The LBS that impressed me the most (offers good deals on service to customers, etc) deals in Trek and Klein and originally pointed toward the Trek 820 based on my $300 college-student budget. I thought yeah cool and all at first, but started looking real hard at its shortcomings: Steel Frame, cheap wheels, bottom end shimano, RST fork and realized it would not do. That ( and reviews from mtbr.com) led me look at the Trek4300 and the 4500 aluminum. I would appreciate comments from anyone with experience on these rides.
Other, less impressive, shops in the area offer Specialized, Gary Fisher, and Raleigh. So I would also like to know about hardtails by them in the $300-$500 range.
Thanks for you help