These days when I hear that a friend of mine is shopping for or has bought a new bike, I already more or less know what they got. We are living in the era of the boutique full-suspension rig, and the offerings are ubiquitous. I get it; there is nothing like a squishy, polished ride with all the tricked-out customization’s that are available out there. However, these days there are a seemingly endless variety of bikes that you could ride off the roof of your house with a heap of style to compliment. So, here’s the argument for why you need a hardtail mountain bike.
In fact, I'd say that hardtails are poised to make a comeback due to their simplicity, lower average weight, and more accessible price point.
I've been riding my Salsa Timberjack GX1 for the past three years, and I've never felt like I've been missing out on any adventure or trail feature besides the most intense double black diamonds out there.
The Timberjack is a 27.5+ with 120mm of front travel and a more aggressive head tube angle than hardtails of old, which is the direction most companies have taken to make hardtails more aggressive on descents. The only times I’ve felt truly limited by the terrain that I could ride was either because of my fitness or riding ability–never the suspension of my bike.
The two areas where I especially prefer hardtails are for climbing and possible single-speed customizations.
A buddy of mine just got a brand new Santa Cruz Tallboy (Aluminum frame), an incredible bike, but the thing weighs a ton. His size-small frame clocks in at 4 pounds over my XL Salsa and just drags on the climbs, even for an XC bike. I’m a bigger cyclist and not a great climber, but I love the fact that I can still accelerate up a climb (especially after the more challenging, steeper sections) without having to go into a 50 tooth chainring.
The next customization that is available on many hardtails is the option to convert it to a single-speed.
The Salsa Timberjack is one of these models, and it includes alternator dropouts to allow a reasonably quick transition from 11 gears to 1. When gearless riding is your choice, it is an incredible way to train and learn how to ride efficiently while gaining fitness over a diverse set of trails. Add a pair of carbon wheels to a single-speed frame, and voila! You have an absolutely screaming mountain machine that can handle 98% of the trails out there.
So, the next time you're thinking of buying a new bike, don't just migrate to the glittering fleets of the full-suspensions.
Consider the terrain that you will be riding and how often you ride. Chances are that most of the trails around are super fun and maybe preferable on a hardtail. If you’re a new rider, then a hardtail is a better choice for learning to ride with the flow anyway. And if you “only” have $1500 to throw at a new bike and don’t want an unknown specimen from Facebook Marketplace, then I urge you to filter out all the squishy options that are out of your price range. Chances are you’ll be just as happy ripping down the trail on your brand new hardtail.
Matt Chisholm is a data analyst and freelance writer who studies the environmental history of the Southern Smoky Mountain region of North Carolina. He was a contributor to Lost in Transition: Removing, Resettling, and Renewing Appalachia and the 2016 edition of the Journal of East Tennessee History, for which he won the 2017 McClung Award. When not writing, Matt enjoys road and mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and drinking beer around Concord, NC where he lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys.
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