Riding Rigid: 6 reasons why you should go without suspension

by Robb Sutton

This past weekend, I did something that I have not done in a long time…brought out the rigid 29er single speed to the mountains.

Let me preface this by saying, I love suspension. The more the better. What modern day suspension designs have done for the sport of mountain biking is amazing. We are able to ride terrain with speed and control that just wasn’t possible in the early years. Fast, technical riding has been brought to a larger audience and this means more technical, fast trails for the rest of us as efficient suspension designs bring this riding to the mass market.

However, there is one glaring negative to suspension that no one thinks about

Modern day dual suspension designs make you incredibly lazy and hide your mistakes amongst the travel. It’s true. How many times have you thought to yourself, “holy crap my bike pulled me out of that one”? Over time, you become completely reliant on the suspension of the bike completely forgetting about your most important suspension component…your body.

Your arms and legs are the most important suspension component in mountain biking that you could ever tune. With the built in crutch of increased travel on more climbable suspension mountain bikes, riders today are forgetting that all of their control, skill and ability to become a better mountain biker is actually controlled in their arms and legs…not the bike.

Back in the day, that is the only suspension we had anyway! Before the widespread adoption of suspension forks (and even a little while afterwards as the first runs didn’t work that well. The elastomers in my RockShox Quadra 21R didn’t even move in temps below about 50 degrees), riding a rigid mountain bike was our only option. If you wanted to ride technical, rocky, rooty terrain, you had to figure out how to get your body to soak up the hits to maintain speed…not just plow and go.

Ah…the golden days of getting beat to crap on a daily basis. So why would we want to sign up for that abuse again?!

Why you need to ride rigid every now and then…

So why do I think you need to get off the squish and onto a suspension-less rig from time to time? Let’s get into some bullet points on how riding a rigid mountain bike can help your riding.

  1. No room for error – When I get back on the rigid bike after weeks of riding suspension, it is painfully obvious how lazy and sloppy I have gotten on the bike. The full suspension mountain bike covers up a lot of mistakes while you ride. I am a firm believer in increasing skill level and challenging yourself to become a better mountain biker, and when you get on a rigid mountain bike…you quickly realize the mistakes you have been making. There is no suspension to suck it up…you get instant feedback and have to make adjustments on the fly. When you get back on the suspension bike…you are much faster and smoother just from the experience
  2. It makes old trails new – Are you getting bored of hitting your same local trail day in and day out? Sure you are…even the best local trail systems start to get boring after you already know where every single rock is placed. By jumping on a rigid bike, you are able to change the entire dynamic of the trail to the point it almost feels like something new!
  3. Variety is a good thing – There is no “best mountain bike”. I will ride anything from 10 inches of suspension travel all the way to a rigid bike because there is more than one way to enjoy the sport. The more variety you bring to your riding, the better rider you will be in the long run and the more people you will meet. Do not limit yourself to one way of riding.
  4. It is super cheap to get into – A steel 29er single speed rigid mountain bike is CHEAP (in mountain biking terms)! If you are looking to expand your quiver and need to do it on a budget, your second ride should be a steel SS (if you are really tight on budget) or geared mountain bike. You can find brand new examples for at a max of around 600 bucks…and many of those have front suspension if you really want it.
  5. It is a challenge – When you strip away the gears and suspension, “easy” trails are made harder. By increasing the difficulty of  the trail, you increase your abilities.
  6. You learn how to use your most important suspension component correctly – If you have only ridden dual suspension bikes, you are not using your arms and legs correctly while riding. By going rigid, you will be forced to use the most important element of you body correctly…including weight distribution…and this will make you much faster and more controlled when you go back to riding suspension. Your technical abilities on any bike will increase dramatically.

My rigid SS 29er is my litmus test on how I am doing in my riding. If I get on the bike and feel like I have two left feet and 2 inch arms, I know I have let the suspension on my other bikes do too much of the work, so it was time for a refresher course. After putting in the miles on rocky terrain on the rigid bike, I am able to take the couch out for some of the fastest runs that are controlled that I can remember.

