FS vs. HT

I’ve been sick through the weekend—puking sick. I suppose it was nice to have some time to lie around taking intermittent naps, but it wasn’t worth the three pounds in valuable bodyweight I lost in the process. I’ll be glad to get back on the bike and maybe back in the weight room.

Speaking of bikes, I came across a thread last week where someone was debating the virtues of certain types of mountain bikes. Basically, the question came down to, "Which is faster—full suspension or hardtail?" I really shouldn’t have an opinion on this subject because I only own a hardtail, but I was a little annoyed by some of the logic displayed on the forum, so naturally, I did a little research. So here, in bullet-point format, is my information summary:

• Full-suspension bikes are getting lighter all the time, so the weight penalty is really minimal.
• Most full-suspension bikes nowadays have found a way to eliminate pedal-bob.
• Manufacturers are nonetheless looking for ways to make full-suspension bikes stiffer in the rear triangle (take a look at Cannondale’s zero-pivot Scalpel for reference) and therefore more hardtail-like.
• Despite these efforts, there were perhaps two or three FS bikes in the top 15 at the Beijing Olympics, meaning there were 12 or 13 of the top 15 on hardtails.
• One of those two pros on FS bikes was the world champion, Christophe Sauser, who famously always rides a FS bike.
• Most of those pros ride carbon—more flexible, that is—hardtails, not aluminum, titanium or steel. Now really, how many people do you know with a carbon hardtail?
• Someone made the argument that professional cyclists ride whatever bike is given to them and that’s why they’re on hardtails. Honestly, people, find me a manufacturer that doesn’t make both a HT and FS bike and doesn’t offer both to its top pros. Furthermore, why on earth would a manufacturer want its pros riding HT over FS when the FS costs more (and therefore would produce a greater return-on-investment)? Pros who ride hardtail bikes do so because they prefer hardtail bikes.
• Hardtail bikes are more fatiguing to the rider because he (or she) will have to use more stabilizing muscle over technical terrain. FS bikes, on the other hand, tend to be more merciful to their riders.
• Fatigue plays less of a role in shorter races than it does in longer ones. I’m pretty sure this is axiomatic information.
• That said, most pro mountain bikers can handle their bikes much better than the average joe schmoe mountain biker. Face the facts, Julien Absalon has skillz.
• Some courses include seriously dangerous descents and therefore favor full-suspension bikes.

Okay, so there you have it. That’s my little evaluation of the subject. Now, what’s my opinion? You know, I’m not sure, but it probably doesn’t matter since I don’t have the money to buy a new mountain bike anytime soon anyway. When that opportunity does present itself, I’ll probably just get a hardtail because I won’t be able to afford a FS bike and because I don’t really have time for ultra-endurance events anyway. Such is life, right?

Stay healthy this week (yes, that comment is as much for me as it is for you).


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