I'm going to apologetically crosslink here.. after all, a major issue i've got is specifically one that touring bikers would know about.
My fiancee and daughter are going to be getting bikes. The main pondering is here. The issue that worries me most is that the fiancee (5'2", 28" inseam, Athena) wants to do touring on the bike as the main goal I hear stated, and she is interested in a Redline R510 stepthrough comfort bike... which does not strike me as something that is well suited to long touring trips. I don't exactly know how to put that apprehension into words that can be understood by someone who's previous biking experience was commuting on $80 Walmart specials.
I ride a recumbent so i'm fine; the daughter is young and thus indestructible and her preferred cross bike seems like it would do fine on a long trip, but I don't want to sink my budget into a bike that won't do what my girl wants to do with it. Any advice that I can pass on?
Ease into this touring thing. I'm not sure what an Athena is, but the choice of a stepthrough comfort bike for touring seems very inappropriate. But then, there are lots of kinds of touring. How far are the three of you used to riding at a time? How many days in a row have you gone on typical rides? My average ride is 30 miles, unloaded, and I'm usually lucky to squeeze in one ride a week - often, due to circumstances, I go several weeks without riding at all. Yet, on tour I typically average about 50 miles a day, once I'm warmed up, and that's carrying a 40-lb. load. And lots of tourers have much higher daily averages. And I usually average at least seven 50-mile days in a row before I take a day off.
However, there are tourers who don't carry any load - who have a support vehicle following along with cold refreshments, lounge chairs, snacks, and sandwiches at every stop. That also seems like a very pleasant way to tour.
I suggest that, while you might try to steer your fiance and daughter into bike choices that seem sensible to you, ultimately you should let them decide, and let them live with the consequences. Then start with a mode of touring that fits the people and the bikes - even if that's going to a motel and taking 10-mile, every-other-day, scenic rides in the area.
Once you all have some experience, you'll know what you like, and have a better idea of what kind of bikes it will take to pleasantly do that.
Outfitting yourself for fully-loaded touring isn't cheap initially (though the equipment should last many years.) I wouldn't put out all that expense if I didn't know I was going to stick with it, but I also wouldn't want to continue to ride an inappropriate bike if I knew self-supported touring was going to be part of my lifestyle.
If they go with the bikes they want or have now and later decide they want to try more serious touring and get more serious touring bikes, great. If not, it will be their choice, and you won't come off as the pushy guy who talked them into bikes they didn't like.
I gather they aren't doing too much cycling currently, and that touring is a medium-term goal; is this right?
The bike she is interested in would make longer rides harder and less comfortable - the riding position is sitting straight up, and I can't see any arrangements for carrying anything on the frame (no eyelets for racks, as far as I can see). The redline 510 looks to be a pretty low-end bike - the components aren't very good - if she decides on a redline, go for the 520 instead.
Re stepthrough frame - it will be weaker. If she is comfortable getting on and off a diamond-frame bike, that might be preferable. Thorn (UK) and Rivendell (USA) make mixte-frame touring bikes but they are quite expensive.
The Kona Smoke is an affordable and OK-quality (not great but fine to start with) bike that would be suitable for touring. There are a bunch of hybrids that would do well.
The other thing to consider would be for the two of you to try a tandem (Hire one a few times, see if you like it). It isn't for everyone, and requires a commitment to teamwork, but if the three of you want to tour this might be the best way for your fiancée to enjoy the trip.
I'm 5'2" and 28" inseam, although I'm not an Athena. There aren't very many diamond-frame bikes that I can stand over.
The strongest design of step-through frame is a mixte -- look for a bike with a third pair of stays, between the seat stays and the chain stays. Lots of used ones around if you can get one with some low gears and a reasonable reach to the handlebars.
I'm presently retrofitting my '87 Peugeot mixte as a touring bike. It has a nice long wheelbase, long chainstays, but I had to replace the crankset to get suitable gears for touring.