Open your possibilities and start becoming a better mountain biker by bringing mountain biking back to its routes…steel rigid…



bruceS August 27, 2012 - 3:57 pm

Love the rigid!! She is the only ride for me. I have tried front and full sus. but always return to the simplicity of the rigid. The fact that you have to do all the work is very satisfying. Nothing beats the feeling of cleaning a rocky, rooty or technical section with the most basic of bikes. Sure you’ll be beat, sore and exhausted at the end of the day but thats part of the fun.

For those of you who like rigids check out my vids on You Tube.
The latest one is called : Alafia River State Park, Rabbit Ears trail

posted by: schellingerb

Steel 29er Single Speed Rigid | Fixedso May 23, 2012 - 9:04 pm

[…] made harder. By increasing the difficulty of  the trail, you increase your abilities. Read more here. Share this:EmailFacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was […]

Wolfgang September 3, 2011 - 3:24 am

I am 6’3 and 250 lbs. I started out on a full suspension, I didnt like it because I was new to riding and I was too big. Then I went to a hardtail santa cruz, I loved that bike but I thought I needed full suspension. Dont get me wrong full suspension is nice and I ride a Chumba vf2, but I was missing my hardtail. I am now building a Chumba hardtail 29er with a rigid front fork, I am crazy? I can’t wait.

Cat MacKinnon August 15, 2011 - 2:57 am

while i can’t rock a full rigid (my carpal tunnel and tendon issues just don’t get along without a suspension fork), i absolutely love riding a hardtail. i feel like i have to put more of myself into the trail, especially climbing over the steep, loose baby heads that the FS people sit n’ spin over. but i feel this huge sense of gratification when i clear a section like that, using mostly just my body to get through it. sure, it hurts sometimes…but in a really GOOD kinda way! besides, with a properly-fitted saddle and good padding in your shorts, there are plenty of ways to make a rigid or hardtail far more enjoyable.

i’ll ride a bit on friends’ FS bikes, and while there is a lot to like about them, i mentally always go back to wanting to be on a hardtail. i like the simplicity, i like being able to feel every little thing that i ride over. like everyone has said about a rigid, i like feeling like i’m “connected” to the trail, and i get that with a hardtail…FS feels a little strange in a way, like i’m seperated from the trail. and if i’ve got to pick up and hike my bike, i really appreciate the fact that my bike weighs a lot less than most FS bikes!

Rao August 7, 2011 - 10:02 pm

My 2003 Specialized Expedition Elite was beginning to creak and groan on Huber Woods NJ. My 14-yr old wanted and got a Jamis XC Dakar full suspension, and my 12-yr old got a Kona Fire Mountain hardtail. What did I (a 56-yr old) get – a Kona Unit rigid, SS 29er!

Absolutely like that beast! Yesterday I rode the Laurel Ridge trail at Hartshorne with the 14-yr old,and was right on his tail all the way. Today I did the same with my Specialized. Enjoyed both rides, but the Kona Unit brings a larger grin 🙂 Of course, the real joy is riding with my son!

Rob Pro July 11, 2011 - 11:34 pm

I know most will shoot this down.

I own an old Y-11 Carbon fiber trek still with the coil fox rear suspension. Set so tight it rides like a hard tail, and a front suspension set the same way. Sorry don’t remember which brand. Rock shock or something that how much I care. I don’t race but have bike with many and showed them up even at 36 when they were 26-32. They all gave me crap about my ride. almost all had shocks set so loose you could use them as a pogo stick. This year I’m gonna try a BMX single speed to work on my other skills of using your body like you said. I still have to figure out what I want to do about the seat thou I’m short but not that short. 32″ inseam Nice post and read. Have fun out there from the Kettle Moraine area in WI.

