Unless you live in New Mexico, where practically every trail in the state is closed because of high fire danger, it's the thick of mountain biking season—and the perfect time for a new bike. We tested these three bikes last winter and spring, and we're sure you'll enjoy any of them now that the summer trail-riding season has arrived.
THE SELL Big wheels meet big travel.
THE TEST With the longer travel 29er market beginning to fill out—thanks in part to lighter wheels, more choices in forks, and increased R&D—the Rumblefish exemplifies the high points of a 29er trail bike. With 120mm (4.7") of travel up front, 110m (4.3") out back, and generally slack frame angles, this bike hung tough on terrain that maxed out most XC rides, and it kept us comfortable while doing it. At the bike's heart is the DRCV Fox damper rear shock, which uses an internal dual-chamber design to provide an extremely plush ride even when the suspension was fully loaded. Surprisingly, the shock shined as much on the uphills, where the rear wheel gripped and tracked beautifully, as it did going down. In spite of a relatively short cockpit and the slack head tube angle, the Rumblefish was as responsive on climbs as a 28-pound bike can be and extremely nimble in tight switchbacks. The through-axles front and rear added stiffness that ensured the Rumblefish descended well enough, but the rear travel won't be enough for everyone. "On really loose chunky stuff it didn't always inspire confidence," said one tester, "but it did always get me through." And with a great parts pick, including durable XT components and silky Elixir R brakes, it will keep you riding all but the hairiest lines for seasons to come.
THE VERDICT A Solid, fast, and stable 29er that easily stomachs most trails. 28.0 lbs (17.5"); trekbikes.com
CLIMBING 4.3 (out of 5)
SPECIALIZED CAMBER PRO 29ER $3,000
THE SELL A no-nonsense, not-too-pricey 29er for every occasion.
THE TEST Bucking the trend toward expensive niche bikes, the Camber Pro 29er is the bike you want if you can own only one without breaking the bank. Though it might seem too closely related to the Secialized Epic (both bikes have four inches of travel front and rear), the Camber's subtly slacker head and seat angles and its bit longer of a wheelbase make it much more stable and oriented to all-day riding than its racier brethren. From steep ups to precipitous downs, twisty fire roads to techy singletrack, we didn't find any terrain on which the Camber felt out of its league. "Takes me back to the days when a mountain bike could do anything," one tester raved. "I'd happily trade my whole fleet for this and not miss one of them." A few testers lamented not having the auto function of the Epic's Brain shock and fork, but just as many liked the more active feel of the Camber's suspension. And even those who quibbled over the bike's subtle points more often than not lined back up for a second and third ride on the Camber, citing its subtle good looks and bang-for-the-buck performance as the deciding factors.
THE VERDICT The consummate big-wheeled mountain bike. 28.1 lbs (M); specialized.com
THE SELL A tried-and-true all-mountain banger gets bigger and sexier.
THE TEST For 2011, Mongoose boosted the suspension on this bigger-travel trail bike (up to six inches from five), added modern niceties such as a tapered head tube, shorter stem, and swoopy hydroforming in the frame, and still managed to slightly trim the weight. The FreeDrive suspension is complicated as ever, but we found that, as always, it worked admirably well, soaking up the rough, smoothing out big steps, and giving the bike and overall surefooted feel. "Only $1,800 for a bike that rides this smooth?" asked one reviewer. "That's a steal." The trade-off for the price, of course, is a lower-end parts spec, including the Suntour Epicon fork, which some testers felt was spongy, and the beefy (read: heavy going up) Alex Rims. The other drawback is the Teocali's weight: At 31.2 pounds it's hardly a sprightly climber. Still, it's a lot of bike for the price, and if you're primarily blazing downhill not up, it's definitely worth some consideration.
THE VERDICT Big banging for the buck—literally. 31.2 lbs (M); mongoose.com