Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: Northern Nevada
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I'd take my Atlantis, with the lowest gears I could stick onto it. In your price range, though, I'd suggest looking for a used touring bike, something with triple chainrings and room for large tires (700x32 or 35, anyway). It has to fit, of course, and you don't want to dawdle in finding one--you need to be on the bike and riding as soon as you can (well, maybe you don't if you're 24, but I'd certainly need months to prepare for it). Putting miles on it now is also a good way to figure out how you like it set up, and it gives pieces a chance to break in, or just break, if they're going to.
Alternatively, there ARE some usable new bikes in that range. Someplace like REI would be a good place to start. My wife's K2 would make the trip, and I think she paid $450 for it on sale there. A mountain bike with road tires also wouldn't be a bad choice if you can get comfortable on it. I did my first three centuries on an old Mongoose, because that was the bike I had and I couldn't afford another. You may be a little slower, but what's 1mph on a 3000-mile trip?
There's been a lot written about touring, long distance cycling generally, and how to train for long rides. Check out as much as you can, because you're going to discover things about mile 80 of the fourth day that you don't even suspect now.