Why the Humble Hardtail isn’t Going Anywhere Anytime Soon

This week we’re re-sharing one of our favorite podcast episodes, and we’ll be back next week with an all-new show.

Pat White is a longtime product manager for Kona Bicycles and Doug Lafavor aka Dr. Dew has been designing bikes at Kona for decades.

In this episode we ask:

  • Which factors make a hardtail ‘hardcore’ or more aggressive compared to say an XC or entry-level hardtail?
  • What are aggressive hardtails good for in terms of riding style or trails? What are the limits?
  • How important is frame material when it comes to designing a hardtail? Is there one material that’s generally superior to the others?
  • Are there higher costs involved in building hardtails from steel than aluminum?
  • Where does the compliance in a hardtail frame come from?
  • Do you look at component selection differently for a hardtail vs. a full suspension bike? If so, what are the key areas where the builds differ?
  • Is there any lingering debate about wheel size when it comes to hardtails?
  • Are sliding dropouts an important selling point?
  • What do you think about Internal cable routing on hardtails?
  • There seems to be a focus on making seat angles steeper lately. How do you approach seat tube angles for hardtails compared to FS bikes?
  • Are there things you’re able to do with hardtail geometry that just aren’t feasible with a FS design?
  • How is the balance between chainstays and reach considered on a hardtail?
  • For a lot of riders cost can be a factor in deciding to go with a hardtail. What does the typical hardtail rider look like?
  • Do you own a hardtail mountain bike? How often do you ride it?
  • What are some tips for riders to get the most out of a hardtail mountain bike? Do we need to modify our riding style, or reconsider preferences for things like tire and fork pressure?

A full, automatically-generated transcript of this podcast conversation is available to Singletracks supporters.

Please log in to your account to access this content.


Jeff 0:00
Hey everybody, welcome to the Singletracks podcast. My name is Jeff and today my guests are Pat White and Doug Lafavor. Pat is a longtime Product Manager for Kona bicycles. And Doug, aka Dr. Du has been designing bikes for Kona for decades. Thanks for joining me, guys.

Thank you. Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff 0:23
So Pat, whenever people talk about hardcore hard tails, that Kona Hanzo is invariably mentioned, tell us a bit about the history of this bike?

Pat 0:33
Well, I guess first off the term Hardcore is not one of my favorite terms. But I think for the sake of getting through this, I’m just gonna have to deal with it. But I do I do understand where you’re coming from with that term hardcore.

Jeff 0:47
I was told that you didn’t like that term. That’s funny, actually. So yes, I confirmed it. But it’s a term everybody uses people love it, for whatever reason. So yeah, yes, we’re gonna have to deal with it. For sake of conversation, we’ll stick to it. And I’ll just have to, I’ll just have to put up with it. But yeah, you know,

Pat 1:05
I think the best way to kind of talk about that would be to start with the beginning, start at the beginning with the hard tails. I mean, we started out in 88, with what four models and we didn’t even I don’t think we even called those cross country. But no, if you had to categorize those hard tails at that time, you would, you know, by today’s standards, call those cross country, they were just mountain bikes. And then I think right around the mid 1990s, we saw a need for a change in hard tails to better suit what people were doing. I mean, there was the shore riding was going off. If you went to the races, the saw like the Dual Slalom events, or even people riding stock trials, and just the way people were mountain biking on just about everywhere, there was just that we saw a need for a change and making a hardtail that was a bit different than what was being offered. And, and of course, that led to stronger tubes, geometry that catered more to riding steep, aggressive terrain. And what are some other things Oh, fork, I think another thing that drove that, too, is that we saw a fork manufacturer starting to make longer forks, and people were just throwing these on bikes. So they could ride this more aggressive do this more aggressive riding and, and I mean, that was good in a way that it slack in the front end. But it also if you just put that on a bike that was designed for a shorter travel fork or a bike with a design for shorter axle to crown it slacking out the head too. But it also raised the bottom bracket height, which really wasn’t doing any favors for what the intent was. And then also that put those longer forks put in that more aggressive riding put a lot more strain on the frame. So that’s where we always see those old videos of head tubes getting ripped off. So we saw a need to adjust geometry, use a more robust tubing no matter what the material was. And especially get that head to bury and other areas reinforced. That’s where you start seeing gusseting on early models like the shoot. So you know that was a big step in the mid 90s, we started offering those models like the shoot, and I think it was about 2012 we did the first Hanzo model. And again, that was another another big step in addressing or creating hard tails for more aggressive writing or hardcore if you want to call it the and that was that first Hanzo. So obviously that whole low lower slacker longer thing that should really short chainstays we got into what the 417 or maybe even shorter chainstays and longer rates. We’ll talk about that more.

Jeff 3:43
Well, I’m curious now to know what’s what’s wrong with the term hardcore hardtail? What what do you think mean? Sounds like you feel like they’re aggressive. Like what’s what’s maybe a better term for us to use when we’re talking about these types of bikes.

Pat 3:58
I think it’s just a personal thing. Hardcore can be defined, defined, you know, different ways, so aggressive, but, you know, hardcore spine. I was just being difficult.

Jeff 4:09
Yeah, yeah, we all have our terms like that, like, yeah, enduro and down country, and it is, is really hard to classify bikes and like, sum it all up in one word, and use it to describe, like, all these different bikes that different people are making different brands, and everybody’s got a slightly different take on it. And yeah, it can be tough.

