I'm getting ready to take the plunge and get a new bike. I'm pretty sold on a 29er, and want to get a full suspension model, but I'm open to argument.
A bit of background: I've been riding many years, though never too aggressively. I've got more lung capacity than technical prowess, but enjoy trying things as long as I keep the rubber on or near the ground. I've been riding a carbon hardtail since '96; it's comfy, efficient and has been reliable. The only thing I've done since new was put on some V brakes. I'm lazy that way.
What I've tried: I demoed a Specialized FSR on a trail I've been riding a few times recently (Mt Crosier near Estes Park). There were bits climbing where it did better than my hardtail, and bits where it was worse. The fit wasn't really dialed in, though, so I know I was losing energy. Downhills were a lot of fun
I don't think I ever bottomed out the suspension, though I was riding much more quickly than I'm used to on those sections. BTW, this is about the level of trail I like riding. I definitely can't clear everything, but I can grunt up some good climbs if I can do a decent job staying focused, and the downhills are (except for a couple spots) ridable. I like all the Jeffco parks and enjoy faster, buffed single track (e.g. Buffalo Creek) as well as the tighter sections.
I spent some time at Cutting Edge Sports exploring the Gary Fisher lineup in the parking lot and surroundings. I really like the feel of the Paragon, but it was only a 19" and I'm definitely much too big for that (6'3, 200lb). I also ran about on a 21" Super Caliber with 26" wheels. Fun, but I liked the way the 29er rolled over things a bit more and see how that might suit me on the trail.
I'm leaning towards a 21" SuperCaliber 29er. While I would love to look at something like the Leviathan (4"), I don't feel too comfortable throwing down $1700 just for a frame. I do, however, want to go FS to complement my current HT and play a bit more on descents. I don't (yet) plan to start drinking Mt. Dew and hitting myself in the face, though, and still want to have something that climbs pretty well.
So, my question for you all, is there anything else in the $2000 price range for a reasonably built complete bike that I should try? Is 3" rear travel (what I think the supercal is sporting) going to make a substantial difference, or am I going to be wishing for more in a few weeks? Also, since I haven't really had a handle on the mtb parts world for roughly a decade, are there any glaring weaknesses in the bike spec I should watch out for, or can I just ride till something breaks (if ever) and fix it when that happens?
Thanks for your thoughts. Too bad I stumbled here, though, as it's likely going to be expensive in terms of $ and time ;