I'm in the process of building up touring bikes for my girlfriend and myself. It's possible that her 700c commuter could work as a loaded touring bike after a few minor changes. She's strongly in favor of this, but I question the suitability of this bike for her.
It's a 90's steel hybrid (Gary Fisher Zebrano) with 700c wheels. We already have it set up with strong wheels and good tires for commuting. The chainstays are 43.5 cm or so, long enough that her heels don't hit the rear panniers when using a Jandd Expedition rack. There are no mid-fork rack braze-ons (not a deal-breaker from what I've read). The rear rack stays are mounted to the seatpost clamp because the frame is compact, and the 8" rack stays probably wouldn't reach down to the seatstays. There are no rack attachments on the seatstays anyway. The rack attachment to the seatpost clamp seems stable enough.
The thing that I worry about is that the steering feels a little "unstable" even when unloaded. She has been commenting on this (we've recently increased our biking a lot), and has said things about the steering that indicate that it affects her confidence on the bike. It's by far the best bike she's owned though, so it's hard to compare. I've ridden the bike and noticed the steering too. If we had noticed this when we bought the bike (used) we probably would have passed on it, but we know more now than then. It's a small frame, and to accomodate the 700c tire the head tube angle is very relaxed (I'm guessing 70 degrees), such that there is only a tiny bit of toe-clip overlap with fender and 700x37 tire. It has a nice comfy ride when going straight, but when initiating a turn it feels odd, a little unstable. I worry that this steering issue would be magnified when the bike is fully loaded with front panniers, though I don't have a front rack yet to test this out.
Maybe this is just something that one gets used to with bikes with relaxed head angles? But she's ridden it for over 4000 miles commuting and she still notices it. And I have a Bridgestone MB4 with a 71 degree head angle and it doesn't feel this way. Or maybe it's TOO relaxed - is this what framebuilders try to avoid by putting smaller tires on smaller frames?
My gut says if she likes this bike, she'd like a LHT even more (and her birthday is approaching). I think a 52cm LHT with straight bars and 26" wheels would fit her well, but I'm only guessing that the LHT would steer better -- as usual with the LHT it's not easy to find one to test ride. The LHT would be significantly more expensive because we'd be starting from scratch, but if it handles better then it's definitely worth it.
From what I've described, do you think the LHT will likely be enough of an improvement to justify adding another bike to the fleet?