1. The most important thing about buying a new bike is to make sure it fits. The only way you'll know if the bike is right for you is to size up the bike and make sure that the bike's geometry matches your body's geometry. Ask questions and do some research.
mtn. biking 101
2. If possible, try to find a shop that will let you demo the bike on real dirt. Five minutes in a parking lot won't cut it. You wouldn't buy a car without a real world test drive, and a bike should be no different.
3. Don't belive the hype. Just because your favorite rider or best friend rides a certain bike, that doesn't mean that's the best one for you. Have an open mind and be realistic about your needs and ability.
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  1. #1
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    Help selecting a XC bike under $700

    Hi-

    I am looking for suggestions on a good bike for my budget and usage needs. I am fast approaching my 29th birthday, and am looking at getting back into riding on a regular basis. Beyond riding my bike to friend's houses, I used to do a fair amount of bike path riding (mix of asphalt and gravel), and some off road / cross country riding.

    My main goals, as they stand right now, are hitting the local bike path (still a mix of asphalt and gravel) a couple times a week, and doing some beginner to intermediate off road trail riding (perhaps wrong, but I believe they qualify as cross country riding... I live in Iowa after all).

    My interest is a combination of the physical fitness aspect, and that I really enjoyed riding when younger, so why not have fun working out! As well, a personal goal of doing RAGBRAI next year, and being able to really hit the off road trails hard next year.

    My budget, right now, is up to $700 range (gotta get the wife's approval, so going beyond that will be a very difficult sell).

    I am looking at hardtails with a front shock.

    I am not adverse to doing upgrades overtime, nor am I opposed to getting my hands dirty with assembly, mods, etc. But would prefer to get a bike that is a solid package / great frame that is worthy of investing more in over the long haul.

    My local bike shops have Cannondale, Specialized, Trek, Felt, Giant, and GT.

    I have a few bikes in mind, already, from my research, but would like to get some your input before mentioning them.

    As well, any specific components I should keep an eye out for as a base level minimum / avoid / drool over?

  2. #2
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    Test Ride, buy the best feel will get you out and on the bike more.
    Parts I like are:
    Air Fork (not pogo spring only)
    Hydro Brakes
    Hardtail Frame
    29" wheels

    RIDE!!
    Ride MORE = Live Longer
    Love Dirt / Hate Pavement

  3. #3
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    I picked up a nice Marin Palisades Trail for $600 off ebay last year (they retail for close to $1200). I love it. However it does have a XC30 coil spring which isn't the best option and it's heavy.

  4. #4
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    Save some more... it will give you more options.

  5. #5
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    Definitely going to get more bang for you buck going used or one that is older but still new. Not sure what size you'd need, but...

    2013 Marin Bobcat Trail 29er 19" MTB Hardtail Bike Shimano 9S Hydraulic Disc New | eBay

    Airborne Bicycles. Guardian 2.0

  6. #6
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    The Bobcat has the best fork in this price range by far. It also has decent Alivio/Deore drive components. Brakes could be upgraded to m615 Deores for 112 from CRC.

  7. #7
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    Keep your eye on crosslake bikes on ebay (2013 Marin Bobcat Trail 29er 19" MTB Hardtail Bike Shimano 9S Hydraulic Disc New | eBay), like I said I got lucky last year and picked up a Palisades Trail for $640 shipped.

    FYI, I bought a 26er (don't think you can get a 29er for that price) which I'm sure will generate tons of responses below. But I like 26er's!
    Last edited by dfrink; 07-10-2014 at 03:57 PM. Reason: Wrong link

  8. #8
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    Thank you for the input so far guys! I really appreciate it.

    I went by a couple local bike shops today, I would prefer to buy local versus online, I am a big proponent of buying local and supporting local business. That being said, WOW, some of those online deals are amazing! Especially that Airborne, really nice specs for that price point. Hmmmm.....

    I have narrowed my local search, generally speaking, down to 3 bikes, all 29"ers, at this point:

    Specialized Hardrock Sport Disc 29

    Trek X-Caliber 6

    GT Karakoram Comp

    My price point is mostly based off of what I think I can convince the wife of spending right now, especially since I haven't ridden a bike in nearly a decade. I figure focus on a bike with a good frame, good upgrade potential, but has decent out of the box components that won't hold me back while getting back into it. Then, as time progresses, upgrade the fork, etc. with a goal in mind of starting to ride some local competition XC by next summer, and RAGBRAI.

