A little bit about me, I'm a 33 yr Clydesdale rider, 275lbs. I enjoy going fast on the open road and riding trails. (I already have a Felt SR-81 so I'm covered for the "road" part). My old 26" Kona Fire Mountain is pretty worn, so I'm looking to upgrade to a 29er rather than fix up the Kona. I live in Louisiana, so there's not mountains per say, but the terrain varies considerably. Many of the trails here are like up, down, up, down, flat, up, down, up, down, flat, etc... Mostly dirt and tree roots, however arkansaws has real mountains and that's only a couple hundred miles north and it isn't inconceivable that I would take the bike on a vacation trip sometime and steeper terrain.
For me the hardtail bike strikes a good balance between price, speed, durability, and versatility on the trails and I've decided that the extra clearance afforded by 29" wheels is the way to go. I want to spend somewhere in the $700-$800 ballpark; sure there's better bikes out there but the "$1000 and up" category is outta my league atm.
Originally I was looking at the Specialized HardRock Sport disc 29
which seems like a perfect match, but I'm a bit put off by the fact it only has 80mm fork travel. My Kona had 100mm so this would seem like a downgrade. Another issue is being a Clydesdale, I would probably weigh down the shocks a little more than most so that extra headroom is necessary IMO.
This got me looking at these two bikes: $880 Specialized RockHopper 29 or $730 Jamis Durango 29 Comp...
The Rockhopper 29 and the Durango Comp both have 100mm shocks, the same 44-33-22 chainring and 9-speed 11-34 cassette ratios, hydraulic disc brakes (the Specialized sports a slightly larger 180mm front disc but does that really matter?), and the frames appear to have similar geometries.
I know Specialized is getting to be a really popular brand name, but all else being said, if the bikes are essentially the same, I could save about $150 by getting the Jamis, plus the couple that runs the Scooter Store (which sells Jamis) are really nice, or do I get the Specialized from the bigger LBS down the road?
I'm open to suggestions for other bikes but it's got to so be something I can source locally from an LBS, get fitted for a proper frame size, and test ride before I commit to buy.