I've only been an mtb'er about 3 months -- so take what I say with that in mind.
I got a great deal on a hardtail - $250 for a new 1999 Giant Yukon which had been sitting around in a friend's bike shop for 6 years and he just wanted to get rid of it.
A month later I got another great deal from same friend. He had his own 1998 Gary Fisher Level Betty L0 which he only rode several times - I got this dualie for $300.
Now here I am 3 months later after riding both of these bikes quite a bit on trails, reading mtb books, participating in this forum, reading Mountain Bike Magazine online, experimenting with equipment (tires / tire pressures / bars / seat height / pedals), experimenting with techniques for climbing, downhills, mud, logs, and, oh yes, screwing up a lot.
There's lots of good advice in these resources, but you need to get out there and try stuff and develop skills. Hey, a $6,000 mtb would be a waste on me now.
What I'm learning is not just skills, but also what kinds of mountain biking I prefer. So when I get a better handle on my preferences and better skills in a year or so, then maybe I can get a bike that is "better" for me. But for now, my $250 and $300 deals surpass my $200 skills.
Transition Dirtbag, Kona Roast 2002 and specialized BMX
I am not entirely sure what the point is. But I think you are saying you need to learn to drive before you should get a vette....and I agree, you will know what you want and how you ride which in the long run will help you pick "your" perfect bike.
that is why I try to recomend lower end bikes to people. everyone tends to want to buy 'the best' because that is kind of what society says we should do. but with something as personal as a bike, 'the best' is different for everyone. you can't know what works for you until you know how to ride and understand a little about bikes....