I'm an avid roadie, logging 7K miles this past year but I'm looking to get into Mountain biking, trail riding, fire roads, rural dirt roads etc.. Unfortunately I'm on a budget and I need to spend no more than $500 and I'd like the bike to be a 29er. I've been looking on Craigs List and came close a few times but the bikes were one size too big.
As far as new, entry level bikes, I've come up with these.
Performance has the GT Karakoram 3.0.-- 8 speed, non disc brakes. Seems like a nice bike but no disc brakes, I'm not sure I need those anyway, but, as far as I can tell the frame and wheels have the mounting holes so I could always add some later. $399+tax=$435 out the door.
BikesDirect has the Fantom Trail 29 for $499 shipped
9 speed, slightly better components and low level disc brakes. I don't mind buying from them, I've done it before, and I do my own wrenching so that's not an issue. My concern with this bike would be the frame quality and some of the "smaller" components such as the hubs,BB, crank set.
At first glance it would seem the BD Fantom 29 would be the better option for me, but as I said before, my main concern is quality of the frame. But then again maybe at this price point the frames are equal?