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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On tour, low gears are much more important than high. You'll want really low gears when you are going up a long mountain pass carrying a load, or even a short but really steep section of road. There will probably be some times when you'd like a really high gear, but if you have to do without something, do without the high gears.
Mountain bikes are typically geared low for climbing, so I think the advice about keeping the mountain gearing is probably valid. If you want to switch, you might look into a "trekking" crankset, which is kind of halfway between mountain and road. Another thing to look into would be keeping the two smaller chainrings, but replacing the big one with a gear with a couple more teeth. What gears do you have on the existing crankset?