Jase Rides Bikes June 25, 2011 - 4:42 pm

Couldn’t agree more with this article. I “copped a lot of flack” for riding my full rigid and single speed Haro Mary SS 29er as my main XC bike for over a year, but it really took me back to actually having to work hard to ride a bike. The singlespeed thing is a no brainer – given a few weeks you have the strength to ride it practically anywhere so long as your gear ratio is reasonable, and given you don’t have “bring in the wrong gear” to worry about, you can just focus on proper technique for cornering, riding roots, rocks, drops, etc.

Kevin June 17, 2011 - 9:15 pm

I think the real reason to go fully rigid is that it adds purity. That’s what single speed riding is all about, right?

Mark June 15, 2011 - 3:08 am

Nobody seems to have mentioned the weight difference and the energy soak. A pal of mine has retired his full sus to the shed in favor of his old hardtail and the difference is amazing. He reckons it’s a least 15-20% more efficient on the climbs. All the trails here in Ireland involve what seems more uphill than downhill so anything that make life that bit easier is fine by me! Cheers………

198 June 16, 2011 - 9:30 am

It all comes down to preference. I am willing to put up with the inefficiency going up if there is a blazing downhill on the other end…but variety in riding is where it really is for me on the rigid vs. suspension.

Mark June 15, 2011 - 3:06 am

Nobody seems to have mentioned the weight difference and the energy soak. A pal of mine has retired his full sus to the shed in favor of his old hardtail and the difference is amazing. He reckons it’s a least 15-20% more efficient on the climbs. All the trails here in Ireland involve what seems more uphill than downhill so anything that make life that bit easier is fine by me!

Graeme June 14, 2011 - 6:26 pm

Great article. I always rode an Anthem and then purchased a Kona Unit (29 R SS) and I’ve only riden the Anthem 3 times in three months. For me points 2 (old trails new) and 5 (the challenge) are the most relevent, but I’ve notice that my fitness has improved as well as technique. I doubt I’m up to completeing enduro’s on it, but by god it’s fun and simple (and how easy are they to clean!). Also earns you an extra knock off beer! Keep up the articles and happy riding.

Michael June 14, 2011 - 8:56 am

A point that I always make to other people is the difference in braking technique. With a good full suspension bike you can get on the brakes in the rough stuff to slow down. With a rigid or hardtail bike, you have to get your braking done before the technical sections. It is very easy to lock up the brakes on a hardtail, which is bad in the rougher sections.

Jonathan June 14, 2011 - 8:39 am

Yeah. I keep a hammer at home, and then just whack my balls with it from time to time…. does the same job. less bikes to maintain.

198 June 14, 2011 - 8:51 am

That just sounds like it hurts…

Matt June 15, 2011 - 9:58 am

Did you forget that you can stand up while biking? Helps with the “hammer effect.”

198 June 16, 2011 - 9:29 am

I still stand up on the FS rigs…isn’t quite the same though.

Federico June 14, 2011 - 8:31 am

Single speed? I’m OK. But about the need of suspension? No doubt I will allways go for it for one simple reason: Age.

At 20 or 30 years old, your “own” shock absorbers are atop lubricated, but it is well known that the engine begins to fail at 40, so your body needs some help. And after four or five hours in the saddle, it really thanks such help.

198 June 14, 2011 - 8:51 am

It depends. I know guys into their 50’s that can drop me on a rigid bike. I think it really boils down to easing your way into it. Much like you can’t just go out and run 5 miles if you do not run regularly. Your body needs to build up the endurance over time.

Personal anatomy also plays a factor.

tim June 14, 2011 - 8:07 am

You forgot one of the greatest aspects of single speed, something very difficult to describe in words. Quite literally the “feeling” one gets often described as being “closer to the trail”, “in tune with the ride”, etc. I personally get great satisfaction and feel much more a part of the trail ride than I do on my 5 inch squish. The stealthiness, near silent ride that is dependent solely on one’s internal engine and the response you get from trail below is hard to beat.

198 June 14, 2011 - 8:50 am

Great way to put it Tim. It really is a different experience on the trail.


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