Don't be afraid. That's the best advice we can give you. No kidding. From full-suspension rigs with rear shocks that self-adjust on the fly to the most nimble 29er we've ever tested, this year's crop of mountain bikes inspires confidence on any terrain. Some, like Gear of the Year winner Felt Virtue Two, can no longer be easily categorized at all. Is it a cross-country racer or a freeride bike? After months of test-riding from Moab to Tucson, we're happy to report that it really doesn't matter.
Felt Virtue Two (27.4 lbs, 19.5 in) $3,500 feltracing.com
1. The Virtue Two debuts a radical new suspension system (dubbed Equilink) that offers more than five inches of active travel but has none of the drawbacksno pedal feedback, no bob, and no extra weightthat plague most long-travel systems. It's super-plush and, amazingly, still handles like a hardtail.
2. The Equilink system rides superbly yet requires virtually no TLC. I adjusted the sag on the rear shock once, then rode all manner of trails for a month without any fine-tuning. Easy. "I don't want to know the physics of how it works," said one tester, "I just want it to work. And it does. Beautifully."
3. The value can't be beat. With a complete Shimano XT/XTR drivetrain (including the sexy new XTR rear derailleur), Avid Juicy Seven hydraulic disc brakes, and the new, even-easier-to-adjust Fox Float RP23 rear shock, everything on this bike is built to perform well in all conditionsfor years to come.
4. The Virtue performed just as well on technical trails with television-size boulders and three-foot drops as it did on buffed-out singletrack with whoop-de-do rollers. Credit the Virtue's geometry, which rides firmstretched forward, and hard-chargingyet still feels stable and cushy in the rough.
5. At 27.4 pounds, the Virtue Two is plenty light for most riders, and a screaming deal for a five-inch bike of this caliber. For an extra $2,700, the Virtue One offers the same great ride in a 25.7-pound package, thanks to component upgrades like carbon-fiber Juicy brakes and a CrossMax wheelset.