Out of the three, I was able to see in person both a Santa Cruz Heckler and Giant Trance. I am favoring the Heckler right now based on everything I have read about it online.
What I am interested in is, how does the Breezer compare to Heckler in terms of parts and value? Which of the three would be a good choice for me based on the info I’ve given? And if anyone has any other suggestions for bikes I haven’t listed, I’m open to checking them out.
Also, about the rentals… Some shops will let you have the price of the rental off of the purchase of the bike if you’re really nice to them about it. So it’s definitely worth it to give ’em a try for at least a few hours.
I have to echo macr88 on this: you really need to throw a leg over each one — on actual dirt and rock if you can.
The three bikes you have picked have very different geometries, suspension designs, and handling characteristics.
Just look at the difference in top tube lengths among the three.
Heckler — 553 mm
Trance — 569 mm
Breezer — 600 mm
That’s a huge difference and the Heckler will feel nothing like the Repack. If you like a short top tube, then the Heckler may be a good choice. But if you like a long top tube, or like to run a short stem for more precise steering, then the Breezer is a better choice. The Trance is closer to the Heckler but not as extreme.
The Heckler employs a rather primitive single pivot suspension (not dogging it–I own two bikes with single pivot suspensions and love them both) while the others have more highly evolved suspension designs which are likely to be more efficient. You won’t know if this is meaningful to you until you take them out on a big climb/rocky descent.