These days I ride a dual-suspension bike almost exclusively (a Marin), but I still think theres a lot to be said for a hardtail. Theyre lighter, mechanically more reliable, and, in the lower price ranges, more efficient than dualies. I was pleased to read in Bicycling magazine the other day that one of the big bike companies had recently come out with a really high-end hard-tail. Of course, it was something like $4,000.
The Marin Palisades Trail and Juniper Trail (marinbikes.com) are both more affordable trail-runners. The Palisades Trail, for instance, uses a hydroformed aluminum for its newly designed stiff, light frame. Hayes hydraulic disc brakes front and back offer good stop; reliable Shimano Deore and LX running gear, along with a TruVativ crank, handle the go. It has a nice front fork, tooa Marzocchi MZ. One problem: The list price is $960. While thats a lot of bike for the money, its outside your stated budget (also, keep in mind the Juniper Trail is identical, but designed for women). Marins Bobcat Trail ($600) offers slightly lesser components and frame, but it still gives you the light weight of aluminum and a quality bike.
Several other brands offer excellent value, as well. Giant Bicycles (giant-bicycles.com), for instance, has economies of scale as the worlds biggest bike maker. Its Yukon is an excellent little hardtail for $550. It sports an aluminum frame, mostly Shimano gear, RockShox fork, and Hayes disc brakes. And REIs house-brand bikes (rei.com), which carry the Novara label, are a lot of bike for the buck. The Bonanza, for instance, offers a frame thats on par with the Marin Palisades Trail, plus a mix of gear similar to the Giant. Its basically a $750 bike that sells for $560 and is well worth a look.
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