There is no doubt that this is an excellent XC bike as I could regularly do almost 1/3 more kms than with my other fully rigid MTB, feeling much less tired at the end of a long ride. This is certainly down to the comfort and absorption provided by the full-sus. The downside, however, is that I don't like the way that modern suspension 'contaminates' the steering and overall handling of the bike, not to mention the extra-weight added. This bike can roll over almost anything you might find in your path, but I do miss the more precise steering and general 'alertness' about what the the bike is doing that you are required to have when riding a full-rigid. Likewise, the hydraulic brakes have a tremendous stopping power, ideal for long and abrupt descents but certainly an overkill for the kind of XC or 'single track' riding I do regularly.
The other reason which finally put me off this bike is the inability to do any mechanical maintenance of some vital parts without having to buy a whole new set of specific tools: a) the new hollow BBs have a small life-span compared to traditional tapered ones and it doesn't take too long before they start to make creaking noises once their relatively small bearings start to wear down or get dirty with sand or grit, b) the hydraulic brakes are excellent but a pain in the arse in terms of maintenance -thanks Jeebus for the new Avid BB7 mechanical system which finally got rid of all the cumbersome process of bleeding, removing air bubbles in the system, and adjusting hydraulic disc brakes, c) the front and rear suspension forks are just the same story, great to have it there for extreme MTB riding but difficult to service without buying a whole set of expensive tools and oils and following complicated owner's manual instructions.
Yeah, I know, it is just a matter of time and of trial/error to learn how to do these maintenance tasks, etc.. But for my part I was not very excited about the prospects of having to study a front suspension fork manual, spending the equivalent of a new fork in getting all the tools required to do it myself, and then take apart / put the whole thing back together only to find out that it works much worse than it originally did... So, at the end, every time I needed to have any of these things checked, the bike have ended up going to the LBS for a service. I don't like this. Neither I like to be overcharged for a bike service.
After this relative short cycling experience with the presumed major advantages afforded by modern MTB technology, I finally decided that I want to go back to basics with my new build and purchased a Salsa El Mariachi frame. The original plan is to build it first as a single speed (I already have a 26" Kona SS) and, then, if I like this 'big wheels' thing so talked about these days, will probably upgrade it to a 1x9 and perhaps fit a front suspension fork. What is certain is that all components are going to be of the best quality I can afford and serviceable by myself. The rule of thumb, in this case, will be : keep it simple!
Some pics of my former Specialized Epic can be found here in my Flickr account.
The new 'steel is real' frame I purchased at a relatively good price (ex-demo) is this:
Hopefully I will be able to source most parts in the forthcoming months to have it ready to ride for this summer!!