Originally Posted by windinherhair
... What are your opinions on the Raleigh bikes. ....
My opinion is that brand-names don't matter anymore, and you have to choose a bike that's got the features you want and basically ignore the brand-name on it. The only thing that's consistent nowadays is that the bikes that department-stores sell tend to be lower-priced, but also lower-quality than the bikes that bike shops sell.
When a department store requests bicycle models from a manufacturer, the department store chain states the price points they want and the manufacturer has to meet them, even if it means using cheaper components than what the same bicycle company would put on their cheapest bikes they sell in bike shops. The department-store bikes tend to cost less than the lowest-priced bikes (from that same manufacturer) that bike shops have--and this is the reason.
It's out of your price range, but you could also consider recumbent bikes.
They have their drawbacks, but comfort and long-range cruising is where they excel.
The difference in comfort of a recumbent compared to an upright bike is simply enormous; you won't need padded shorts and there's no hand pressure or neck strain. It's easy to sit on one and pedal for 3-4-5 hours non-stop at a casual 10-12 mph.
The cheaper-priced ones start at around $600 (Sun EZ-1
and Cycle Genius Starling
I have a Cycle Genius Falcon
that works very well; going 50 miles is no big deal, and I'm not hardly in the best of shape.