I have narrowed my search down after getting to ride several models. I have tried the Trek navigator, Specialized Globe, Giant Sedona and Suede, Electra Townie and Raleigh Venture (7 gears).
So what I came up with is it comes down to a $500 Townie (21 gears because I feel with that geometry I might need more gearing, especially since I will be pulling a trailer) or a $300 Raleigh Venture (which has 7 gears).
I rode the Venture expecting to "rule it out" since it is the bottom line choice price-wise. I ended up really liking how it felt. I was very comfortable on it and there was even a small hill to try at the shop. I was able to get up it with no problems in 4th gear.
The Townie I also liked, but it didn't feel quite as "comfortable" to ride, at least in the limited time I had with both. It felt solid and like a quality bike and was the best of all the rest I tried.
I do plan on going back and trying the Raleigh again, to see if my original impression holds. That was the bike I wanted to keep on going and had the most "fun."
BUT, I guess I am concerned about the quality of it. I have read some reviews that these bikes don't last that long with regular use and that they have "cheapened up" in recent years. I don't plan to be a hard rider but I do want it to last. Also, I could ask to try the Venture 3.0 or 4.0 for more gears, but with this bike, is that wise, with more components to break or go wrong?
I keep reading that you should go with the bike you don't want to get off of, and the Raleigh fit that description. The Townies get great reviews and people seem to love them. I definitely think I could like it a lot and it would work for my needs, but it is also at the top of my price point. So do I go with the higher quality, more expensive bike that was my second choice for comfort/riding fun, or the lower end, less expensive bike that I liked the best but worry about longevity/overall quality?
Out of all the "comfort" bikes you listed, the Townie, with it's "crank forward" geometry, is the best in my book. As far as comfort bikes go, "crank forward" is an incredibly brilliant design. It goes a long way to correcting that leverage you lose by being upright instead of bent forward. Most other bikes in the comfort category suffer from a unicycle effect, sitting straight up over the pedals spinning fast without being able to dig in for power.
It's kind of shocking that you didn't find the Townie comfortable to ride. I find it a joy. I love the seat. I really love the high handle bars, my hands and wrists used to get numb after awhile bending forward putting my weight on them. I also love the fact that you can stand up in the crank while holding on the handle bars and glide. I haven't been able to do that since about 1972 when I had a Schwinn Stingray.
Don't worry about what others think. Most bikes in this range are about the same quality. What feels most comfortable and fun to you is what counts. Every body is a little bit different, hence different bikes for different bodies. Go with what appeals to YOU. Having a bike that feels like fun and makes you want to ride is most important.
I actually went and test rode yet more after this post. I think I have ruled out the Townie. I don't know if it is my size, but the steering on the Townie just feels too out of control for me. I Like the flat foot thing, but the turns are just too wobbly and it feels big and ungainly. Just personal choice, I guess.
I did figure out I can ride the 700 tires okay, despite my shortness. So I am now deciding between the Raleigh Venture (26 tires), the Raleigh Detour (700 tires, but bigger frame, 16" is smallest) and the Trek 7000 WSD (700 tires, but 14 inch frame).
My wife test rode the Townie and a couple other brands. After a few adjustment on the Townie by the bike shop mechanic, she fell in love with it. There was no way she was going to leave the bike shop without that bike; her mind was made up. We got home, I took it off the bike rack and as soon as the tires touched the ground, she was off riding with a big priceless smile on her face. Man, does she love that Townie. A great bike.