Five tips on choosing your next mountain bike:
1) Ride her
Be wary of reading too much into reviews. You are Unique. All reviews are about that rider who tested the bike, not specifically you. Bear in mind the connection between rider and bike is unique to the geometry of the person as well as the bike. My longer torso and shorter legs will fit some frames better than others so all reviews are not about you they are only about the rider who wrote it.
If you took one piece of advice from this article then it would be try them for real and for a decent length of time on a decent trail that represents your riding preferences.
2) Take your time.
6 months of research going on demo days, hiring bikes is probably respectable and not so unusual. The best thing come to those that wait and all that jazz. Don't rush and don't compromise. She has to feel right.
3) Test different bikes on the same trail
This ensures the experience on each bike is as near consistent as possible and on a trail that is representative of your riding preferences.
4) Space each test out
Riding 4-5 bikes in a day means:
- you rush each one and not one gets a decent test
- you are too tired probably to properly review the last bike.
I think two to three bikes in a day is best with a good rest in-between and then like a second interview take your top one or two favs out for a full day each to be sure.
Demo days abound which are free and decent shops for a fee will let you take a bike out for a full day (if you buy they knock the fee off the price)
5) Work her hard
You want to know if she will make you do things outside of your comfort zone but still look out for you. Test her properly it's not a ride in the park. If the bike is right she generally tells you so i.e. you will just know.