BUYING A MOUNTAIN BIKE used to mean choosing between low weight and long-travel suspension. No more. Thanks to improved shock technology and trimmed-down components and frames, manufacturers are churning out bikes light enough for cross-country riding that still soak up bumps with six inches of travel in the shocks. At around 30 pounds, all-mountain rigs aren't exactly willowy, but they're light enough to power up steep climbs. And on the descent, well . . . that's still the best part.
SANTA CRUZ NOMAD / $3,850, 31.4 lbs
Why It's Cool: Laid-back geometry and gracious trail manners make this versatile model a one-bike quiver.
The Ride: With a Fox DHX Air 5.0 shock in the back and a burly Fox Talas 36RC2 fork, the Nomad is set up for a pillowy six-plus inches of travel at both ends. The active suspension, courtesy of Santa Cruz's virtual-pivot-point (VPP) linkage, prevents the bike from bobbing when you pedal, thereby reducing energy loss. With its slack angles, tight cockpit, and upright position, riding the Nomad feels like riding a La-Z-Boy designed by Porsche. Steering while climbing is accordingly slow, but the bike tracked well and provided great hookup on loose, rock-strewn ascents. Point the nose down and that relaxed feel becomes confidence: Even at frightening speeds, the Nomad doesn't flinch from its course.
Right Bike If: You like launching big drops, bombing the downhill course, and still keeping up with the cross-country crew. Sizes: 21.9, 22.8, 23.8 (tested), and 24.5 in; www.santacruzbikes.com