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  1. #1
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    HT vs FS for Chicago area riding

    Hi all,

    I'll be temporarily relocating from Northern California to Chicago for a year starting this July. I plan on bouncing back and forth between Chicago and the Bay Area during the year so am planning on leaving my current bikes (a Pivot Mach 6 & a YT Tues) in CA and buying a bike I can ride in Chicago.

    I'm trying to decide between a hardtail and a short travel full suspension bike for Chicago (and other Midwest) riding. My impression is that Chicago trails aren't especially technical (I've ridden Kettle Moraine, WI a couple of times) so a hardtail should suffice. Also a hardtail would also be a more unique addition to my bike stable when I move back to the Bay Area.

    On the other hand, I imagine I'll generally have more fun on a full suspension bike (thinking of short travel trail bike like a Yeti SB100, Pivot 429, or SC Blur). I'm not sure if this will be overkill for most of the Midwest trails and if it would get ridden then much when I move back to CA.

    Any input on HT vs FS for the Chicago area would be great!

  2. #2
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    a hard tail will all that you need. i got a short travel bike because i would rather have it and not need it then need it and not have.

  3. #3
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    you should always have a hardtail in your quiver of bikes!

  4. #4
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    Hardtail with 3" tires, sure. It can be ridden in most MW trails. However, I prefer a dually.

    Have you ridden Palos yet? I consider Palos ground zero for Chicago mtb'ing. I definately appreciate my 5" duallie there. Check out CAMBR.org.

    Also, you've got a TON of trail 2-3 hours south. Check the trails in Peoria and then Bloomington, Danville (champaign) and the QC. Peoria (Pambamtb.org) is considered the jewel of mtb rides in IL.

    Full disclosure: I own and occasionally ride a rigid SS (Bianchi MUSS) and a rigid fatty (Fatboy). I can ride EVERYTHING anywhere (Yes, I have brought my SS to Colorado and ridden a ton) on either. However, I prefer my 5" trail bike.

  5. #5
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    either a hardtail or a short travel FS would be good.

    just don't be "that guy" who grabs a long travel FS, full-face helmet, and storm trooper armor to go ride Brown County in Indiana.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by DOCRIGID View Post
    you should always have a hardtail in your quiver of bikes!
    That's a good point! I certainly subscribe to the N+1 theory for the correct number of bikes to have :-)

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by bingemtbr View Post
    Hardtail with 3" tires, sure. It can be ridden in most MW trails. However, I prefer a dually.

    Have you ridden Palos yet? I consider Palos ground zero for Chicago mtb'ing. I definately appreciate my 5" duallie there. Check out CAMBR.org.

    Also, you've got a TON of trail 2-3 hours south. Check the trails in Peoria and then Bloomington, Danville (champaign) and the QC. Peoria (Pambamtb.org) is considered the jewel of mtb rides in IL.

    Full disclosure: I own and occasionally ride a rigid SS (Bianchi MUSS) and a rigid fatty (Fatboy). I can ride EVERYTHING anywhere (Yes, I have brought my SS to Colorado and ridden a ton) on either. However, I prefer my 5" trail bike.
    Thanks for the input. I have heard good things about Palos from multiple people but I haven't ridden there before. I hadn't heard of any of the other places you mentioned, so the pointers are appreciated. I'm planning on making my way around as many trails in the general area (5-6 hour radius) as I can.

    I have the same thought as you that a 4-5" FS would be preferable and more fun. My main concern is that I'm not going to end up using it much when I return to CA since I already have a 6" FS bike that's pretty versatile. I was thinking a HT bike like the Pivot Les might be a good compromise because it would be functional in the midwest (it can run 2.8 27.5+ tires) and then be setup SS when I'm back in CA.

  8. #8
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    Cool-blue Rhythm

    Palos will be a game changer then. Be sure to do a little research about riding Gravity Cavity, XX and the Canal trails beforehand. After you ride there, I'm fairly confident you'll get an FS rig.

    And if you're opening your riding to a 5-6hr radius...you are going to love the midwest. Harold mentioned Brown County--it is by far one of my favorite places on earth to ride. Also look to Michigan's trails if you want fast flowy trails (they don't have much elevation) and St. Louis. Depending on where you reside, StL is a within a 5hr drive. See Gorctrails.com for details.

