Would You Rather: Dream Hardtail or Mid-Price Full Suspension?

Blister Would You Rather: Hardtail vs. Full Suspension
Affordable Full Suspensions vs. High-End Hardtail
Review Navigation:  Intro //  Noah Bodman //  Luke Koppa //  David Golay //  Dylan Wood //  Eric Freson //  What's Your Take?


Here at Blister we spent a whole lot of time thinking about skiing, biking, running, and all the gear that goes into making those activities happen. In our new recurring “Would You Rather” segment, we’ll be posing hypothetical questions to the Blister crew — and opening the floor to you, dear reader, in the comments. Up first is a bike quandary:

Q: If you had to do all your riding for the next year on one bike, would you rather have a fully-blinged hardtail, built exactly how you want, or a full suspension bike, on a $4k budget? What if the budget was $3k?

Noah Bodman

If we’re talking about new bikes, these days, I’d go with the hardtail. I have a lot of fun on my hardtail, and while my spine would miss having rear suspension on longer rides, I’d still opt for a bike I’m psyched on vs a bike that I’ll inevitably be annoyed with for any number of reasons. Of course, if you’d asked me this question 2 years ago, I would’ve had no problem finding a nice full suspension for under $4k. And if we’re talking used bikes, I’m sure I could find something for $4k that I’d be perfectly happy with. But now that we’re in apocalypse pricing, $4k doesn’t go very far for something new, and $3k barely gets you a used bike. Which is, of course, kind of depressing.

Luke Koppa

The main caveat with my take is that I have not spent any time on the more “aggressive” hardtails on the market, and that category is definitely what I would be looking at, given the terrain around Crested Butte and my generally mediocre bike handling skills. That said, recently I have been impressed by the performance of a couple budget-oriented full-suspension bikes, most notably the Ibis Ripley AF and the Commencal Meta TR 29 Origin. That, combined with the time I’ve spent on more dated, less aggressive hardtails, makes it an easy choice for me — I’d opt for a lower-priced full-suspension bike.

I know there are things I don’t love about the <$4K full-squish bikes I’ve tried, but they’re by no means dealbreakers and at least for me, they’d outweigh having no rear suspension. I’m not particularly great when it comes to line choice and technical trails, so having some suspension out back — both for climbing and descending — makes my life a lot easier and my riding more enjoyable. And that seems to have held true no matter how many dials are on those shocks or forks. Of the bikes I’ve tried, the Ripley AF Deore is probably what I’d go for in the <$4K category, while the Meta TR 29 Ride SRAM comes in just under the bar of <$3K. But yeah, same as Noah, I’d definitely be looking at the used market to get the best deal in either of those scenarios.

David Golay

My appreciation for ultra-aggressive hardtails is well documented so I think I have to put up or shut up on this one. Will my chiropractic bills exceed the cost of this full-bling hardtail that I’ve apparently got lined up in this alternate universe? Maybe. Will future-me be cursing right-now-me somewhere around day three of a stage race that I foolishly sign myself up for on said hardtail? Probably. But I also know that I’ll have a really good time destroying myself, and isn’t that what mountain biking is all about?

Luke’s not wrong that there are some really good bikes out there for under $4k these days, and if the hardtail option wasn’t on the table I’d be pretty happy getting something like the Ibis Ripmo AF Deore build ($3,400) and spending the rest of the budget on beer. But I’ve also long been very curious how a titanium hardtail with super-aggressive modern geometry would ride, so I’m going to stuff the calm and rational portion of my brain into a locker, go with a wild custom ride, and just try to hang on.

David Golay reviews the Marin El Roy for Blister
David Golay riding the Marin El Roy

Dylan Wood

Hm, this is a tough question. I am primarily a fan of full-suspension bikes, and I haven’t spent time on any of today’s aggressive hardtails. Part of me wants to play it safe with a full-squish bike like the Ibis Ripley AF Luke mentioned or a longer-travel Trail bike from a direct-to-consumer brand that packs a lot of value. However, another part of me is curious about all these more aggressive / fun hardtails on the market and I want to see what all the fuss is about.

I think I’d have to go with the hardtail for that reason. Additionally, most aggressive hardtails on the market are spec’d on the lower end of the budget spectrum – the majority have lower-end components and aluminum or steel frames and don’t get much more expensive than $3,000 dollars. Because of this, I think it would be fun and unorthodox to completely bling out a hardtail. Imagine having a Sram XX1 AXS drivetrain, a Reverb AXS dropper, a Fox Live Valve Fork, and high-end carbon wheels among other top-tier components on your inexpensive hardtail frame that probably doesn’t even account for 15% of the total price of the bike. I think that would turn heads and be somewhat ironic and funny.

Eric Freson

One of my personal bikes is a 10 year old carbon single speed. It has dated geometry, quick release hubs, and a Cane Creek Thudbuster suspension seatpost. I ride it a bunch in the spring and the fall. I adore it.

I’d love to ride a steel-framed hardtail with gears, through axles, and a top-shelf fork instead. It would be a wonderful feeling — to not always be waiting to snap my bike in half. With such decadence, I could happily ride a hardtail year round.

I’d really miss having a full-suspension rig, but I’m picky about the things I own. I’d be able to focus less on the gear and more on the ride if I were able to build up a bike with exactly the spec I want. That means more to me than lap times these days.

Eric Freson Reviews the Ibis Ripley AF for Blister
Eric Freson riding the Ibis Ripley AF — Hartman Rocks, Gunnison CO

What’s Your Take?

