Hardcore mountain bikers have a very strong opinion that mountain bikes with a full suspension system are heavier and numb the rider from getting a feel of the trail, not to mention they cost more money. But almost all modern mountain bikes come with some form of a suspension and they are becoming lighter and more cost effective so arguments against full suspension mountain bikes are slowly becoming obsolete. The question however remains, “do you actually need suspension on your bike in order to mountain bike properly or will a rigid mountain bike do just as well?”
The short answer is that you can definitely use a rigid mountain bike without suspension for some casual mountain biking but the roughness level for trails you can ride without suspension should not be too extreme. A mountain bike without suspension does a great job at handling some basic trails at your local park but if you want to go full beast mode on a steep and bumpy trail, you should use a bike with partial or full suspension. Even though a rigid bike will be able to soak up some of the abuse from a rough trail, it can become difficult to handle the bike at high speed. The ride won’t be as comfortable and controlled like a bike with a full modern suspension. So if you are going to be doing a lot of off-roading that does not involve lots of high speed downhill riding, then you will do just fine without any suspension. But if you are thinking about taking on a serious trail with a lot of steep slopes and curves, having the added cushioning will make your ride more stable and comfortable.
Both rigid and suspension bikes have their own advantages and disadvantages. It all comes down to; the rider’s skill level, the difficulty of the trail, and your budget, when you are choosing between the two options. There are a lot more factors you need to consider in order to fully understand whether you need a bike with suspension or not. We will tell you everything you need to know about suspension and rigid fork mountain bikes in this article so keep reading.
What type of bike suspension will work best for you?
Basically, there are three different types of mountain bikes that you can buy based on the suspension system they have. All three types of bikes are designed to perform in specific conditions and provide a very different feel to the rider. The types of suspension and their ideal usages are as follows:
- Rigid mountain bike (Classic mountain bike)
These kinds of mountain bikes are considered old school because they lack any fancy suspension systems and they were extremely popular until the ’90s. Classic mountain bikes are simple and they allow the rider to “read” the trail a lot more than bikes with suspension systems. The frames of these bikes are also rigid and it is up to your arms and legs to soak up all the abuse that the terrain is going to throw at you.
Intended use: A bike with a rigid fork a.k.a, no suspension, is not suitable for extreme mountain biking. Rigid mountain bikes have become extremely popular in recent years due to an increasing trend of “bikepacking”. People are widely using suspension-less mountain bikes for trips that involve riding multiple days on off-road tracks and smooth trails. The lack of suspension on these rigid fork bikes means that they can carry a lot more camping gear without overloading the suspension system with extra weight.
- Hardtail mountain bikes
These types of bikes are a mix between rigid bike and a full suspension bike as it has only a front suspension but doesn’t have a suspension in the rear. A hardtail mountain bike will provide a smoother ride compared to a rigid suspension bike and it will soak up some of the bumps and make your ride more comfortable. But since a hardtail bike doesn’t soak up all of the shocks you will still be able to feel the trail when riding.
Intended usage: If you are into some smooth trail riding at moderate speeds then a hardtail mountain bike is just right for you. You can have a lot more fun with a hardtail bike as compared to a rigid fork bike because you can go a lot more places on a bike with a hardtail suspension without losing handling or comfort. Riders commonly use hardtail bikes for long distance off-road riding that involves some climbing.
- Full suspension mountain bike
Full suspension bikes as the name suggests are the most modern type of bikes available with suspension systems installed in both front and back. The main focus of full suspension bikes is to soak up as much of the abuse as possible while allowing the rider to focus on the trail and riding. Full suspension bikes provide the least amount of trail readability to the rider but at the same time provide a lot more control with improved handling.
Intended usage: Just by looking at a full suspension mountain bike, you can easily understand that they are built to handle extreme downhill riding at high speeds while keeping the rider in control. A full suspension bike won’t make your jaw rattle as you go down a rocky trail and you will be able to ride a lot more without getting tired since most of the abuse is soaked up by the suspension system. So if you are into downhill riding that also involves jumps, you should go for a full suspension mountain bike because they can handle any form of technical riding much better than rigid or hardtail mountain bikes. While riding at high speeds, you need all the handling ability you can get in order to keep the bike in a straight line and that is exactly what you get in a full suspension bike. The main focus of a full suspension system is to improve the traction of the bike. Full suspension systems work by keeping the rider lifted upwards with the help of a spring while another component of suspension called a ‘damper’, helps soak up any impact when the bike crosses an obstacle.
How to make a rigid mountain bike more comfortable?
If you own a rigid mountain bike with no suspension at all there are some DIY ways that can really help you in order to improve its shock absorbing abilities and make it more comfortable to ride without adding heavy suspension parts.
- You can choose a longer wheelbase frame for your rigid mountain bike because a longer wheelbase allows for better weight distribution and the impact from the terrain is spread more evenly across the whole frame of the bike making the ride a lot smoother.
- Putting wider tyres on your suspension less mountain bike will greatly increase its ability to grip the surface while riding. In addition, to increase in traction you will notice a lot more dampening from bumps when using wider tyres.
- Keep the tyre pressure of your mountain bike a little lower as tyres that are less inflated will be able to soak up most of the roughness of the terrain.
Pros and cons of a mountain bike without suspension
While a rigid mountain bike is a simple and easy to maintain, it has its fair share of drawbacks as well.
