I have a few questions about mountain bikes/biking- I want to get more serious in terms of riding skill and training, and fitness so I can ride in the mountains while traveling/during winter and bad weather, and over randomly varying terrain.
First, what are some general riding tips for medium to difficult trails?
Second, what is your opinion on steel vs. aluminum? I won't be jumping all over the place, but the bike needs to handle some light jumps, hits and bangs, and a few accidental falls without flinching.
Third, what about gears and gearing? How many ratios (note, ratios not just gears- I know the irrelevency of "15" or "24" speeds in terms of real-world riding) are needed for a decent road gear, a mid-level trail gear, a rockclimbing gear, etc.
Forth, 26 or 29er? No haters please- 29ers are very appealing to me, I like the way they ride better- but they are very expensive and hard to find used (outside of outrageous prices).
Fifth- and again no haters please- I saw a bike at Mallwart the other day that actually looked decent. It had F&R discs, a 7-speed Shimano cassette and derailer, and a 24-38-46 chainring in front. It came with bar-ends, front preload-adjustable shocks, and a rear air suspension unit. On sale at $149. What could be done to make it a bit better for cheap (tires, grips, seat, suggestions on lights and tool bags). Again, please don't just say "buy a better bike" I know the quality being dealt with here, ridden it before and I'll do it again.