Thanks all. That XCT555 is exactly the frame I was considering.
EnglishT, have no fear that I'm buying based on Spesh ad hype. It's ALL hype for practical purposes.
I worked in the industry for Cannondale for nearly 7 years and know the utter crap that flows from marketing departments and myopic engineers alike. Likewise, I have been a student of mtn bike suspension designs for many, many more years. That is to say since the late 80s when the landscape was largely barren. I know something about it and feel I understand it pretty well.
That said.....I *still* ride a single pivot C'dale. From the first Super Vs to the DH4000 to a Super V active to the Raven 1 and 2 to the Jekyll I'm still on.
Bottom line, I'm no longer married to Cannondale and their single pivot designs. There are alot of strengths to the single pivots and a few well established shortcomings. I'd like to try something else. DW links/VPP are too much $ although certainly fascinating. "Faux bar" strikes me as being a single pivot, which is something I want to get away from. THat leaves me with the real deal FSR/Horst and if I'm going to buy a Taiwanese bike that's high on value, Spesh ain't it. It looks to me that KHS is it.
I didnt say that the design was all hype (far from it) - both pivot locations have their pro's and con's (though for the most part you're correct that chainstay pivots are a bit better IF DESIGNED WELL).
The terminology on the other hand actually is
all about hype. The terms "true four bar" and "faux-bar" are inventions of specialized, designed to big-up the former and put-down the latter (passing it off as a cheap immitation, which it can be but isnt neccessarily - as anyone that rode a seatstay pivot turner will tell you).
Wanting a chainstay pivot is fine (whether you have experience riding both CS-pivots and SS-pivots or not), but I just have an automatic dislike of those phoney terms, it just shows how easy it is to be speccy-brain-washed (pun intended).
Anyway - if you're wanting to stick to CS pivots, thats fine.
In some ways, you'll probably get better deals (ie: better quality for not so much more) if you look at importing something that isnt sold in the US (because if its not sold in the US, the manufacturers wont be paying spec to license the pivot location).
Here are some ideas (some cheapish, some not quite so):
KHS - as you mentioned, they're cheap but pretty solid. MBR has reviewed a few of them IIRC, if desperate I can try to scan/photo the pages and send you.
RAM - cheap (bulgarian), but you'd probably have to import - these are nice, dirtcheap and great value.
Devinci - not overly cheap (you'd probably be looking at $1k+ for a remix, which is the one you'd want based on your travel req's), but should be less than spec/etc, not sure how easily you get them in the US though.
Then again, you could always go secondhand and go for something higher-end, ie: norco/spec/ellsworth/etc