Field Test: 4 Hardtails & 5 Full Suspension Bikes vs. The Impossible Climb

May 4, 2022
by Matt Beer  


5 Hardtails and 5 Full Suspension Value Bikes Against the Impossible Climb

This time 'round, we'd gladly take a few rain drops.

As usual, we chose a grueling section of trail to try and reach the top of, and this time, there are no control tires. Reliable rubber can make or break a bike, which is exactly what this test relies on. These are value bikes with varying tire diameters and widths; some fat, some skinny, some sticky, others... not so much. We've chosen to leave them totally stock with a "run whatcha brung" attitude.

Here in Tucson, everything is sharp; plants, insects, and most definitely the rock. There is surprisingly ample traction on the bedrock, but sprinkle a few marbles on there and staying upright can be a task. Any rain here on steep grades tends to wash away the fine silt and leave golf ball-size gravel, which made up the majority of the trail bed on our Impossible Climb. It's also incredibly chunky in places. That requires some full-body moves to lurch the bike up and over, all while trying to maintain a consistent, forward momentum - any spikes in power delivery leads to the rear tire quickly spinning out.

That brings us to the two main factors for traction on these bikes: tire pressure and rubber compound. Now, with a fat tire, like a 27.5 x 2.8" width, you can really drop the pressure for the casing to cling on to any hold against the jagged rocks. The caveat here is pinching the tire on the abundance of spiky objects, but it's a fine line to dance on. Again, since the tires combos covered every possible dimension, their pressures were set to what best suited the bike and terrain. That could range from high teens to low twenties - the bigger the balloon, the lower the pressure. This was especially crucial on the hardtails which bounced like a farm tractor over speed bumps.
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How much of a disadvantage do they have then? I shouldn't go as far as a David versus Goliath metaphor, but when we swapped to the full suspension bikes, the first attempt came with piles of control. It's quite apparent when the trails are as demanding as this and unfortunately, full-suspension traction comes at a higher cost. That does revisit the timeless debate - does starting out on a hardtail first make you a better rider? I still think so, but we can get into that another time.

One thing was for certain, it didn't help me out on this impossible climb. I consistently stumbled on one particular corner that combined a turn and step. Of course, at the base of the step lay piles of round rocks on top of the bare bones of the earth. Almost all of the hardtails had short chainstays. No matter how steep the seat tube angle or what size rear tire they had, that playful attitude of the solid rear triangle was no match for keeping my movements settled on the saddle. Between getting jostled around on the saddle and the rear tire contact patch leaving the ground, finding consistent traction was near impossible, hence why we call it the Impossible Climb.

To cut costs, the Commencal Meta HT and Marin Team 1 bikes weren't supplied with dropper posts as stock. This wasn't a huge concern on the techy climb at hand. I could set the posts a touch lower than my long-distance climbing position and lower my center of gravity to seek out the most traction. The Marin also had a super short stem, which I'm usually a fan of, but any attempt to slow down the steering inputs complicated the balance of the bike. When paired with a 67-degree head tube angle and speedy, narrow tires, it was simply too much to handle on the steeps as the steering twitches too quickly.


In the stack of full suspension bikes, we had everything from fly-weight, 120mm travel whippets with carbon front triangles, like the YT Izzo, to the beastly enduro-inspired geometry of the alloy Canyon Spectral 125. Those two could not be further apart in terms of the components, but also the angles and overall mass.

What really stood out here was not just the seat tube angles, but also the components that touch the ground - the tires. And what also influences how the wheels contact the ground? The suspension of course. Yes, even on uphills, there was an apparent difference in suspension damping to control the movements from both body inputs to how the tires tracked the jarring rocks and undulations.

The Kona rear suspension was a little squishy feeling, even at the desired sag. This meant that the weight balance moved farther over the rear wheel when power was delivered and took determination to keep the front wheel planted. The Fezzari wasn't much different. Both bikes also had relaxed seat tube angles which made this trait more pronounced while in the saddle - not ideal when you're gasping for air, trying not to smash your pedals into the ground, and get to the top of our most Impossible Climb yet.

So how did they compare? The hard, dual compound, Maxxis Forecaster tires on the Izzo have their place, but here in the desert, that Maxxis 3C rubber combo on the Spectral 125 gave me a helping hand. Even though the Canyon was almost 2-kilograms heavier, the wheels stuck to the ground. One other talking point would be the length of the bike. The gigantic wheelbase surprisingly kept it stable on the uphill too. I thought the break-over angle might mean stuffing the pedals into more boulders, but the suspension was able to keep things settle and push the bike forward. Who would have thought that a heavy, long, sticky rubber-equipped bike could win the Impossible Climb?

