Background: I recently dug my 10 year-old GT Outpost (rigid fork, entry-level acera-x shimano components, grip shift) out of the garage. I haven't ridden in about 4 years. I considered upgrading, but have more or less decided just to buy something new. It'll mostly be ridden on paved trails to start, but I'd like to be prepared to do something more later.
There are several shops in my area, so I have access to quite a few brands. One shop sells Specialized, Trek, and Cannondale. The second shop sells mostly Gary Fisher. Another sells Marin, but mostly stocks just Kona. I visited another Giant retailer and got ignored, so I don't think I'll go back there. Most of the bikes I looked at were $500-800. I realize that most of those will work for me.
I've ridden a Kona Blast, a Specialized Rockhopper, and a Trek 6700. The Trek model I was actually comparing was a 4900, but they didn't have one my size in, I was just testing out the 6700. I've looked at the GF models, but not ridden any of them yet. I liked the Kona and the RH. The Kona did have a lower level of components. The guy at the shop seemed to like the Marzocchi MZ-3 shock. I'm mostly looking for feedback just because its hard to get a feel for the bikes on the pavement near the bike shop. I got to look at Rockhopper Comp that another customer ordered, but not ride. Would I appreciate the jump to the RH Comp Disc to jump to the Tora and the Avid Discs, over the regular RH?
The Specialized/Trek/Cannondale shop was also pushing the Cannondale, but I don't see them talked about much on here. Any particular reason? People not like the Headshok? I was a little leery because it just seems less upgradeable and more of a hassle, so I didn't bother riding one.