    I am also looking at used a lot, but the market in my area is pretty slim pickings, especially for higher quality mountain bikes. Most folk in Iowa that spend decent money go for road bikes.

  9. #9
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    I had a hard time buying online, like you I like to support local Mom and Pop shops. However I looked at Crosslake Sales website and they are basically a Mom and Pop operation, just not local to me. At the end of the day I wanted the most bang for my buck (without sending my buck to China!). I'm sure you'll find a decent bike to get you on some dirt! Good luck.

  10. #10
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    Get the Bob29 and drop $200 in beer at your lbs.
    The beginning of a beautiful relationship.

  11. #11
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    How does the frame on the Bobcat stack up against the local bikes I'm looking at? What about build quality?

    Would the Bob be worth spending money upgrading fork, crank, deraillures, etc over time?

  12. #12
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    The Bobcat is a nice bike and you can probably make due the way it is. Personally, I wouldn't upgrade. To upgrade the fork to one that is substantially better, will probably run you around $300-400. You add cranks and derailleurs and thats another $200 or so (more depending on what you upgrade to). Soon, it will be the wheels, brakes and other things. When its all said and done..you've put $1000 into this bike. Thats how the upgrade bug goes. I know, I've been through it. Is it worth upgrading? Maybe, maybe not. But instead of upgrading parts, I'd ride it and save at the same time to upgrade the entire bike when the time comes.

    The one thing that I like with this frame vs. the others, is that it comes with a tapered head tube. Which, if you were to upgrade it, you would have better options.

  13. #13
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    This is a bike for developing skills for a couple seasons. The brakes can be upgraded and the shifter cables to Jagwire/Novara from REI. You could learn to lace your own wheels after a while. The fork is very good. It has a sealed oil damper which doesn't require any maintenance.
    It has good stiffness from 32mm stanchions. The 5mm QR can be changed to a 9mm thru-bolt with a RWS from DT Swiss.
    After a couple seasons it becomes your backup bike and you move to something more expensive when you know how/what you like to ride.
    I can recommend that bike now and save you the $700+ you will spend on this bike, but it will cost you $2100.

  14. #14
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    TLDR version: I am between a 27.5" Jamis Nemesis and a 29" Trek X-Cal bike, both hardtails. I like the way both ride, couldn't say one is better than the other. Have 1k to spend, suggestions?

    Long Version:

    Thank you for the advice and guidance thus far guys!

    Been to way more shops than I care to disclose (ok, 6) and test rode a number of bikes, been back and forth on a bunch of specifics, talked with the wife a lot more, and all sorts of fun stuff.

    I have convinced the wife that spending extra money is a good idea, and overcome her apprehensions (pointed out I used to do some XC racing back in my teens, and that this is me wanting to add a hobby / fitness option to my life that I am serious about over the long haul).

    After getting to ride a number of bikes, I have narrowed it down to 2 based off of the way they ride, and the shops themselves:

    Jamis Nemesis 27.5"

    or

    Trek X-Caliber

    I am a little torn between the two, since the Nemesis feels more like the GT Zaskar I used to own and race, and tighter handling than the X-Caliber. However, the X-Caliber is much better feeling on paved / smooth trails, which I will ride on a lot for the cardio aspect.

    I convinced her to let me spend up to $1k-ish on the bike, whether that means getting the bike and a few upgrades, or just dropping a straight 1k.

    Any suggestions on alternatives I should take a look at? I already ruled out Specialized, very similar feel to the Trek (I do prefer the Trek anyways), and the local dealer wasn't up to my customer service standards.

    Also, any advice on 27.5 vs 29"? I am 5'9", so 29" does feel a little 'large' to me compared to 27.5". I am doing one last test ride next week at a local demo ride of the Trek X-Caliber. I am not able to do a super awesome demo ride of the Jamis, but the local shop I rode it at I was able to test it out, at least, over rough grass, curbs, mulch, etc. but nothing with real speed / technicality to it to push it (plus my skills are rather reduced)...

  15. #15
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    You mention paved bike trails and road riding. The 29er will help there. You can spin out on a 26" mountain bike with ease in the highest gear, but a 29er with the right gear range will handle the road well. (27.5 is in the middle, of course)

    I would highly recommend you look at the highest gear ratio. 2x10 is very popular for mountain bikes because if they're just for trails, that's enough. You'll see enough pavement use that 3x9 or 3x10 should be very important to you. You'll want that high gearing and a big wheel.

