Hard or soft tail??

The place for discussions on what piece might fit where, where to buy it from, how to fit it, etc.

Moderator: Moderators

User avatar
Matt
surf god
surf god
Posts: 724
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 20:01
Location: Gloucester

Hard or soft tail??

Post by Matt » Tue Jan 31, 2006 23:35

Inspired by the reports on this site and to make better use of the windless spells that seem to be getting longer, I’m thinking of getting into this mountain biking lark a bit.
Having done mostly road riding up to now, I like the idea of getting up into the hills and away from it all, especially the traffic.

Whilst I have actually got a mountain bike that was quite decent in its day (it’s got titanium alloy handlebars you know), that day was 12 years ago. It’s also of the fully rigid variety, and so I guess not really the right tool for serious off-roading. So, I’ve been having a look to see what I can upgrade to and of course this is where it gets tricky.

I know that at least I want front suspension and hydraulic disk brakes but beyond that I’m not too sure. At a push I could probably just about stretch the budget to an ‘entry level’ full suspension bike, with the Specialised FSR XC looking particularly attractive. I’ve even seen one or two reduced in the sales on the web, but not many in my size since I need a big one. However, apart from one of my kids Apollo-from-Halfords bikes that was about 4 sizes too small for me, I’ve never ridden a full susser so it’s a bit of an unknown quantity to me. The downsides seem to be
extra weight,
complication and maintenance
poorer climbing (?)
more expensive
whereas the upsides are
more comfortable over rough ground,
less tiring (better for the ‘more mature’ rider)
increased downhill speed,

On the other hand I could get a pretty decent hardtail for less money, and do I really need all that suspension anyway?

But then again, since I’ve got road bikes for riding on the road, maybe I should go the whole hog if I’m getting a bike to use off road and go for full suss.

Or, maybe full suss will be so different from what I’m used to that I won’t like it?! And so it goes on….

Clearly I’m in need of some impartial advice and you seem to be just the people to give it, so any views or opinions would be highly appreciated. If it helps, I’m currently looking at Specialized, Marin and maybe Kona especially.

Cheers,

Matt

(PS. If Martin’s reading, what did you think of the test bike at Cwm Carn?)

User avatar
Al Donald
surf god
surf god
Posts: 704
Joined: Wed Sep 01, 2004 12:21
Location: Claverham

Post by Al Donald » Wed Feb 01, 2006 13:11

Hi Matt,
Good to hear you're thinking of joining the bikers.
I can offer some advice, but not necessarily impartial!
In my opinion the only real downside of full suspension of those things you mention is cost. I would advise against an entry level full susser, as some of the components will be 'budget' and will not last long, in particular the forks.
A well maintained second hand bike of better quality may be a good option, but for a new full sus I would say spend at least £1200, but maybe less if it's in a sale. As you say there are some very good deals on 2005 bikes just now.
Good hard-tails can be had for around £500-600 but obviously they will be uncomfortable over the bumps, but may be a good starting point to learn the techniques.
The three makes you mention are good bikes, and the shops do have demo bikes available.
I'll have a dig through some magazines and mention some recommended bikes if that helps.

User avatar
MartinF
surf god
surf god
Posts: 1023
Joined: Sun Aug 01, 2004 10:06
Location: N of Bristol. Prob in the pub
Contact:

Post by MartinF » Wed Feb 01, 2006 22:56

Nothing wrong with hardtails that a case-hardened rear-end won't cope with :wink: .

Speaking as someone who's ridden a hardtail over some fairly serious & even totally stupid (to me) terrain, I can happily say that a good hardtail will take a lot of abuse, and take the trails well - if not with sublime comfort.

I guess in some sense, I could be compared to a hamster in a cage: It just doesn't know of anything different. It just gets on with what it has. Last weekend, I managed to borrow a brand new Spesh FSR XC Pro (2006 version) for a blast round Cwmcarn. My thoughts...
  • Subjectively, it wan't any heavier than my hardtail.
  • It was very comfortable over bumpy stuff on the flat.
  • I didn't feel it was any harder work going uphill than my hardtail. Quite possibly easier with the exception that this bike doesn't have adjustable travel forks. They're 100mm, and that's it. On my bike, I can set the fork's travel anywhere between 85mm (for climbing) & 115mm (flat & downhill). So I found the front end a little light at times, though this was compensated for by the longer reach than on my bike.
  • I found I was smacking the pedals on almost every small undulation. Whether that was because the rear shock was set too soft, or there was too much sag overall, or the bottom bracket was lower than mine, or the cranks longer than mine, or I wasn't used to the bike, or some combination of all the above, I don't know. But it drove me nuts.
  • Downhill, I'm not sure what to make of it. Trouble is, I'm so used to being up out of the saddle over rough downhill stuff, that I had to keep reminding myself to sit down - and that felt unnatural for me. Becasue of that, I found I was going much slower downhill than I normally would.
  • I was really impressed with the tyres - Specialized Pro's. Very grippy on dry trails, roots, & rocks. Can't comment on their wet performance.
In summary, I think I'd like a full suss, though the FSR XC is not for me. I've been thinking about the Spesh Stumpy 120 Expert, but I'd want to upgrade the forks from Talas RL to RLCs. I'm planning on booking one of these from Garlands soon. I'd also be interested in trying a Kona Dawg dee-luxe (Garlands also do these). Specialized do a lifetime warranty on their frames, though - which might be the clincher, as long as I can overcome the pedal-bashing thing.
It's an ill wind that never blows at all.