Author Info:
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Member since Mar 16, 2001
299 articles

  • 126 1
 For most of us, the hardtails would be the fastest up this climb. Because they are easier to push/carry.
  • 1 6
flag braydenkromis12 (May 5, 2022 at 13:13) (Below Threshold)
 This is true on a climb that is not technical, but for some technical climbs people like full sus bikes better because they bounce around less.
  • 1 0
 @onawalk: LMAO!! Right?
  • 1 0
 Comment of the day!
  • 54 4
 I know that the kids love to see the big jumps and "brrapps", but whatching somebody do these technical climbs is always way more impresive to me. There aren't enough edits of this kind of skill. Cheers to Matt Beer!
  • 14 12
 The "kids" like the jumps because anyone can send stuff, tech climbing is a skill set all to itself.

The stuff PB uses for the impossible climbs is my bread and butter, I'd rather ride up tech all day long then ride a flow trail.
  • 6 0
 Exactly why I love any Chris Akrigg video.
  • 2 0
 @drummuy04: that dude is such a badass.
  • 3 0
 @nurseben: oh yeah, anyone can send stuff, while tech climbing is so difficult that only the best of the best should attempt it….what in the world are you talking about?

People like all forms of entertainment, don’t belittle what someone else enjoys cause it doesn’t fit what you enjoy.
  • 1 0
 Wade’s series Pick-a-part is pretty cool as well
  • 52 4
 Love these segments. In the future, please do three trials per bike and use the average distance per bike. That way you can reduce variability due to chance.
  • 37 1
 I'm not sure anyone would be able to do 27 attempts up that climb without falling apart
  • 1 0
 I was thinking just that during the video. Scrolled down and here you are.
  • 8 8
 @FensterM: Super easy fix. Only field test for E-MTB's. Easy 27 attempts then.
  • 17 0
 @FensterM: Easy way to do it would be to have all of the presenters do the same test on each bike. They each only do 9 rides but we have some more useful data afterward.
  • 66 1
 @schu2470, I'm getting heatstroke just trying to figure out the logistics of all of this. No matter how many times we send someone up the Impossible Climb there's always going to be an element of chance involved, at least until we finish the Grim Robot that'll be doing all bike testing in the future.

In the meantime, it's better to enjoy the show and to avoid taking the results too seriously. They're just one part of the pie when it comes to how the bikes performed. Plus, everyone knows that it's the Huck to Flat that really matters...
  • 7 0
 @mikekazimer: I think the way to do it would be to have multiple people do one run on each bike. You're not hitting statistical significance, but you are limiting variance some.

Clearly Levy, Matt, and Alicia while you time/drink makes the most sense.
  • 3 0
 @MarcusBrody: And then we could also see who the best tech climber is!
  • 2 0
 @mikekazimer: i think they just want to see you all suffer
  • 4 2
 This is not scientific enough. I demand a sample size of at least 100 for each bike
  • 1 1
 Entertainment my man, there’s nothing scientific here. Please don’t use this single video to base your opinion, or purchase your next bike on.

Purely entertainment, you guys ever seen Top Gear?
  • 1 0
 @FensterM: wonder how he normalizes the last bike ridden and compares its climbing speed objectively with the very first.
  • 25 0
 I'm impressed the camera operator could run up that climb over and over without falling on his face. He deserves an extra horchata for that effort
  • 17 0
Now do a impossible descent,with @mikelevy as the designated tester.
  • 16 0
 I would do anything for that dog
  • 5 0
 Me too tho 3
  • 15 3
 Shouldn't there be a bunch of hardtail advocates here explaining the virtues of a hardtail on climbs?
  • 7 0
 It's the challenge we love!
  • 7 0
 Agreed. It does look a lot like someone who spends all their time riding full suspension bikes up and down hills is better at riding a full suspension bike up a hill.
  • 5 1
 Nope on impossible climbs it’s full squish all the way. Fully open, can even try letting a bit of air out of the tyre / shock if you can be bothered.
  • 7 0
 Ew, No... Us O.G. hardcore hardtail guys just push our bike up the hill.
  • 3 0
 Ride the desert all the time on stuff like this. Ride a long wheelbase 155mm travel bike and it crushes stuff like this. It's all about conforming to the terrain and being able to get your front wheel over the steps before the back wheel hits it. Long steep grinds on smoother terrain is where short travel shines
  • 3 0
 @thenotoriousmic: do you have two personalities or what? I'm so confused
  • 5 0
 Suspension is always better for tech climbing, most people got that figured out.
  • 1 1
 @diamondback1x9: I’ve been pretty consistent with what I’ve been saying.
  • 4 1
 @diamondback1x9: Agreed face palm. Try actually reading what I said next time. Haha.

thenotoriousmic (1 days ago)

@hamncheeez: Everything takes way less effort on the hardtail than it does on the full suspension and does everything better except those rare moments where you get up to speed on the right terrain and the full suspension starts coming alive and makes slogging it around worthwhile. Also full suspension tackles steep punchy technical climbs better if you care about that kind of thing.
  • 4 1
 @thenotoriousmic: mic drop/s
  • 1 0
 I have a feeling @htparty, Jeff Lenosky & Jeff Weed could probably make it on their ht.
  • 1 0
 @MxMizrahi: I mean, those two could probably climb that on a pixie bike...