Pat 4:29
Yeah. And that those using those words like hardcore aggressive are a big part of marketing to how do you attract those those customers? But yeah, like I said, as I said earlier, that for the sake of conversation, the hardcore works fine for for what we’re talking about today. Yeah. So I would say to finish off the history of the Hanzo you know, from 2012, that first Hanzo we definitely that is obviously further diversified because now we have like a Hanzo ESD. We have Hanzo al Hanzo DL. We have aluminum steel, we have the big Hans O’s with the plus tires still. So it’s become more than just one model.

Jeff 5:07
Well, yeah, my next question kind of speaks to this idea of, of how do you categorize these bikes? And what do you call them? And so I’m curious to know, like, what’s your personal opinion? Like? Where is the cut off? Between just a regular hardtail? You know, one that’s meant for maybe cross country riding or like light duty trail? versus one that’s more hardcore? Is it? Something about the geometry? The construction of it? What is it that makes it an aggressive hardtail?

Pat 5:37
Oh, for sure you hit it, Jeff, it’s a again, it depends on how you define hardcore. I mean, who is that rider? And what exactly do they intend to do with the bike? And, you know, we’re heading to that aggressive, hardcore rotting, steeper, rougher terrain, and what, what normally would have been before or relative to what other people are doing. So it’s, it’s kind of a hard one to define. But you did hit it, right? I mean, geometry, when I say frame design, not necessarily material, because we’ll talk about that more. But specification, you know, we’re not with a hardcore hardtail. You know, weights, not that much of a consideration. It’s more like the durability, and the power in the case of stuff, like the brakes, the amount of travel in the fork, that kind of thing. So for sure, frame design, Part Specification. And I guess geometry is part of that frame design.

Jeff 6:31
Yeah. And it seems like it’s kind of shifted as well, I guess, with a lot of things in mountain biking. Whereas, you know, a few years ago, when people first started using the term hardcore hardtail, people would talk about bikes with like, 120 millimeters of suspension. And then today, that’s kind of like the XC trail territory. And so yeah, we’ve kind of had to shift our expectations even about, like, what, what is aggressive, and it’s all kind of relative, which was seems interesting.

Doug 7:03
You brought up a good point there. Your last point, and that is, you know, when, how do you define the hardcore rider and, you know, Pat, is responsible for a lot of bikes that come under the Kona umbrella. But the one thing that’s interesting is, you know, the XC race bike now is nothing like the old XC race bike, you know, they’re all pushing towards a more extreme geometry slackening out the front end. So I think if you look at the Hanzo, like, it really takes it a little bit further, you know, and, and even if you look at cross country, hard tails, they’re slacker, and more durable than they used to be. So it’s all sort of trending in that direction. And you’ll look at the hands, it was kind of being the extreme part of that hard tail range.

Jeff 7:52
Yeah, for sure. Well, so are hardcore hard tails, or aggressive, hard tails, good for a certain type of riding? I mean, where would you place that? Is it like the trail all mountain? And are there limits? Like, you know, we see some brands have like, what they would call enduro, or like, long travel hard tails? Like, does that make sense in your mind? Or is there like more of a sweet spot for these more aggressive hardtails

Pat 8:17
you know, if you look at bikes, like the Hanzo, and then other bikes, like, you know, a Kahuna or something like that, you know, that, as I mentioned before, the geometry, the focus more on lightweight for climbing and all around riding where the concern is, you know, power and durability, just ability to tackle that more aggressive terrain. So, obviously, you wouldn’t want or you would prefer to have a blank, like a Hanzo, if you are doing some steep, Rudy, aggressive, challenging technical terrain, where they’re going downhill where, you know, if you were going to be doing a long climb, and maybe not so much, you’re going to be more comfortable and better off on a bike like a Kahuna, or a more cross country designed bike in terms of the weight of the bike, the components and the geometry. You know, obviously, taking a bike with a 63 degree head angle, and climbing on on all day is not going to be as fun as something with the more you know, in the area of 6869 degree head angle. And, you know, vice versa. Obviously, if you’re going to be doing aggressive shuttle runs, that Hanzo is going to be a better tool for the job, you’re gonna have a better experience with a bike that’s designed to ride that kind of terrain. Yeah. So

Jeff 9:30
I mean, is there a limit though, like, would you if someone said, Hey, is racing a hardtail? And an enduro race, like, is that a good idea? You think like, there’s, there’s a limit where you say this, that’s just too much and you need to go full suspension? Or do you think that the hardtail really is versatile enough that you can make it a bike for the most aggressive type of riding?

Pat 9:53
That’s a great question in it. You know what comes to mind when someone asks a question like that, like Yeah, especially especially you say a race, you know, if your intent in a enduro race, you know, granted that the race course is technical enough, if your intent is to do and have the best time or placing possible, then probably a full suspension bike is going to get you from point A to point B faster. However, some people will want to go to events and have a different kind of experience. And I think riding a hardtail aggressively versus a full suspension bike, you know, there’s, there’s just a different connection with how you’re riding the terrain on a hardtail. Obviously, most people can’t slam through obstacles as easily or as quickly as they could on a full suspension bike. But there’s a you know, there’s there’s definitely a pleasure and experience a feeling that you get with running a hardtail there’s a kind of a reward to like, you know, man, I just did that really gnarly section on hard tail, and I looked awesome doing it. And maybe it wasn’t as fast as I would have been on a full suspension bike minutes is a different experience. So as far as a limitation, I think that just depends on the person. And what the what they’re looking for on the ride experience.

