Contessa Spark RC
Contessa Spark RC (Courtesy of Scott Sports)

The 3 Best Women’s Mountain Bikes of Summer 2012

Contessa Spark RC
Berne Broudy

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Scott Contessa Spark RC

BEST FOR: Cross-country plus. THE TEST: While some riders eschew full suspension to save weight, the 4.7-inch Scott Spark eliminates the need to compromise. This 24.5-pound full-suspension carbon 26er can be both stiff for pedaling efficiency and plush for sucking up the rough stuff, and it’s so light that testers said it practically floated up climbs. That versatility stems from the ingenious bar-mounted lever that flips both front and rear shock to traction mode (3.3 inches) with one click and locks them out with two. Bonus: Precise and durable Shimano XT components. THE VERDICT: A fast trail bike that’s not watered down for women. 24.5 lbs

Specialized Fate Comp

Fate Comp 29er
Fate Comp 29er (Courtesy of Specialized)

BEST FOR: Going fast; trails where full-suspension is overkill. THE TEST: “The bite you expect from a hardtail, but with so much finesse,” said one rider after a five-hour epic on the Fate. With a low center of gravity and only 3.1 inches of travel up front, the bike looks like an F1 racer. And while it is indeed fast, it’s not as firm as you’d expect. That’s because of the inherent bump damping of 29er wheels and the fact that Specialized designers took women’s smaller stature into account, engineering more vertical flex into the Fate’s tail than they do in their men’s models. THE VERDICT: Finally, a race-ready 29er to fit most women. 22.7 lbs

The SRAM 2×10 drivetrain on the Fate weighs less than three chainrings in front, is less likely than other designs to drop the chain, eliminates cross-chaining concerns, and still gives you all the gears you need.

Trek Lush SL

Lush SL
Lush SL (Courtesy of Trek Bicycle Corporation)

BEST FOR: Challenging, technical days. THE TEST: The 26-inch Lush is stable, agile, and fun on bouldery descents but still cranks through climbs. The aluminum Lush has the same travel as the Spark (4.7 inches front and rear), but feels bigger and cushier—more rock crawler than speed demon. That’s because Trek moved the rear linkage down and steepened the seat tube for a low center of gravity that keeps riders squarely over the bike. It was so deft on technical trails that it turned one 29er evangelist back to small wheels. “I had control and confidence descending terrain that I’d usually walk,” she said. THE VERDICT: It’ll make you a better rider. 28.5 lbs