"I'd love to see something that quantitatively compares what you get now for what you got years ago, taking into account things like inflation and commodities (even if rough)."

I've bought two bikes in the last 25 years. I paid $1,200 for both:

- A 1993 Mongoose IBOC Comp... rigid steel with Deore LX components. I still ride it as my wet weather commuter, it's probably given me the best ROI of anything I've spent money on in my entire life.

- A 2015 Norco Fluid 7.3... aluminum with low spec components and the most entry level RockShox fork and shock. A John Henry Days clearance special.

According to an online inflation calculator I found, $1,200 in 93 was roughly $1,700 in 2016 when I bought the Norco. I put new tires, pedals, and a Hilo dropper on the Norco, bringing it up to maybe $1,600, so I'm still $100 ahead for a far, far, better bike. However, I've spent more on maintenance of the Norco in the last two years than in 25 years for the Mongoose!

As for the Shore being hard to learn on... I started riding/pushing across Bridle Path, moved up to the easier XC trails, then the blue descents, and now I can ride most blacks.  Lost some blood and picked up a few scars along the way, but it's all been good!