Jeff 11:08
For sure. Yeah. And that that connection with the bike and with the trail, I think, yeah, that a lot of people can really identify with that. Doug, I’m curious to know how important frame material is when it comes to designing a hardtail? You know, it seems like compared to a full suspension bike, that maybe frame material is more important, but maybe not. So fill us in on that, like, how do you go about thinking about the frame materials used when you’re designing a hardtail?

Doug 11:38
Certainly, if we look back at some of the older bikes, frame material is really important, especially when we were riding back in the early 80s, free suspension. You know, aluminum was very unforgiving. And Steel and Titanium were kind of the materials of choice back then. As far as, like an extreme bike like the Honza goes, we’ve basically built them out of steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, and even titanium. You know, if you were to really look at that and say, like, you know, which materials the best? That’s a pretty open question. I think I’ve spent time on Ty hardtails. Road, the carbon Hanzo for several years up here, you Okanagan, I think really, you know, as far as designing the bikes go, most of the challenges that we’ve had with different materials over the years have have all been overcome, mostly from trial and error. And so I think as far as like looking at it, from a manufacturing point of view, we’re pretty much capable to do anything with all of those four materials we talked about there. If you were to say, which is the best for a particular rider, I think that all depends on you know, what they’re looking for in the bike. You know, tie bikes are always cool, because they’re super durable, they don’t scratch, right? Carbon bikes are pretty neat because of the opportunity to to move material around and get a little bit more out of it. You know, it’s easy to put a little more material down around the BB if that’s the the issue, but really for these bikes, because they’re so burly by compared to like a cross country bike, they’re all built relatively stiff. And compliancy. You know, I think one of the greatest things about mountain biking is the continuous tinkering, and evolution of all the components. So if you just look at tires, there’s so many tire options out there, like you can take any one of those bikes and depending on the tire you put on it, it alters the ride so much. Yeah, you know, and the suspension is a big part of it. You know, how the kind of suspension how you set up your suspension? grips, saddle. So yeah, I think you know, materials, you know, you can make a good case for any one of the above. But really, at the end of the day, they’re all really good. Now, it is

Jeff 14:14
interesting. Well, it sounds like correct me if I’m wrong, it sounds like you’re saying that, because designers and manufacturers have been working for these materials now for a while, that it’s almost possible to get any sort of ride quality that you want out of any of these materials. Or put another way you could design say a carbon bike to feel a bike frame to feel like a steel one. Is that the case?

Doug 14:41
That’s pretty much, I think, an accurate statement. And in fact, I remember when some years ago we did a lot of development with Easton building scandium bikes, which is essentially just aerospace grade aluminum, but that’s what they did. They used to Uh, you know, work on the aluminum tubes, the scandium tubes to get the same ride quality as a steel frame. So you’re right. In that respect, you can pretty much do anything with materials. And there’s, you know, so many, so much opportunity to open up molds now. And, and it has been a real trial and error and a long process. But that’s basically where we’re at, you know, I think you could probably do out of bamboo. Right, right. If you wanted to people, aren’t they?

Jeff 15:27
Yeah. Well, so one of the things I’ve noticed the lately is that seems like steel hardtails cost more than aluminum ones. And it feels like that’s kind of flip flop. Like, back in maybe it was the 90s that aluminum was kind of a newer material, it was said to be lighter. And so back then aluminum bikes cost more, but it seems like now, that’s kind of flipped. Is that the case? And why? Why would that have happened.

Pat 15:54
Being a product manager, I’m always looking at costs of things and where materials are coming from and where frames are being built. But a lot of that is the raw material, what is steel going for what is aluminum going for a probably an even bigger driving factor with that, I mean, everything’s so crazy with material costs these days, but it’s just, it’s it’s economies of scale, it’s just like there was, as you mentioned, in the early days, this the aluminum frames war more expensive. And it’s, I think it’s just more of a thing, like, there wasn’t that many being built, it was just kind of getting going. And then all of a sudden, all these bikes are being built out of aluminum. So you’ve just got all this aluminum being used, and not as much steel and factories, changing their Well, not necessarily assembly line, but their manufacturing space. So now, we want to build 80%, you know, just as an example, 80% of our bikes are gonna be built out of aluminum, and only so many out of steel, obviously, when carbon came to be more of a thing, then then that changed again. But it’s just that there’s just fewer and fewer workers doing it, you know, not custom bikes, but mass production, fewer and fewer workstations, fewer and fewer people building quality steel frames versus aluminum frames.

Doug 17:09
Yeah, I don’t think steel frames have ever been cheap to build, you know, they’ve always been pretty expensive. That brings up a good point, the economy of scale there and, and also the price of materials. So I think he’s right, you know, you we do see a little bit of shifting in product line, depending on the cost to build the bikes. But I mean, if you look, it seems nowadays, there’s always someone out there willing to pay for whatever exotic material is available,

Jeff 17:40
right. And a lot of the steel bikes, you know, those are being in a lot of cases, they’re like boutique bike brands, too. So those are being built in smaller batches, maybe they’re being made in the US versus overseas. And so that seems like could be part of what’s driving the sort of average price of those types of bikes.

