My name is Tom Dunn. I’ve been riding and racing bikes now for 10 years and spent most of the last 5 years holding on for dear life onto a hardtail as it spits me down the trail. I’m completely infatuated by the beasts! They’re so out of control yet in control in a funny kind of way! If you’re in the South West (UK), hopefully, we bump into each other. Just head towards the hoops and holers with the constant rattle of my knees as I ricochet of everything!
When I started riding back in 2010 I was lucky/unlucky enough to go straight on to a full suss. My first mountain bike was a Specialized FSR Xc, it wasn’t the most aggressive bike but man I loved it at the time! I had never ridden a hardtail at this point and had no want to ride one at all! I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be shaken to bits on a decent. And feel like you weren’t in control. But at a bike demo In 2015 I found myself on a semi-fat hardtail. And that was it within a few meters of the first descent I was hooked! There’s something to be said of a bike that steps out at the smallest lump or bump in the trail. It was so fun to feel the bike do its own little shimmy as the back end “did what it wanted” sideways or not seemed to be the theme. And over the next few years, I fell in love with the few boneshakers I’ve had the pleasure to ride.
A few days after that demo ride I bought the same bike I demoed. A 120mm Specialized fuse. The fuse was a “6 fattie” meaning it had Sami fat tyres. My original plan was to race it at a few local Downhill races over the winter, and use it as a winter fun bike Unfortunately/fortunately I was enamoured with the bike I just couldn’t put it down. Tho after my 1st race on the bike I discovered that “semi-fat” tyres weren’t for me. A hardtail was loose enough without both tyres making the bike into a “drift machine!”
I went nuts with this bike and raced it and rode it everywhere from Welsh gravity races, mini Enduro to the British Enduro series. Back in 2016 hardtail racing was still a bit of a taboo within the hardened racing groups. And I was constantly asked why I did it? Races varied from some categories as low as 3-4 racers and a “big turnout” of maybe 15? But still racing was fun and I felt the category had more of a family feel. We all looked after each other and had a good laugh together. One race a friend’s bike broke so badly that he couldn’t pedal it to the final stage, so I gave him my bike and I ran it up the last hill, carrying his bike. There was no way we would leave someone behind! At the end of 2016 I was lucky to be offered a spot on the Bird Cycleworks team racing their hardtails.
The following year more people were getting out on hardtails and marked a turning point with many riders starting to realise how capable hardtails had become. Many people found that they could ride the same trails with a smaller bike and have a ton more fun doing so. Cat sizes at the races were starting to climb. In 2016 I was lucky enough to win the British Enduro Series and I won an amazing prize of a Stanton frame. I sold this to a close mate and a riding partner called Linford mill (Linny) Linny and I ride together most days and are always pushing each over. Linny soon became as hooked as me.
After this many of my other riding friends also began to ride them. After watching us ride the same trails as them with the biggest smiles on our faces.
“I got into riding hardtail through riding with a buddy who raced them and won a 650b Stanton switchback frame after winning the enduro nationals, which I bought off him. Once I got that built up and started riding it the full suss was pushed to the back of the garage. The hardtail was now the first choice of bike due to the capability of it around the South West Countryside and the pure raw factor and fun of the thing. I then started doing hardtail races and was blown away by how capable and fun the Hardtail was.
Three years later I now own three hardtails and no full suss one of them being the Stanton switch 9er which is probably the best and funniest bike I’ve ridden. If you’ve not ridden a hardtail then get on one at a steel bike demo day and check them out. I would recommend a Stanton, of course, British handmade plus a choice custom paint and amazing geo.
Linny and I started to ride the hardtails on anything and the gnarly the better. We were just out for a laugh trying to get ourselves to the limits of the bikes we were on! We couldn’t believe how fast and wild they could be! Fishtailing all the way down are local hills. Linny and I would push each other constantly trying to go faster than the other be it at a race or down a trail.
2018 came around and races were as they are now massively competitive with full hardtail teams appearing like the Steel is Real team. This ended up pushing the category to quite often posting some of the fastest times of the day! Finally, people started to realise that the hardtails were going the same speed on the same trails as most full sussers with twice as much fun!
2019/20 has shown a massive incline in riders having a hardtail in the stable of bikes as a “winter bike” but as most of us who throw a leg over the humble hardtail become a “do everything bike, I can’t put it down bike”. Most brands now have an aggressive hardtail in their line up and many others have had some on the way. In the UK hardtail riding and racing seems set to stay with ever-growing category sizes and more riders realising they no longer need a big trail bike to deaden their rides.
This winter I’ve been riding and training hard. I’m still going to be racing hardtails at nationals. (I’m still obsessed with them and can’t face a year without them) but this year I will be racing my full bouncer a bit more. I spent a lot of time rut bashing on the Hardtail all winter and it still blows me away each time! The Bird Zero 29 I’m on now is so stable and planted and the most race orientated machine I’ve been on. I can’t wait to get back out and ride on the beast! We’ve already had two races this year and hopefully after this lockdown finishes we can get back at it!
What do you think of this guest article written by Tom Dunn? Should we do more guest articles?
Do you ride a hardtail or perhaps you learned to ride on one. If you do or did then you will understand how different it is to riding a full suspension and I’m sure you can appreciate the talent of riders like Tom and Linny. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Massive thank you to Tom Dunn for writing this article for us.
All images used in this article are the sole property or Craig Peters.