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My friend wants to get a bike to ride short distances (2-3km) but nothing too serious....are there any bikes from the LBS for < $250 or should I just tell her to go to a crappy department store?
 

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The Martian
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craigslist. With your help she can get a nice, used, entry to mid level hardtail off craigslist.

The other option is to try REI during a sale. Their entry level mountain bikes start at $350-400 but if she can tack on 20% off, a member discount, and a sale price it might get down into her range and be ok for light trail riding. She'll get a better bike if she has some patience with craigslist though.
 

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Take a look at the Gary Fisher Mako, for $290. It's a comfortably equipped bike that will handle well on pavement and light trails. For another $40 you can upgrade to the Tarpon and get a light-duty suspension fork for added comfort. Another option is the Giant Boulder for $275

The key here is proper fit. A department store will only carry one or two sizes, and if they're not her size, she's going to have an ill-fitting bike that is no fun to ride. Any bike shop will help you find the right fit within your budget.
 
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