Shock Therapy

Have mountain-bike designers finally solved the riddle of the perfect ride?

Eureka! Specialized's Epic cleverly employs an inertia valve to smooth out your ride.     Photo: Michael Darter

LIKE A THREADBARE Austin Powers riff, the routine was getting old. Each season, for the better part of a decade, mountain-bike makers heralded the arrival of the über-machine: "This beauty combines hardtail-style climbing efficiency with downhill plushness and the total versatility of a freerider!"

Well, they've finally coughed up the goods this year with a spring crop of new frame designs and suspension breakthroughs that deliver what has been elusive for so long: truly "active" suspension that will help you climb and descend like a pro. What changed? First, shock makers ramped up quality: The new generation of air-sprung models have largely overcome the sticky, dead feeling and blown seals that cursed their ancestors.
But it took the discovery of the virtual pivot to really advance fat-tire engineering. After years of searching for the ideal point at which to attach the suspension linkage to a frame, the gearheads concluded that their sweet spot didn't exist. Instead of fixing the pivot in one permanent position, they suspended it within a series of swingarms so that it moves freely in space. The result? A very cushy ride, without the energy-sucking, pedal-powered sproing known as "bob."

On the pages that follow, we present six dualies that demand to be placed at the head of the advanced-suspension class. Cutting-edge perfection doesn't come cheap, however: Our sextet ranges from $1,700 to $4,035. But the all-in-one mountain bike, quite simply, has arrived.

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