Let's go ahead and call 2010 the year of the 29er. Though bikes built around 29-inch wheels, instead of the 26-inch standard, have been around for more than a decade, they've been largely a fringe category. No longer. Walk into any bike shop and you'll see that 29ersvalued for their smooth feel and ability to roll over obstaclesare plentiful. On the component front, suspension designs continue to evolve. Travel is longer, smoother, and more predictable yet also more resistant to pedal feedback and forward-momentum-robbing bob. People are now showing up for races on bikes with five inches of travel, something previously reserved solely for heavy all-mountain riding. Regardless of where you're ridingbe it a mellow cross-country trail or a gnarly descentthere's never been more comfort or performance at your disposal.
This year's winner is the Santa Cruz Blur LT Carbon SPX. "It climbs like Tommy Caldwell," said one tester. That's not normal for 26-inch, all-mountain bikes. With their long suspension travelfive and a half inches, in this caseand relaxed angles, they're designed to soak up big hits. But this carbon copy of the company's popular aluminum Blur LT weighs just 26 pounds, even with a mid-tier SPX build (mostly Shimano XT). That plus Santa Cruz's proprietary rear-suspension designplush with no perceptible pedal bobmeans full-time traction without a constant battle against gravity. Of course, the rubber matters, too, and the wide DT Swiss XR400 rims provide a nice big contact patch for added control. The extra-wide bars, which provide leverage for steep climbs, might slow the steering down just a bit, but that is a minor quibbleand an easily correctable onefor a bike that will be, for a lot of riders, perfect.
25.8 lbs (large); santacruzbicycles.com
Climbing: 4.4 (out of 5)