I’ve been riding a singlespeed mountain bike for the last three years. During that time, my 2011 Santa Cruz Superlight sat in the garage doing absolutely nothing.
A recent ride with a friend made me wonder what would happen if I:
- Pulled the Santa Cruz out of deep storage and ran a lap on my local bike/equipment test track.
- Rode the same on a modern slack-angled full-suspension bike.
During the ride with my friend, I noticed our bikes were the exact opposite from each other: My Domahidy Ti belt-drive bike has fairly traditional geometry. My friend’s bike was carbon fiber with barely any stem to speak of — and a generous amount of travel. I noticed where our bikes excelled and fell short (see the video for some of the fun we had).
And I got curious.
Hardtail Versus Full Suspension for a Day
I topped the Superlight’s tires off with some Stan’s sealant and checked the shock air pressure. Then, it was time to ride.
I’ve been on the Domahidy 29er since I’ve been using Strava heavily. I have a ton of data on it from my local trails. So this would be a perfect test for my Superlight.
I felt like the more slippery climbs were a bit easier on it. I definitely felt faster on one particular rocky descent.
Overall, the Superlight didn’t feel as stable or as quick to handle as the Domahidy. That titanium hardtail holds its speed and accelerates with tons of punch.
And there I was thinking about gears again. Especially cumbersome with a 3X9 system versus the modern 1X systems. With a singlespeed, all my concentration is on picking the line and braking.
Enough Feelings – What About the Data?
My Strava times shocked my gizzard. The Superlight was nowhere near as fast on this ride as my top times on the singlespeed (which is also slightly undergeared). It was 52 seconds slower over my nearly 4-mile lap.
That rocky downhill I mentioned? It tied my typical time on the singlespeed hardtail versus full suspension. No faster even over chop and small drops.
I felt like I was working hard, but not worked over (I’d ridden 40 miles on my road-plus bike the day before).
This bears mentioning: I admit that I’m kind of a chicken. My priority is to finish every ride in one piece. So I ride in control, more Iceman than Maverick.
What I Expected
My prediction was that the Superlight would make me noticeably faster. Maybe by as much as a minute.
I expected its top-end speed and ability to crunch over some of the rocky sections to win the day — even against the Domahidy’s efficiency.
What about weight? I have no idea what either bike weighs. But the Santa Cruz Superlight has always been a light-ish full suspension bike. Certainly lighter than the slack dropper-equipped trail bikes of today.
What I didn’t expect was for the longer 29er to carve corners so much better and to give up next to nothing to the Superlight in rocky downhill bits. I’m at a loss for words.
There are still question marks with the singlespeed hardtail versus full suspension issue: How would I do riding the Santa Cruz on long rides, like the Fat Tire 40 or the 50-mile Tour of the White Mountains? (The answer to that: If it rains beforehand, the belt drive singlespeed will straight-up murder every other bike I could pick. The mud up there can change the game.)
What Next for Hardtail Versus Full Suspension?
I’m eager to repeat this experiment with a modern bike. Rage Cycles in Scottsdale is right near me, and they have a Santa Cruz demo coming up. I’ll have to throw my computer on there and give it a whirl. [UPDATE: The demo got canceled because of COVID-19. I’m still trying to find the time, place and bike to rent to put this to the test.]
I may also rent a bike to test somewhere like McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The Long Loop there is currently in chewed-up condition. During the Cactus Cup and Frenzy Hills races, I got rattled pretty hard back there.
I’ll update this post with more info and data when I have something to add — I hope that’s soon!
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