Please help -- Can't make up my mind on which bike
I am a soon-to-be 40 year old woman with three kids who hasn't been on a bike in about 25 years. I want to purchase a bike for my birthday that "begs" me to ride it, that I will love to ride and actually will ride. I am short (5'2") and live in a rolling hilly area (nothing too big, but not completely flat by any means). I will also be pulling a trailer with a 28 pound (and growing!) toddler behind me, at least some of the time.
I have ridden everything my LBS's have to offer in my price range (this includes the Electra Townie, Giant Suede, Sedona and Cypress, Specialized Carmel, Trek Navigator and 7000, Raleigh Detour and Venture) and criteria and have it narrowed down to three, not quite "perfect" choices:
1. Trek 7000. This seems like a nice bike and comes in a 14" size, so the 700 tires aren't too much for me. I felt pretty good on it, had good control, but it wasn't the most comfortable ride. I kept standing up to readjust my "seat". I know saddles take getting used to, and maybe the slightly narrower (by comfort/hybrid standards!) smooth saddle will be best eventually, or it could be changed later. As a bonus it is a really nice black color with tan seat and handles that would look really sweet with a wicker basket. . It is their lowest end bike of the series, doesn't have front suspension (which I don't care about anyway), but does have 21 speeds and an aluminum frame at a very decent mid-300's price range.
2. Raleigh Detour 4.5. I like the Raleighs. I feel most comfortable and confident on them, at least as far as the short test rides I have done. This one is really nice, near the top end of that line, with the lever gears, nicer components, beautiful color (soft green). But this bike only comes in 16" or 19" and has the 700 tires so it is a bigger bike for me. I was okay on it, but it did feel a little on the big side. Something I could get used to? Maybe. Also, when I tried to shift the three gears on the left hand the chain came off -- something that also happened with the Nav 3.0, which also had the lever shifters. Both LBS's assured me they weren't "tuned right," but would this be a common occurrence?
3. Raleigh Venture. This was by far my favorite "ride." The seat and bike are so super comfortable. It also has 26-inch wheels, so is very stable and lower feeling for me, and it comes in my size. But this one has 7 gears, which I don't know would be enough for my needs on those hills, especially pulling a trailer. It is also the lowest end model Raleigh has in the comfort/hybrid series and is steel frame, lower end components, etc. They DO make a 4.0 that has 21 speeds and is aluminum framed, but my lbs doesn't stock that one and would have to order it for me. The lbs employee helping me really encouraged me away from this, though, even if I went to the 4.0. He really felt the Detour was by far a nicer bike and I would end up paying the same price for the higher end Venture model as for the Detour.
Any thoughts? I think any of them would work, I am just "stuck" and can't seem to make a choice. any input would be appreciated.
I don't know about the Raleigh bikes but I own a Trek 7000 and love it. I have seven bikes and enjoy the Trek the most. The ride is smooth and pleasant. I have ridden in all terrains and can't complain. I have taken it on two short bike tours without problems. At one point I rode it more than I drove my car. Since I own a male bike, I can't comment on the female. I didn't like the colors being offered at the time.
I have no experience with any of the bikes you mentioned, but keep in mind, very few stock saddles are going to be comfortable and worth keeping. Plan on replacing it on any bike you buy.
I got an Electra Townie and am very happy with. The seat at first was horrible but after about 30 miles it doesn't bother me at all. I was ready to get a new one after the first ride which I cut short due to seat pain but not anymore. Good luck with whatever bike you get.
A small update. I have ruled out the Detour. I went back today and it really is a bit big frame-wise for my size. Given that I am just (re)starting out, I don't want to feel intimitated such that I wouldn't ride it. Rerode the Trek today and still like it. I also added a contender, which I haven't test rode yet. I am waiting for them to build one in my size -- The Specialized Globe Carmel 1 26-in. In print it sounds great -- aluminum frame, 21 speeds, small frame size and geometry that will allow me to at least put the balls of my feet down for confidence (without being "crank forward" which I don't think I want at this time). I rode one before but I realized it was the 700 wheels and I am going to try the 26 to see if it fits better. We'll see how it goes....
I think it's pretty important that you not be intimidated by your first bike. Also, of course, it MUST fit or you WON"T want to ride it.
Expect that if you're riding regularly, eventually the first bike will have things you love and things you don't like so much, and that stuff will steer you onwards to your next bike. Your fitness level and riding habits will evolve to the point where you'll be ready for a different ride and that's perfectly normal!
Get the one that rides the best. That's the hardest thing to find, and it's harder to add on later as well. Component quality these days on commuter/hybrid type bikes is essentially a non-issue; everything made by Shimano and Sram is serviceable and it's mainly a matter of weight. As for your worries about 7-speed gearing, that can probably be upgraded in the future if there's an issue.