For the past few years, I've been using a Huffy road bike from the 80's and occasionally an old Walmart MTB. It recently got to the point where it's just not worth maintaining.
I have always been intrigued by mountain biking, and I have several friends who are really into it. I live in NE Ohio and what I can see myself doing is: continuing to ride daily on the road for exercise after work, but also venturing into some off-roading on some weekends to see what it is all about. I'm a beginner, so I plan on starting out on the beginner and intermediate trails around here, although I really do not know what to expect.
I am a recent college graduate and I am very tight on cash. I definitely need something to replace the old Huffy for this summer though.
I went to the nearby bike shop and the owner was very sweet and recommended the Trek 3500. I test rode it and it felt way better than any department store bike I'd had before. I told my mom about it, and bless her heart, she ran out and bought it for me as a graduation gift.
I was very thankful; however, I started looking into reviews and read that this bike may not be hardy enough for off-roading. It has single-wall rims, a freewheel design, Tourney derailleurs and a 63mm travel suspension fork. I called the shop and expressed my concerns, but they said this bike is a "great bike" and they don't think I will be disappointed because Trek has a great warranty. They said if I really want, they may be able to do an exchange for something else.
I want to know how important is it to have better derailleurs, more suspension travel etc for a beginner? I have heard several times that in this price range (around $400 and less) the Specialized Hardrock is superior in several ways. This particular shop didn't seem to have a good view of Specialized and said if I were to order one, it would be the 2012 model that is MSRP $470 and I might not get it right away. Upgrading to a higher level Trek still doesn't seem as good a deal.
Do you think I will be satisfied with the Trek 3500? Or should I add $100 to what my mom spent for a Specialized Hardrock or Trek 3700 or above? I don't think I am able to check out another brand that this store doesn't carry.
I feel a bit stuck, and have to make my decision in the next day or so because of the shop calling and asking me.... so let me know your opinions!