I am in the market for a new bike after riding my Santa Cruz Superlight (SL) for four years. I want the best climbing bike that I can get because that's how I spend most of my time while riding. The Superlight is a very good climbing bike, but it is sketchy in the rocks. So the new bike has to climb as good or better than the SL, and it should handle the rough stuff better.
The bikes on my list include: Turner Burner & Five Spot, Blur, Marin Wolf Ridge, Specialized Enduro, Intense 5,5 or Tracer (I found a new one). I am 5'9" and I weigh about 175. I am considering a coil rear end (not on the Blur of course).
Currently, I am in the process of doing a lot of test rides this summer. I am heading up to Tahoe for a ride on a Five Spot in the next few weeks.
The off the rack bikes like Giant are so ugly, that they are not on my list. There are a couple of Specialize models in grey and black that I could live with, and the Santa Cruz can be bought polished, which would enable removal of all decals.
Thanks for your help.
The only problem with bikes with travel longer than 4 inches for climbing is the added weight of the frame needed to hold up to added stresses of long travel. And it's tempting to put much heavier big wheels on the longer travel bikes to better use the longer travel.
I talked with a guy on a 5-Spot who previously had a Tracer and he said the Spot was a more confidence inspiring bike in the rough but it was slower climbing and not as quick or easy to handle in the tight switchback singletrack trails we have.
If you aren't in a hurry to climb, some of the more advanced 4 - 6 inch adjustable travel bikes with platform suspension or damping would be the way to go. I'm most impressed with the Marin Wolf Ridge (4- 6 inch) or Titus Switchblade (5.5) for efficient pedaling and plush suspension, and adjustable geometry using an adjustable travel fork to steepen the frame angles for climbing efficiency. The 5-Spot (or the Moment, a near clone of the 5-Spot) would be a top choice too with an adjustable travel fork. An Iron Horse Hollowpoint is also an exceptionally efficient pedaling and plush and a well balanced handling design.
The VPPs are much smoother feeling in rough terrain than a Superlight and very similar quick acceleration response, but the VPP's do have more pedal stalling chain tension effects than the others when slower climbing in rocks. You should test ride a Blur and do some climbing with it in rougher terrain and compare to some of the others on the list. All the VPP's have very well balanced handling too.
I've been on a Tracer for almost 3 years after 2 years on a Superlight, and the Tracer feels so much smoother and handles as good as it gets for 4-inch travel. But I've been spoiled by a few rides on longer more plush travel efficient pedaling designs, particularly the Wolf Ridge, So I think I'd buy a bike now with 4 - 6 inch travel with and adjustable travel fork (Minute 1, coil). And maybe have two wheelsets, a light weight climbing set and a bigger wheel set for more heavy duty desert and bike-park use. I'd add a Brake Therapy floating rear brake system on the Wolf Ridge to maintain the subtle better rear braking I've become accustomed to with the Tracer, or throw down for the long travel Switchblade-Talas. And replace the dead feeling Talas fork with a Minute-1. But the adjustable handling Tracer does everything I need really well so I'll probably wait a year or two before getting longer travel XC.
You are doing the best thing by test riding many top designs first.