    There are lots of other gems hidden in Iowa (SugarBottom in Iowa City) and Sunderbruch and Illiniwek in the QC (www.qcforc.com) and Terrahaute, Wisconsin check out Blue Mounds (Madison area) and Levis Trow (new Euclare), and more.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by bingemtbr View Post
    Palos will be a game changer then. Be sure to do a little research about riding Gravity Cavity, XX and the Canal trails beforehand. After you ride there, I'm fairly confident you'll get an FS rig.

    And if you're opening your riding to a 5-6hr radius...you are going to love the midwest. Harold mentioned Brown County--it is by far one of my favorite places on earth to ride. Also look to Michigan's trails if you want fast flowy trails (they don't have much elevation) and St. Louis. Depending on where you reside, StL is a within a 5hr drive. See Gorctrails.com for details.

    There are lots of other gems hidden in Iowa (SugarBottom in Iowa City) and Sunderbruch and Illiniwek in the QC (www.qcforc.com) and Terrahaute, Wisconsin check out Blue Mounds (Madison area) and Levis Trow (new Euclare), and more.
    Thanks for the suggestion. Since we'll be out there looking for housing before we move perhaps I'll steal some time to rent a bike, check out those trails, and see how I feel after that.

    Would a bike that's both 29/27.5+ compatible be useful for winter riding?

  10. #10
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    Get a modern geometry XC bike. Palos is pretty darn tame, and just about the only thrill to be had there is from speed.


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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Le Duke View Post
    Get a modern geometry XC bike. Palos is pretty darn tame, and just about the only thrill to be had there is from speed.


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    Calling Palos "tame" is subjective to the rider. I've seen many people eat $h!t on 3 ravines, gravity cavity, heck even bullwhip.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by bingemtbr View Post
    Calling Palos "tame" is subjective to the rider. I've seen many people eat $h!t on 3 ravines, gravity cavity, heck even bullwhip.
    Sure. But you most certainly don’t need a 5” or 6” bike to have fun or go fast there.

    I mean, sure, people can plow along on their 160mm bike with 2.5” tires, full face and pads at Palos if they want to. But, to me, the thrill of Palos is the amount of speed I can carry. And it’s easier to pop off of random features if you’re going 15mph as opposed to 9mph.


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  13. #13
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    Well whatever bike you choose to buy, for being 40 min outside downtown Chicago, Palos is amazing! What flat ass Illinois does make up for is an amazing mtb community! Cambr is the bike club that maintains and builds at palos, and they do a great job. There are weekly group rides, plenty of trips to go on, and an amazing crew of people who love to ride bikes!

  14. #14
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    Palos is a great place to ride and lots of fun, you most certainly don't need a FS to do so.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bingemtbr View Post
    Calling Palos "tame" is subjective to the rider. I've seen many people eat $h!t on 3 ravines, gravity cavity, heck even bullwhip.
    ...and not because they either were or were not riding a FS rig.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by DOCRIGID View Post
    Well whatever bike you choose to buy, for being 40 min outside downtown Chicago, Palos is amazing! What flat ass Illinois does make up for is an amazing mtb community! Cambr is the bike club that maintains and builds at palos, and they do a great job. There are weekly group rides, plenty of trips to go on, and an amazing crew of people who love to ride bikes!
    Yeah, I've heard great things about them. They seem more organized than many of the California bike advocacy groups.

  17. #17
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    I would suggest against a hardtail if the trails are flat/rocky and you intend to ride long distances.
    For that reason I purchased a full suspension.

    I had enough of the 28 mile ride on the trail paralleling the river that is mostly a sitdown trail. The trail is just rough enough that you end up getting beat up. If not for most of the trail being a continuous pedal, it may have been easier to switch up sitting/standing.

    An efficient full suspension would be perfect to tame the bumpy flats just enough as long as you aren't wasting energy on pedal bob, etc. From what you already own I'm sure you already know all that.

    I don't know the conditions in the Chicago area, but I don't think I'll volunteer to ride a hard trail on pedally trails for 4 hours if there are options in bikes to choose from.

