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Originally published Thursday, October 5, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Getting in Gear

Bikes for all seasons

Once upon a time, my "mountain bike" was a Huffy steel-framed monster with coaster brakes, BMX handlebars and a modified banana seat. That was also my...

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Once upon a time, my "mountain bike" was a Huffy steel-framed monster with coaster brakes, BMX handlebars and a modified banana seat. That was also my road bike, touring bike and commuter bike to Dayton Elementary, in Dayton, Wash., over in Columbia County.

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, bicycles become more and more specialized, with manufacturers doing everything they could to encourage you to buy a full quiver of bikes, one for each special use. Today, fortunately, there's a trend in the other direction. Kent-based Raleigh America Bicycles offers up a couple models that fit the classic "Jack of all trades, master of none" category. These bikes, dubbed hybrids by the industry, combine features from mountain bikes, cruisers, road racers and touring cycles.

Raleigh Passage 5.0

The Passage 5.0 is a perfect suburban bicycle. It boasts front and rear disc brakes, Shimano EZ Fire gear levers and components and a solid front suspension to provide comfort when jumping curbs and riding graveled trails. The wide, 700mm tires offer more comfort and grip than skinny road slicks, but don't absorb energy like a mountain bike's knobbies.

The angled top-tube gives you a bit more clearance if you slip off the pedals on an off-road climb, but the geometry of the frame makes it easy to sit up and crank along the Burke-Gilman, too. The aluminum frame is light, with enough flex that you won't feel every pebble you pass over.

The seven-speed rear cogset provides enough gear range to keep you happy on both hills and straight runs. This isn't a bike to go trail bashing with, but if you mostly ride the suburban rail trails, with a few excursions onto mountain roads, this bike will work wonders.

The Passage 5.0 sells for around $480. For more information: www.raleighusa.com.

REI Novara Bonanza

Riders hoping to stretch their experiences onto more rugged trails will find the Novara Bonanza a good fit. The Bonanza is a "hard-tail" mountain-bike design, meaning that while there is a front suspension (or shocks on the front fork) there is no suspension on the rear. That's a good thing for riders who plan to spend time on hard-pack or paved trails, while enjoying limited rough road or trail riding.

Rear suspension is great for pounding rides on rugged trails, but it also is an energy eater: Every time you crank the pedals, the shock absorber soaks up part of your energy, meaning you work hard for your forward motion. By sticking with a hard-tail design, REI made the Bonanza a good multi-purpose bike. It's built tough enough for logging roads and some simple single-track trails, but it's comfortable enough to cruise urban trails.

The Bonanza features Shimano components, front and rear disc brakes and clipless pedals (if you're unfamiliar with clipless pedals, be aware that you'll need specific riding shoes to work with these click-in pedals). The aluminum frame keeps the weight down, but it was strong enough to withstand pounding descents with a 220-pound rider on gravel paths.

Retails for $599. More information at www.rei.com.

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— Dan A. Nelson,

special to The Seattle Times

Freelancer Dan A. Nelson of Puyallup is a regular contributor to Backpacker magazine, and an author of outdoor guides with The Mountaineers Books. For the purpose of review, gear manufacturers lend products, which are returned after a typical use of four to six weeks. There is no payment from manufacturers and they have no control over the content of reviews. Contact Nelson with gear-related questions at gearguy@adventuresnw.net.

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