Trail hardtail vs trail full suspension efficiency?- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Trail hardtail vs trail full suspension efficiency?

    Since many of the elite XC racers have started using full-suspension more often than their hardtails, it got me wondering how does a short travel trail bike stack up against a trail hardtail with similar weight and geo as far as efficiency? Let's say a hardtail with a 66ish° HTA and 130mm fork vs a 130mm front/120mm rear full suspension bike with similar geo and weight. Anyone test something like this with a power meter or timed laps? Obviously the terrain will make a difference but I'm not really thinking about really smooth trails anyway.

  2. #2
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    Generally speaking, the rougher it is, the more efficient the full suspension bike is going to be. And the smoother it is, the more efficient the hardtail is going to be.

    You’ve got to remember that tire selection is critical, too.

    I’ve never actually owned a “trail” class full suspension bike. Only heavy, aggressive monsters. I did a 19 mile ride today with 3k of climbing aboard my enduro bike — the same route I did on my Kona Honzo last week. It took about half an hour longer today. (But I did knock 3 seconds off on one of the gnarly DH Strava segments :/).

    In most situations I am way faster on my hardtail. For flow trails it is the only bike I’ll ride.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by cookieMonster View Post

    I’ve never actually owned a “trail” class full suspension bike. Only heavy, aggressive monsters.

    Same here. My bike stable since I've owned a full suspension has been a full suspension enduro bike + a hardtail. This has covered the spectrum from riding full DH to the tamest flat trails but I still find myself on a lot of local rides (undulating terrain) wanting both efficiency and full suspension. However, being in the middle of a pandemic means demos are hard to come by and being 6'5" means demoing bikes that actually fit is very difficult anyway.

  4. #4
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    I don't know anyone who rides a "trail" bike that uses a power meter. That's mostly going to be your XC folks on XC bikes. The reason pro XC riders have started using FS more is because the tracks have gotten rougher, at there's a point at which climbing traction is better with FS and fatigue over the course of the race is much less than a hardtail due to suspension taking up the chatter and making the climb more efficient due to traction that it more than offsets the weight difference. We are obviously a couple years past that point in the development of XC courses.

    My take on it is this. I have a FS bike that I take on long rides. It also has gears, which means if there's a lot of climbing involved there's a good chance that's the bike I'm taking. But it also involves a lot of maintaining that doesn't go on with a hardtail. So I have a hardtail single speed that if I'm a little worried about there being a few wet spots or if it's a flatter ride, I'll take that.

  5. #5
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    Large tires on rigid bikes and hard tails make all the difference.

    Try to get a test ride on something like a trek stache. A hard tail with 29+ tires is surprisingly fast and capable.


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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cotharyus View Post
    I don't know anyone who rides a "trail" bike that uses a power meter. That's mostly going to be your XC folks on XC bikes. The reason pro XC riders have started using FS more is because the tracks have gotten rougher, at there's a point at which climbing traction is better with FS and fatigue over the course of the race is much less than a hardtail due to suspension taking up the chatter and making the climb more efficient due to traction that it more than offsets the weight difference.
    For sure and I think improvements in full suspension design have also driven the switch. I just figured maybe someone has done some sort of testing. We talk about climbing efficiency, weight, how much travel, etc so much here I figured someone would at least have some timing data.


    Quote Originally Posted by Cotharyus View Post
    But it also involves a lot of maintaining that doesn't go on with a hardtail. So I have a hardtail single speed that if I'm a little worried about there being a few wet spots or if it's a flatter ride, I'll take that.
    Yeah that's definitely a consideration in keeping the hardtail.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by coke View Post
    Large tires on rigid bikes and hard tails make all the difference.

    Try to get a test ride on something like a trek stache. A hard tail with 29+ tires is surprisingly fast and capable.


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    I'm not interested in plus tires to be honest.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeremy3220 View Post
    Since many of the elite XC racers have started using full-suspension more often than their hardtails, it got me wondering how does a short travel trail bike stack up against a trail hardtail with similar weight and geo as far as efficiency? Let's say a hardtail with a 66ish° HTA and 130mm fork vs a 130mm front/120mm rear full suspension bike with similar geo and weight. Anyone test something like this with a power meter or timed laps? Obviously the terrain will make a difference but I'm not really thinking about really smooth trails anyway.
    Not to be a [email protected]$$ or anything,
    but since the “elite” you speak of are doing
    it for a living, and surely do a lot of time testing between different bikes available to them, isn’t the answer obvious?

