My budget is in the $1000-1500 range and want mid to upper range components (LX, XT or X7-9) as well as disk brakes. I'm thinking something in the 4-5" travel range would be good.
IMO $1500 is right at the bottom end of "entry level" for a decent FS bike. Others will dissagree with that, but it's my opinion, not theirs. I think it's going to be imposable to find a bike spec'd with the level of components you want for anything less than 1500. Even then you'll find that "LX level" bike only has an LX level crankset & R. derailuer, but probably is finished out with an acera F derailuer, Deore hubs & shifters, cheap headset, low end fork, no-name bars, etc.... Last time I went shopping I was amazed how much you had to spend to get a true
XT bike out the door - which is one of the reasons I now just buy framesets and roll over my components, upgrading whatever I thought was weak or extremely outdated by the standards when I built the frame (anyone need any 7-speed stuff?) but that's me, about you ~
... the Jamis Dakar XLT's were the best spec'd bikes vs $ on the market - that's the main reason they were the all the mag's "bike of the year". A darn
good bike with great parts vs the $. I don't know about the '06's - I'm not shopping, but 1500 should let you consider the "low end" XLT 1.0
Ironhorse bikes - people will sneer at your bike with the "Wallmart" name, but the higher end bikes are worth looking at. Tough frames, DW link rears, and ok spec vs $.
I'm tempted to mention GT as well, but the Co. had
frame durability issues, been bankrupt, sold, & sold again since '02. As far as I know the frame issues been long solved with the redesign, & again the company has a "Kmart" name recognition - which usually means a better bike, cheaper on the high end of the lineup.
IMO I think if you shop for "the name", like Specialized, Kona, Trek, Fisher, etc you're gonna get hose'd paying more for that name while trying to get the spec you want.