I'm looking into buying a new MTB and am somewhat undecided if I should go with the Gary Fisher Piranha or the Novara Ponderosa 29er. I test-rode both bikes and they're comparably the same as far as smoothness and handling.
A fat tire & a skinny tire & two others I loaned out
Advantages of the Novara: Slightly cheaper; better drivetrain; sold by REI, which means absolutely unbeatable customer service.
Advantages of Gary Fisher: Nicer fork; hydraulic brakes (though I don't know if they're nice hydraulics or not, so they could be more trouble than they're worth), cooler paint job IMO.
It's a tough call. Gary Fisher's are tried & true, & are good with warranties from what I've heard--I saw a thread not too long ago about a guy who's GF frame cracked & the Trek guys told him he'd get a frame of equal or greater value, & ended up getting one that was a good bit nicer than the old GF frame. The big selling point for the Novara is REI. I don't know much about Novara bikes so someone with experience with them would be helpful, but REI's customer service is truly outstanding. I had a pair of Keen sandals that started falling apart after only a few weeks of moderate use, & they gave me cash back for them. SHOES! Craziness. But anyway, assuming Novaras have solid frames, I would probably go in that direction. The Avid BB5's have had there issues but they're user friendly, which is something that can't be said about any hydraulic brakes. And the Tora isn't that much nicer than the Dart 3, so that wouldn't be a game-changer for me. Hopefully someone with some more knowledge of Novaras will chime in.