When mountain bikes first hit the scene it was a pretty standard bike with 26" wheels, aggressive tread tires and not many options. Today mountain biking is the fastest growing segment in the world of bikes. We have cross country, enduro, over mountain, downhill, hard tail and full suspension bikes to choose from, not to mention 26", 27.5" and 29" wheel sizes. So the question is what is the best bike to own?
Unfortunately it is not a simple or easy answer. The main factor is what type of riding will be done on the bike. First question to answer is hard tail or full suspension. Most trails in Tucson are perfectly navigable on a hard tail bike but if the goal is to do more aggressive trails like some on Mount Lemmon or even the rocky terrain of something like Sweetwater, then a full suspension is better. The major disadvantage to a full suspension is the loss of power when standing on a climb. The higher end bikes will have a lock out for the rear shock to limit that travel or bounce that robs the power and making sure the air pressure is set properly will also help eliminate that bounce. The advantage of course is the comfort going over obstacles and hitting some drops and dips.
The riding position difference when looking at a cross country versus an enduro style bike plays a big part in the decision. A cross country bike will have a much more aggressive angle putting the rider forward, more like a road bike and the enduro bike with a more relaxed head angle will set the rider back, making it more comfortable when pointing the bike down steeper slopes and obstacles.
Some say the most difficult question is the tire size. 26" tires were the standard and many people liked them for the nimble handling and fast acceleration. 29" wheels hit the market a number of years ago and quickly became the favorite tire size because of the speed they roll at and the clearance and ability to go over just about anything on the road that gets in the way. The draw back to a 29" bike is the handling gets slower and on smaller frames the bike geometry gets a little short making the bike a tight fit. A small frame 29" bike looks more like a big wheel than a race machine. Along came 27.5" wheels. This is a wheel size that handles like a smaller 26" size, but rolls over things like a 29" wheel. Being smaller it does accelerate very fast and it is small enough to fit on all frame sizes without making the geometry strange. Most major bike companies have recognized the efficiency of this size and are making most bikes in a 27.5". Many have also continued to make 29" bikes, but only in the larger frame sizes and then drop to 27.5" on the small or extra small sizes.
Here in Tucson a full suspension 27.5" bike with 120mm of front travel is just about the perfect bike. Both bands that are available at Bicycle Ranch Tucson make bikes in this range. The Giant Anthem sx and the Cannondale Trigger 27.5" are examples that have great adjustable travel and great handling.
The only way to truly answer what bike is right, is to stop into a local bike shop and start talking about the goals and limitations of riding, test ride and compare and then fall in love with the right bike.