    With that said, I recently purchased a hard tail (plus). Having the 2nd bike I can choose which bike to ride where but it's less likely I'll take the hard tail to the flatter ones if I'm going for distance.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Forest Rider View Post
    I don't know the conditions in the Chicago area, but I don't think I'll volunteer to ride a hard trail on pedally trails for 4 hours if there are options in bikes to choose from.
    Doesn't get a whole lot flatter than that, honestly. Except maybe SW of Toledo in the now-drained Great Black Swamp. No rocks, except for maybe some erratic, round glacial drop stones. Basically, the glaciers scoured the area flat, filled any remaining valleys with sediment (mostly sand and gravel, but with a few bluestone boulders carried down from the Canadian Shield), and the coastline of Lake MI has fluctuated over the centuries, smoothing things out. Any roughness is going to come from exposed roots or even from the clay hardening uneven during dry spells.

    Within a few hours from Chicago, you can find trails with rocks and a bit more natural technical features. But nothing that a hardtail isn't capable of riding.

    If there's anywhere that hardtails are well-suited, it's this kind of terrain. But hell, I'm building a hardtail right now that'll be capable for southern Appalachian big downhills, rocky chunk, and gnarled roots more than anywhere in the midwest is going to deal with. And, it'll be the bike I take with me most of the time when I go back to the midwest to visit family and friends.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by anwleung View Post
    On the other hand, I imagine I'll generally have more fun on a full suspension bike (thinking of short travel trail bike like a Yeti SB100, Pivot 429, or SC Blur). I'm not sure if this will be overkill for most of the Midwest trails and if it would get ridden then much when I move back to CA.
    Here in lies my suggestion, it will be more fun (and comfortable). I'd suggest a short travel XC bike with modern geometry. I'm thinking 100 mm front/back with head tube of 68/69 degrees. Add in a handlebar lockout and you have the best of both worlds. Every time I jump back on my HT it always surprises me how much I get bucked around. Sure the HT is plenty capable and sufficient for everywhere I ride, but the FS is so much more enjoyable.

    Then again, look at your stable and see what kind of new horse you need/want. There is no wrong choice unless you start getting into bigger travel which would be overkill and redundant in your bike collection.
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  20. #20
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    Anybody ride and review the ten mile loop in Oswego IL area? I think its called saw wee kee park
    ?

  21. #21
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    I rode Palos on a rental hardtail that I rented from 2 Bici which is a shop right on the edge of Palos. It was a $1000 Cannondale hardtail, nothing fancy and it was plenty of bike. I never felt like I needed anything more and my regular bike was a full suspension XC bike that cost way more. It took me like 10 minutes to adapt to the hardtail at Palos.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by KTMwoodsrider View Post
    Anybody ride and review the ten mile loop in Oswego IL area? I think its called saw wee kee park
    ?
    Really cool trails, rockyish, short punchy ups and downs, can get technical in spots, its about hour and a half from downtown chicago.

  23. #23
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    I went to a Stache for the riding I do in the Peoria area. Got tired of the pedal strikes on the new geo bikes that aren't needed. You'll be fine on a hardtail.

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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by anwleung View Post
    Thanks for the suggestion. Since we'll be out there looking for housing before we move perhaps I'll steal some time to rent a bike, check out those trails, and see how I feel after that.

    Would a bike that's both 29/27.5+ compatible be useful for winter riding?
    27.5+ is great here for winter when trails are sloppy and frozen. I have a Timberjack that i ride mostly in winter for that purpose. Plus hardtail or a 4-5” full squish are both great choices for chicago. Fat bikes are popular here but it is rare that we get enough snow really to need full fat.

    Palos is extremely vanilla. Borderline unridable on weekends because of all the traffic and all the trails are two way. Plenty of other good places to check out first. Just my opinion.
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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by the_joe View Post
    27.5+ is great here for winter when trails are sloppy and frozen. I have a Timberjack that i ride mostly in winter for that purpose. Plus hardtail or a 4-5” full squish are both great choices for chicago. Fat bikes are popular here but it is rare that we get enough snow really to need full fat.

    Palos is extremely vanilla. Borderline unridable on weekends because of all the traffic and all the trails are two way. Plenty of other good places to check out first. Just my opinion.
    Thanks for the info! Any pointers for the other places to check out first?

  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by anwleung View Post
    Thanks for the info! Any pointers for the other places to check out first?
    Palos is worth riding on weekdays, but simply too crowded on weekends, in my opinion.

