Condensed Answer: A hardtail can be used for enduro riding as long as the rules of the event allow it. Some organizations even have a specific hardtail-only category. That said, a hardtail is at a disadvantage when riding enduro, and it will be difficult to match the speed of riders on full-suspension bikes.
The Disadvantages of a Hardtail For Enduro Riding
The only disadvantage of a hardtail is the lack of rear suspension.
The main purpose of suspension on MTBs isn’t to make the ride more comfortable, although that’s beneficial. The primary goal of suspension is to increase traction.
When a wheel hits a road irregularity (e.g., a tree root or a small stone), the suspension compresses and absorbs the “hit”. Consequently, the tire of the bicycle has an easier time staying planted. The extra traction makes the ride faster and safer.
Conversely, when there’s no suspension, the wheel is very likely to bounce around. This results in loss of traction and thus hurts the rider’s balance, confidence and speed.
Since the front wheel of the bike is more important for stability (if the front wheel slips, a fall is close to 100% guaranteed), the vast majority of commercial MTBs have at least a suspension fork.
There are some exceptions, of course, (e.g., fully rigid bikes with massive 29″ wheels), but those models have more of a recreational purpose and are never seen in competitions.
The rear wheel is also important for stability but to a lower degree. If the rear wheel slips, the rider has a much greater chance to recover and avoid falling. Thus, a hardtail is capable of riding on some pretty extreme terrain. Still, it will be at a disadvantage in comparison to full-suspension bikes because the rider will have to invest more time into choosing a line and a lot more energy to keep the bike stable.
Technically, a hardtail can be ridden quite hard on very hard terrain. However, there are some trails that are just too brutal to handle on a hardtail, especially if placing well in a race is important.
Or in other words, the terrain will also limit the enduro races that one can enter on a hardtail even if the rules allow it.
Enduro racing includes lots of timed downhill sections on which full-suspension bikes will always be superior thanks to the extra traction. A full-suspension bike can pass through many obstacles that the hardtail would have to circumvent to avoid bouncing off of them.
Skilled riders can reach decent times on a hardtail. However, skills are not always enough to compensate for the lack of suspension. Hence why there are separate hardtail divisions.
Advantages Of a Hardtail
Hardtails may not be optimal for enduro racing, but they have some notable advantages:
Any bike beats not having a bike. A hardtail may prevent you from winning an enduro race, but it will allow you to participate.
One can find very decent hardcore hardtails on the second-hand market and turn them into trail eating beasts by repairing and/or adding a component.
The money that one saves can be invested into a quality dropper post – a component that can increase both comfort and speed.
- Easier to maintain
A hardtail is not only cheaper but also easier to maintain since there’s no rear shock to take care of.
- Faster On XC Terrain
Hardtails are slower on bumpy terrain, but they excel on cross country sections on which the rear suspension of a regular enduro bike will slow down the rider.
There are some pretty light enduro bikes, but they cost a lot of money. Hardtails can weigh less while also being cheaper.
The light weight of hardtails makes them better climbers. This is important for people who want to cover all kinds of terrain on their MTBs.
A hardtail can be easily turned into a town bike by putting slick tires on it and a rack for bags or panniers. Technically, the same can be done with a full-suspension bike, but the effectiveness is low since full-suspension bikes are too expensive to lock outside, heavy and perform poorly on asphalt since the suspension eats a lot of the pedaling effort.
How Can You Make a Hardtail Better For Enduro Riding
An old hardtail MTB with ancient geometry and a fork with 80mm travel won’t do it.
A hardtail for enduro riding needs to answer the following criteria:
- Fork with a decent travel
The fork will need at least 120mm travel to cover rough sections. In most cases, 140mm will be necessary.
- A slack head tube angle
The head tube angle (HTA) is the angle formed by the bike’s head tube and the ground. A slack head tube angle makes the bike more stable at speed when covering diverse terrain because the rider is further behind the front wheel.
In general, the HTA is considered slack when it’s about 65-degrees.
- Solid brakes
Downhill sections require solid stopping power. Hence why it’s recommended to run hydraulic brakes with at least 180mm rotors.
- Wide Tires
Wider tires can operate at lower pressure and thus absorb more road irregularities. If the frame can take a wider tire, an upgrade could help.
Tubeless tires do not operate with an inner tube and thus there’s no chance to get a pinch flat when running the tires at low air pressure. As a result, one can lower the air pressure to very low settings which in return will increase the traction of the bike.
- A Dropper Post
A dropper post allows the rider to quickly lower the seat for technical descents and then raise it for sections requiring pedaling.
A dropper post is not longer seen as a luxury. It’s closer to a necessity. That said, a dropper is not nearly as indispensable as a solid fork or brakes.
Summary: What You Need To Know
- A hardtail can be used for enduro riding if the rules of the event strictly say so. Contact the organizers before submitting an application.
- Some enduro events have a dedicated hardtail section.
- Riding enduro on a hardtail is fun but has a disadvantage – the rear wheel can’t get as much traction (it’s bouncing around) and thus the rider has to be more careful when choosing a line. The result is reduced confidence and speed.
- People competing on a hardtail will be at a disadvantage.
- Hardtails are cheaper and more versatile.
- An enduro hardtail needs to have a decent front fork as well as a strong frame with a slack head tube angle of about 65-degrees.