The pandemic kickstarted a forward momentum for cycling as a mode of transportation in the new normal, and a hardtail mountain bike (MTB) is one of the few go-to bike options for the road.
In finding new ways of getting from point A to point B, it's easy for us to stumble upon an obvious choice—bicycles. And this new transportation mode opened us to realize there's more to bikes than we initially think. Not only is it used for traveling, but it can also be used to challenge trails and ride long distances. There's an entirely different world that awaits us in between those two wheels.
If you're like us, you know there's a gateway that leads to a biking world full of excitement. That gateway is the versatile hardtail bike.
What is a Hardtail Mountain Bike?
A hardtail MTB's prominent design feature is a frame with a front suspension on the fork, and the rear seat stay is welded hard on the seat tube, hence why it's called a "hardtail."
The hardtail is one of the earliest designs of mountain bikes (MTB) built to address downhill challenges. The front suspension is incorporated on the frame for a steady climb down the obstacle path because it prevents the front wheel from bouncing.
If you're planning on getting into mountain biking, a hardtail MTB would be your practical choice. It costs less than the full enduros and will keep you adequately challenged to climb up and down the trails. A hardtail is a purist approach to mountain biking. One you should experience for some time before you move on to other sub-disciplines.
There are two main types of hardtail bikes you can choose from: the Cross Country (XC) and the Trail.
The Cross Country
Cross Country (a.k.a. XC) is built for long rides. If you like to collect millages or build your cycling endurance on and off the road, XC hardtail MTB is for you. The XC is at home on smooth pavements, single tracks, minor dirt roads, grasslands, and gravel. The types of surfaces you would encounter on a long ride away from home.
This type of hardtail MTB is designed for the mountains. So if you like to rough it up on a mountain trail, climbing different types of inclines, this will feel like home. Of course, this hardtail keeps your ride smooth on the way to the mountain trails, but its optimum performance is on the gritty and rough terrains.
Should You Get a 29er Hardtail Mountain Bike?
The wheel is the only component of your bike that touches the ground. Therefore, it directly affects how your ride feels. Having chosen hardtail as your discipline, let's start with something you immediately should ask yourself. Something that would impact your cycling experience significantly: should you get a larger (29 inch) wheel?
The 29er Wheel Size Principle
The principle behind a 29-inch wheel is stability. The larger the wheel attached to your bike, the more stable the ride. Hardtail bike frames that accommodate a 29er have a bottom bracket that's lower than the axles. This means your center of gravity is lower, and you're closer to the ground, thus, more stable.
The larger 29er wheel also has more force to get over an obstacle. There's more area that can come in contact on a larger wheel than in a smaller one. Take, for example, going through a hump with your hardtail bike. A larger wheel can have more of its surface coming in contact with this obstacle. When traction is put in play, it'll be easier for the big wheel to run over it (because there's more wheel area connected to the hump's surface, thus more tractive force can be applied).
Larger wheels would be amazing for trails that have plenty of large and small bumps.
The 29er's Drawback
As always, there's a tradeoff for the 29er's resilience in overcoming obstacles. The larger wheel is a challenge to steer. A 29er becomes less responsive to pivots when in motion because its momentum makes it stable for linear motion.
What's the Best Hardtail Mountain Bike?
That depends on several factors. For us, it's a matter of preference, budget, and style.
Do you prefer riding on smooth roads, or do you like the thrill of the trails? Long rides or steep ones? There's a hardtail MTB for whatever your preference is. As a rule, you have to look for a cross-country type of hardtails if you want to cycle for endurance. However, for mountain or rough terrains, you need a trail MTB. Some brands offer XC and trail MTBs with a price range of $600 to as much as $3,000.
The price of the hardtail MTB is also relative to the features the bike is packing. If the hardtail MTB is in the lower price range, you would most likely just have the essential, low to mid-level quality components. It's the opposite with models on the higher price spectrum. When allotting a budget, consider whether you're going to use it for the long haul or if you're planning to upgrade it in the future.
Of course, style is also something you should consider when buying a hardtail MTB, but this should come as a close second over functionality, at least for us. We want you to get those eyeballs glued to you and your two-wheeled machine when you ride your hardtail. On the other hand, the style has to be practical; you want to be seen not only for attention but also so you don't get hit by a passing vehicle during a night ride.
Our recommendation based on the criteria mentioned above is the Trek Marlin 5 with a radioactive red frame color. This is a trail-type hardtail with a price that's just above $600. The Marlin 5 has a 29er wheel option. This would be a good investment for short commuter rides and trail practice, especially if you're starting out. The style is simple yet strong because of the red and white paint job—you'll be seen both for the sake of function and beauty.