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Join Date: Oct 2004
Bikes: '02 C'dale Jekyll 700, '04 C'dale R1000 Double
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Getting an idea of what type of riding you would like to do will help you steer you in the direction of a bike. As for your budget, you have plenty of good options, but don't forget all the little add-ons (pedals, shoes, etc.) since they will add up.
If you at a few of the other threads currently being discussed, the FS vs. HT discussion is going strong. If this is your first MTB (as it sounds it would be) I would say go HT. You will develop better skills, get more bike for the money, and have fewer parts to worry about maintaining.
As for the C-dale Prophet, personally I would look around a little more since the Lefty(the front fork/strut) is propratary as well as the hub it requires. This limits options for parts and makes repairs more expensive. Don't take this as C-dale bashing (I own 2) they make a nice bike just offering some fore warning.