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Howdy PA cycling crew. You guys indirectly talked me into giving cycling another chance after a 12 year break, and now I ride 20-25km a day on a road bike. Thanks!
Trouble is, the roads in my city are rough. No, beyond rough - going off established bike trails here is akin to taking to the streets of Ajdabiya after a particularly vigorous shelling. I also have a girlfriend who is rather fond of mountain biking. As such, and being a man in possession of no fortune, I must be in want of a good deal on a mountain bike. This 'good deal' clause leads me to eschew new bicycles in favour of the used ones in the classifieds.
I am no stranger to buying used things. I deal in used camera gear year round as a source of new gear and as a hobbyist business venture. What I need is a guide to picking the best used mountain bike I can for sub $200. Yes, this isn't much. This is a tentative "try mountain bikes on the city streets instead of my road bike and maybe tool around at some provincial parks on weekends" bike, not the last mountain bike I'll ever buy.
I know the basics, what with checking the chain length and the breaks and ensuring the frame is in one piece. What I don't know are:
-Good brands - I really don't know anything. My LBSs sell mostly Norco, Giant and Trek. Are these brands universally decent or are some model lines big box bikes destined to fail quickly and spectacularly? What other, slightly older brands are still decent for the pitiful sum I have for this purchase?
-Ideal number of speeds - Does this matter at all? Anything over 10 seems excessive, but maybe I'm just too used to my mid-70s road bike.
-Suspension. What's best for rough road/mild offroad use and how does one check to see if suspensions have been worn out?
-Breaks. What's the best type of break for a mountain bike? I have cantilever ones at the moment and they are atrocious - is there such thing as a decent cantilever break? Or are all modern bikes side pull or disc? Upsides/downsides to disc vs side pull?
-Tires. What to look for in a good all-purpose, all-surface mountain bike tire. I'm really in the dark here, as I've only ever ridden on tiny road tires.
-Any other generic used mountain bike specific advice (or, hell, any used bike advice I've not solicited but should have).
Many hugs and kisses to anyone who helps me out, as well as to those who read but can't think of anything to say.