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In the past mountain bikes had a rigid frame and fork. In the early 1990s, the first mountain bikes with suspension forks were introduced. This made riding on rough terrain easier and less physically stressful. The first suspension forks had about 1 to 2 inches (38 to 50 mm) of suspension travel. Forks are now available with 8 inches (203mm) of travel or more (see above under "Design.") Bikes with front suspension and rigid, non-suspended rear wheels, or hardtails became popular nearly overnight. While the hardtail design has the benefits of lower cost, less maintenance, and better pedaling efficiency, it is slowly losing popularity due to the increases in full suspension designs.

Many new mountain bikes have a "full suspension" design, meaning that both front suspension forks and some form of rear suspension are used, as opposed to front suspension only ("hard tail"). The advantages of dual suspension are increased comfort on rough terrain, and improved handling over obstacles. Disadvantages of rear suspension are increased weight, increased price, and with some designs, decreased pedaling efficiency. At first, early rear suspension designs were overly heavy, and susceptible either to pedaling-induced bobbing or lockout at certain points of the suspension arc or travel. One of the most popular rear suspension designs to solve these issues has been the 'Horst Link' which first appeared with the AMP series of bikes, and was later adopted by Specialized and many other mountain bike manufacturers.

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