- Pros of a rigid mountain bike
- A rigid suspension bike will force you to get better because there is no additional help in the form of suspension and dampening which makes you realize your mistakes and improve your skills as a rider.
- You can get a rigid suspension mountain bike even if you are on a tight budget because they are made of fewer parts and this really helps in keeping their cost low.
- A mountain bike without suspension components is super easy to maintain since you don’t have to replace any expensive suspension parts after regular intervals and the only thing you have to worry about maintenance wise on a rigid suspension bike is rusting of the frame.
- You can easily ride a rigid bike for a long distance without worrying about it breaking down because they have fewer parts and this makes it more reliable and less prone to a surprise breakdown.
- Rigid suspension mountain bikes are light compared to one with full suspension. This makes them easier to paddle for long distances or for upward climbs.
- Plenty of room for storage making the rigid suspension mountain bike more practical to use.
- Weight is distributed evenly and lack of suspension means that no energy from paddling goes to waste.
- Cons of rigid mountain bike
- Does not allow the riders to ride wherever they want and a rigid bike rider is limited to fewer harsh trails.
- Difficult to handle at high speeds since the ride gets too bumpy and it is difficult to keep the front tyre on the ground.
- You can’t make jumps on a rigid bike unless you are a seasoned pro because there is no cushioning to absorb the force when you are landing. Combine that with an uneven surface and you will not have a great time while landing a jump on a rigid suspension bike.
- Not very beginner friendly because a rigid mountain bike is one of the most difficult bikes to control and take a lot of time to master which can put some beginners off.
- All of the force from a bump is absorbed by the tyres and rims of the bike which means it is easier to bend the rims if your tyre hits something at an awkward angle.
Pros and cons of a mountain bike with suspension
Mountain bikes that support suspension are not very versatile when it comes to usage and they are made for specific purposes. Below are some commonly noticed pros and cons of bikes with full and partial suspension.
- Pros of mountain bikes with suspension
- Modern suspension bikes come with lockout feature that helps you convert them into rigid suspension but you can’t convert a rigid suspension into a full suspension.
- Do well on technical trails and provide much needed control and safety to the rider along with boosting the confidence of the rider.
- Don’t cause back problems that are common among people who are older and like to ride mountain bikes as the suspension of the bike doesn’t put too much strain on the back.
- Very effective in absorbing impact from jumps and allow the rider to make more controlled landing after a jump.
- Highly recommended for beginner riders due to ease of handling and more safety.
- Cons of mountain bikes with suspension
- You will run into a lot of maintenance related issues and the cost of replacing a worn suspension with a new one is almost as much as an entry level rigid suspension bike.
- Additional suspension components make the retails price of suspension mountain bikes quite high.
- Weight of full suspension bikes is higher compared to a partial or rigid suspension mountain bike making them difficult to use for climbing uphill.
- Does not provide a lot of room to carry supplies because most of the space is consumed by suspension parts.
- The bouncier ride of a bike with suspension can make the handling tricky and it might take some getting used to in order to understand how the bike will perform with a full fledge suspension.
How to distinguish a good suspension from a bad one?
When buying a suspension for your mountain bike or when getting a mountain bike that features suspension in front, rear or both, you have to be aware of what to look for. So here are some characteristics of a good quality mountain bike suspension:
- A good quality mountain bike suspension should be able to support your weight when you sit on it and it shouldn’t get completely compressed as soon as you sit on it.
- Suspension of a mountain bike should be able to compress and return to its normal position after the bike goes over an obstacle.
- Mountain bike suspension should be as light as possible in order to prevent adding any additional weight to the bike which can affect the ability of the rider to climb uphill.
- It should come with a lockout mechanism that allows you to fix the mountain bike’s suspension so that it doesn’t make the bike bouncy when you are paddling hard.
- The suspension of the bike should follow the same wheel path every time it is compressed by an obstacle in order to keep the ride predictable.
What kinds of terrain can each kind of MTB suspension handle?
It all comes down to where you are going to be mountain biking and how long are you planning to ride the mountain bike when selecting the correct type of mountain bike suspension. When it comes to mountain biking you have to have a bike that is specifically designed for the terrain you are using it in. For example, using a full suspension mountain bike on a clear trail will leave you with a bouncy ride with paddling power being lost in the suspension. Similarly using a rigid mountain bike on a rocky trail will leave your body fatigued within no time. So here are some of the terrains best suited for each type of mountain bike suspension.
- Rigid mountain bike suspension
A rigid mountain bike suspension can easily handle a wide variety of terrain including asphalt, gravel, grassy plains, and of course dirt roads. Generally, any level surface with moderate bumps is ideal for rigid mountain bikes.
- Hardtail mountain bike suspension
Hardtail suspension can handle forests and gravel surfaces with their moderate ability to soak up bumps. Other than forests you can also do a little bit of trail riding on your hardtail mountain bike that does not involve a rocky surface.
- Full suspension mountain bikes
These types of bikes are meant for hardcore trails of Colorado and they are less popular among riders who ride long distances on level surfaces.
If budget is not an issue and you can spend $1000 upwards on a mountain bike then you should definitely go for a modern mountain bike with full suspension because you will be able to do a lot more riding on a full suspension bike without getting tired. But if budget is an issue then it is always best to go with a good quality rigid mountain bike than buying a cheap full suspension bike because you will get a more solid frame with a good quality material which can handle anything you throw at it.