    44/11 as a high gear is good with either, but the 29" wheel will help make the bike more enjoyable off the trails.
    2014 Horsethief, 2013 Karakoram, NB-AT3, 2006 Giant XtC

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by peteer01 View Post
    You mention paved bike trails and road riding. The 29er will help there. You can spin out on a 26" mountain bike with ease in the highest gear, but a 29er with the right gear range will handle the road well. (27.5 is in the middle, of course)

    I would highly recommend you look at the high gear 2x10 is very popular for mountain bikes because If they're just for trails, that's enough. You'll see enough pavement use that 3x9 or 3x10 should be very important to you. You'll want that high gearing and a big wheel.q
    I am leaning towards the 29" because I will be riding on a paved / well packed bike trail a lot. I also am planning on doing RAGBRAI next year (if not familiar, 7 day bike ride across the State of Iowa that involved more drinking and partying than biking...)

    I see you have a Karakoram... If you could, maybe, tell me how you like it / it performs? Maybe compare it against the Trek X-Caliber if your have experience with it? Mostly concerned about ability to turn quickly / does it feel big? With my history of having a GT Zaskar, I naturally have an affinity for GT, but I also know they went through some troubled times and are trying to get back to their roots. Unfortunately, my local GT dealers don't stock any 99% of the time, and the only one I got to test was a 19" frame, which is too big for me.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by pjcforpres2020 View Post
    I see you have a Karakoram... If you could, maybe, tell me how you like it / it performs? Maybe compare it against the Trek X-Caliber if your have experience with it? Mostly concerned about ability to turn quickly / does it feel big?
    I'm 6'2", so YMMV, but I'll share my opinion of the bike and some anecdotal experience that might help you.

    My Karakoram is a size L. I hemmed and hawed about whether to go XL or L, and went L because when in doubt, I'd rather be on a frame that's a bit too small than a bit too large.

    29" wheels were a jump for me, as the 26" bike I have, the XtC I used to have, and the hybrid/comfort Giant "mountain bike" I had before that were all 26". It felt natural very, very quickly. It's obviously an XC bike with long chainstays and a steep(ish) headtube angle, and it rides like one. It climbs well, it's stable, and learning how to make tight turns with it takes a little bit of time. It can turn quickly, but you need to have better technique than you do with a smaller bike, putting your weight on top of the bike, leaning the bike and turning. (On my 26", I felt much more like I was in the bike and could turn on a dime)

    Learning how to make sharp turns was the one thing I had to relearn with the Karakoram, but that's really it. No, it's not a tiny fun little bike, which is how I would describe my 26" bike, but it's stable, it's fast for XC riding, and it's fast for road riding.

    I road a 38.5 mile race on the Karakoram last month. I used my highest gear a number of times and I used my granny gear on a particularly rough climb. 3x9 makes a good jack-of-all-trades. I commute on it to and from work. I bought a second wheelset and threw road tires on the stock wheelset. I swap out tires for XC or bike path rides on the weekend. It's a good bike other than the fork. The XC28 fork is garbage. Just to make sure you know that's not just my opinion, here's a round up of entry level forks, with the XC28 tying for last place. (I broke two separate ones immediately before upgrading)

    As for GT getting back to their roots...they're owned by Dorel. Cannondale, GT, Schwinn, Mongoose, Sugoi, Caloi and Guru are all owned by Dorel. At this point the triple triangle is more branding than anything, Dorel's just segmenting the market and trying to move as much product as they can.

    For what I paid, I'm glad I bought the bike, but I did go buying another fork, then a wheel set, then a crank (crank issue), etc... I get that you want to buy from an LBS, and that's not a bad idea, so you're not getting significantly more or less with the Trek or Specialized.

    I would say that if you buy one of the 29" bikes for what I'd expect an LBS would sell it for, you'll end up with an absolutely useable road bike/backup XC bike in a few years, because if you really like riding, you'll be back at eb1888's suggestion that you'll want that +$2,100 bike, but getting any of the bikes on your list, from an LBS you like and want to go back to, and then getting on the trails is going to be a fairly similar experience. The road aspect of your planned use is enough for me to say choose one of the two 29" options.

    I hope that ramble helps.

    P.S. I don't recommend buying a +$2,100 bike now. Buy a bike in your budget, get out there and ride.

