Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Central Coast, CA
Bikes: Surly LHT, Specialized Rockhopper, Nashbar Touring (old), Specialized Stumpjumper (older), Nishiki Tourer (model unknown)
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My suggestion is that you tour on your Gary Fisher and see if you like it. If you really get into it, you won't be completely happy until you get a dedicated touring bike. If it's an occasional thing, your mountain bike will probably work fine, and you can think about what kind of bike you want to spend your $600 on.
If you decide you want to get serious about touring but don't have much money, some of the more reasonable dedicated touring bikes include $599 for a Windsor Tourist from BikesDirect, $825 for a Fuji Touring,$900 for a Surly LHT, or $949 for a Novara Randonee. I have a Surly LHT. I built it up from a frame so my components are different from those on a complete. I also have yet to take it on its first tour, so my review is only based on riding around home, but I love it so far. I've heard good things about the other models. Lots of people have reported successful tours on them.
Another option is used. It's hard to get a super deal because lots of people know the value of a used tourer, but I've bookmarked a couple of tourers on Ebay right now. One is an old Trek 520 that's at $455 with 14 hours to go. A brand new 520 is over $1200. Like I said, great deals are fairly rare, but I see good deals all the time. Go to "cycling" on Ebay and search for "touring".
Craigslist is another option. Even people who are selling locally can be amenable to shipping. Tell the seller you'll contact a local bike shop to do the boxing and shipping. Many will. If the seller just has to drop off the bike, he or she is usually willing.