So, I've been doing my research for the past month or so on all the pros and cons of the different touring bikes (Trek 520, Jamis Aurora, Cannondale T800 and T2000, Long Haul Trucker, Raleigh Sojourn, Bruce Gordon, etc) and have basically finally decided to go the the Novara Randonee, in part because of price ($850 for a member) but also because it's decently spec'd (Tiagra and Deore - not the hottest but when I test rode they worked like a charm), has space for fenders, comes with decent rack, 36 spoke rims, etc. Basically, everything stock is fine (especially gearing! yay!) as is and won't need changing out (though I am open to possibly getting into the clipless realm - but that's another day and post).
I haven't ridden any other road-type bikes (mountain bikes all my life) so I don't have much to compare it to, but it seemed solid, stable, and smooth. However, I don't know if it was my unfamiliarity with drop bars, but the handling seemed a little on the squirmy side. I felt a little uneasy turning sharply; then again, it might just take some getting used to. Of course, it'll handle much differently loaded with panniers, but, any thoughts?
No bike shops in here in Sacramento have any of the other bikes to test ride, so that's part of the consideration, but essentially what I'm looking for is some reassurance that what I'm going to get is a good choice.
On a side note, does anybody know about REI bike sales? I know members get a 20% off coupon, but it usually excludes bikes, and I'd have to wait until May to get 15% off in the anniversary sale. I read somewhere here about a 30% off sale in March, but when I asked at the store they didn't know anything about that. >_>