Now that's a pinkbike video that'd go viral
  • 8 0
 Do you think the slacker head angle of the Canyon helped get over obstacles? I ride a pretty slack bike these days (64 degree HT) and noticed the slacker front end doesn't seem to hang up as much.
  • 4 0
 I think so - I've got the new Stumpy evo and have found that it rides up small sets of stairs easiest when I have HTA in the slackest setting.
  • 1 0
 So funny that everyone used to be scared of slack head angles for climbing, and now they might actually be better. I've always thought they're better because slacker makes it easier to trackstand, which means slow speed techy climbing it's much easier not to dab.
  • 7 1
 How hot was it? I assume you canucks aren't used to much in the way of temperature. Some folks think it's hot at 80 and some folks don't mind 100.
  • 3 0
 I was down in that region about 2 weeks ago and it was 37C (99F). I don't mind the heat as much since I grew up doing long distance running in desert heat, that said, after I biked to the top of a trail my face looked like a tomato that was about to explode.
  • 6 0
 I'm curious as to where you had the chainstays adjusted to on the Timberjack. I usually run mine all the way back @ 337mm and the climbing is great on the rooty bits.
  • 3 0
 I have an idea for an Impossible Climb Contest 4 presenters, Whoever is the weakest climber gets first pick of the bikes 3rd weakest climber gets the next pick 2nd weakest picks Best climber picks last. Maybe they all get 2 cracks at it just to eliminate a silly mistake, i think that's what PB academy did but can't remember
  • 2 0
 also if there's a tie, both have to then try on the grim donut
  • 2 0
 Winner gets $25,000 and a sponsorship from a major bike company?
  • 1 0
 @torstenfrost: I hear they're in talks with Tim Hortons
  • 4 0
 Love how instead of a lush forest with slippery roots they chose a sketchy desert trail where everything you could fall on is a sharp rock or a sharp plant.
  • 2 0
 Really like the Canyon Spectral, it ticks almost all my boxes for a short travel ripper. Only concern is the side loading of the rear shock. I’m a big fan of rocketed Horst link bikes, so this and the Norco Optic are real close.

Thoughts on the potential side loading issues with this design?
  • 2 0
 @mattbeer might be afraid of this whole shindig, because chose clipless pedals on the "Impossible Climb".

