Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Portland, Oregon and SE Asia
Bikes: Waterford ST-22, Jamis Quest Elite, Jamis Dragon Pro
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As mentioned, the Trek 520 is just about perfect, but comes with a "road" crankset (Shimano 105) with gearing that is a bit high for loaded touring. It is fine for credit card touring or commuting use, though. I have talked to two dealers who said they would swap the crankset to a mountain (22-32-44) or trekking (26-36-46) setup for minimal cost, since they can sell the 105 setup which is a popular upgrade for low-end roadbikes. Obviously this is on a new bike purchase only.
Another excellent choice although a bit harder to find is the Cannondale T800. It has an aluminum frame that is very strong and does not flex when loaded up, but rides a bit firmer when unloaded, although I find that the ride is actually not bad - more like a firmly sprung sports sedan in nature - the 37mm tires take the harshness out pretty well. It comes equipped with appropriate gearing and also has a more upright riding position than the 520.
Both of these bikes can be found for around $1000, discounted from $1200 list price.