Dual Suspension Vs Full Suspension – Is There A Difference?


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Mountain biking is a great way to get out into nature. Like most types of cycling it’s very fun, and can also be done competitively. There are 3 main types of suspension, 2 of which are dual suspension and full suspension. Today I will explain the differences between them. 

A dual suspension bike and a full suspension bike are names for the same type of bike. There is no difference between a dual suspension bike and a full-suspension bike. These types of bikes are ideally suited to cross country and trail riding but can be used for any type of riding.

Dual suspension, also known as full-suspension, has a range of advantages over other types of suspension. Today I will explain what these are and if it’s necessary or desirable to get one over the other.

Dual suspension versus full suspension

Is Dual Suspension (Full Suspension) Better Than Front Suspension

Dual suspension, also called full suspension bikes are ideally suited to certain types of riding. But, a full-suspension bike has trade-offs over a single suspension bike. Here’s whether dual suspension is better than front suspension and why.

Dual suspension is only better for front suspension for downhill or enduro riding. For country and trail riding both dual suspension and front suspension are good. Dual suspension absorbs impact better than front suspension. But, for trail riding or country, it’s not required.

There is a range of reasons why dual suspension, also called full suspension is better than front suspension. Front suspension as the name implies only has suspension on the front. An easier name for these two different types of suspension would be:

  • Front suspension
  • Front and rear suspension 

But, alas, the naming convention is more confusing.

A front suspension bike is also commonly known as a hardtail. This is because the rear is rigid and doesn’t bounce around like a dual suspension bike that also has suspension on the rear wheel.

Below, is a list of reasons why a full suspension is better than a hardtail for certain types of mountain biking. And where it doesn’t make a difference if you have a dual-suspension mountain bike or a front suspension mountain.

Reasons To Get a Full Suspension Over a Hardtail

The type of riding best suited to front suspension is cross country and trail.

A full-suspension mountain bike is best suited to downhill and enduro.

Downhill and enduro riding are timed. Therefore, the objective is to get the lowest time possible, to finish the designated circuit as fast as possible.

The advantages that full suspension has over a hardtail are:

  • It absorbs impacts more
  • The tail stays close to the ground
  • The ride is smoother
Dual suspension bike
Dual suspension leads to a smoother ride, with the tail staying closer to the ground

Full suspension absorbs impacts more in more bumpy trails

The suspension makes the bike give as it lands. This causes less impact on the arms, legs, and seat when you get some air (source). In downhill riding, you are going very fast, and often need to jump obstacles. 

As well as, get air when going over bumps.

A softer landing is much more comfortable, and also gives more room for error if you make a mistake, or don’t see a particular jump. It also allows you to go faster because the impact from the landing isn’t a limiting factor. 

And you can make higher jumps, and go over bumpy terrain at higher speeds.

With trail riding and country riding the main objective is to enjoy nature, and have a nice relaxing ride. A full-suspension bike is typically more expensive and not necessary to get for trail and country riding. 

It’s nice to have but not a necessity like it is for enduro or downhill riding.

The tail stays close to the ground for better control

The rear of a front suspension bike bounces around on downhill and enduro riding.

Whereas with a full-suspension bike the frame of the bike moves as it absorbs the impact, and the rear wheel stays much closer to the ground or on the ground.

This provides:

  • More traction
  • Better control
  • Safer riding
  • More comfortable riding

This isn’t much of a concern when riding leisurely on trails, or cross country. But, the high speeds, tight maneuvers, and jumps involved in downhill and enduro helps get a better time, because you can steer better.

The ride is smoother and puts less impact on the arms and feet

Doing a downhill ride with a hardtail (single suspension) bike begins to cause a bit of soreness in the butt, arms, ankles, and knees.

With a full suspension, the ride is incredibly smooth. The frame moves around but you stay attached to the bike without impacting the ground (source).

It’s almost like you’re floating on air. With a bit of practice, your landing becomes smoother as you adjust your body weight to create even less impact. This means you can ride for much longer before stopping.

Here’s a video that explains when a hardtail is better:

Do I Really Need a Dual Suspension Bike?

Dual suspension bikes are more expensive than front suspension bikes. Therefore, it’s important to know whether you need to spend extra to get a dual suspension bike. Here’s a summary of whether you absolutely need a dual suspension bike.

You need a dual suspension bike for downhill or enduro riding. Otherwise, a hardtail (front suspension) bike is preferred. It’s possible to do downhill or enduro riding without a dual suspension bike but it’s far better and worth it. For competitive downhill or enduro riding it’s a must.

A dual suspension bike will give you a competitive edge in downhill and enduro competition.

Without it, it’s difficult to place well. A dual suspension bike gives you a softer landing, which allows you to go faster. Here’s a table that lists the advantages and disadvantages of a hardtail over a full suspension bike:

Hardtail (front suspension)Full suspension (dual suspension)
More accelerationLess acceleration
Can feel the trail more, giving better control Softer landings
Tail comes off the ground on bumpy terrainNot as sore on hands and feet
Less control and safety on bumpy terrainLess control at slow speeds

It also helps the wheels to stay in contact with the ground. This gives you better control, which translates more a more accurate line.

Reducing mistakes that can cost you small fractions of a second which add up over an entire run. With a hardtail bike (front suspension) the tail of the bike bounces off the ground over bumpy sections and gives you less control.

For other types of mountain bikes on flat even trails, the bumpiness isn’t a concern. And a hardtail is better.

You can also generate more speed with a hardtail as you aren’t working against the bounciness of a full-suspension bike.

What Hardtails Are Good For

Bikes with either front or full suspension are better for off-road riding due to the even nature of the ground.

The options are to get a full suspension bike or a hardtail. This is when it makes sense to get a hardtail and what types of riding they are good for.

A hardtail is best for trail and cross-country riding that is mostly flat and even. No suspension is best for acceleration on a bike but is very stiff and uncomfortable for uneven terrain. So, a hardtail is better for off-road riding, where the trails are mostly even.

So some suspension is preferred for mountain biking. It’s a balance between acceleration and comfort. With added comfort, you get less acceleration. And with less acceleration, you get added comfort.

If the trail is very bumpy then full suspension is best. But, if it’s mostly flat then a hardtail is best.

What’s the Difference Between Dual Suspension and Full Suspension

There are a lot of options for bikes to get as a whole, and for mountain biking there are two types of suspension. Front suspension and full suspension. There is also dual suspension, so here’s what dual suspension is.

A dual suspension bike and a full suspension bike are the same things. These are two different ways of saying that a mountain bike has suspension on both the front and back. Road and track bikes have no suspension at all. So these types of suspension are limited to mountain bikes.

On smooth flat tracks, as you see in the Olympics, you don’t need suspension. The suspension softens bumps so the ride is much smoother. The same is also the case for bikes used competitive road biking like the Tour De France.

This is also typically the case with triathlons, although some triathlons involve a mountain trail rather than a road section.

Sources

Martin Williams

Martin has been tearing up all sorts of trails on a range of bikes ever since he was young. He once cycled across France, and once fell into a canal on a hybrid. He writes about everything to do with cycling on our site. You can find out more about him at bicycle2work.com/about-martin-williams/

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