Doug 18:01
Yeah, the aluminum bikes are a little more, you know, you have to heat treat the frame and stuff. So it’s always been the case that smaller builders have found steel a little bit easier to work with. So that’s maybe part of it. I think the other really interesting point is, you know, when we first started making bikes, how US made bikes were coveted as being like sort of the top of the mark, you know, and, you know, we’ve built bikes all over America and all over the world. And wow, when you go over to Asia and see what they have going on, it’s a real eye opener, I mean, a point in case we have one factory that has their own foundry, their own extrusion plant, they make their own cloth for the carbon fiber, they make suspension. And it’s pretty hard for a small frame maker to compete on that level. That said, you know, the good thing about being a small maker, or whatever you call that, you know, kind of a cottage like makers that those guys are able to change up and custom make custom things. And that’s got a lot of appeal. So

Jeff 19:08
well. Getting back to sort of what we were talking about. In terms of ride field and ride quality. You know, a lot of what people are talking about really, when they’re talking about that is like compliance like how, how well does the frame absorb the bumps in the trail, and you mentioned how things like tires and saddle make as much of a difference or maybe even more on our bikes. But when we do talk about frame compliance, how much of that is due to the material that is used versus the design, like how the angles are laid out and how the tubes are sized and shaped? Which Which one of those is the bigger factor?

Doug 19:51
Yeah, I think they all contribute to the final outcome but you’re you’re right it correct again, like for me, I really enjoy Driving steel bikes. And I know if gonna we’ve got a reputation over the years for having produced steel bikes for a long time. In fact, when when steel became a lot more expensive to build than the aluminum bikes, we stuck with the steel part of the program, titanium, it’s even more compliant than steel, and maybe not the best material for certain applications. And like, if you were looking at certain bikes, titanium makes a great frame for a lot of people. You know, it’s the perfect bike, it has a lot of really great applications. And I don’t know that we’ve had the most success as far as making a Hanzo like an extreme bike out of titanium right? Durability, probably, and aluminum made bikes a little bit more durable than a steel bike, I’ve dented a few steel bikes, it’s not that hard. But you know, sort of getting back to more of the design aspect of it, it has a lot to do with the shape of the tubing. And you see now that, you know, we invest a lot more money in custom butted tubing custom shaped things just for that purpose. So it all becomes sort of a big part of the balance. Yeah, you know, you if you shorten it up and make it a little thinner. But at the end of the day, I think really we’re able to skirt a lot of the frame characteristics with component selection. You know, I think it’s a bigger part of the the the end product, Pat may feel a little bit differently. But you know, I think geometry has more effect on the of the compliance of the ride than the tubing and the just because they’re built so bomb now. You know, they’re, they’re really overbuilt.

Jeff 21:40
Well, yeah, Pat, let’s talk about components selection. So when you’re specking, a bike, do you look at the component selection differently for a hardtail versus a full suspension bike? And if so, like, what are the key areas where this is built are going to differ?

Pat 21:54
So good question. I love this one. Yes, and no, no, because, you know, when we spec out a bike as a product manager, we don’t really look at it so much as this is a hardtail This is a full suspension bike, we’re always looking at it as the application. So when I say applications like like what discipline again, you know, cross country downhill, and everything in between, you know, light trail, we need a bike that’s has the ability to to ride some more aggressive stuff, but at the same time, it’s going to climb great and be weight conscious. So you know, a good example is like the process X and the Hanzo, ESD. I mean, the Hanzo. ESD is kind of like the hardtail version, even though it’s steel, it’s hard tail. And there’s some spec differences. But it’s it’s kind of the same application, but one’s a hardtail. One’s a full suspension bike, and it’s that this bike is going to go downhill, it’s going to handle rough terrain, aggressive riding, hardcore, as you say. So, to answer your question, more specifically, we don’t spec there other than okay, we don’t put a rear shock on it. There you go. Right. So there’s no rear shock. But the component selection is is is not because it’s a hardtail versus full spit. It’s the application whereas this bike can be written, what kind of writing is this this rider going to do? So yeah, I would, I would say no, other than not expecting a real shock.

Jeff 23:19
Yeah. So you’re not saying, Well, this is a hardtail. So let’s like put fatter tires on it, you know, to to make it ride a little more comfortably, or

Pat 23:27
yeah, there’s one other thing I did forget to mention, though, on that that did, it does, there is a difference in the spec. And that’s if there’s something on the frame design, like a seat tube size, or something that drives the need to change to change that component. So if there’s something Yeah, that we need to we need to this frame will only accommodate such and such a spec where the full suspension version has to accommodate something different. So there, there’s a good case of where we would spec different but it’s, it’s not for that differences in for, you know, changing the rider or trying to make up some sort of deficit for it being a hardtail versus a full suspension bike,

Jeff 24:03
right? Yeah, that makes sense. Like dropper posts, you probably have straighter seat tubes on a lot of hard tails. And so you’re able to do a, perhaps a longer drop dropper post. I don’t know if this is the case at Kona, but it seems like for a lot of brands to the spec, the components spec tops out more quickly on the hard tails than it does on full suspension. So you’re seeing full suspension bikes with you know, the the Kashima coated components and you know, the top of the line stuff, where’s the hard tails? A lot of times they kind of top out in that mid range. Does that have anything to do with the fact that it’s a hard tail versus full suspension? Or is that more of just you’re looking at the buyer and like a hardtail buyers going to be more perhaps budget conscious than that full suspension buyer?

