This is probably a common question, but I have a 2011 Cannondale Trail SL2 that I bought brand new for about $1,000. I ride mostly single track, and as I’m not the most skilled rider I really beat on my bike. Things are now starting to go on it- I just dropped $150 on a new rear wheel that was bent, and I’ve noticed some oil leaking from my fork. 3 kids and a mortgage after my last bike purchase means I have a lower budget than last time, so do I keep fixing this or look at something like a Cannondale Trail 7? I know bike tech has changed a lot, so does a new $500 bike out perform a $1,000 from 10 years ago? I’m getting a time up in a couple weeks which will be another $100 into the bike, but I count that in my annual bike budget. Any thoughts are welcome.
The geometry of bikes have evolved a lot from that time, but some of the lower end bikes of today still have that old geometry in some cases, using the old fixtures and tools. So it would depend on the bike. The fork might be the deal breaker if you can’t get new seals and if you don’t know how to fix it yourself it will cost some money to get serviced. You can buy cheap fork and though they are not awesome they are better than nothing. Used bikes are another option.
Often on forums questions like these are met with various responses of “you need to spend more”. I have been where you are, trying to get by feeling like you barely have two nickels to rub together. It is a struggle, to be sure. My kids are grown now and my mortgage is paid off. You will get through it. Resist the temptation to spend more than you should (not just with Bikes). It is OK to be out on the trail on whatever you can afford. Make the best of what you have and enjoy the woods. New bikes are awesome, but being out there is what you really need. Make the responsible decisions now and you will have the means to have awesome stuff later.
I would also go used with $500 to spend. If you are close to a city where mountain biking is popular, and you are patient, you should be able to pick up a pretty nice bike in that price range. I just bought my son a very nice Pivot Mach 5.7 for $500 on Craigslist.