Advice on New MTB
I mainly do road biking, but I'm thinking of getting a new mountain bike so I can bike regularly with some friends. They trail ride and I'd like to join them.
I have an old Trek 820 (I think it's a 1999 aluminum model) which I used with a hybrid set-up (i.e., with slick tires). It's still a nice set-up, with an added front shock and upgraded components. The problem is that the crankset is really too small for harder trails, so it would need to be replaced. Also, I have a lower back problem and think I would benefit from having full suspension. I'm reluctant to give up my Trek because it fits me so well (I'm a 5'3" woman), but I think it is probably time.
So does anyone have advice as to what would be a good mountain bike for occasional use? I realize that full suspension MTBs are a lot more expensive, but I don't mind spending for the right bike (it's worth the money if it prevents further back injury). However, if people are aware of less-expensive hardtails that might be more comfortable (or can be modified to reduce stress on the back), I'm all ears. Right now, I would budget about $1,500 for the bike.
I should add that I have a pretty good relationship with my LBS, which is a Specialized dealer. I was thinking of the FSRxc, possibly the Comp if I can get a good price. (One of the benefits of buying the bike there is that I will get free lifetime service. I routiney take advantage of that with my road bike.)