First time posting. I am a long time snowboarder and I used to mountain bike but due to other hobbies getting in the way, I sold my bike to buy another snowboard. Anyway, this is years later and I am now married with a three year old in the family. Aside from weight training and running, I want to get back into biking for fun, recreation and exercise. I do not like the pounding running provides for the knees so biking will be a great alternative. I also want to bike for fun, to take my daughter and also to ride some wooded trails. I guess my riding would consist of paved roads, hard pack trails, boardwalk and the occassional dirt trail in the woods. I am not sure how much I'll get back into my mountain biking so I was thinking a hybrid. I do not want to spend too much but was thinking a Raleigh Passage 5.0 may be a good choice?
I am 6'3", 215 lbs with long legs.
The passage 5.0 has a very upright seating position that is fine for casual sight-seeing riding, but not great for athletic riding - it is not very aerodynamic and you can't apply the same power through your legs if your torso is upright, as you can if you are leaning more forward.
If it was me I would get a mountain bike, but outfit it with narrower, slick tires, so it wouldn't be too slow on the road. Some people will likely recommend a cyclocross bike because they have the aerodynamic road-bike setup, but are sturdy enough to ride off-road.
Cyclocross is a like a beefed up road bike. The history of them is that European racers used to take their beater road bikes and race them in mixed road/off-road conditions in the off-season. It was a way to ride and stay in shape. Cyclocross has evolved into its own niche with specialized bikes. Frames are heavier and more durable than road but keep their road bike heritage in terms of geometries. Think of them as light fast mountain bikes.
First, there is nothing inherently wrong with a hybrid. They serve many useful purposes. There are a couple of significant differences between hybrids and cyclocross bikes:
1. The handlebars (the most obvious difference). Hybrid bikes have flat handlebars, like a mountain bike. Cyclocross bikes have drop handlebars. This means that your primary riding position on a hybrid will have your hands grabbing a horizontal bar, with your elbows poking out to some extent. On a cyclocross bike you will generally ride on the brake hoods (much like bar ends on a mountain bike) or on the drops. In either of these positions your hands will be vertical and your elbows will generally point down, keeping things a little more streamlined. Cross bikes also have narrower handlebars, so they are less likely to catch on something.
2. The geometry (in general). Cyclocross bikes generally have slightly more aggresive geometry than hybrid bikes. This means that they are a little less stable and more responsive. This is mainly a matter of personal preference.
3. The price (almost always). Components for drop handlebars are more expensive than for flat bars. As a result, cyclocross bikes almost always cost more than hybrids. For some people it is worth it. For others it isn't.
One of the lowest cost cyclocross bikes on the market is the Bianchi Volpe http://bianchiusa.com/06_volpe.html. This has gearing somewhere between a mountain bike and a road bike, so you can take it pretty close to anywhere. It also has mounting points for racks and fenders if you ever choose to add those. I recently picked one of these up and have taken it on a fair number of rides (on road only). It works quite well to tow a trailer with my 9-month old son. I do have to remember to slow down on corners, though.
My suggestion is to pick a few bikes that look good to you and then find somewhere you can test ride them. The best bike for you is not necessarily the best bike for anyone else.
Good luck with your decision and God bless!
Another option is to look for a hybrid bike designed more for speed and performance than the Passage 5. One "quick and dirty" test I like to use in window shopping (this is totally idiosyncratic and not scientific) is to look at the picture of the bike on the manufacturer's website. If the handlebars are much higher than the seat, its probably intended to be a slower, leisurely bike. If the handlbars are the same height as the seat, it's probably intended for more aggressive riding.