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Mountain bikes

Scott Genius, Santa Cruz Blur XC Carbon, Moots Mooto X YBB, Kona Dawgma

July 27, 2009|Roy M. Wallack

When it comes to dual-suspension mountain bikes, in which each wheel can compress when it goes over a trail obstacle, there are a seemingly infinite number of designs on the market. Although every double-cushioned rig arguably gives you better control and comfort over a mere hardtail (front-wheel suspension only) bike, there are a few bikes with extraordinarily innovative designs that do things a bit differently -- and maybe even better.

-- Roy M. Wallack

Instant stiffness

Scott Genius: High-end, all-conditions aluminum bike line that features Twin Lock, the first handlebar-mounted switch that locks out the front and rear suspensions at once.

Likes: Because suspension usually makes a bike bob under hard pedaling, being able to instantly nullify it -- i.e. temporarily making the Genius a nearly rigid bike -- confers better power transfer when you're hammering on smooth trails, pavement and any out-of-the-saddle climbing. Most conventional front and rear shocks can be locked out by reaching down to them separately and flicking a switch, which can be a hassle. But the Twin Lock does it instantly with one convenient lever, so I used it -- and went faster -- more often. (Twin Lock is only on the 2010 Geniuses.) A bonus: The rear shock is adjustable from 4 to 5 to 5.9 inches of travel, meaning this bike can tackle everything.

Dislikes: None.

Price: $3,499 to $6,000, starting with the Genius 40. (208) 622-1000;

Techy triumph

Santa Cruz Blur XC Carbon: Racer-fast, lightweight cross-country bike with complex Virtual Pivot Point multi-link suspension, designed to reduce the boogeyman of suspension bikes: pedal-induced bobbing.

Likes: It works. I rode this bike for four days on difficult high-elevation Colorado trails and never felt so skillful on the descents; it must be the bike. The venerable, unique and hard-to-explain Virtual Pivot Point is the key; it centers on two short links tucked under the crank that rotate in different directions, floating the rear wheel smoothly when you hit a bump and resisting movement from mere pedaling. At just 23.46 pounds (with the high-end XTR component-group package), the bike gets uphill fast.

Dislikes: Some people still worry about the durability of a carbon fiber frame, the first for the formerly aluminum Blur. Santa Cruz says to get over it.

Price: Frame $2,299, with wide "semi-custom" component selection. Complete bikes with a range of Shimano groups go for $3,499, $4,599 and $5,999. (831) 459-7560;

Old meets new

Moots Mooto X YBB: High-end, do-it-all titanium bike designed for simplicity and speed; combines newfangled, oversized 29er wheels with an old-fangled pivotless "soft-tail" design.

Likes: It's a speed demon that might last forever, the ultimate go-anywhere, ride-anything, take-a-licking-and-keep-on-ticking rocket bike. The big wheels (3 inches taller than those on standard mountain bikes) simply roll over everything faster with more control. They also have a built-in suspension effect, making it possible to get good shock absorption from a short 80mm (3.25-inch) suspension fork and low-tech "soft-tail" rear end, which squeezes a couple of inches of travel from an otherwise rigid frame by placing a short 1 1/8 -inch steel spring between the seat-stay and seat tube junction. The unique ability of titanium to be stiff, tough, flexible and light makes the Mooto a superb material for a soft-tail, providing downhill relief and uphill joy. A bonus: Options for rack eyelets and a third water-bottle mount make this a great bike for on- and off-road touring.

Dislikes: A soft-tail, despite its high speed and low maintenance, simply cannot absorb big hits like a conventional suspension bikes. Also, it's expensive -- even amortized over a lifetime.

Price: Frame $3,200. Complete bike with top-end SRAM XO group is $7,096. (970) 879-1676;

Bargain trail beater

Kona Dawgma: The cheapest backcountry, long-travel suspension bike.

Likes: A screamin' deal. Not a technological leap like the other test bikes as much as a triumph of trickle-down production and parts sourcing, the Dawgma's whopping six inches of rear-wheel suspension travel and 5 1/2 up front handle the big hits of rough descents like a champ. The low-end of a same-aluminum framed, four-bike line designed for difficult trail riding, it costs less than most full-suspension frames.

Dislikes: Heavy at 33 pounds, it was a slug uphill on the long, hot Santa Ana Mountain fire roads I rode it on -- typical of most backcountry bikes.

Price: $1,799.


Wallack is the co-author of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100."

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