I am getting back into mtb after several year sabbatical. Time for a new bike. I ride a varied of terrain and am thinking of a trail bike. I am 5’7″ 150lb and would love the travel of a trail bike but want as responsive of a 29er as I can lay my hands on. My last bike is a 26″ that is 10 years old. Problem is I can’t demo many bikes and shops in my area don’t have much of what I have heard is great. So far bikes of interest are yeti4.5, niner Jet, santa cruz hightower. This is just from talking to people who have been on them but have yet to ride them. Any input on a great bike that might fit the bill?
I would recommend trying to go to a bike demo even if have to travel a ways. I traveled from Tallahassee to Tampa area to demo bikes last weekend. I rode lots of bikes and my finalists multiple times. I was amazed at the differences in feel between the bikes. When considering spending what is now required to get a good performing bike, i do not think you can or should beat actually riding the bike on a trail.
Lots of great bikes out there. You gotta at least throw a leg over a bike to make sure it fits, so unfortunately I don’t think you can shortcut the demo process. At a minimum, try to get on two bikes so you have something to compare.
Of the bikes on your list, I would personally throw out the Yeti based on price. You’ll generally get more bike from both Santa Cruz and Niner for your money.
I second Jeff’s advice. Skip the Yeti. Then if you actually have friends that have any of the aforementioned bikes, take them for a ride. Even if they do not fit you exactly, you at least get idea of what they feel like.
Furthermore, in the grand scheme mountain bikes and their geometries have changed immensely in ten years. I would avoid comparing any new bikes to your old whip outside just the most basic feel. If you absolutely adored said bike then by all means check the numbers (effective top tube length and reach I find most telling).
Lastly, I like the Hightower the best out the choices you presented. That is one of the most fun and versatile bikes I demoed in the last year and if I was not riding an Evil, the Hightower (actually the LT) would be my choice.