Originally the bikes made for standing beating and abuse that hardtails would be too rigid to handle, the full suspension mountain bike has evolved to become the overarching standard at every Pro subdivision in the sport, including cross country. The confidence inspired by having suspension at both the front and rear can be seen in the ever-increasing number of riders prepared to pay the ever-shrinking premium for this speed inducing comfort.
The Full Suspension Mountain Bike Simplified
Full Suspension mountain bikes are separated from hardtails through the fact that they not only have suspension on the front of the bike (the forks), but they also have suspension on the rear (the shock or coil). Full sus bikes are more comfortable to ride and the suspension will save you from tiring more quickly during longer descents. While there is a clear advantage to using a full sus on more bumpy terrain, this comes at the expense of a loss of pedalling power transfer to the rear wheel (some of your pedalling energy is absorbed by the rear shock), this is most noticeable while climbing but will have a small impact on every pedal stroke regardless of gradient.
Should you buy a full suspension bike as a beginner?
The truth is probably not, unless you’ve got quite a bit of money to spend – a hardtail will force you to improve your technique as they are by their very nature less forgiving than full suspension bikes. Another point of consideration is that you can most likely get a ‘good’ hardtail which will not limit what you can ride for a very long time at a fraction of the expense of a full suspension bike.
The Types of Full Suspension Mountain Bike
Cross-country (XC): Bikes designed for XC racing are typically made for speed and longer distance riding over varied terrain, generally being more geared towards handling tough climbs than tough descents, unless you are willing to pay 2k + for your bike most statistics seem to suggest they have little advantage over a cheaper (and almost certainly lighter) hardtail equivalent. The takeover of full suspension bikes in the cross country race scene is mainly due to the pros (or their sponsors) being prepared to pay large amounts of money for marginal gains.
They are the most lightweight and efficient of the mountain biking family, at the expense of downhill performance and comfort. Expect to see 100 – 120mm of suspension travel and head angles of 70 – 71 degrees, with visibly more ‘skinny’ or ‘flimsy’ looking components than heavier duty mountain bikes. You should expect your full suspension bike cross country bike to be between 10 and 13.5 kilos.
Trail: Trail bikes are a beefier enhancement of XC bikes. Ridden typically by less ‘hardcore’ mountain bikers, who look primarily to have fun, as there is not yet a big race culture here (unlike with cross country, enduro and downhill), these bikes focus slightly more on the descent than the ascent and would be most in their element at trail centres. The slacker head angle (68-69 degrees) and longer 120 – 140mm travel forks with wider stanchions complement this, making them a great choice for starting jumping or more technical features. Naturally weighing more than cross country bikes at around 11-15kg, they come in as great ‘all rounders’.
Enduro: Enduro bikes are the heavier and more downhill orientated than their trail bike counterparts, with the gap between the two being bridged by another noteworthy sub-genre – All Mountain (which basically means light duty enduro bikes or heavy duty trail bikes). As with the trend that can be noticed above, enduro bikes have longer travel and slacker geometry. At this point essentially making them downhill bikes that you are able to cycle uphill – albeit with significantly more difficulty than you would feel with an XC bike. You should expect an enduro bike to weigh 13 – 15.5kg and have 150-180mm of travel.
Downhill –Downhill Bikes are built to do exactly what they say on the tin, ride downhill fast. With at least 200mm of travel on the front forks and the slackest geometry, expect a weight ranging from 14 to a beefy 18.5 kilos. Easily the most specialized form of full suspension mountain bike; the hard hitting dogs of the sport are generally the easiest to appreciate (who doesn’t enjoy riding downhill fast) – providing there is a suitable trail and uplift.
If you are still uncertain which of the full suspension bike types would suit you best, it is probably better to stick to the more ‘light duty’ side, with one of the less expensive bikes like the calibre bossnut (pictured above).
Images originally sourced from: unsplash.com and dirt.com