    P.P.S. The anecdotal experience: My neighbor (6'3") saw my bike, asked me about the price, thought it was a great deal and bought an XL from the same place. My friend, who I got into mountain bike but was on a Wal-Mart bike, bought an M (5'8"). We all hit the local beginner trails together and my neighbor was having huge issues keeping up, so I asked if we could swap bikes so I could confirm his bike was working properly. The XL felt good, but it did feel big. My friend who bought the M frame spent his first two rides concerned about how much different the 29" wheels felt. He now thanks me repeatedly for telling him (repeatedly) to upgrade from his big box bike.

    He might have adjusted quicker on a 27.5, but he's fine on a 29" frame, it just took a bit of time to adjust to the feel and handling, which is different.

    I might have been fine on the XL frame, but I'm glad I went with the smaller L frame. I think my inseam and height both say I'm expected to fit XL better, but I ordered a L Horsethief frame to go with my L Karakoram frame. Personal preference.

    My point is that, with time, it's easy to adjust to whatever wheel size you have, but make sure you fit on the frame size you buy. If you were looking at DH, I'd be steering you towards 26", since you're looking at paved and hard-packed roads, I'm steering you towards 29".
    2014 Horsethief, 2013 Karakoram, NB-AT3, 2006 Giant XtC

  18. #18
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    I was in the exact position you were in with the price range. I looked for several months and came across a deal on the x-cal 6. I used this bike to commute 10 miles one way to work for a while. I have started to recently use it on the trails and I am impressed for the price. I would rather buy a better suspension and have some extra money for all the equipment you might need. I am a bigger guy so I have started to look at a 180mm rotor up front.

  19. #19
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    peteer01:

    Thank you very much! Yeah, if I had it my way, I would be getting one of those $2,100 bikes. But I have to balance my budget with my wife and my unusually short couch that is not very comfortable.

    I am going a demo ride next week at a local off-road park, and will get to put the Trek through its paces. Assuming it doesn't kill me (been 10+ years since I did anything serious on a bike) I will probably end up with the Trek, and a killer deal that will leave me a couple hundred under my budget for an X-Cal 8, and will likely use the price difference to upgrade the fork (the owner said I could trade the fork in at the time of purchase, and upgrade to a Reba for a little under $200).

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by pjcforpres2020 View Post
    I will probably end up with the Trek, and a killer deal that will leave me a couple hundred under my budget for an X-Cal 8, and will likely use the price difference to upgrade the fork (the owner said I could trade the fork in at the time of purchase, and upgrade to a Reba for a little under $200).
    Nice! The Reba is a much better shock, and that's the only thing I would recommend upgrading immediately. After that, just ride it until something breaks!
    2014 Horsethief, 2013 Karakoram, NB-AT3, 2006 Giant XtC

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by peteer01 View Post
    Nice! The Reba is a much better shock, and that's the only thing I would recommend upgrading immediately. After that, just ride it until something breaks!
    That is the plan! As mentioned above, my main aim is finding a frame that will serve me well, is worthy of upgrades as things break, and ultimately will last me I am thinking 2-3 years before I move on to something new (maybe my first FS? They always felt like cheating to me when I rode friend's FS bikes, but then again, who's rule book am I playing by?)

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by pjcforpres2020 View Post
    (maybe my first FS? They always felt like cheating to me when I rode friend's FS bikes, but then again, who's rule book am I playing by?)
    Hahaha. Read what I wrote just a few hours before you said FS feels like cheating to you:

    Newbies and budget conscious riders, don't ride a full suspension bike
    2014 Horsethief, 2013 Karakoram, NB-AT3, 2006 Giant XtC

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by peteer01 View Post
    Hahaha. Read what I wrote just a few hours before you said FS feels like cheating to you:

    Newbies and budget conscious riders, don't ride a full suspension bike
    Something about great minds? I wish I had the budget for a FS, but at the same time, I know I gotta cut my teeth again with a hardtail, get my control and precision dialed in, technique solid, etc.

    On the plus side, my wife wants her own mountain bike so she can join me on the trails, so hopefully that means in 3 years she will approve of a large enough budget. Helps she has expensive tastes, too, she keeps gravitating towards the team edition models now that she knows what to look for (surprised me and was throwing out "this one has a XC32, and it does have SRAM X5 and X7, etc without reading the price tag to find that out).

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