Difference between Hardtail and Softail Bikes

January 14, 2017 by Editorial Team

Buying a bike that’s capable of perfectly handling any kind of terrain is not possible. Typically, cyclists end up having to choose between bikes with different types of suspensions. The two most common options are hardtail and softail bikes.

Descriptions

A hardtail bike

Hardtail bikes are bikes that only have suspension on the front. These bikes are not to be confused with bikes that have no suspension at all. Those bikes are referred to as “rigids.” Suspensions on hardtail bikes are typically found on the fork. However, front suspension is found on the handlebar in some cases. The latter type of front suspension aims to lessen the impact on the cyclist’s arms and lets the bike’s body take the brunt of the impact. Most bikers prefer suspensions on the fork because they feel that it’s capable of taking away most of the impact.

Cyclists choose between two types of fork suspensions: air or coil. The former option contributes to the bike’s lightness, whereas the latter is preferable in consistently rough terrains. The reason for this is that air suspension forks gradually become less capable of absorbing shock after successive bumps. It may not have time to recover its neutral position if there are many bumps to traverse.

Softail bikes
A softail bike

Softail bikes have suspension on both the front and back. Cyclists also refer to these bikes as full suspension bikes. The added suspension system in the rear is why it is referred to as having a “soft tail.” Even in the roughest of terrains, these bikes are able to absorb impact impressively well. Cyclists who are concerned about their knee health or have preexisting knee conditions generally prefer this type of bike.

The downside of softail bikes is that it reduces efficiency in pedaling. Some momentum is inadvertently lost with the rear tire bouncing off the ground.

Comparison

The two bikes have their own following in the cycling community. One obviously doesn’t flat-out have a big advantage over the other.

Cyclists who want to get a better feel for the terrain they are traversing prefer hardtail bikes. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction in conquering trails when the absence of shock isn’t as significant. In addition to this, hardtail bikes are better for cycling uphill.

Softail bikes, on the other hand, are for cyclists who prefer an easier (but not without effort) ride through trails. They are preferable when the cyclist wishes to avoid punishing their arms and legs from hours of cross-country biking.

Comparison Chart

Hardtail BikeSoftail Bike
Front-only suspensionFront and rear suspension
Better suited for uphill and flat tracksIdeal for downhill and technical tracks
Efficient at utilizing every pedalMore efficient in absorbing impact

Video

The video below showcases the differences between these bikes with actual testing.