Pat 24:50
Sadly, you are correct. You know, I’d like to say that there are people out there that would appreciate a really high spec built hardtail the same that they What a full suspension bike generally that’s the case it’s just within the price points top out. So we’ll have a full suspension bike that goes up to $10,000, retail, whatever it is, and then we’ll have a hard tails like well, how many people are buying $10,000? Hard tails? Not many. So right sometimes we do that we you know, we’ve we’ve we’ve definitely done some some dream builds, I think some of the like the carbon Hanzo has just some really well SPECT out and I SPECT out expensive, hard tail. So it does happen, but not too often.

Jeff 25:30
Yeah. And I guess for people who really do want that, like you said, there’s not a lot of them, but the people who do can buy a frame and then build it up to their heart’s desire. So I’m curious about hard tails and wheel sizes, it seems like that’s another area where maybe there’s a little different components spec where hard tails tend to most of the ones that we see are 20 Niners. Whereas for full suspensions, a lot of brands are doing like 27, five on smaller sizes, just to work with, you know, the suspension and everything that they need to fit in there and even mixed wheel. But again, 20 Niners tend to dominate for hardtails. Is that, is that the case? Is there a reason for that?

Pat 26:11
Yeah. You know, I don’t like to use that, you know, you say a debate, I don’t think it’s really a debate. It’s just it’s, it’s, again, that preference, and there’s going to be give and take, and to support what you said about the 29. I think the big thing that’s driving the 29 inch wheel is the ability to rollover, we talked about that technical terrain, and not having that rear suspension to soak that up. With a 29 inch wheel, you’re gonna get a better rollover, you’re gonna get a longer tire contact patch, given the same tires and tire pressures. But at the same time, I see, I see guys really liking 27, five and even 26. I mean, just depends on the application, right? You know, we do sell Shawn keys, frame sets still, and I see friends that really liked the smaller wheel sizes just for the way that it handles, you know, a couple out with, you know, certain geometry, and that wheel size and it, it just, you get a different ride characteristic, you get a different feel. Maybe you know, the quicker handling with the smaller wheels. So I wouldn’t call it a debate but to in the case, you know, the 29 inch wheel does rollover stuff more smoothly. So it’s, it’s a more popular size.

Jeff 27:21
Yeah. Yeah. Another thing that you’re able to do with the hardtails is sliding dropouts for people who want to run single speed and it looks like the Hanzo at least one or two of the models, frames have those sliding dropouts. Is that an important selling point to people? Or is that more of a like? Well, because we can, it just makes it a more versatile bike?

Pat 27:44
Well, the main thing driving the sliding dropouts and why we put them on. I mean, there’s, there’s obviously benefits, there’s a few benefits to it. But the main reason is on the single speed bikes or the bikes that were, you know, positioning to be built up as single speeds or, you know, in the case, like a bike like the unit comes as a single spot. And that’s the just that shape. It’s quick, easy way to adjust that, that change slack for a single speed. But obviously, it allows the consumer to experiment with chainstay length. And, you know, if they’re gonna use a bigger tire and they need a little bit more room, you’ve got that opportunity to slide those dropouts back, you know, and then if you want to go back to a smaller tire a little bit tighter rear triangle, the ability is there. Also, heaven forbid you crash hard enough to damage one of these dropouts. It’s obviously easily replaceable, but there those are pretty robust. I would not want to I think that’d be probably the smallest of your issues a crash that hard to break when I was one of those. Those modular dropouts?

Jeff 28:43
Yeah. And yeah, like you said, I mean, it’s it’s kind of the flip chip of a hard tail is being able to slide the dropouts, change that chainstay length, customize it to your writing style, and what you want to do, which is, which is a cool option. So one other product spec I’m curious about is internal cable routing. And again, for whatever reason, it seems like a lot of hard tails, they don’t they don’t do as much internal cable routing. Is there a reason for that? Or is it like a budget thing? Or what’s what’s the thinking there? Oh,

Pat 29:19
sadly, no, not sadly, I’ll admit it. A number of us in the product group at COVID don’t like internal cable routing, for a number of reasons, but the market does drive it and you know, obviously people within the company really do like the visual and just the tidiness of internal cable routing. I could probably speak for Doug and some of the other product guys is that it’s just not something that feels good to punch holes in perfectly good frames to allow cables to go in there. And it also makes it a pain in the ass to service them you know, it’s pretty obviously so, you know, my my personal thing on that is I really don’t like internal saber rattling, but I do I do get the visual and just the tidiness of internal cables. Yeah, interesting.

Jeff 30:05
Well, this may be a question for Doug. But I’m curious about seattube angles, it seems like seat angles are getting steeper lately, kind of across the board in mountain biking. So how do you approach c tube angles for hardtails? Compared to full suspension bikes? Do we need them as deep on a hardtail? Or, or not?

