The new 27.5-inch diameter wheel size is getting all the attention when it comes to all-mountain bikes, but don't dismiss 29- and 26-inch wheels just yet. Check out these three rides before you make any decisions. Each has its own unique personality, but all are fun.
Hardtail: Diamondback Mason ($TBA)While there's no denying the love rear suspension gives to your whole body, there is something appealing about the simplicity of a hardtail. Less to adjust, less to go wrong, less to weigh you down. But, if you think a hardtail can't do all-mountain, the Mason aims to prove you wrong.
At first glance it looks like a dirt-jumping bike. And indeed the oversized, industrial looking weapons-grade aluminum frame, 1x10 gearing and five inches of front suspension fit the part. But it's 29-inch wheels and KindShock dropper seatpost hint that there's more depth to this bike.
Indeed, this bike kept us enthralled, especially on the way down. The 66.5-degree head tube angle felt ideal even on the steepest drops and tightest corners. The kinked top-tube provided lots of stand-over clearance, making the bike feel roomy. Of the three bikes tested here this was the best downhiller — we felt confident just pointing it and letting the bike do its thing.
On granny-gear, climbs we missed the gear selection and, as we said earlier, it felt sluggish in head-to-head action with the Trek Fuel. But they are two very different bikes and to be fair we didn't feel like the bike was slow when we weren't comparing it to a rocket.
Where the Mason outshone the Trek was in slow-speed handling. By bending the vertical piece of the main frame triangle Diamondback was able to move the rear tire forward, shortening the chain length and overall distance between wheels. This made the Mason's 29-inch wheels feel smaller than the Trek's in tight sections, but rolled just as well in rocks and roots.
For hardtail fans, retired dirt jumpers and those that are looking for an all-mountain rig they can beat up, this is your best bet of the three. You'll love it on the way down and still stay with most dual suspension all mountain steeds on the way back up. Diamondback
All-Around: Ghost AMR Plus Lector 7700 ($3,500)Ghost is a German bike brand only available through Mountain Equipment Co-Op in North America. For the money, these bikes tend to be great deals, and the Lector is no exception.
The main triangle is made from carbon fibre, while the rear is aluminum. Together they make a rigid frame that felt speedy on climbs and burly on the way back down. Three levels on the shock allowed us to fine-tune the travel to suit the terrain, rigid for the road climbs, middle for the XC and five inches of air for the down.
In the tight and technical spots, the 26-inch wheels and a slightly upright fork angle created a highly responsive — almost twitchy — front end that found its way through the narrowest of gaps. On the down we thought this would translate into less control, but were happily surprised to find the opposite, with it feeling in-control at high speeds and on big drops.
What did frustrate some testers was the height of the bottom bracket, which felt low. A little time spent fine-tuning some of the adjustments probably would have solved this problem, but do keep it in mind.
Overall this was a true all mountain cruiser, happy going up and down with few compromises. Considering that it has the same Shimano XT components as the Trek Fuel, which costs $2,000 more, this is what we call a deal. MEC
Speed Freak: Trek Fuel 9.8 29 ($5,500)This is the newest iteration, and the first 29’er, in this popular line of bikes. Every tester who got on this rocket loved the ride — especially on the way up. The full carbon fibre frame turned every pedal stroke into forward momentum that beat out every other bike, over and over again. It pulled us past the competition on the long climbs during a bike race on Vancouver's fabled North Shore. When I swapped to the Fuel from the Diamond Back Mason, I felt like I'd climbed onto a Hero Bike. Basically, whoever was riding the 9.8 was inevitably the fastest rider in the group.
Usually that kind of uphill speed comes at the expense of downhill performance, yet on all kinds of black-diamond trails its five inches of front and back travel gobbled up the nastiest rough stuff and kept us in control. The shocks both adjust in three positions to control travel, and in the highest travel position we just pointed and let go.
The fairly steep 73-degree front fork angle is offset by the big wheels, which make it easier to roll over obstacles, and overall stiffness, which made it especially responsive to steering. And a RockShocx Reverb Stealth drop seat meant we always had the seat at optimal height at the push of a button.
Loaded with high end components — mostly Shimano XT — this is a high-end ride and it rides like one.
Our only complaint with this bike was its long chain length. It's longer than other 29’ers we've tried and definitely made it difficult to navigate tight turns. A little work on shortening the wheelbase would propel the Fuel into a covetable position. As it is we love this ride and would recommend it to anyone who loves both aspects of all mountain and those cross country riders who don't want to compromise speed but want a bit more squish. Trek