Hi! I'm looking to get my son interested in mountain biking and myself back out on the trail. I have an old specialized rockhopper (22 years old) It's heavy and outdated, but unfortunately I don't have a lot of money to spend. I'm trying to decide between the cannondale trail 3 and 4. I am only 4'11, and pretty out of shape. I need help with climbing. I understand that the more expensive bike is a better, bike, but since money is an issue for me, I want to make sure that the difference in discernible and that the way it's better is in it's ability to help me climb. I'm not planning on going fast or tearing down single tracks, or doing jumps or features. I'm a chicken really and just want to be able to ride beginner to intermediate level trails without dying half way up. I do realize that the majority of that's on me and my fitness, but I think the bike can help a bit. So--- is the difference between the 3 and 4 significant in terms of climbing?
I'm presuming these bikes are built off the same base frame with just different components, so the biggest factor will be the largest rear gear cogs. More teeth in rear = easier climbing. The number should be listed on each bike's product page, and will usually be seen as the range (ex. 11-50T, where you're looking at the second number). This is also assuming the front ring has the same number of teeth between the two.
Another thing I'd consider looking at when comparing is if there's a difference of the front forks using coils (springs) or air for the suspension. If it's in your budget, go for an air one. Even if you're not doing jumps or drops, the air will take care of any rocky chatter better, since coils have a tendency to rebound quickly and buck you back after it soaks the initial hit.
An actual REI employee can probably jump in here and offer more specifics.
@julieb Thanks for reaching out!
You got some really good advice from @TomV in his response, so we'll focus a little bit more on the differences between the bikes you listed. Because you mentioned climbing hills as something you are concerned with, we'll talk about gearing ratios a little bit first. If you're interested in reading more, we recommend taking a look at the Expert Advice article How to Use Bike Gears.
As TomV mentioned, the more teeth you have in the back, the easier it is to pedal uphill. The Cannondale Trail Tango 3 has 9 gears in the back, with the largest having 36 teeth. The Cannondale Trail Tango 4 has 8 gears in the back, with the largest having 34 teeth. Effectively, what that means for you is that the Trail Tango 3 has an additional gear in the back that makes it easier to climb hills.
When you go up in a model of a bike, typically the components (everything on the bike that isn't the frame) are the driving factors of the price difference. Often times that difference can be weight, responsiveness, and speed. In these two bikes, the biggest difference is going to be the gear ratio and that additional, bigger gear, on the Trail 3. Both of these bikes have hydraulic lockouts for the front shock, which can be beneficial in climbing as it helps with efficiency. Both derailleurs (front and back) are the same on these bike models so shifting speed and function will be the same as well.
Hopefully this helps, please let us know if you have any other questions!