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Here's my deal:
I've been road riding seriously for the last 4 years. So, my fitness is good and I have done some cyclocross (no racing). But, I've never owned a real Mt. Bike (decent frame and components) but, with graduation arriving for me ($). I'm thinking about adding a Mt. bike to my array of bikes. So, does anyone have any recommendations? Full Sus. or hardtail? It will be used mostly for Sugarbottom (Iowa) (all mountain?{I'm still not clear on all mt. / XC distinctions} type riding) and similar riding (my other bikes [road, cyclocross, commuter] can do the rest) I would like to spend $1000-1500. Less or more depending on value/deal. I'm not tied to a certain brand. Would like disk brakes. And, don't know why, but I like the idea of having a Sram drivetrain. Tips, pointers, ideas?

Someone with experience please help.
 

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The Jamis Dakar XC Comp comes in closer to the top of what you are looking to spend, but it is a damn good bike. I have the '04 and have ridden it in a 12 and 24 hour race and had no issues. My only gripe would be that it is not the lightest bike around (about 29 lbs stock). It has the disk brakes and the SRAM drivetrain you are looking for. The bike can easily handle general riding, but I wouldn't make a habbit of doing any jumps with it.
 

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I would take a good look at the Specialized FSR. They have a design that keeps the suspension fully active if you are pushing hard up hill of braking hard down. With many of the other designs the suspension firms under power and/or when braking. Just about all bikes in your price range will have disc brakes. Hydralic discs are better than cable and may not be availble on bikes in you range.. Also, don't get hung up sram. Shimano drivetrains work just as good or in some cases better. I would consider sram and shimano very much equal. Most important things to look at are the frame, fork and wheels.
 
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