User avatar
RaV
surf god
surf god
Posts: 332
Joined: Wed Mar 02, 2005 19:06
Location: West Wiltshire

Post by RaV » Thu Feb 02, 2006 11:01

Martin - if you fancy something burlier than the Dawg, Rob is selling his Coiler frame on Ebay :twisted:

V

User avatar
Ian Long
surf god
surf god
Posts: 862
Joined: Sun Aug 08, 2004 17:36
Location: Chew Valley
Contact:

Post by Ian Long » Thu Feb 02, 2006 13:25

Haven't never owned a full suss, I am not really qualified to comment, however this is an open forum, so here is my 2ps worth.

I took up mountain biking after many years commuting a good, hilly distance on a very stiff road bike. (still feels great to get on the road bike from time to time and marvel at how efficient the power transfer etc is, but for me the road bike has really only ever been a fitness and commuting thing.) MTBing is far more fun :D :D :D.

The advice we were given when starting off road was to go for a hard tail rather than a full suss as the first bike to help you learn the techniques associated with getting a bike across difficult terrain. I still feel that is some of the best mountain biking advice I have ever had. In theory a full suss will get you down the hill faster with less technique, however in the early days, it will probably get you down the hill faster than your ability and that can hurt :wink:.

Riding in the group we have there is a mix of hard tails and full suss. Can't say there is any pattern between which is quicker either uphill or down dale. Probably the biggest difference is made by the quality of the brakes, where nothing touches a set of hydraulic discs - they allow you the luxury to keeping your speed up on the descents knowing that if you suddenly needed to lose speed, you can. Within our group Adrian rides at a similar speed on his full suss to me on my hard tail. The main times I have noticed when he is significantly faster than me is on some of the longer descents, when my legs have got tired and I have to spend some time in the saddle - he can work far more efficiently from within the saddle because it is a more stable platform, making pedaling etc easier. I would imagine it also gives him an advantage on some of the longer days in the saddle as well.

I now feel I have cut my teeth on my hard tail and my next bike will be full suss but I am not in any hurry to change up. I hope there are a good few seasons left in my hard tail.

On the subject of weight - Neroli and I started with the cheapest hard tails we could find with disk brakes and reasonable quality components. None of the components lasted very long, particularly on my bike, and have now been upgraded to a level where they can take a reasonable amount of abuse. If you compare the weight of my bike with the full suss bikes in our group, I believe mine is heavier than the majority of the full susses, it certainly feels it when lifting them over gates etc. I assume this is down to the weight of the frame but haven't found the weight a particular problem. Fitness, ability and the terrain you are riding over are far more significant.

Happy hunting...
If found, please return to the pub.

User avatar
Ian Long
surf god
surf god
Posts: 862
Joined: Sun Aug 08, 2004 17:36
Location: Chew Valley
Contact:

Post by Ian Long » Thu Feb 02, 2006 13:28

Haven't never owned a full suss, I am not really qualified to comment, however this is an open forum, so here is my 2ps worth.

I took up mountain biking after many years commuting a good, hilly distance on a very stiff road bike. (still feels great to get on the road bike from time to time and marvel at how efficient the power transfer etc is, but for me the road bike has really only ever been a fitness and commuting thing.) MTBing is far more fun :D :D :D.

The advice we were given when starting off road was to go for a hard tail rather than a full suss as the first bike to help you learn the techniques associated with getting a bike across difficult terrain. I still feel that is some of the best mountain biking advice I have ever had. In theory a full suss will get you down the hill faster with less technique, however in the early days, it will probably get you down the hill faster than your ability and that can hurt :wink:.

