Here's what I've had in the last 15 years or so:
My first full suspension bike was a 1996 Pro-Flex 856:
But it got much better the next year:
After a brief foray into a Titanium hardtail, I was back on a full suspension bike for the '98 (I think) Kenda/Knite Glo 12 hour race at Paint Creek SP (where team Sliced Bread Racing came in third in class, thank you). I built this up from a '97 Pro Flex 857 frame I bought on close out--see, I did learn something. It had real coil-over shocks, a very nice thermoplastic swingarm, and is actually one of the top three full sus bikes I've ever had. I did my first "fast lap" around Alum Creek on this (just Alum, there was no P1 or P2 then), leaving me in the parking lot shaking and shattered and satisfied.
Of course, I then sold it in a fit of simplifying.
I went a couple of years before I got back in the full suspension game:
This is a 2003-ish Klein Palomino. I paid $2000 for it at the Bike Gallery in Portland, Oregon (maybe I hadn't learned after all, though I did save in sales tax). Great suspension action, but the oddball looks and paper thin tubing kind of turned me off. I sold the frame to a guy in Taiwan. Those overseas deals aren't always crooked.
The next FS bike also came highly recommended from MBA. This time, they were spot on:
It's an '03 Specialized Epic, with the parts from the Klein. This was a high tech, fast, cruise missile of a bike. But then I got into 29ers...
So a 29er full suspension bike should be good, right? Not always:
This Gary Fisher 29-something had all the handling grace of an ocean liner. Even better, it was cracked at the shock mount. Since I bought the frame used, I had no real recourse but to part it out and recover some of my cash. Which went to:
an '08 Specialized FSR 29er, bought used. I like 29ers, and this has a brain shock like my beloved Epic, but it just never came together. Too long, too slow, too squishy, too soft. This was at a point in my life where I was timing my laps around Alum Creek. My best time around P2 was about a minute faster on my rigid, singlespeed Gunnar. That was the death knell for this one--I flipped the FSR pretty quickly, but I didn't lose any money on it, at least.
with a Salsa Spearfish (purchased new, on closeout) (look closely, you can see many of the parts from the FSR here). I just didn't really gel with this bike, either. It didn't have that bottomless, Cadillac ride of some suspension bikes, but it wasn't razor edged quick like my Epic, either. And I didn't like the non-standard bottom bracket and headset, either.
With the Spearfish gone, I was idly flipping through ebay looking for a 650B conversion candidate. Maybe, I reasoned, 29er + FS isn't a good equation for me.They just get too long and slow. Maybe 650B would be the ticket? Instead, I found yet another Specialized FSR with a $300 buy it now price. It wouldn't fit a 650B, but I wanted it:
I had some nice 26" Bontrager scandium wheels that came with a swap meet deal, and an X Fusion Enix fork that I had intended for the 650B project. Both nice pieces that complement this frame well. I love the central shock forging and the welded monocoque top tube:
These kind of details aren't found on the newer versions of this frame--I can only see areas where they cut cost (as an engineer, I've been there and done that) I have it set at 120mm rear/100mm front, and it makes for a sharp handling, fun package. The full suspension makes up for the smaller wheels lack of stability compared to a 29er, while still keeping the easy flickability of a 26er. Even when I think about downsizing my bike fleet, this FSR gets a pretty easy pass. Too much fun for not much money. It's a keeper--and I don't say that lightly or often.