Hardtail vs full suspension for XC

I know this topic has been brought up many many times but I’m going to ask it hopefully from a different perspective. For a little background I’m a former enduro and DH guy whos turned to XC after some injuries and a lack of gnarly terrain. I’ve never been a top amateur but my fitness definitely held me way back when I was focused on enduro and I’ve had the occasional top 5 stage results (usually on shorter more gnarly DH oriented stages), so my skills are decent. I’ve been racing XC for the last 2 years and can’t quite afford to have a super nice trail bike AND a nice XC race bike and I definitely like having a mid-travel trail bike.

With our second kiddo on the way next year my racing will be limited to very local races in Oregon and none except a local XCO is particularly gnarly. Most of the races are 90-120 minutes consisting of gravel road climbs, with a bit of single track mixed in, followed by green or blue trail descents. My main goal is to podium enough this year to move up to Cat 2.

My question, is at what point is a hardtail faster? I’ve heard a lot of talk on the podcasts how a full sus is actually faster over anything bumpy, even fire roads but I find that hard to believe. I know hardtails beat you up more but I’m willing to suffer a bit more on the descents if it’s under 2 hours if it means a faster overall time, especially with a bit higher skills than the average competitor and a bit more of upper body musculature to take the abuse.

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If it’s not that choppy (and only grade two to three), you’re unlikely to give up heaps of time on the HT with your background.

There’s a local Enduro World Series racer who has jumped across to XC a few times recently and is always on a HT for them. His skill far and away compensates for the lack of squish.

Depending what your prior injuries are (back? Neck?) I’d be inclined to still suggest a full suspension if the races are going to be consistently on the longer end of those time frames. Plenty of people are mega fast on HT, but it’s easier to be consistently fast on a full suspension, in my opinion at least.

I’m also not 100% on what your question is. Do you have a super nice trail bike and now trying to decide whether a HT should be added to the fleet?


My main injury was a broken T4/5 but that doesn’t cause any issues while riding, just has slowed me down mentally and I’ve never really had the same desire to charge like I used to.

Mostly I’m asking which is faster over mellow-ish courses. I have an aggressive “downcountry” bike and I’m about to sell it, and am debating picking up a hardtail as a race bike and using most of the leftover money for a new trail bike.

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If you can only afford 1 bike, go with something like the Scott spark. In open mode it’s very capable, in middle mode it’s a real xc racer and the full lockout i never use. But the difference between open and middle is very big and useful in more flat racing.

Of course some guys will always so good that they are as fast or faster on a hardtail, but for me the spark is faster on my local trails then the FSI hardtail. And these trails do not look like they need full suspension.

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A Spark would be ideal (especially with being able to put a grip2 34 on the front for trail riding) but the availability has been difficult. I looked into getting that or an Epic Evo last year and couldn’t track down either from any shops in my area

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I really value the ability to keep laying power down over the chattery stuff with a FS.

You’d probably be fine on a HT, but one day you might do some longer, or more tech racing. You’re not giving much up at all in terms of weight and climbing efficiency these days on a good XC/DC bike.

You would be better off (imo) going for super fast (sketchy) tyres on a FS and that would make a bigger difference than going to a HT.

A Santa Cruz Blur TR would be another good option.


It is true, though: under most conditions, a fully is faster. That’s because the rear suspension gives you much better traction. On longer races (XC marathon events), the added comfort is also significant (I know that you wrote your XC races last 1–2 hours on average, but still). A hardtail is also much more forgiving, i. e. line choice becomes super important. For someone with good skills in the handling department, that might be a fun challenge and you need not lose time.

Personally, I came from a fully back to a hardtail. I think I prefer the ride of a good hardtail in many situations, but I gotta keep my brain switched on.


FS will be faster 9/10 times


gravel road climbs, with a bit of single track mixed in, followed by green or blue trail descents.

On that kind of easy terrain, a lighter bike with fast rolling tyres will be faster uphill.

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Yes, it gets complicated, if you are comparing the same valuye bike the HT will be maybe 2-3kg lighter which will make a big differance in it’s favour.

If your just comparing a top spec HT and FS then the FS will likely be faster in most conditions


Especially with your background, (unless you’re the minority that prefers the ride feel of a hard tail), why not get a light weight 120-130 trail bike and do both? For instance, I race on my Ripley with a 120 fork, carbon wheels, and XC tires - still pedals well enough for my talent level. Then, for fun mode I put on a 140 fork, wider rim wheel set and trail/enduro tires. Trail bikes are so good these days that they do double duty really really well. Unless you’re willing to go all in on XC racing and are at the pointy end of races, a dedicated XC bike is a tough sell (assuming you enjoy technical trail riding of course).

To answer the question more directly, I think a hard tail is almost always slower than a modern FS bike, that being said, I do know some folks who just don’t jive with any thing but a hard tail and they’re very fast. For me, I’m slower everywhere except the smoothest of trails, and gravel climbs.

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I race longer XC events, but have switched from an Ibis DV9 hardtail (120mm) to an Epic EVO FS - 120mm. Like you, I’ve raced enduro and am a capable descender - not super impressive, but better than my xc-only peers anyway. I’ve found I descend faster on the Epic, but both bikes are about the same on the climbs. The Epic’s shock can lock out completely, which I do for long gravel or road climbs. A remote lockout for the shock would be nice.

My Epic also happens to be lighter than my hardtail! The DV9 wasn’t really that weight weenie though. (24.5 lbs.)

I chose to go with my Epic EVO and sell the hardtail, just for the versatility. The Epic can also serve as a trail bike, and only ever feels under-biked on big drops. I choose it more often than my enduro bike for just ordinary trail rides.

Perhaps you just need to find a lighter downcountry bike with a remote shock lockout?


I second this! My big bike is seeing less and less use. The modern XCM bike is just good at everything. With the new crop of XC bikes utilizing flex stays, omitting pivots, the weight differential to a hardtail is marginal. Which is the only advantage a HT has over a FS. With modern lockout it’s basically a HT if you want it.

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You’re probably right. I have the new RM Element and it absolutely rallies with real tires on it but it feels like a lot of bike for the majority of races I hit last year. In my head it’s slowing me down but most likely in Cat 2 it’s not making a bit of difference, though I would really love a remote lockout.

Seems like the majority consensus is the HT is slower in the majority of cases.

Something with a remote lockout would be ideal for sure. Even if the gains are marginal in my head I’m losing ground without it, though I tend to just run my bike in the middle shock setting for the entirety of most races.


Yeti Arc :drooling_face:

This one? :laughing:

(Specialized Epic HT 2022)

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Comparing a modern full suspension bike to a modern hardtail, there are not very many courses where a HT is faster. If it’s a really climby smooth course, where you gain a lot of elevation, the weight may win out, but my experience with HT to full suspension has been its superior on every course until you are approaching the technicality where a cx bike is the best tool for the job. That being said, I have run a remote lockout bike for the last 7 years, so I’m making good use of trail and climb modes. On my current bike that doesn’t get used that often though. It’s only really smooth sections where I’m out of the saddle.

Is the RM 130mm fork and super slack HTA?

That likely will “feel” slow on easy XC trails.

There’s some merit in consolidating to something else FS. Is there any means of installing a lockout remote to your shock?

That it is. Foolish buy but it sure is fun. You can put a 120 mm fork on it and run it in the steep geo position which puts the HA around 66.2 deg but the wheelbase is still 1234 mm in a size large. And it does not have any provisions for running cables to the rear shock for a lockout which I think is a huge oversight.

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