During the event, I rode a lot of bikes some hot, some not. The biggest disappointment was not being able to ride the Specialized and Pivot bikes, which many say are among the best in 2012. The big smiles on the lucky few who were able to tool around the Bar M trails outside Moab seemed to back up all the praise.
Still, I found four bikes to consider for 2012.
Best 26-inch bike: GT Sensor
Last year, I was a newbie to the world of 29-inch wheels. But having tried several, I came home a convert and plunked down money for a Specialized 29-inch-wheel Epic. I love it. It's the bike by which I'll judge all others. Curious to see how my tastes have changed since switching to the big wheels, I immediately set out to try some of the new 26ers.
The best turned out to be a bike I wasn't expecting much from the GT Sensor. I felt right at home on this bike and could generate plenty of power. It is marketed as an all-around trail bike, but it felt responsive enough to handle a few weekend races, too. It weighs around 28 pounds but rides lighter. The suspension worked great and would make a long day in the saddle easier to take. Suggested retail: $4,200.
Best 29-inch full suspension: Rocky Mountain Element
Specialized and Pivot have the hottest "niners" on the market, but there are others worth giving a spin, including Rocky Mountain, which is putting out better bikes every year. The Element handled nicely and felt stiff and responsive. The big wheels popped over the ledges of the Bar M trails with ease. Suggested retail: $4,300.
Best hard-tail 29-inch: Santa Cruz Highball
The benefit of a hard-tail 29er is you get the versatility on the big wheels without compromising weight, which is why this setup is popular with racers.
My favorite was the Santa Cruz 29er. It is one of those special bikes that just beg you to go faster. Full-suspension bikes are great, particularly for the long days, but if one wanted to add a hard tail for racing, this would be a strong contender. The bike weighs about 21 pounds. Suggested retail: $4,000.
Bike to watch: Spot
Spot, a small company based in Colorado, is owned by Wayne Lumpkin, who made a name for himself with his successful line of Avid brakes. Spot's reputation is growing at a rapid pace because the bikes are fun to ride. I tried the Rocker 29er hard tail with a steel frame. At first it wasn't that impressive and felt slow.
As I passed people with little effort, I realized I wasn't feeling slow but smooth. This bike was able to handle the rocky, sandy ledges of the Moab trail, and the pedaling seemed effortless. Time was too short to ride the brand's 29-inch single speed, but I'm intrigued enough to search one out and take it for a spin. Suggested retail: $3,600.