Hardtail vs full suspension for XC


Based on your description of what you will be racing I recommend an Epic Evo or Santa Cruz Blur (or your favorite equivalent). It really is amazing what these bikes are capable of and being an amateur without a bike for every course it might be nice to have the option to go a little more rugged if you want.


Seems you need to do some testing on both a HT and FS xc and see which one goes uphill fastest with you pedaling. If you dont have a big motor for sustained power or high watt per kg, Im thinking you will want the most efficient bike going uphill. Dont forget about tire size as well. The fatter the slower. Seems your DH experience would overcome any shortcomings on the downhill leg with good line choice.

I rode Tsali trails in NC this weekend for the first time in a decade. Might be a use case for a hardtail, there’s some bumpy sections but basically smooth as butter. Maybe the first time I felt over biked on my Ripley!

Not necessarily: you also need grip to go downhill, so with narrower tires you might lose the time you save on the uphill on the downhill. I remember that @Jonathan rode 2.5" (?) mountain bike tires at a race recently. Especially if you opt for a hardtail, you might want to go for wider, faster tires (i. e. tires with a “faster” tread pattern) as opposed to a narrower tires with a grippier tread pattern.

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I think its quite simple. If you can only have one Bike - FS. If you have the cash for 2…A HT is faster on a smooth course. I have a Specialised Epic and dont feel the need for a HT at all.


A lightweight, 120mm f/r full suspension bike will be your best bet. I have an Epic EVO and it’s lighter than most hardtails and most certainly faster on virtually every trail than the old hardtail. You can manually lock the rear suspension on the long climbs. The HA is slack enough to ride a lot of pretty gnarly stuff, just at a slightly slower speed than you might be used to but since you have a DH/Enduro background you would be fine.


True that you need grip on the downhill but IF you are racing on a lap course where there is a significant climbing it seems that most of the time spent on the course will be going up and not down. It would do me no good to downhill at fastest possible speed if I lost climbing efficiency over a longer time period because of downhill efficiency equipment choices. Not arguing suspension is faster going down and going down faster is fun. WC xc bikes are just now getting suspension but it is really short travel and they still use pretty small light tires to keep the package light as possible to go UP as efficiently ie quick as possible. Just saying the OP downhill skills could make up for lack of sus compared to a lesser skilled rider on sus while being faster on the uphill on the lighter HT


In an ideal world I’d ride something like a Supercaliber and then have a rad trail bike that I can still strap fast tires on for some local “all-mountain” KOMs but money is a bit tight this year with a second kiddo on the way. And like I originally posted I reallllly want to do well enough to move up to Cat 1 this year and if I’d be faster on a HT I might rock one as my main race rig.

For sure, I find that on the XC bikes the tires are the limiting factor way before the actual bike. With “real” tires I can ride the XC bike on local DH trails just fine, albeit takes a bit more out of me. I can still ride them on Aspens but it’s not fun in the slightest. The Epic Evo looks awesome, I just wish it had the lockout stock but that’s not a super costly upgrade.

I disagree with this in most cases. Suspension is a benefit in most places. It takes a pretty smooth, non-technical, and climby course for a hardtail to be faster, and that has been the case for at least 5 years, around when the last generation Scott spark came out. I would argue longer, but that is because I am a larger rider where a suspension bike is less of a detriment on any course. I am also someone who has run a lockout on my xc full suspension bike always.

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I think the reason to ride a hardtail these days is just if you want to. Personally, I’ve had my time at the front of cat 1’s, and did not see myself staying there, or going any further. I like riding hardtails, so I went back, and enjoy the simplicity, especially the relevance to my CX skills.

I also have a DH / slalom / dirtjump background. And I dont lose any time to people around me on high end carbon FS bikes, I’m usually faster in those areas if anything. I’m sure the racers at the front of the field are slightly faster descenders, but I doubt by much. I would argue I might be slightly faster climbing on the HT, but if you lose traction once, thats negated. My back also tends to go quicker than I imagine it would otherwise.

So in short, I’m sure I could move up a few spots on an FS bike, but its not going to make me faster where I lose the most time, climbing. So I’ll just yo-yo more. If your chasing every second, go with an FS, but otherwise, a hardtail is a lot of fun to race on, and great to ride weird routes that are too much for a gravel bike, but not something you want to lug around a FS bike for.


And if your budget doesn’t stretch to a full-sus which is an actual improvement over the hardtail. (i.e. $2500 hardtail vs $2500 full-sus, I’m going hardtail every time).

I’m on a hardtail because I cannot justify the cost barrier to go to a full-sus that would be an improvement over my hardtail.


Very good point. Especially if you break a lot of stuff, IE me. The last full suspension bike is still hanging in the garage with a destroyed rear end.

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Hardtail for me all the way! So easy to maintain, light, and fun!


Interesting conversation. I just want to say I wonder why the Canyon Lux, and the TR version especially, are hardly ever mentioned in this conversations.
Yeah, is one of the bikes I am considering myself, but I am open to all and any insights.

I think they’re very dated bikes with very dated geometry. I love a firm suspension, especially for XC but personally can’t stand geometry numbers that are on bikes like the Lux. Everyone’s riding style is different though.

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Seconded. A good hardtail with e. g. a carbon seat post is very comfortable. I know that a rear suspension gives you a traction advantage, but a good hardtail need not punish your rear end.

IMHO it depends on a lot on skills. If you are a superb bike handler, you can get away with faster, less grippy tires. But I reckon for the majority it is better to err on the side of having more grip.

On long XC marathon races other factors may enter, too. Here in Japan, we have one famous 100 km/120 km MTB XC marathon race. The course is demanding, fitness-wise, but the course is mostly easy. The exception is that in many places, you have fresh, fist-sized rocks with sharp sides that are known to slice through sidewalls.