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by downcountry View Post
    Not to be a [email protected]$$ or anything,
    but since the “elite” you speak of are doing
    it for a living, and surely do a lot of time testing between different bikes available to them, isn’t the answer obvious?
    Um no actually not. Because that info doesnt apply near as much if you are not buying the to tier bike and dont have a team to help tune it just for you.

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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by downcountry View Post
    Not to be a [email protected]$$ or anything,
    but since the “elite” you speak of are doing
    it for a living, and surely do a lot of time testing between different bikes available to them, isn’t the answer obvious?
    No because that doesn't necessarily apply to heavier longer travel (>100mm) trail bikes. You'll reach a point where it's too much travel and added weight. I know a 160mm enduro bike definitely is less efficient than a 130mm hardtail (even with similar tires). Is a 130f/120r FS bike more or less efficient than the 130mm hardtail?..IDK.

  11. #11
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    FWIW: I run a PM on one of my trail bikes. A PM, of course, tells you how much power you're putting out, not on how effective that power is at moving you forward.
    What, me worry?

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lone Rager View Post
    FWIW: I run a PM on one of my trail bikes. A PM, of course, tells you how much power you're putting out, not on how effective that power is at moving you forward.
    Right but combined with timing it gives a good idea of efficiency.

  13. #13
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    For me now Full Suspension for sure. Give you an example of 3 bikes I ride regularly, 140/120mm 67 degree "trail bike" grippy 2.4 tires don't care about weight, 68 degree 120mm/115mm bike I would use for most anything but mainly endurance or XXC type races fast rolling 2.4 tires, slacked Hardtail with 130mm and grippy 29 2.6 tires, guessing headtube right around 67.

    By far the most race worthy bike is the 68 degree Full Suspension, while slightly heavier I think it a better bike even than 100mm Full Suspension and 120mm front/100mm rear XC specific bikes I have ridden for years. Just more balanced in ability to hit all kind of courses and conditions, I thin geo is the key really, not too slack to carve and not so steep its twitchy going down.

    Used to be 100mm XC Hardtail just knowing body would be more beat up after the rides or race. Don't have to do that and body doesn't take it as easily anymore.

    Sure you can set up a bike or choose a bike for specific conditions or courses but if you dont have daily knowledge I would say find the right geo for you and trend toward more middle of the road aggressiveness ~120mm bikes are so good now I can see going lower.
    XC, Road, XXC, Endurance, Mtn, All-Mtn, Cross, Gravel, just go have fun on 2 wheels!

  14. #14
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    I rode both back-to-back recently and came to a surprising conclusion... the efficiency losses on climbs and flat pedaling is made up for mainly in cornering in rough terrain by full sussy bikes. Corners is where you really make up the time and you need traction to corner fast. You just won't get that on a HT, not possible with any kind of roots/rocks as you lose traction and momentum. Boosting jumps is another story...

    Have FUN!

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  15. #15
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    Depends on the terrain. Where I live, a FS is faster going up many trails than a HT. It ALLOWS you to put more power into the pedals.

    Now, if you mainly climb roads to get to descents, a HT of some sort makes more sense. But again, the more chatter you have going up or down (2-6” square edge rocks, for example) the more an FS seems attractive.


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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Le Duke View Post
    Depends on the terrain. Where I live, a FS is faster going up many trails than a HT. It ALLOWS you to put more power into the pedals.

    Now, if you mainly climb roads to get to descents, a HT of some sort makes more sense. But again, the more chatter you have going up or down (2-6” square edge rocks, for example) the more an FS seems attractive.


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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by HEMIjer View Post
    By far the most race worthy bike is the 68 degree Full Suspension, while slightly heavier I think it a better bike even than 100mm Full Suspension and 120mm front/100mm rear XC specific bikes I have ridden for years.
    The FS bike I'm considering is about 2 lbs lighter than my hardtail (steel) so that would definitely help some.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Le Duke View Post
    Depends on the terrain. Where I live, a FS is faster going up many trails than a HT. It ALLOWS you to put more power into the pedals.

    Now, if you mainly climb roads to get to descents, a HT of some sort makes more sense. But again, the more chatter you have going up or down (2-6” square edge rocks, for example) the more an FS seems attractive.

