Shimano's own pedals are reasonably priced, available from nearly any LBS or internet/mailorder dealer, well made, durable, have good entry/exit adjusability, good retention and are easy to find replacement cleats for.
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With regards to folding bikes, I used to own a Bike Friday New World Tourist. It was amazing. I loved the ride, the handling, the durability, and the ability to take it everywhere with me. Including riding it to the airport. Unfortunately, in your price range, you probably won't find many folders that fit your needs.Did I miss something? I didn't see anything in the original posting mentioning wanting or being interested in a folding bike.
Since most of us mere mortals don't really "pull up" as our pedals are coming back up, but rather just unweight them, what is different between releasing pressure with your foot trapped on the pedal vs releasing pressure with your foot free to move about as you need to. I really don't see how adapting a racing equipment mentality fixes problems of touring cyclists.Unweighting the pedal is as good as pulling up as far as restoring circulation. Clipless pedals allow you to unweight (or really pull up) without having your feet pull out of the straps or off of the pedals. I started out with toe clips and straps and "touring shoes" in the mid-'80 and went to clipless pedals about 1992. The improvement in foot and pedaling stability was dramatic and I never saw any reason to go back.
When wondering about likely weather conditions, I like to check it out at http://weather.msn.com/forecasts.aspx.Keep in mind; "Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get." Even in summer, some of the high mountain passes in the west can be snowed in or have severe storms. Give youself time to wait them out.
Type in a city near a area you're concerned about. Then scroll down the page a little find the chart displaying average lows, highs, and maximums as well as monthly precipitation.
I was taken on a tour by my parents when I was 11, and I did just fine wearing just my regular shirts and jeans. I was already used to the bike I was riding though.You can tolerate a lot if 1) you are young and 2) you don't know any better.