Dual-suspension bikes have pretty much taken over the market. But hardtails still really have a place.
Giant Reign 1 Mountain Bike
Reign 1 Mountain Bike
Dualies, of course, offer the benefit of a softer ride. They also bounce around less on rough terrain, and that can mean your back tire is more apt to retain contact during hard cornering or over bumpy stuff. My everyday dualie is a Marin Mount Vision Pro ($4,545; marinbikes.com) that Ive had for two years or so. I had some doubts about the extra complexity of the rear suspension, but all of that has been trouble-free.
Other very good dual-suspension bikes include Giants Reign 1 ($2,400; giant-bicycles.com) and REIs house-brand Novara Method 1.0 ($1,600; rei.com). Both have a good component set in a moderate price range and use up-to-date geometry that eliminates much of the mechanical inefficiency for which dualies long were known. If you have the dough, look into Santa Cruzs Blur XC XTR ($4,600; santacruzmtb.com), a super-fast, light dual-suspension bike that is generally seen as the pinnacle of the type.
That said, its true that dual-suspension bikes weigh more than hardtails, all things being equal. And even the best dualies still sap a little pedal energy with some bobbing in the rear. So, quite a few pros still ride hardtails. Treks 8000 ($1,800; trekbikes.com) is an excellent hardtail, with a RockShox Reba SL fork, stiff and light aluminum frame, and a usable mix of Shimano LX and XT components.
One intriguing option is to go with a hardtail and 29-inch wheels. The idea is that the bigger wheel has a lower angle of attack when it hits a log or rock, so it rolls over more easily than standard 26-inch wheels. My engineer friend Paul insists the difference between 26 and 29 inches isnt that great, but most people I know who have ridden 29ers like them very much. The wheels are a bit heavier, of course, and a bike equipped with them isnt quite as agile on a twisty trail. But, try a Jamis Dakota 29 ($1,200; jamisbikes.com).
The 2008 Winter Outside Buyers Guide is now online. From snow sports to trail-running to camping, get reviews of more than 300 new gear must-haves.