Can You Ride a Hardtail Downhill?

A hardtail bike used for downhill riding

There are a lot of us that have a cross country bike that is a hardtail (has no rear suspension).  If you’re like me, at some point you wanted to try downhill riding to see what the hype is all about but I didn’t want to buy another bike.

Can you ride a hardtail downhill? Yes, you absolutely can ride a hardtail downhill.  You’ll feel every bump your back tire hits but you can sure do it.  In fact, many riders will ride a hardtail bike downhill to force themselves to learn how to pick a better path.

Why Ride a Hardtail Bike Downhill?

There are 2 main reasons why someone would choose to ride a hardtail bike on a downhill course.  It’s either due to no choice or it’s done on purpose.

When I say no choice, what I mean is someone is like I was when I just had an XC bike and I wanted to try downhill.  I figured out how I needed to ride so I didn’t break anything, and went for it.

The other aspect is more interesting, and it’s when a rider choosing to take a hardtail on a rocky downhill course on purpose.

Why would they do that?

It’s actually for the same reason the average rider cringes just a little thinking about taking a back without a rear suspension on a rocky, rough course.  They are training themselves to ride better.

If you can imagine going downhill and everytime you hit a root, a rough rock, or a drop, you feel it.  You will naturally try to avoid hitting such harsh obstacles.  You will choose a better path.

Trail bikes typically have hefty suspension so they can ride over rough rocks and such and not feel a thing.  The bike is absorbing it.

With a hardtail, you are absorbing it.  So you can see where riding a hardtail forces a rider to ride a little smarter and just run over everything.

And that’s why someone chooses purposefully to take a hardtail downhill.

Will a Hardtail Bike Break If You Use It For Downhill?

This was my first question too.  If you take a hardtail mountain bike on a downhill course, will it break it? How much can you safely do without tearing up your bike?

So the answer is it depends.  If you take it easy, you ride a hardtail mountain bike downhill and it’ll be fine.  The details are where you find out just well.

Many hardtail bikes are XC bikes so the frames and wheels are not as heavy duty as trail bikes.  They will break easier than trail bikes.

When the rear of the bike is taking hits constantly, anything that connects to the rear wheel will take a hit.  So make sure your tire chain has the proper slack and that your rear derailleur is adjusted properly so you can get the power to the ground.

The thing is, there are roughly 3-4 things that will break if you push it too far:

  • You could crack the frame (usually this is big drops or jumps)
  • You could damage the brakes
  • You could bend a rim
  • You could hurt yourself

The general idea is to be a bit less extreme and take a smarter path downhill and have a blast doing it.

Can a Hardtail Bike Handle Jumps and Drops Going Downhill?

Yes, a hardtail bike can handle many jumps and drops on downhill trails just fine.

Many XC bikes are hardtails, and many of these hardtail mountain bikes can handle jumps up to around 2 feet high.

My advice is to keep it sane.  Remember just how expensive your bike is and that should keep your inner thrill-devil in check.  Remember you are choosing your smartest path down the mountain.

If there are any big jumps or drops, usually you can find a path around them that isn’t as quick but it’ll get you there with much fewer problems.

Tips for Riding a Hardtail Downhill

There’s a few things you can do to lessen the chance of breaking both the bike and yourself (ok..just takes a big toll on you):

  • Take your time.  If you go a little slower, the hits on roots and rocks is a bit lighter.
  • Lower your seat.  Many trail bikes have dropper seats for a reason.
  • Keep you weight back so the forks can take the hit.
  • Keep arms and legs bent.
  • Don’t ride the brakes.  When you want to slow down, apply the brakes and slow down and then let off.  Avoid brake fade.
  • Watch your path, not other obstacles around you.
  • Don’t take any huge jumps or drops if you can, go around them.  Ideally under 2 feet drop so the frame doesn’t crack.
  • Pedal during smoother parts
  • Put on wider tires.  You can lower the pressure a little to help take some of the hit from obstacles in the trail.
  • Ride smart

Once you’ve had quite a few runs, you’ll notice how much smarter and more precise your riding is.  You have now forced your skills to improve.

Will Riding a Hardtail Make You a Better Rider?

110% riding a hardtail bike on a downhill course will make you a far better rider.

You force yourself to adapt and learn to read the terrain and make smarter decisions going downhill.  You force your skills to evolve.

Now when you take the same downhill course with a trail bike you will be that much better of a rider.

When you ride XC singletrack trails and fire roads and such, you will also tend to be much more award of the terrain and obstacles around you.

It’s pretty easy to see why people choose this training method.

Can You Change a Hardtail to Make Downhill Easier?

There are a few things you can do to make the rider a bit more bearable when you take a hardtail mountain bike on a rocky path:

  • Put on wider tires.  As in, fat tires.  Lower it to 10-12 psi and enjoy the tires acting a little like a shock.
  • Lower you bike seat so it’s not hitting you when the back tire hits the obstacles.

That’s really about all you can do to make a hardtail handle downhill a little easier.

Conclusion

So yes, you can ride a hardtail downhill.  It’s not the most pleasant of experience until you learn how to do it smoothly, but it lets you take a XC hardtail bike on the mountains and hills.

It teaches you how to pick your path smartly which is a skill that will benefit you for a long time.

Just throw on some fat tires and take it easy and enjoy the ride.