Chris took this picture of the bike that a bunch of us kicked in money/effort for as a birthday present. It’s a 5″ travel, 26″ wheel “freeride” bike. Really fun setup, with a nice slack/aggro geometry but not so much travel that it’s going to wallow through in situations where you need to aggressively move the bike around under you (ie, hop a log, whip the rear end around a tight corner, etc).
A lot of people think the attribute that distinguishes downhill or freeride bikes is the amount of travel – and this is just nonsense. A lot of folks will ride faster and smoother, and have more fun, on a bike with 4 or 5 or 6 inches of travel than 7 or 8 or 9. Riding a DH sled to it’s full potential requires serious skills, commitment, and the courage to risk broken bones and worse. Many people don’t really want that, but they buy a DH bike anyway and end up unable to get the wheels off the ground or really have as much fun.
So really, the main trait to look for in a bike that’s intended to go downhill (whether you want to pedal it up or not) is the geometry – you want 90+mm of trail (but exactly how much is going to depend on where and how you ride), clearance for fat tires, good fit both while standing and sitting (word to the wise, you do NOT want to slam your seat all the way down to ride difficult terrain), and appropriate brake/shift/pedal options. With bars too high, you’ll get lazy and straighten your legs when descending – likewise with them too low, you’ll have a hard time with steeper lines. If you can’t bunnyhop on flat pedals, you should stick with clipless (or learn to j-hop). I could go on and on, but the bottom line is this: pick a bike for freeriding or DH riding based on an honest assessment of your skills and what you want to do, and ignore the travel numbers in favor of picking a good geometry for your preferences and terrain. Unless you’re a very skilled rider, a super long travel bike is only going to hold you back.