    Other places worth checking out within driving distance:
    Raceway woods in Carpentersville
    Beulah Park in Zion
    Saw Wee Kee in Oswego
    Kickapoo State Park near Danville
    Silver Lake Park near Kenosha WI
    Lake Geneva Canopy Tours in Lake Geneva WI (private property, costs $)
    Alpine Valley trails near Elkhorn WI (private property, costs $)
    John Muir and Emma Carlin trails in Kettle Moraine State Forest near Palmyra WI
    (You need to call the trail info hotline before heading uo there to see if the trails are open that day, you also need to pay for parking and a trail pass)
    New Fane and Greenbush trails also in KMSF except they are further north near Greenbush WI
    Cam Rock near Cambridge WI
    Blue Mounds State Park in Blue Mounds WI

    Just FYI land managers in this area of the country are sometimes extremely protective of mtb trails and will often close them after a rain if the soil there is clay or if the trails dont drain particularly well.

    MTB project app seems to be the most popular trail app in the midwest. Lots of trails are not on Trailforks.
    Check these sites out for info:
    https://www.madcitydirt.com/trailconditions
    Cambr.org
    https://m.facebook.com/KORBAmtb/
    https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/conditions/kmsu.html
    https://www.lakegenevacanopytours.com/
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  27. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by KTMwoodsrider View Post
    Anybody ride and review the ten mile loop in Oswego IL area? I think its called saw wee kee park
    ?
    Yes. Great park. A couple of suggestions: try to ride with a local first time. The trail are spider webs and having a flowy ride or just hitting everything in any semblance of a sequence requires someone with experience riding here. Secondly and more importantly, BE FRIENDLY TO THE HORSES. There will be many more horses than riders--at least all of the times I've been there. So long as you are cool with the horses, they are cool with you.

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by the_joe View Post
    Palos is worth riding on weekdays, but simply too crowded on weekends, in my opinion.

    Other places worth checking out within driving distance:
    Raceway woods in Carpentersville
    Beulah Park in Zion
    Saw Wee Kee in Oswego
    Kickapoo State Park near Danville
    Silver Lake Park near Kenosha WI
    Lake Geneva Canopy Tours in Lake Geneva WI (private property, costs $)
    Alpine Valley trails near Elkhorn WI (private property, costs $)
    John Muir and Emma Carlin trails in Kettle Moraine State Forest near Palmyra WI
    (You need to call the trail info hotline before heading uo there to see if the trails are open that day, you also need to pay for parking and a trail pass)
    New Fane and Greenbush trails also in KMSF except they are further north near Greenbush WI
    Cam Rock near Cambridge WI
    Blue Mounds State Park in Blue Mounds WI

    Just FYI land managers in this area of the country are sometimes extremely protective of mtb trails and will often close them after a rain if the soil there is clay or if the trails dont drain particularly well.

    MTB project app seems to be the most popular trail app in the midwest. Lots of trails are not on Trailforks.
    Check these sites out for info:
    https://www.madcitydirt.com/trailconditions
    Cambr.org
    https://m.facebook.com/KORBAmtb/
    https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/conditions/kmsu.html
    https://www.lakegenevacanopytours.com/
    Great info! Really appreciated.

  29. #29
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    What kind of trails and riding do you prefer? Do you know which side of the city you'll be moving to?
    A hardtail can handle anything the area can throw at an experienced rider, but if like to do multiple lap longer days then a short travel fs or a + size is a good choice. Anything over 4" of travel in this area is just for comfort not because the trails are technical.

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by norty_mtb View Post
    What kind of trails and riding do you prefer? Do you know which side of the city you'll be moving to?
    A hardtail can handle anything the area can throw at an experienced rider, but if like to do multiple lap longer days then a short travel fs or a + size is a good choice. Anything over 4" of travel in this area is just for comfort not because the trails are technical.
    I generally trail ride in the Bay Area with a preference for the downs over the ups. Though I usually have to earn my turns with the average ride having ~2-3K ft of climbing on a 6" FS bike. I get the occasional shuttle or lift served day on the DH bike in. I most often ride in the Santa Cruz area.

    We'll end up somewhere between Lincoln Park and Hyde Park (I know, not real specific) but don't mind driving to the trailhead.

    Based on what you (and others) have said, I think I'm leaning HT unless there are some there are some must hit destinations where I'd really want rear suspension.

  31. #31
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    HT works great for the area, I have both, The HT/SS gets 85% ride time.
    If you ride Palos on weekends, just ride start riding 6-7am, so your out before the crowds.
    come spring, as someone stated above look for the group rides on Wen. Check facebook group "palsoriders" also, can find people to ride with. come spring I'll be back out. if you want to try a HT at Palos come spring drop me a line

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