BUYING RIGHT: MOUNTAIN BIKES
SIZE MATTERS Traditional mountain bikes with 26-inch wheels tend to have quicker handling and acceleration than 29ers, making them good choices for places with tight trails and steep, punchy climbs. Twenty-niners' longer wheelbases and increased stability, and the fact that they more easily roll over small obstacles, make them great for places with choppy trails as well as for more wide-open riding.
THE HARD WAY Think you need full suspension? Maybe not. Fully rigid bikes and hardtails—bikes with no rear suspension—are making a comeback, partly because of carbon fiber's bump-dampening properties. Add in 29-inch wheels, which also help to mute rough trails, and a hardtail can feel almost as cushy as a full-suspension 26er, without the extra expense, weight, and complexity.
HOW MUCH TRAVEL? Generally speaking, four inches or less is ideal for those who value going fast above all else, as these rides tend to be lighter and put you in a more aggressive riding position. Five to six inches (considered trail and all-mountain, respectively) is where most riders will end up, as these bikes are plenty light when pedaling uphill and comfortable and stable on the way down. If you're getting seven inches or more, your bike is heavier and more durable—and all about blazing descents and leaping off big objects.