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Mountain bikes grow up in design

Orange County’s San Juan Trail, a mecca for mountain bike enthusiasts, tumbles 2,600 feet in elevation over 11 rocky, twisty miles. That may explain why nearly all of the mountain bikers I saw on it one recent weekend were riding dual-suspension bikes. Elaborate rigs with two-wheel shock absorbers, once exotic luxuries, are fast replacing simpler front-shock bikes as designs improve, prices plunge and trail riders demand more comfort and control. Here are four outstanding bikes.

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A Schwinn to begin

Schwinn Moab DS2: Superb entry-level design at a great price.

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Likes: Disc brakes, rare at this price, are safer and more powerful than standard rim brakes. “Iso-drive” rear suspension design (same as on Schwinn’s $1,600 Delta 88) absorbs bumps well while minimizing the “inchworming” effect (inefficient up-and-down bobbing caused by pedaling). Has good suspension balance, decent 24-speed drive train.

Dislikes: No place for a water bottle cage within the frame, so you must always wear a hydration pack.

Price: $779. (800) SCHWINN; www.schwinn bike.com.

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Smoother operator

Rockhopper FSF Comp: Economy model of acclaimed cross-country suspension line.

Likes: Fast, light, smooth. Refined over a decade and licensed to many bike brands, this 27-speed’s “4-bar linkage” frame design (the rear section has four pivots) is a hallmark of efficiency. Good suspension balance. Manual lock-out disables rear shock to stop bobbing on climbs or pavement. Women’s model (pictured) has shorter length sized to female torso.

Dislikes: No disc brakes. (For that, go to Rockhopper FSR Comp Disc, $1,360.)

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Price: $1,140. (408) 779-6229; www.specialized.com.

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A crossover with some poundage

Giant VT 2: The rare extreme downhill riding bike that also performs great for cross-country riding.

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Likes: Design combines limited inchworming, for fast climbing, with huge suspension compression for hot handling on rough trails. Unlike my other tests, I stayed seated (and fresher) on the VT through most obstacles. Includes disc brakes and high-end, 27-speed drive train.

Dislikes: At 30 pounds, about 10% heavier than other bikes in its class. But I hardly noticed.

Price: $2,000. (805) 267-4600; www.giant bicycle.com.

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When you want to be a blur

Fisher Sugar 293: Super fast with unusual 29-inch tires. A do-everything bike for mountain and road.

Likes: Built for speed. Even I actually passed people. Big wheels have more momentum than little ones over mud, rocks, sand, the flats and moderate climbs and descents. Almost as fast as a road bike on pavement. Has high-end 27-speed drive train and plush suspension.

Dislikes: No disc brakes. Because most mountain bikes have 26-inch wheels, many bike shops don’t stock 29-inch knobby tires. Takes a while to get used to big wheels’ handling on twisty terrain. Weaker riders struggle to maintain speed on steep climbs.

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Price: Price: $1,869. (800) 879-8735; www.fisher bikes.com.

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Roy M. Wallack


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