The other day I was out riding at Leb with my buddies Tim and Trevor and towards the end of the ride Tim was riding in the skills section at the end of the new green loop and cased one of the jumps and destroyed his rear triangle on his Jamis Dakar. I've never seen one blow up like that. It broke on top and bottom on the chain side and the bottom on the other side! That's right 3 breaks! It was crazy, luckily he didn't get hurt and it was at the end of our ride so he just had the walk of shame to his car and we followed shortly. This however lead to a discussion about possible new bikes to replace it. He is getting it warrantied but he isn't sure he wants to keep it.
So chatting with a Tim about bikes, which ones we liked or looked cool and what important things to look at. Theses are some of the bikes that were mentioned Commencal Meta SX and AM, Yeti SB 66, Cannondale Jekyll and Claymor, Trek Slash and Remedy, Transition Covert, Santa Cruz Nomad, Specialized Enduro, Banshee Spitfire, Rocky Mountain Slayer and Intense Tracer. They are all definitely worth looking at and all have quite a few things in common actually.
In my opinion and through the experience of riding a lot this year on at a lot of different trails, on a lot of different terrain and on a hand full of different bikes these are the main things that you need to take into consideration when considering a new bike and things I wish I knew more about when I bought my bike.
Obviously you have to choose what type of riding you will do and if you want hard tail or full suspension and then 29er or 26er but that is too much to cover so I'm going to discuss what I look for in a good ride now with my new incite.
Chain stay length and overall wheel base length. I personally like a wheel base somewhere in that 43-45inches as that will give you a solid stable feeling ride and a shorter chain stay length some were around 16-17inches as that gives you a lot more responsive feeling in the rear end. It helps with manuals, jumps and cornering. So that means that the head tube angle has to be a little slacker to put the front wheel/axle farther out to get that 43-45 inch wheel base.
For a head tube angle I would say 67.5 degrees would be the steepest I would consider going with. Mark Weir said that the ideal HA for a trail bike is 66 degrees. I would would totally agree. The bike feels so much more stable and confidence inspiring when pointed down hill and it still climbs well. The range you should look for then is 66-67.5 degree.
Another great thing to consider is Bottom Bracket height. This is very important for cornering and getting that feeling that the bike is on rails. The lower the BB usually the lower the center of gravity of the bike and the better it turns. Some of the low center of gravity is to do with the over all frame and rear platform design such as where they have the pivots and rear shock placed but the BB height is crucial. You will want a BB 14inch or less. The lower you go the more careful you will have to be when pedalling through technical sections with rocks and such as you will be more apt to pedal strikes and I would also recommend that you have a bash guard to save your chain and chain ring.
Seat tube angle is also important for an all around bike. A more vertical seat tube angle will allow for better seated climbing and pedaling. You will be looking for an angle in the 70's for degree angle.
One huge thing that I really wish that my bike had is a rear through axle. This will add massive stiffness to the rear end and really make your bike handle a lot better. Through axles are very common now on the front axle with the 15mm and 20mm depending on brand and size of fork. As well is the new standard 142 by 12mm through axle rear end.
You must also consider what size fork you want. You have two sizes to look at here. First is your suspension travel and this will depend on how smooth of a rider you are and what type of terrain you are riding. I would say 120mm is the smallest I would go and 170mm is probably at the top unless you have an adjustable travel fork and then you could go to 180mm. 120mm is a great number if you are very smooth and running your bike on relatively smooth trails. Jumps really doesn't play an issue with fork length, it more depends on if you are doing large drops to flat or riding really rocky, root filled trails and if that is the case you will probably want to run a longer travel shock. A good rule of thumb is watch what pros are riding on that bike on similar trails and add at least 1 inch or about 20-25mm of travel as you are not as smooth as they are!
The second number to look at is the stanchion size most bikes 150mm and under come with 32mm stanchions and 160+ have 36mm stanchions. This will make a huge difference on how your front end handles. The bigger stanchions are miles stiffer and less likely to deflect and flex. If you are riding a lot of jumps, down hills and rough areas you will want the 36mm stanchions! If it's smoother then 32mm will be just fine and will save you about 1 lbs in weight.
There are other things such as a tapered steer tube as well as a 30mm press fit bottom bracket that are great for adding rigidity to your bike. Both are great and are becoming somewhat standard on mtb's these days but keep your eyes open for them.
The last bit is just a bonus that I wish I had and that is the ISCG 3 or 5 tabs. These allow you to run a chain guide so if you are riding a lot of rough stuff you wont drop your chain. They make adaptors for external bottom brackets but if you take a hard hit you can damage your BB with those.
As you can see I didn't mention Brand, Color or the little bits that can be changed out easily to accommodate your brand preference and riding style but I would also recommend using a 700mm or wider handle bar and a 50-70mm stem anything longer belongs on a road bike not a MTB.
With all of that information you will have a good start with your research, however you will have to experiment, test ride and demo multiple bikes to find what feels best and works the best for you. Do some research, read reviews and talk to other riders and the people at your local bike shop.
I hope this helps you all as you start looking for that new ride for next season!
Keep it real!