I've been looking at the Trek 4300 and the Specialized Hardrock Sport, as many have suggested in this forum (a newbie who knows what the search function is!), and I like both bikes. I love the frame on the Specialized, looks-wise, but that's lower on my list of reasons to buy a bike, in my book. Both bikes feel very similar to me when riding them, which I've done several times. The Specialized seems to have a little more aggressive posture to it, but I think that might be because it's 1" bigger, and therefore I have to lean 1" out farther. It's really a small difference, though.
Anyway, the one thing I seemed to notice was that the 4300 shifted a bit more smoothly than the Hardrock. This would make sense, right, since the 4300 has Alivio rear derailleur and the Hardrock has the Acera rear derailleur? According to what I've read on this site, the Alivio is slightly higher quality than the Acera, so I'm wondering if this is what I'm experiencing, or if this difference should be barely noticeable, and perhaps due to tuning? Finally, if the smooth shifting is what's keeping me from getting the Hardrock, would dropping another $10 on an Alivio rear derailleur on ebay make these bikes shift identically? Would dropping ~$20 on a Deore rear derailleur be even better? Shifting smoothness is a high priority for me, and I'm coming off of my old-ass Diamond Back with Deore LX shifters and derailleurs. Those are too beat up now to transfer over, but I did get used to pretty smooth shifts. Is there more to rear shifting smoothness than the rear derailleur?
Also, I read on this forum that the crankset on the Hardrock is superior to the 4300. What does that mean to me? It's less likely to break? Do you notice a difference in ride quality?
Thanks for your help, I hope to pick a bike by tomorrow! How exciting!