displacement goes into the bike pitching forward and if you've already shifted your weight forward to 'ride the fork's that can lead to a bad time...either an OTB or your feet getting bounced forward off the pedals as the rear hangs.
    This is where over-forking a HT can pay off. Increase the amount of travel, it raises the geometry allowing you to ride the fork more when descending, somewhat getting back to the neutral geometry of the frame, reducing the risk of OTB and hard impacts on the rear wheel. It'll lighten up the rear end, allowing you to descend faster. At least that's what I find on my HTs.

  19. #19
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    I have been riding rigid for the last 10 years or so now. I started in the 80's on rigid. Moved to FS as soon as wall possible, switched to a fork when the FS stuff all broke, then transferred back to FS when stuff got better, then back to rigid when i realized better didn't mean less maintenance or increased performance. Now I only own a rigid mountain bike and ride it everywhere.

    The biggest benefit to riding skill that a rigid or HT will teach you is to see the line and ride the line. With suspension there is a lot of leeway to picking a line, if you mess it up, as long as it doesn't stall your front wheel you will more than likely survive to make the next section. On rigid you start slower, learning to read the terrain, and pick lines that won't give an OTB moment, grab that back wheel, or bounce you offline into the adjacent shrubbery.

    Once you learn to pick lines you can increase speed. I find I have a really well defined ability to pick lines, read new trails and terrain, and place my tires. Though it comes from decades of riding. I would be interested to try full suspension to see if it translates to faster times or less impact down the trail or if I would need to learn to read the terrain anew so that I am not wasting time placing tires in areas that suspension would eliminate the benefit of anyway.

    Certainly learning to bunnyhop and do trials moves on a hardtail, rigid would be a benefit to any rider so you learn the technique without relying on suspension compression but jumping is a different animal on a rigid than anything with suspension so that probably doesn't translate.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Timothy G. Parrish View Post
    This is where over-forking a HT can pay off. Increase the amount of travel, it raises the geometry allowing you to ride the fork more when descending, somewhat getting back to the neutral geometry of the frame, reducing the risk of OTB and hard impacts on the rear wheel. It'll lighten up the rear end, allowing you to descend faster. At least that's what I find on my HTs.
    It's not really a geometry issue in many cases. The problem is keeping the rear wheel on the ground and maintaining weight balance. I have a hardtail with a 130mm fork and 65° HTA. A slack HTA helps prevent OTB's of course but doesn't do much to keep the rear tracking. 'Riding the fork' through a rock garden unweights the rear increasing the height at which it bounces off the rocks. Having that forward weight bias (not recovering to center in time) as the rear hits another rock can cause the rear to get bucked wildly.

    Also, making the bike slacker decreases weight on the fork and increases weight on the rear. I think if riding the fork were a real technique you wouldn't see people buying bikes that are designed to reduce as much weight from the fork as possible (slack, long reach, short chainstays). What people are really doing is staying more neutral not loading up the fork. If you really wanted to ride a fork, get a 71° HTA bike with a 110mm stem...you'd really be on the fork then.

  21. #21
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    Agreed that it's not really "riding the fork" but rather unweighting the back end in key situations. On a full squish, you usually don't get a hard impact when the rear wheel hits something like a rock. On a hardtail, you get strong and immediate feedback, and that teaches you to slightly unweight when your rear wheel hits something like a rock. You're not even necessarily shifting your weight over the fork, moreso just absorbing the impact by bending your legs a bit.

    I learned on a hard tail on very technical trails. I believe riding a hard tail taught me how to ride "lighter" with more finesse because my legs are more active in trying to absorb the trail chatter rather than relying solely on my suspension.

    I think a lot of the reason for products like cush core is that people are just riding their suspension hard without any attempt to finesse the terrain, and that ends up putting way more pressure on their wheels. I ride extremely rocky terrain and I'm not light (200lbs), yet have never felt the need for something like cush core. I feel like unless you're a pro racer or equivalent, cush core is way overkill. But it does allow you to smash the bike through rock gardens without damaging your wheel, so I guess it's good for those that like to ride that way.

  22. #22
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    ^^^Agreed on the "riding loose with more finesse" comment. I call that correct riding, regardless of the bike.

    I agree that some people smash over the rocks with very little ability to see the smoother line. I consider my ability to spot clean lines through chunk as my number one skill on a bike. I have yet to taco a wheel, in my 33 year riding career. Plenty of DH racing in there for that to happen as well.

    It's also worth pointing out that not all "rocky" or "root infested" line choices are the same. If the bike (and you) are really struggling to maintain composure at speed and/or the bike is using all of its travel (regardless of the type of bike, again) in a situation, then chances are excellent that there was a better line available.

    I have always marveled at some of nutty lines I've ridden down when looking back up at them from below. From below, they sometimes look absolutely crazy, but after riding them, it didn't seem that bad. Line choice. Think about going down a staircase compared to going up. Down isn't nearly as rough. Going up a staircase at speed, you're likely to get a pinch flat or a flat spot in your rim. That is what I'm looking for as I ride through gnarly sections -- where is my bike least likely to hang-up? That is almost always the fastest line, and on a hardtail, the necessary line.
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