Some of you may know me from around the forums. I have been back riding road bikes for several years now, and am now considering getting a MTB to ride. We will be living very near a nice trail area that has a mix of difficulty from beginner (practically paved) to more advanced and technical areas. I am a below knee amputee, as some of you may already know, and am not interested in riding really gnarly trails with high difficulty.
Most of what I am considering would likely be good for a cross bike, but I want to get an entry level MTB to use both for riding on trails/off road, and also to use as a utility bike for pulling a trailer and going to the grocery store and whatnot. Where I will be living is very close to town and I will have the opportunity to go car free for much of my daily living.
I have been looking at Felt and Specialized bikes. The Felt is a Q520, and the Specialized are two different offerings of the Hardrock. The Felt is a 26" and both of the Specialized are 29'ers. Otherwise, they are pretty much the same bikes in a lot of ways. The brakes are Tektro disk on all, two of the three have a lockout on the front fork. The Felt has the Shimano Alivio group, and the Hardrocks have SRAM x3 and x4.
Price isn't really an issue on any of them. I like the ride, look, and feel of the Felt. I prefer the Shimano shifting over the SRAM. The only real "downside" of the Felt are the 26" wheels. I don't ever expect to be riding on anything that it would make a significant difference for me. The only thing I can think of being a problem is if I decided to sell the bike later, as 29'ers are all the rage right now. The Felt is cheaper than the others as it is the last 26" wheel bike the shop has and will not order more short of a special request.
I know that the Hardrock and Rockhopper have had a really good reputation over the years. I own a Felt road bike a love it, but I cannot compare apples to oranges. I would love to hear what people with more experience in the sport and with these bikes have to say about them, so....fire away.
Edit-I am noticing the main operational difference between the two I am looking at is that one has 26" wheels and 8sp, the other is a 29 w/ 7sp rear cogs. Are the bigger wheels worth the extra gear?