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The Cycle Life

The Five Best Mountain Bikes of Interbike

BMC Trail Fox 29

There’s more than just 650B in the works for 2014. Presenting our favorite mountain bikes for 2014.

Conventional wisdom has mostly held that while 29ers are great for XC-style machines, the large wheels are too cumbersome and heavy to incorporate into longer-travel platforms. That thinking seems to be changing, however, as numerous companies are rolling out 29ers with 140mm of travel and more, including the new Niner WFO9, Intense Carbine 29, and the Specialized Enduro. BMC has overhauled its 150mm Trail Fox to accommodate big wheels this year, and by all accounts it is a balanced, snappy ride for such an oversize bike. The company says they tested prototypes of the bike in all three wheel sizes, and the 29er consistently won out. The killer ride won’t come cheap: The base model, full alloy TF03 is $4,000 with SLX; the TF02, which mates a carbon frame to an alloy rear triangle, starts at $5,600; and the TF01 (pictured) goes for between $9,000 and $12,000 depending on spec. (From $4,000)

Aaron Gulley

Merlin XLM29

Though the market for hardtail mountain bikes is contracting as full suspension designs improve and get cheaper, we’re still pleased to see the arrival of the XLM29. For the uninitiated, Merlin was a pioneer in the off-road category, introducing the first titanium mountain bike back in 1986, as well as oversize tubing and shaped chain and seat stays. After some rough years that saw the brand nearly driven to extinction due to some mismanagement and uninspiring acquisitions, the company is returning thanks to the vision of Backcountry, which purchased Merlin a couple of years back and has decided to roll out an updated, 29-inch version of the classic XLM. It’s beautiful titanium, as expected, with all the modern touches, including an oversize, tapered head tube, a PressFit 30 bottom bracket, and a 12x142mm rear thru axle. The bike has a short head tube and fairly slack head tube angle, as well as a relatively high bottom bracket, which should make for a chipper, playful ride. The bikes are being hand-built in the US for the moment, hence the premium price tag. ($2,650 frame only)

Ben Kuhns Merlin XLM 29 SRAM XX1

Lapierre XR 29

For the moment, the 100mm 29er remains the best-selling design in mountain bikes, though with the arrival of so many longer travel models that’s likely about to change. We’re anxious to try out the four-inch XR 29, which isn’t a new bike but is arriving on US shores this season for the first time. Lapierre has stayed out of the American market till now because many of their mountain bikes (though not the XR), were built around the Horst link, for which Specialized held the exclusive patent until this year. Now that it’s expired, the French company is bringing in four models. All three versions of the bike (top end 929, 729, and 529) are equipped with the Electronic Intelligence (EI) shocks and forks, a design the company developed in conjunction with Rockshox that uses a battery-powered accelerometer and sensor system to instantaneously adjust the suspension from locked out to fully open depending on the conditions. Though this 100mm segment is a crowded one, the EI technology, which we’ve heard works brilliantly, should help Lapierre distinguish its bikes from everything else out there. (From $4,700)

Breezer Repack

It’s impossible to overstate how quickly manufacturers have jumped from 26-inch wheels to 650B. Whereas last year there were a handful of companies testing the 27.5 water, this year nearly every manufacturer jumped in. And most massively scaled back small wheel production or, in many cases, cut it competely. Lots of the bikes look great, too, including the Santa Cruz Bronson, Yeti SB-75, Pivot Mach 6, Scott Genius LT, GT Force, and the list goes on and on. One of the most interesting is the Repack from Breezer, an aluminum trail model with 160mm of travel front and rear. The bike, named after the seminal race held in Northern California between 1976 and 1984 and frequently won by Joe Breeze, debuts a new suspension design, dubbed M-Link, which is a modified Horst link with the pivot located squarely in the middle of the chain stays. The unorthodox design is said to eliminate all flex while simultaneously improving bump compliance. And Breezer stresses that while 6.3 inches of travel sounds like a lot, the Repack is much more agile and nimble than that number suggests.

Fatback Corvus

Fat bikes have morphed from oversize, corpulent oddities to a real, diversified, complete segment of bikes in just a few short years. The breadth and variety of brands and models on show in Vegas was staggering. And based on how much we loved Speedway Cycles Aluminum Fatback last winter, we’re eager to try out the company’s new carbon Corvus. It’s a beautiful, sculptural design that preserves the standover and geometry numbers from the original bike while trimming a hefty amount of weight. Combined with the Speedway’s brand new 77mm carbon rim, which sets up tubeless, a Corvus should tip the scales around 21 pounds. So much for the criticism that fat bikes are slow-handling pigs. Fatback is taking pre-orders (purchasing now will save you $300 off $2,300 frameset price) and will start delivering the bikes this winter.

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