Doug 30:29
Yeah, you know that one of the big reasons that seat tube angle started getting so steep was, especially in suspension bikes, you know, we wanted to shorten up the rear chains days increase the travel and wheel path becomes an issue, you know, a lot of the reasons they get pushed forward is that they want to get the room in behind the seat post for the wheel to travel up and down, that’s that started driving it. But that said, when you look at the bikes, like, again, the Hanzo, you know, where you’re slackening out the front end, lengthening out the front end, it makes a lot of sense to have a steeper seat too, because when you climb, you’re able to move your weight forward and get on top of that wheel a little bit more. And that certainly as a benefit. And again, the same thing, you know, bigger tires, short chain stays, everything kind of has been pushing it forward. I don’t think it’s detrimental in any way. And, you know, again, if you look back at the early days of biking, there weren’t a lot of components out there, you were dealing with seat posts were probably 120 millimeters long. So nowadays, you know, you can get offset posts. And you know, the saddles got a lot of adjustment, there’s so many components really riding demands, or you know, whatever is the most comfortable for the rider, there’s so much opportunity to find doing your bike by adjusting the setup on it. Last thing, maybe worth, that’s kind of interesting is that, you know, you look at some of these numbers, and they look really steep. But like you had mentioned earlier, you know, you see bent seat tubes, trying to get the seat tube thrown out of the way a bit. And if you look at a lot of geometries, they’re giving you a seat tube angle, but the actual angle of the seat tube is different than the seat tube angle, like some of them. I know on some of our geometry, we call it sta C tube, actual and CQ angle, what you have except for example, 76 degrees, that might be 76 degrees, if your saddles exactly in line with the top of the head tube. But if you know you look at a lot of bikes, people have their seat post up higher, that seat tube ends up slacking out a bit, because the actual seat tubes, maybe, you know, 74 degrees. And the other thing that at night sort of talked about when we talk about bike design is that as well as moving your weight forward and helping you with some climbing on these bikes, Pat says that, you know, he likes to have that steeper seat to descending, because it kind of allows you to get your body out of the way of what’s going on in the back end of the bike. So interesting. I think people really think get hung up on geometry. But in the end of the day, you know, with components selection set up, and just riding style people adapt, you know, it may mean that you just have a little bit more bending your knee or a little bit more bending your arm or a little bit shorter stem or a little bit higher stem, but we all kind of work around.

Jeff 33:36
Yeah, that’s that’s saying a lot, you know, saying that people get too hung up on geometry and your your bike designer. I mean, if anybody’s hung up on it, it would be you and you’re saying those numbers. They’re interesting, and they’re important, but they’re not the most important thing?

Doug 33:52
Well, I think I know that, you know, we’re gonna maybe talk a little bit more about it. But yeah, I think one of the things that’s kind of interesting is back, back when we first started putting front suspension on bikes, I think for a while there, we actually used to list the bikes geometry under sag. And nowadays the the trend is to give people static geometry numbers. And it’s certainly the case with hard tails. That if you know you, depending on how you set the bike up, I mean, someone might go for 25% sag on the fork someone you know, maybe 15% But that makes a big difference in to BB height, geometry, front and back reach all those numbers like the numbers are really dynamics depending on setup of the bike, right. So a lot of times another thing that’s interesting is I like to bring this up. A lot of people think I get hung up on it, but people really like to talk about reach. And the one funny thing about reach is that it’s referencing a floating point. It generally is take going from the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube. Now if you’ve got a relatively slack head tube angle, and that head tubes 20 millimeters longer, one size to the next, that reference point has changed quite a bit, you know, you might, you might be looking at a front center that’s lengthening out by an inch, and your reach number looks like it’s a quarter of an inch. So, you know, when you look at numbers like reach, I think he sort of got to look at them sort of as a broad reference, maybe like a model to model a look, this Hanzo is a half inch longer than the cross country bike. You can’t really say to yourself, Okay, I gotta get this size bike. It’s five millimeters longer than that bike. Right. And, and I know that you had mentioned, talking about the balance between reach here and, and like rear center chainstay length? Yeah, well, I have seen reviews before where they talk about that. And specific brands that talk about balancing reach to chainstay length, but chainstay length, like, for example, on a suspension bike, it’s not a static number. So is that reach balance to the chainstay? At what amount of sag? At what point of travel? You know, it’s it’s kind of like nitpicking, to the enth degree, in my opinion. Yeah, I don’t want to take anything away from people that you know, enjoy talking about that stuff. But you know, I’ve been doing this a long time. And I don’t really understand that part of the, the equation,

Jeff 36:34
right? Well, yeah, we’re the media, we have to talk about that stuff. Because otherwise we just say, hey, it’s really cool. That’s all we can say it was a cool bike was good. So yeah, no, you’re you’re absolutely right. And I’m curious to know, too, like, you know, it seems like with full suspension bikes these days, especially, there’s so many constraints to like what you can do, because you got to have the shock placement. And oh, by the way, now, everybody wants at least one water bottle, this is gonna fit in the front triangle. So are you able to do more have more freedom to do different things with geometry on a hardtail? Because it is, has fewer constraints in terms of your design? And specifically, I’m thinking about like, what extreme sort of things have you tried? Or could you do with a hardtail? That maybe you couldn’t do with a full suspension? In terms of the geometry?