    I'm mostly thinking about how it would do on undulating XC trails (with decent amounts of chatter) where steady state climbing isn't that important.

  19. #19
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    I think comparing FS XC and trail bikes is like comparing Phillips and flat head screwdrivers. They're both screwdrivers, but address different types of screws. XC and trail bikes are both bikes, but address different types of trails. Different problems, different solutions.

    If you want to ride efficiently on flat smooth trails, as well as rough and technical trails, you'll need both an XC and trail bike. Just as you need two different screwdrivers for two different types of screws.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by fredcook View Post
    I think comparing FS XC and trail bikes
    XC bikes aren't in the mix. FWIW, I have a Guerrilla Gravity Pedalhead (slack steel 130mm hardtail) and I'm considering something like a 2020 Tallboy (130/120mm trail bike).

  21. #21
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    Something to consider is the contribution from pumping. On some trails it can be considerable...and maybe the primary means of propulsion like on a pump track. FS can eat up pumping energy.
    What, me worry?

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by downcountry View Post
    Not to be a [email protected]$$ or anything,
    but since the “elite” you speak of are doing
    it for a living, and surely do a lot of time testing between different bikes available to them, isn’t the answer obvious?

    One of the XC pros I'm following was lamenting that his FS bike was not ready for the next upcoming race, his mechanic was working on it but could not promise that it would be ready. He told everyone he'll bring his hardtail if he had to. And he's really fast on that but it goes to show that in a race, he really wanted the FS bike instead (he just barely got it that day of the race and was able to ride it after all).

    But that doesn't really apply to the average rider, we are not pros. Also, 130mm I don't really think is short-travel, I would say 80-100mm would be short-travel for an XC bike. 130mm is pushing it for XC. I've noticed that the less fork I use the faster I go. So as others have said in this thread, tires and other bike setup variables will go a long way to determine which bike is faster on which trail. Yes, in general, the rougher the trail gets the more I would assume full suspension helps (all 3 of my bikes are HT), but on trails without large obstacles a hardtail can be extremely capable, even if there is a lot of chatter and loose rocks.

    From the Strava data I've seen, many if not most trails out there may actually penalize FS because of the pedaling inefficiency and it would be a very, very good idea to do a large test of FS doing better on just gravity trails vs. more XC trails with pedaling. As far as putting power down climbing with an FS bike, locking out the fork will allow more efficiency, so why would keeping the rear shock open allow more efficiency? That doesn't make sense.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by richj8990 View Post
    One of the XC pros I'm following was lamenting that his FS bike was not ready for the next upcoming race, his mechanic was working on it but could not promise that it would be ready. He told everyone he'll bring his hardtail if he had to. And he's really fast on that but it goes to show that in a race, he really wanted the FS bike instead (he just barely got it that day of the race and was able to ride it after all).

    But that doesn't really apply to the average rider, we are not pros. Also, 130mm I don't really think is short-travel, I would say 80-100mm would be short-travel for an XC bike. 130mm is pushing it for XC. I've noticed that the less fork I use the faster I go. So as others have said in this thread, tires and other bike setup variables will go a long way to determine which bike is faster on which trail. Yes, in general, the rougher the trail gets the more I would assume full suspension helps (all 3 of my bikes are HT), but on trails without large obstacles a hardtail can be extremely capable, even if there is a lot of chatter and loose rocks.

    From the Strava data I've seen, many if not most trails out there may actually penalize FS because of the pedaling inefficiency and it would be a very, very good idea to do a large test of FS doing better on just gravity trails vs. more XC trails with pedaling. As far as putting power down climbing with an FS bike, locking out the fork will allow more efficiency, so why would keeping the rear shock open allow more efficiency? That doesn't make sense.
    Because it allows your real wheel to maintain traction instead of bouncing over things.

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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by richj8990 View Post
    From the Strava data I've seen, many if not most trails out there may actually penalize FS because of the pedaling inefficiency and it would be a very, very good idea to do a large test of FS doing better on just gravity trails vs. more XC trails with pedaling. As far as putting power down climbing with an FS bike, locking out the fork will allow more efficiency, so why would keeping the rear shock open allow more efficiency? That doesn't make sense.
    Matt Miller has done some research and discussed this in some podcasts. The more vibration transmitted to the rider the more energy you expend to absorb the impacts (even small vibrations). Another advantage is less energy expended on the descents.

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