If the thought of spending more for a quality bike than a decent used car makes you want to take up jogging, the Dakar will keep you on two wheels. The aluminum frame is stiff and responsive, and can take a lot of abuse. (We crashed ours into both a wall and a cactus.) The new model is even more robust, sporting a redesigned, reinforced rear triangle. In this case, stout does not equal clumsy: Handling is a little sluggish on the climbs, but it turns nimble when the trail drops. With almost five inches of travel front and rear, the Dakar made Santa Fe's relentless Borrego Trail almost too easy: Plunging steps became as menacing as a curb, and rushing creekbeds felt routine. 32.1 lbs, 19 in; www.jamisbikes.comBonus: The solid parts spec (mostly SRAM X-7 with beefy WTB wheels) will take years of off-road pummeling.Bummer: Big riders may find the compressed cockpit claustrophobic.
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