Editor’s note: Here at Dirt Rag we don’t really do “comparison tests” or “shootouts” or declare “winners”. Every bike we review has a story to tell, and they’re all interesting. That said, we rounded up six full-suspension trail bikes in the $2,500-ish range to see what’s really out there in the heart of the mountain bike market. To get the party started, we spent a week riding in and around the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Watch for full reviews of each bike, as well as more about the trails, in an upcoming issue, but for now, a teaser:
I admit to being more than a little bit skeptical at the outset of our trip down to Harrisonburg, Va. The idea of thrashing $2,500-ish bikes on some of the most raw and rowdy trails I’ve ever ridden gave me nightmares of bad brakes boiling over on long descents and under-damped suspension systems bucking me over the handlebars in protest of being pushed hard.
However, not long into our first ride, I realized just how spoiled my perspective had become. Both bikes I rode performed flawlessly over five days of punishing trails.
Being the resident knuckle-dragger of the group, I was assigned to the longer-travel end of this trail bike spectrum. Mongoose’s Teocali Expert sports 150mm of linkage-driven single pivot goodness and 26-inch wheels, while Santa Cruz’s Heckler delivers the same 150mm of travel via a simple single pivot design and hot-ticket, 27.5-inch wheels.
For the record, both of these bikes are pictured here with non-stock handlebars and dropper seat posts. At the outset of these reviews, we agreed that bars, stems, tires and dropper posts could be swapped in as necessary to meet personal fit and ride desires. Plus, we’ve all nearly forgotten how to ride a bike without a dropper posts. What did I say about being spoiled?
Mongoose Teocali Expert
- MSRP: $2,500, plus shipping
- Travel: 150mm
- Wheelsize: 26
- Drivetrain: SRAM X5, X7 10-speed
- Brakes: Avid Elixir 1
- Fork: Rock Shox Sektor
- Shock: Rock Shox Monarch
The Teocali ships direct to consumers after being ordered online or over the phone, so be sure to factor approximately $100 additional for shipping. Once dialed in, I was very impressed with the performance of the mix of SRAM X5 and X7 10-speed drivetrain parts. Shifts were crisp and quick, and I didn’t once lose a chain in rough terrain, even without a clutch rear derailleur. Likewise, the Avid Elixir 1 brakes left me asking nothing more of them. Good power, good modulation and zero issues.
Initially, the Teocali felt playful with its little wheels enjoying air time and rewarding a pop and transition sort of riding style. The up-and-back axle path defined by the main pivot provides very supple bump response while coasting that stiffens up just a touch while pedaling.
Santa Cruz Heckler
- MSRP: $2,600
- Travel: 150mm
- Wheelsize: 27.5 10-speed
- Drivetrain: Shimano Deore
- Brakes: Avid Elixir 1
- Fork: Rock Shox Sektor Gold
- Shock: Fox Float CTD
Though the Heckler model is just now old enough to vote, it’s colorful but tasteful color scheme feels a bit more grown up than the ‘Goose. It may be just be the heartthrob of our budget bike roundup.
Santa Cruz has wisely positioned this new 27.5-inch wheeled Heckler as a less expensive and simpler version of the Bronson, with geometry nearly identical to its upscale brother in every way. Perhaps most impressive about the Heckler spec is that even this base model comes with the excellent Maxxis High Roller II 2.3 TR EXO, setup with Stan’s Notubes sealant. Old-timers say your bike’s only as good as your tires, and these High Rollers allowed me to pummel through gnarly, wet rock gardens that were difficult to walk.
As on the ‘Goose, the Avid Elixir 1 brakes were flawless. It took me a bit recalibrate from to the Shimano Deore triple crank, but the granny gear was very welcome on Harrisonburg’s steep, long and demanding climbs. I appreciated the Deore rear derailleur’s clutch mechanism, though I did consistently drop of the chain off the big ring while rallying for the camera in one particularly gnarly rock garden. That aside, these components get two thumbs up.
Click here to see an introduction to the great riding in and around the Shenandoah Valley and see all six bikes we brought with us. Be sure to keep an eye out in an upcoming issue for our full-length reviews.