Doug 37:29
Wow, that’s, that’s quite a question. Obviously, there’s fewer constraints. But the challenge, certainly, as far as putting the bike together is people always want a narrower Q factor, a bigger back tire, or shorter chains day, no one ever comes to the table with a worksheet that’s like, oh, open it up, make it longer, something that’s easier to do. So you’re always trying to fit as much as you can into the smallest possible space, you know, but I don’t, I don’t really think there’s a huge differentiation between one or the other. Obviously, the shock is a problem with a dual suspension bike, you don’t have to deal with that with a hard tail. But the challenges are always seemed to be the same. And like I said, I think, you know, through manufacturing, and materials and stuff, there’s just so much potential to do so much more now than they used to be back in the old days. I can’t really think of anything about as far as when it comes to putting a hardtail together that really is super challenging. And, you know, I think you make a lot of good points there. As a design team, a group of guys, you know, certainly now you’re, you know, we have a lot larger product group, a lot more engineers and stuff doing the job. But on top of that, you know, when you’re, when we’re a smaller company are really sort of North Shore, Bellingham focused, things were pretty easy as the company gets bigger, and you have more and more customers around the world, everyone’s got input and everyone’s looking for something a little different. And that starts become challenging, you know, how many people are you going to make happy and oh, yeah, and that’s, that’s the hardest part of the job trying to appeal to a lot of people.

Jeff 39:20
Well, yeah, I want to get back to you and talk about like, what is the typical hard tail rider look like? We talked about how cost is a factor when you’re thinking about hard tails keeping it under a certain price point. And also just the cool factor some people like hard tails because it’s says something about them or their writing style what Who do you what is the typical hardtail writer look like to you? Who do you imagine when you’re putting one of these together?

Pat 39:49
Yeah, again, it’s that you know, if you just try to be objective about it, you go Yeah, cost. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. While can’t afford a full suspension bike, I want to go mountain biking. You get that experience and hard tails, given the same spec and materials are cost less. But, you know, I wish that wasn’t the case. But to touch on what makes a hardtail writer or why are people drawn to hard tails, less complicated for sure, as I mentioned before, like that, that it’s just you feel more in touch with what you’re doing, what was I thinking of earlier? Oh, for one thing, like when you’re writing a hardtail, or at least when I’m writing a hardtail, versus a full suspension bike, you kind of go into it, or you’re at least rudely awakened, that you can go through the same section of trail as quickly as you could on rock trail as quickly as you could on a full suspension bike that has a lot of bumps and roots and rocks and steepness to it. But what it does do, at least to me is, it kind of keeps me in check. Okay, so maybe I can’t go as fast through this section, maybe I need to spend more time putting more effort into how I how I managed to get the bike through a section, different line selection, for sure you start looking at smoother lines, lines, where you can, you know, just transition easier, you know, hit a smooth section, bounce over across technical section, where normally on a full suspension bike, you would just plow through it. So I would say that that should be thought of as well, as far as defining a heart. Someone who really wants to ride hard tails is that they’re looking for that connectivity with with ride experience, and how it differs, have to be more cognizant about what you’re doing and how you’re writing it and where you’re writing.

Jeff 41:35
Yeah, I was just thinking, you know, maybe a similar example is like, flip phones and smartphones, right? Like flip phones, everybody had one, and then the smartphone came out. And it was like, you know, added a bunch of features and like, everybody buy smartphones now. But the hard tail has stuck around. Like, despite all these advances and full suspension bikes, and there’s still a lot of people, they’re not just trying to be weird. They’re not that weird guy that has the flip phone that’s trying to be ironic, like a lot of people, they choose a hardtail because they either like how it rides or like you said it’s lower maintenance or easier to, to maintain or, you know, it’s cheaper. I mean, there’s so many reasons that people choose hardtails. And it’s awesome to see that that’s still an option for people and that, you know, brands like Kona are pushing the envelope and, and seeing progressive geometry in hardtails, as well as the, you know, more feature rich, full suspension bikes.

Doug 42:35
Yeah, there’s a lot of truth to that, you know, I moved out of Vancouver up to the interior of BC, about seven years ago now. And I have a lot of really smooth Sandy pine needle like single track up here. And I can do a lot of, you know, epic 100 mile rides, 80 mile rides up here, on smooth single track and the hardtail was a is a really great bike to ride on. You don’t really have to have suspension for a lot of the rides we do up here, which is nice. And you know, if you don’t need the suspension, boy, what a treat to get on a bike that’s that much lighter and that much easier to climb on. But I think Pat really nailed it too, you know, a lot like cross training. When you ride bikes, you find a lot of people that now they gravel ride, they got a dual suspension bike, a single speed, they have a hard tail. And when you spend more time on all those bikes, it seems to make all your disciplines you know better you become better at writing a dual suspension bike, if you spend some time on your hardtail

Jeff 43:51
Yeah, so yeah, it sounds like Doug, you’re still riding your hard tail. What about you, Pat, you have a hard tail and how much do you ride it if you have

Pat 43:59
one? Absolutely, I probably I was just thinking about that. Actually, the mountain bikes I have in my stable they’re kind of rotating in and out because we’re obviously always testing components and developing frames and whatnot but my go to is a unit x of all things it’s it’s basically the frame set because we’ve I’ve had to change the components on it so much because I’m testing different drive trains and brakes and wheels. But the thing I really love about that unit X is or just a unit frame is its versatility. It’s really even more than a dual sport. It’s a it’s a 10 times sport because you can do so many different things with it, you know, I can road ride with it. I can mountain bike as you would a hardtail I can put a full suspension fork on it. I can ride it as a single speed and it’s just kind of always there and it’s a comfortable bike to ride and you know I can I can change out wheels and tires and it can accept all those things. So really the reason I like that you It’s just the versatility. So I’ve

Jeff 45:01
got a question for you, Dr. do if you were able to design a bike that you didn’t have to worry about whether anybody would buy it or anything, and it was a hardtail, what would you do? What would be the like thing that you want to try? Or the thing that would be like just for you, that would make a really cool bike?