Riding in the group we have there is a mix of hard tails and full suss. Can't say there is any pattern between which is quicker either uphill or down dale. Probably the biggest difference is made by the quality of the brakes, where nothing touches a set of hydraulic discs - they allow you the luxury to keeping your speed up on the descents knowing that if you suddenly needed to lose speed, you can. Within our group Adrian rides at a similar speed on his full suss to me on my hard tail. The main times I have noticed when he is significantly faster than me is on some of the longer descents, when my legs have got tired and I have to spend some time in the saddle - he can work far more efficiently from within the saddle because it is a more stable platform, making pedaling etc easier. I would imagine it also gives him an advantage on some of the longer days in the saddle as well.

I now feel I have cut my teeth on my hard tail and my next bike will be full suss but I am not in any hurry to change up. I hope there are a good few seasons left in my hard tail.

On the subject of weight - Neroli and I started with the cheapest hard tails we could find with disk brakes and reasonable quality components. None of the components lasted very long, particularly on my bike, and have now been upgraded to a level where they can take a reasonable amount of abuse. If you compare the weight of my bike with the full suss bikes in our group, I believe mine is heavier than the majority of the full susses, it certainly feels it when lifting them over gates etc. I assume this is down to the weight of the frame but haven't found the weight a particular problem. Fitness, ability and the terrain you are riding over are far more significant.

Happy hunting...
If found, please return to the pub.

User avatar
spinout
carve gyber
carve gyber
Posts: 163
Joined: Thu Aug 12, 2004 12:28
Location: Bath

Post by spinout » Thu Feb 02, 2006 20:53

I think all the above points are valid.

I currently have both and the key is that neither is better, they are just different.

The full suss is more comfortable a little heavier and a lot more complex. For example, one of the rear pivots developed a really annoying squeak and it took me weeks to track it down. Particularly in the recent muddy weather it needs more maintenance. However, it a better 'big boy's toy' in that it has lots of bits to fiddle with.

On the other hand the hardtail (now my wifes bike) is relatively simple and requires minimal maintenance. It's also a lot of fun to chuck about and has a certain 'hard core' appeal.

In terms of climbing it horses for courses. The full suss is able to maintain traction over rough ground but it's easier to keep the nose down on the hardtail.

There are some really good full suss bikes around but I defnitely wouldn't buy a budget one (I bought a 2nd hand specialzed enduro frame and built it up with a selection of 2nd hand, borrowed and new parts). However, even 2nd hand I don't think you'll see much change out of a grand.

On the other hand you can get a great hardtail for half that. I've got a slightly retro steel hardtail which has a bit of in-built 'flex'. anyway.

HTH,
Carl

User avatar
Matt
surf god
surf god
Posts: 724
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 20:01
Location: Gloucester

Post by Matt » Thu Feb 02, 2006 23:40

Thanks for replies guys, that's just the sort of considered advice I was hoping for. It's where these forums come into their own.

You've raised a couple of points I hadn't considered before. I hadn't twigged that you could adjust the travel on some forks to suit the terrain, so I'm wanting them now! Or do you only get that facility on forks costing more than about £300 and which are only going to come on a bike that’s pretty expensive to start with?

In fact I find the whole fork thing very confusing since there are so many out there with similar names but different specs and prices. The names also seem to change from year to year making it hard to tell if those on last years bargain bikes are any good.

In general though, you're swaying me towards a hardtail given my budget constraints. The point about using it as a learning platform also seems very relevant given my pretty minimal off-road skill level.

Looking through the other posts in the biking section, it seems that the general wear and tear levels are pretty high, so that’s another point favouring the hardtail. It also makes me wonder whether to go for a more basic spec to start with, on the grounds that I can then upgrade to the stuff I want, rather than starting out with something more expensive but still not quite suitable.

Anyway, I think my next step is to try some out so I’ll see what the local shops can offer. I still like the look of the Specialized bikes though, so maybe a Rockhopper instead? Anybody any experience of Avid Juicy 5 disks and Rockshox Tora or Recon forks?

User avatar
spinout
carve gyber
carve gyber
Posts: 163
Joined: Thu Aug 12, 2004 12:28
Location: Bath

Post by spinout » Fri Feb 03, 2006 00:02

Avid Juicy 5's are top brakes. I've got them on my full suss. They are exactly the same as the top of the range Juicy 7's but without the 'bite point adjuster'. Unless you've got V small hands you don't need that.

No comments on the forks. but the recent rock shox forks have a good rep. Martin has the Rebas and apparently the slightly longer travel Revelations are also very good.

Marzocchi MX Comps have a very good reputation as robust, quality forks at a reasonable price. MX Comps with ETA can be locked down for climbs.

Adjustable fork travel sounds a good idea. However, in practice, winding up or down the travel is a bit of a faff. The Marzocchi type approch which allows full travel or minimum travel is a good compromise.

