For some riders, climbing is a necessary evil, something that's endured only to reap the reward of a long descent, while others have a more masochistic take, and find enjoyment in the challenge and suffering that accompany a grueling climb.
I'll admit, as much as I like bombing downhill, there's also a twisted part of me that doesn't mind grinding uphill for hours at a time, or trying to figure out how to get through a steep puzzling section of trail that's full of slippery roots and rocks. Some of that may be due to my East Coast upbringing – the trails I cut my teeth on were full of punchy ascents, often with a downed log or two to make things even more challenging. Of course, back then I was riding a hardtail with three chainrings up front, a seven or eight-speed cassette in the back, and some sweet Onza bar ends.
It's a different world now, one where cassettes are bigger than brake rotors, with enough gear range to get up just about anything. Geometry and suspension designs have evolved as well, and there's no shortage of bikes out there that climb and descend remarkably well. But that doesn't mean that all bikes are alike when it comes to climbing performance – head tube angle, seat tube angle, chainstay length, and the suspension layout of a bike are just a few of the factors that make a difference in how a bike handles.
There's no hard and fast rule as to what constitutes a good climber either – a super steep head angle may make the front end of a bike handle very quickly, giving the bike a more energetic feel, but does that mean it's a better climber than something slacker with more subdued manners? Not necessarily. The truth is, a lot of it comes down to personal preference.
Take that little lever that's found on most air shocks these days, the one that's used to firm up the rear suspension in order to reduce any energy-sapping motion. Mike Levy, my fellow tech editor and downcountry specialist, likes to call it a 'cheater switch,' and prefers bikes that perform best with it left open all the time. As for myself, I don't mind making use of the lever every so often – I'm more concerned with how the rear suspension feels on the descents. Not needing to use it is a nice bonus feature, since it's one less thing to think about out on a ride, but a more active suspension platform isn't necessarily a deal breaker for me.
Which camp do you fall into? Is climbing a crucial point of consideration when choosing a bike, or does downhill performance weigh more heavily? Cast your vote below.