A friend asked me for advice on buying a bicycle suited to dirt trails (up to novice singletrack as well as city trails). She would want to spend under $1500 (preferably under $800!). See also: online sources and buying a used road bike.
The best choice for this is probably a hard fork mountain bike with 2" tires. These, however, do not exist short of very high end gravel bikes that are way overkill for her. The next best options are
- Hard fork fat bike with 4" tires and a less aggressive tread. This works reasonably well for shorter road trips, avoids all the cost and complexity associated with a quality front shock, and will be comfortable on any kind of sand and dirt and most novice trails. Alloy frame.
- A "hard tail" (front but no rear suspension) mountain bike. Alloy frame.