Seem to be lots of good deals at the moment.

User avatar
dro
surf god
surf god
Posts: 757
Joined: Wed Aug 11, 2004 09:58
Location: south wales

Hmmm

Post by dro » Fri Feb 03, 2006 09:36

after due consideration
taking all known facts into equation
weighing up all possibilities
analysing the terrain,weather ,rider's weight and general fitness
My conclusion is :

That you should go for the red one

I hope this is of help

Huw
What do you mean not ENOUGH wind ?

User avatar
Matt
surf god
surf god
Posts: 724
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 20:01
Location: Gloucester

Post by Matt » Fri Feb 03, 2006 23:03

Dro, I knew I could rely on you for sound advice. The red one is a definite possibility. It's at my preferred end of the spectrum and is a logical upgrade from my present bike, which some people call pink but is officially 'salmon'. I've also got a road bike that's 'cerisse', so I've definitely got a tendency in that direction.

User avatar
Matt
surf god
surf god
Posts: 724
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 20:01
Location: Gloucester

Post by Matt » Fri Feb 03, 2006 23:06

Dro, I knew I could rely on you for sound advice. The red one is a definite possibility. It's at my preferred end of the spectrum and is a logical upgrade from my present bike, which some people call pink but is officially 'salmon'. I've also got a road bike that's 'cerisse', so I've definitely got a tendency in that direction.

User avatar
Adrian
surf god
surf god
Posts: 824
Joined: Fri Sep 10, 2004 12:29
Location: Swindon

Post by Adrian » Mon Feb 06, 2006 17:51

Matt,

Noah's Ark near Stroud have a specialised demo day on saturday - you can ring and book a ride.

My kit observations are this - as Ian says in theory you should learn your craft on a hardtail and speed is in the ability of the rider not the bike. However remember you can upgrade almost everything but you cannot move from hardtail to full suss without a new frame which tends to be the only thing that does not wear out. Secondly I ride full suss entirely for comfort - my back stopped being prepared to take the abuse of off road riding in 1998 when I was 41 but I was riding a rigid and Martin is older and is okay on a hardtail. Yoy can get a very good 1 or 2 year old brand new full suss for about £1000 that scored 10/10 in my mag - components are reasonable quality. Like windsurfing it is a fashion game and last years run outs will save you a fortune. happy to point you in the right direction if you want.

On quality of components remember you might not like it so buying low quality could be cheaper in the long term. If you get into it upgrade as they wears out. Quality kit wears out just not quite as fast normally. Again if you do not get into it a hard tail with slick tyres is far more versatile than a full suss but for my money i would start with full suss these days.

Cheers,

Adrian

User avatar
Matt
surf god
surf god
Posts: 724
Joined: Sat Mar 12, 2005 20:01
Location: Gloucester

Post by Matt » Mon Feb 06, 2006 23:04

Hi Adrian,
Coincidentally I was in Noahs at the weekend, having another poke about. I asked if they were going to have any bikes in my size (XL) to try out on the demo day, and they're going to give me ring when they've found out. Sounds like there will be several shortish (5-6miles) test rides going off throughout the day.

Interesting to hear your angle on the comfort issue. it's one of the main reasons why I am tempted to go full suss since I plan to keep it a few years and I won't be getting any younger. It's only really the money stopping me.

However, during my recent intensive research I've seen a few attractive looking deals on previous years models eg. Spesh FSR XC 2005 for £575 (vee brakes though) or some older Marin full sussers for under a grand. There would probably be more choice if I wasn't limited by size so much. Also, the cheapest deals seem to be in northern bike shops and some seem to require collection in person (esp for Marins). Don't know if this is a warranty thing? I might give them a ring for more details but generally I'd prefer to buy locally if it's not costing me too much more.

User avatar
Adrian
surf god
surf god
Posts: 824
Joined: Fri Sep 10, 2004 12:29
Location: Swindon

Post by Adrian » Thu Feb 09, 2006 22:45

Matt,

I do remember reading somewhere that Marin's hve to be collected in person for the warranty card to be completed. I think the north has more deals as there are more shops - probably as more really serious riding in those parts.

I would share Ian's comment about brakes and go for discs.

The route Noah's use for tests gives a good steep road climb - good for checking out pedalling efficiency then goes off road which can test grip if wet as gets muddy then has a rocky uncomfortable descent, so in a short route gives a bit of variety. It is also short enough to go round twice - I tested 3 on the route last year, so you could try hard tail + full suss.

ps the owner Chris also windsurfs and is not a bad bloke.

Adrian

Post Reply