Is Luke the only sane person around here, or would you take the hardtail of your dreams, too? Are the rest of us underestimating just how punishing it would be to ride a hardtail every day? Let us know how you’d tackle this one in the comments!

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19 comments on “Would You Rather: Dream Hardtail or Mid-Price Full Suspension?”

  1. The way the question is posed it would have to be a the hardtail. $4000 doesn’t get you much these days, a maxed out hardtail is going be a much better bike… plus hardtails are fun AF!

      • I’m used to Canadian prices, converting from USD, $4000 is better than I thought. Still, I think $5000 USD is where I’d start learning towards the FS. That’ll get you a bike with a solid build with enough budget for swapping a few parts as needed

    • It really matters on what terrain you like to ride, what you consider fun and what your goals are. The right answer is probably a FS aggressive trail bike with lower travel. The new smaller travel trail bikes can do so much and be fun under so many circumstances. As someone who has ridden their enduro bike at several bike parks, I think it makes sense to rent and beat the hell out if someone else’s bike so it takes the, “want it to ride park” out for me. But…the new aggressive hard tails are so bad ass and I want one haha.

  2. After riding blinged out hardtails for the last 6 years in Montana (along with a downhill bike), I have more fun and am more comfortable on a wider variety of trails on a new banshee spitfire. It blows the budget of the question, (I built it with all the nice parts from the last aggressive hardtail), but I love that I can travel just about anywhere and happily ride one bike. It’s not blazing fast at the bike park but it’ll do in a pinch and opens up the possibility of sidecountry riding at the end of the day. As nostalgic as I can be about a nice hardtail, for the question posed I would buy a Ripmo AF or a Meta TR and never look back. On rough trails it makes all the difference. If I lived in area with smoother trails and bikepacked more often I would go back to the blinged out hardtail though…

    • Where are you riding?

      I’m new to NW Montana riding and looking to step up to a better bike. Coming from a 27.5+ hardtail that I will likely hold on to–so I really am sitting in the Full Suspension camp at around the budgets talked about here.

      I just don’t have enough saddle time on the local trails yet to really know where I need to be. I liked the ripmo I rode for a day in 2019 so the ripmo AF is pretty appealing, but I can’t tell if I could get away with a bike with a little less rear travel. So far the trails here are rougher than what I was used to, but I want to be able to do real climbs, not just simple uphill enduro-style laps.

      Or maybe I’m just being foolish about keeping the hardtail and should just sell it and up my budget another grand. I wouldn’t mind a second bike for visitors to borrow, but maybe I’ll never grab the hardtail once I have a full squish.

  3. This was basically me just before the pandemic. Budget under 3k. Preordered a nicely spec’d aggressive hardtail just before the pandemic began. Felt like Indiana Jones with the boulder as to whether it would actually get to me with the supply issues that arose. But it got here. And it has been an absolute blast. None of my normal trails are crazy rough and it makes a lot of trails that would be kind of boring fun. But I have been able to ride trails at Pisgah, Bentonville, and Trestle Bike Park. I had a blast at all of those places. Maybe not as fast as I could be on a full suspension, but super fun. Throw in the easier maintenance and it’s been a no brainer for me.

  4. As a V1 Ripmo owner, and having ridden the AF version, the Ripmo AF is an easy win for me for the sub $4k bike. The weight difference between the carbon and the AF is about the same as a water bottle and the DVO suspension is legit. The Commencal is worth looking at for sure as their pro enduro riders still ride AL frames. Since I don’t race anymore, I don’t give AF about the seconds lost on a climb anymore. Give me the fun on the downs.

  5. Regarding Dylan’s comment about blinging out a hardtail. For various reasons i have ended up with a Pipedream Moxie mk2 (that has been well beaten up over 3 seasons) with fancy carbon wheels, carbon crankset and matching handlebar, and with a factory 38 up front :) The bike still beats you up, but it is a mean machine on tech trails as long as you’re not too tired and start messing up your lines!
    That said, i look forward to getting my FS frame back from repair (DHL did a number on it in transport), my ankles are feeling a hardtail summer with loads of riding.

  6. I ride in dense forests with lots of exposed roots. I only own a hardtail, and I dream of getting a bike like the Ibis Riply AF. My fore arms are toast after every ride (100 mm fork) and my rear tire bounces around constantly on rides. I stand mostly, so back does ok. I am the only rider in my group on a hard tail. I will say that plus size tires running low psi levels really help in that type of terrain. I am curious, but assume FS with moderate plus size tires would be ideal.

  7. Depends on what you ride. Riding in the Rockies, lots of roots/ rock/ drops/ black trails, no way I would want a hardtail. I think a bike like the Ibis Ripmo AF is very capable for the price and would be my choice. If I lived in the East and rode more XC trails, a nice hardtail might make sense, for improved pedalling efficiency etc.

  8. Great to see this as a ‘know thyself’ scenario. I haven’t wanted a dream hardtail since 1998, full stop. Full suspension 29er for me for my primary bike. From the great bikes Luke mentions ranging to a Stumpy Alloy to a Kona Hei Hei alloy to a Top Fuel alloy to Tallboy alloy, lots of bikes could work pretty great here for me in Western PA. (Some might benefit from an angleset.) $4,000 and XC-tinged trail geometry is plenty if you don’t have PNW style descending.

  9. Full squish all the way. I’ve been extremely impressed by the latest generation of budget to mid range suspension from rs and fox, and the new deore 6120 is stupid cheap for how awesome it is. Slap those bits on an ultra capable alloy like the norco optic, meta trail, or stumpjumper and I’m left with very little to complain about. You can get a lot of bike for 4k these days

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