Also, those calves are unreal. All the cows in the comments can't help but agree.
  • 4 0
 @mikekazimer - Kaz, Did Beer get stuck with the Impossible Climb because he was last one to the parking lot in the morning?
  • 6 0
 Ha, I'm pretty sure Matt's clock is set to a different time zone. It's a good thing he's so damn friendly and fast.
  • 3 0
 That Beta Commercial the middle is hilarious. You almost got me to sign up. Almost.
  • 1 0
 One of the big differences appeared to line choice. On some of the bikes Matt is on a completely different part of the trail. It’s not the bikes fault if its put in the worst place on the trail
  • 1 0
 Well it would be the bikes fault if he was trying to take the same line, and just wasn’t able to. There in lies the differences in geo and suspension.
My slack, long trail bike allows me to ride sections of trail with ease, and goes where I point it, my older xcish bike was more difficult to put on the line I wanted, and struggled to stay there
  • 1 0
 yep, full suspension, slow rebound, long reach (to get forward), slack head angle (better triangulation balance), and DH (now nice and light enduro) tires are the best setup for super-technical climbs. Yep.
  • 1 0
 Watching the hardtail portion reminded me of infomercials where the first part is in black and white and the person is needlessly struggling with a mundane task like chopping onions...
  • 1 0
 Overall he made it farther up the climb as the video progressed. Could it be familiarity with the climb? I would like to see another try on the hardtails after the multiple climbs with the full sus bikes.
  • 3 0
 Welcome to Tucson...where the Rock Fairies live.
  • 2 0
 What setting did you guys have the compression lever on the rear shocks in, on the FS bikes?
  • 2 1
 Firstly, those cheaper ones typically don't have a lockout or compression switch. Secondly, I believe they intentionally leave shocks wide open to test what the frame is like. But I could be wrong, Beer may have touched some things on the more expensive bikes, maybe the Canyon, to his advantage. You'd definitely want it wide open on these kinds of trails tho tbh. Chances are everything was left wide open, regardless of if it could close down.
  • 3 0
 Everything was left in the open setting.
  • 5 2
 Levy's ad plugs are the best
  • 14 0
 I'm 100% not getting Beta membership, just so he has to keep doing the ads.
  • 2 0
 Long wheel base = more grip uphill... check out hill climbing motor bikes, long ass wheelbase...
  • 1 0
 Smooth on a hardtail is fun to watch, because it's impossible. Chromag used to film bro Jinya ninja on a HT, amazing skillz but probably retired now from organ failure.
  • 2 0
 What trail is this? Explorer perhaps?
  • 1 0
 @judge-shredd: I was thinking it could be Yetman from the 5 way going up to the Stone House also? Or maybe the Wild West Climb which I think is actually the hardest of those 3. But it's surprisingly hard to tell. They did the other video segment at Enchanted Hills on this test so WW makes sense.
  • 2 0
 @judge-shredd: I too. Krein in the background, then Cat Mtn at end of vid. They're going west to east up to the saddle above Little Cat
  • 2 0
 @ceecee: You're right! I see it now, I hadn't watched the ending part with Cat before. Good call on the direction.
  • 1 0
 @antofthesky: the climb up to the saddle from little cat is one of the harder climbs out there to clean…. But going up from the west side seems like an actual impossible climb. I’ll have to humble myself on it next time I’m out there. Can’t beat a good desert tech climb
  • 3 0
 Yup, Explorer between Little Cat and Sarasota. We should get a bunch of locals together and have our own “impossible climb” session (except I can’t ride due to shoulder injury). Been fun seeing our trails on these videos, especially Wild West! I’m a bit biased on that one, since I designed and built it.
  • 1 0
 Would have loved to have seen some videos of them testing bikes out at 50-year instead of Tucson Mountain Park!
  • 2 0
 Visit Tucson was a sponsor and likes to keep a focus on closer-in trails. And having worked with MTB media folks in the past, I know they’ve gotten pushback for using unsanctioned trails (i.e. everything at 50-Year other than the actual 50-Year alignment) so try to stay only on system trails.
  • 1 0
 I think y’all might have captured some footage of bigfoot at 3’30’’
  • 10 11
 pretty sad that they have to plug beta membership sales in the middle of their videos. guessing that buyout didn't quite pan out the way they thought it would.
  • 8 1
 At least it’s somewhat relevant. Have you tried using YouTube recently?
  • 1 2
 @thenotoriousmic: 2 entirely different platforms and scenarios. YouTube is a video service with prime coverage for ads. Having said that, I don't see ads for YouTube TV while I am watching videos on YouTube... Using your staff to plug ads for a paid service on a website that was previously entirely free to use is a different scenario.
  • 1 2
 @thenotoriousmic: also, the plug for the membership wasn't even one of those yellow ad slots in the video. It was straight edited into the middle of the video.
  • 2 0
 @novajustin: you’re upset with having staff promote the company they work for?
Like when you go a Chev dealer, and they send you over to buy a Dodge with a Cummins cause they’re better…..
You see what I’m saying?
I fully expect the employees of said business to promote the business they work for, and thus the cycle of support continues.
Not saying they have to, but I’m not surprised to see it.

You’ve been paying for the “free” service all along, its advertising, it’s in the banners, it’s in every survey you fill out, every story you click on…..if anything it just got a bit more blatant and honest really
  • 1 1
 @onawalk: except they're not simply promoting the company they work for. they're asking you to pay for a membership to read stories and watch videos that were previously free for all to read and view with no annoying interruptions.
  • 1 0
 @novajustin: it’s the same thing man,
It’s more overt, but the same thing. PinkBike as an entity owes us nothing, we are an audience, and they have always been trying to sell us something.
And they are promoting the company, and asking you to pay for a (what they feel is a worthy) service. In reality it is. I cant think of a place to get more mtb news, and entertainment than this silly website.
I get that maybe you’re bummed by it, but really, most of us pay $100/month for cable, and that again for internet, and so on. Griping about PB asking you to pay a membership fee to join their club seems pretty silly at this point.

And remember, it was never free, you paid for it, you somehow just didn’t realize it
  • 1 0
 I'm just here for the "Crux moves"
  • 1 0
 I would Wink
  • 1 0
  • 3 4
 Looks like a fairly normal climb for us ebikers.
  • 1 1
 Right, I've gotten stalled behind more e-peders than any meat powered bike
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