Full suspension mountain bikes: Find out how to choose the perfect bike for you. Learn about different types of mountain bikes by Cannondale.
When it comes to riding technical trails and rough terrain, there’s no substitute for the traction and control a full suspension mountain bike delivers. For many riders, full suspension makes mountain bike riding faster, safer, and more fun.
That said, not all full suspension mountain bikes are built for the same types of riding. That’s why choosing the right bike for you and the riding you want to do is an important consideration that can have a major impact on your satisfaction and the fun you’re able to have.
In this article, we’ll discuss the primary categories of full suspension mountain bikes and the types of terrain and riding each is designed for. Then, we’ll answer a variety of common questions riders ask when they’re in the market for a full suspension mountain bike.
Full Suspension Mountain Bike Categories
Cannondale builds a wide range of full suspension mountain bikes, from 100mm/4-inch travel bikes built for racing and fast XC (or cross country) riding, to hardcore trail mountain bikes with more than six inches of travel at each wheel, capable of taking on the world’s toughest trails. And while this article focuses on traditional non-powered full suspension mountain bikes, Cannondale also offers a complete line of electric full suspension mountain bikes as well.
So, how do you decide which Cannondale full suspension bike is right for you? First, let’s talk about what you want to do with the bike.
Typically, shorter travel xc-oriented suspension bikes will be easier to climb with at a fast pace, while longer travel bikes will win the race going back down hills. The goal is to find the full suspension mountain bike with a balance that best matches your goals going both up and down hills.
And while professional mountain bikers might have access to a variety of bikes, most riders just have one full suspension bike. That’s why choosing the right one is so important.
XC and ‘downcountry’ mountain bikes
Riders looking for a light, fast full suspension bike that goes as quickly uphill as it does down the mountain should check out an XC, or cross-country bike. Typically, short travel xc racing-focused bikes will have 100-110mm (4.0-4.3-inches) of travel at each wheel and will be tuned to be lightweight and relatively quick handling.
While riders focused on xc racing generally gravitate towards short travel bikes like the Cannondale Scalpel, it’s the 120mm (4.75-inch) travel ‘Downcountry’, or short-travel trail bikes like the Scalpel SE that a lot of riders are excited about. Designed as a slightly longer travel, more capable version of the XC Scalpel, the 120mm travel Scalpel SE is nearly as light and fast uphill as its shorter travel sibling, but it gives riders an added advantage when the trail turns downhill. The added suspension travel and dropper seatpost, which allows the saddle to be lowered (more detail below), make carrying speed through technical singletrack easier than ever.
Since weight, or lack thereof, is a primary consideration, most XC and Downcountry bikes will be equipped with air sprung front and rear suspension, as opposed to coil springs. Not only is air sprung suspension lighter than coil sprung suspension, it also offers a more responsive feel both up and down the mountain. Several Scalpel models also feature Cannondale’s exclusive Lefty Ocho, the world’s most advanced, smoothest, and most precise-handling ultralight suspension fork.
For riders more interested in going fast downhill and having fun than in racing, a longer travel trail bike like the Cannondale Habit is an excellent choice. With 130-140mm (5.1-5.5 inches) of travel front and rear, a long-travel dropper post and geometry designed to excel both up and down the mountain, the Habit is light enough to comfortably climb on and versatile enough to tackle any trail with confidence. Trail bike frame geometry prioritizes stability at speed, so it’s easier to control the bike when going fast downhill in rugged terrain.
While most trail bikes are equipped with air sprung suspension, the suspension components themselves are often beefed up to withstand the additional demands of increased travel and more aggressive riding. Rear shocks equipped with external reservoirs stay consistent on long, bumpy downhills, while suspension forks with large, 36-38mm stanchion tubes increase steering precision at high speeds.
What about frame materials?
Because full suspension bikes are naturally heavier than rigid or front suspension mountain bikes, most high-quality full suspension mountain bikes are constructed of either aluminum alloy or carbon fiber. Most Cannondale full suspension bikes are built of BallisTec carbon, though the Habit trail bike is offered with an alloy frame on the most affordable models. Typically, upgrading from an alloy frame to a lighter-weight carbon frame will add $900 to $1,000 in cost to a similarly equipped suspension bike.
Which suspension design is best?
While some manufacturers use a similar rear suspension design and layout throughout its line, Cannondale offers three distinct suspension platforms across its line. XC and short-travel trail bikes use Cannondale’s patented FlexPivot frame, which uses engineered flex in the rear triangle to deliver the performance of a multi-link suspension system, combined with the light weight of a single pivot design.
Cannondale’s mid-travel Trail bike, the Habit, uses the company’s exclusive Proportional Response 4-bar pivot suspension system. Proportional Response uses size-specific Center-Of-Gravity data to optimally tune suspension performance for any rider, from the tallest to the smallest.
To better handle the higher speeds and rougher terrain of enduro-trail riding, Cannondale developed a new high pivot, idler-equipped 4-bar suspension system for its Jekyll models. The high main pivot helps the rear wheel more easily roll over obstacles without losing forward momentum, while the idler pulley neutralizes the suspension’s effect on pedaling performance.
While offering three unique suspension platforms certainly isn’t the easiest or least expensive way, for a performance-first company like Cannondale, it’s the only way to deliver truly optimized performance for every rider, on every ride.
What do I get as I go up in price?
Generally, as you move up in price within a category of bike (XC or Trail), you will get lighter weight, better quality suspension and increased drivetrain performance. Instead of an alloy frame, a more expensive model might have a carbon frame. Suspension components gain more sophisticated dampers with more adjustability as prices increase. And at the very high end, carbon fiber wheels and wireless electronic shifting drivetrain components sweeten the deal even further.
When shopping for a new full suspension mountain bike, it makes sense to ride models both above and below your target price point, so you can better understand and feel the specific benefits you’re getting for the money.
While there is no one ‘best’ full suspension mountain bike for everyone, finding the best full suspension mountain bike for you doesn’t have to be hard. By considering the type of riding you want to do, establishing a budget, and test riding as many bikes as you can, you’ll be able to quickly narrow down the field. Get started by checking out Cannondale’s Bike Finder.