Doug 45:21
Well, not to say that we haven’t made bikes before in the past that have had no commercial appeal. Yes, I would definitely have, I would make a hard tail. And personally, I think I would pick steel is my number one choice. And I think, you know, the Hanzo ESDs, probably a bit more bike than my riding style. You know, I’m, I’m not a young buckaroo. I don’t do tabletops and tail whips. But certainly, it would probably fall right into the Hanzo category. I would go for adjustable dropouts. Not necessarily because I wanted to run it as a single speed. But I like to have the option of the adjustable chainstay length. And again, for my style of riding, I wouldn’t push them back all the way. But I would probably be sitting somewhere in the middle like I like a 425 or something in that neighborhood for my my kind of riding. Yeah, I would have water bottle mounts on it. Although I’m, you know, more likely to have a Camelback on my, my body because I like to carry tools and, and food and a little saw with me when I ride.

Jeff 46:45
Yeah, I mean, that says a lot. It says a lot that you have kind of the leeway and the freedom to build the bikes that you want. Kona and also the Hanzo. I mean, again, like that’s a bike that anytime this conversation about aggressive, hard, hardcore, whatever you want to call them, hard tails comes up. People bring up the Hanzo as like, that’s kind of the that’s the standard. And so yeah, it seems like you’ve really nailed it there. And there’s not a lot necessarily that that would need to be changed or that you would want to change. So that’s, that’s really cool. Well, Pat, I want to ask one final question. For folks who have hardtails who ride them regularly? or folks who are considering them now, to buy one going from full suspension? Are there things that you recommend people might want to do in terms of modifying their writing style? Or? Or their settings for things like tires and forks, that maybe are a little different for hard tails? Or is it? Is it pretty similar to a regular full suspension bike?

Pat 47:53
Good question, I’m going to go back and relate again to experience and the first thing that comes to mind because I do have many friends who, you know, started out on full suspension bikes, or that became their main mountain bike, and then they wanted a hardtail either for pumptrack riding or just looking for that alternative feeling, you know, skiing versus snowboarding, just a different different way of riding and, you know, also just the the hardtail is going to climb better, or if they’re going to go down a like a Rails to Trails thing. But the first thing that I see is that they have a really expensive full suspension bike, they buy a hardtail. And what do they do, they take care of the full suspension bike, keep it in the garage, keep it clean, keep it maintained, and the hard tail goes out in the shed something that effect and gets a rusty chain. So my first thing is take care of it, it’s still a bicycle, it’s still a machine,

Jeff 48:44
not indestructible.

Pat 48:45
If you love it, it will love you. So take care of your Yeah, take care of your hard tails, not indestructible. I think as far as modifying your writing style, I pretty much touched on that you just need to realize that you’re not going to be able to bash through technical steep terrain, terrain the same way you would with a full suspension bike that is of the same application. So pick your lines. Enjoy that enjoy that challenge, that it brings being you know, more careful or more cognizant of where you’re going with it and how to negotiate that terrain. Things like tire pressure and fork spring rates. That is, I don’t know that I would tell someone to change anything, because when you make changes in tire pressure, let’s say that you think that you’re going to get you want a little bit more compliance. So you’re going to reduce the tire pressure, and you’re going to reduce that tire pressure more than what you would in your full suspension bike. So by doing that, you’re not going to get as better you’re not going to get as good of performance out of that tire. If you lower the pressure too much. It’s going to start rolling over and and not gripping and not being predictable. And you’re also going to, you know, possibly damage your rim, your will foot pressure. Same thing if you start messing with that, I mean, you start changing the way a bike will behave, you know, when you hit the brakes hard and go into a corner. And if you’ve got a different spring rate than what you do on your other bike, then it’s going to, you know, it’s going to have negative impact on how the bike handles in those situations. So I wouldn’t try and mess with things like tire pressure in Forks spring rate to accommodate going from a full suspension to a hardtail.

Jeff 50:25
Yeah, well, that’s, that’s good that it’s, it’s not that different for a lot of people and that what we learn and what we enjoy about any bike is transferable. Well, thank you both so much for taking the time to talk. I learned a ton about hard tails and more stoked to ride them than ever before. And I think our listeners are as well. So thank you both.

Doug 50:49
Thank you for having us. That

Pat 50:50
was fun. Yeah. Thanks, Jeff. That was fun.

Jeff 50:54
That’s how we got this week or next week.

.paywall {display: none;}

Never Miss an Episode

  • Listen on Spotify
  • Listen on Apple Podcasts
  • Listen on Google Podcasts
  • Listen on Stitcher
  • Listen on Overcast
  • Get the RSS Feed
  • View all Podcast Episodes

Jeff Barber
Jeff co-founded Singletracks.com with his wife Leah (mudhunny) in 1999. Today he works out of Singletracks World HQ in Decatur, GA as the Editor in Chief.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *