Next spring/summer my wife and I want to do a weekend on the Katy Trail in Missouri (crushed limestone surface) probably starting in Columbia and spending a night or two in Rocheport, perhaps with visits to Easley and Boonville.
Background: My wife is getting a new bike and I ride a Specialized Allez - my everyday bike and not one I want to take on the trail. So, we are going to buy two bikes. We plan to tow our two children in a Burley trailer and either pack the gear on the other bike or tow another trailer. The bikes we buy will be dedicated path/rail-trail bikes and for going out with the kids around the neighborhood and county bike path system. Buying two bikes and one or two trailers mean our budget is somewhat limited. My LBS sells Specialized, a brand I'm familiar with and want to stick to. Sure, I would love to buy a Tricross with SRAM Apex groupset, but that's not going to happen.
1) Would you go with a fixed fork or a shock up front?
2) Among bikes with shocks up front, would you think there would be much difference between the Specialized Crosstrail and Rockhopper/Myka?
3) If I do get a Sirrus, do you think an aluminum front fork that will take a rack is much of an advantage or would you go with carbon? (I'd rather not purchase and run a trailer for gear - we are going to stay at a B&B).
4) Either way, what about tires?
5) What about women running a Sirrus? She doesn't particularly care about having a step-through design, but she's about 5'4" and so standover will be something to consider.
Again, we'll be getting into the base model of these bikes and spending the money to buy good tires with puncture protection. Where we aren't going to skimp is on the kiddie carrier, which will double as a jogging stroller for her.