I've been lurking over here in Touring for a year. Last spring I joined ACA and got all hyped about touring, after 20 years of hammering around on nice race bikes. Instead of buying a new bike, though, I put $350 in used eBay parts into a nice commuting bike (Marin Belvedere) I already had. Drop bars, XT der, 9sp brifters, rear rack, etc. It was(is) great for commuting, but the 17" chainstays aren't enough for my foot and decent sized panniers.
So last month I bought a beautiful Olive Green 09 LHT frame, intending to dismantle the Marin and build up the Surly. But I got to thinking how nice it would be to have a loaner touring bike so I could invite friends. So I kept the Marin unmolested and started from scratch with the LHT.
I've now had it completed for three weeks and I have 300-some miles on it. In a word, I am in LOVE! I've ridden it on a round trip to three grocery stores and come home with 90 pounds of groceries (4 Ortliebs and a BOB trailer). I've commuted with a single Ortlieb on back. I've ridden for the hell of it with only a Topeak rack trunk. I've ridden it "naked" (only a tiny seatbag with tire levers, tube, money). I've taken it on two race-team group rides and averaged 18mph on rolling hills. (This was hard work, but very rewarding.) I've cruised around Atlanta with absolutely no agenda, just out discovering. I've loaned it to a friend.
It has been the best conversation starter in the biking world I've ever owned. Nobody knows what it is but all are enthralled with its big, rugged, utility.
And now for the stunner: I had abandoned my $6000 titanium race bike ever since getting the Surly. Yesterday morning I rode with two friends so I loaned out both of my touring bikes and rode the Merlin. I was shocked at how annoying it was! Jerky. Skittish. A brief stint through a gravel parking lot was nearly impossible; I had to walk it while my friends just rode on ahead. I was sore and achy after 2 hours, where the LHT leaves me wanting more after that time. I heard groanings and noises from the bike that I never hear from the Surly. Everything about it felt fragile, and this is a titanium bike, not plastic!
Of course, the upside is the 15-pound weight, compared to 38 or so on the Surly. When the road turns up the Merlin is the clear winner. Or if you need to hammer along at a 19-22mph clip for an hour or so, no contest. But who actually needs to do that?
Here's how I felt, for the car afficianodos among us: It's like I had always driven my Porsche 911 GT3RS around town and for sporty drives in the mountains. I recognized the value of a utility vehicle like a station wagon, but I had no delusions they could be fun. Then one day I tried an Audi RS6 Avant, or maybe a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and found that yes, they haul lots of stuff, but they are also great handling, fun to drive cars that lavish you in comfort and ask nothing of you in return. It's like the best of both worlds.
I don't think I'll give up my race bikes anytime soon (I ride with guys who want to go so fast I can barely hang on with a 15-pound bike), but I doubt I'll take them out for pleasure very often in the future. The long geometry and upright seating is just too freeing! I'm even starting to get used to looking like a ******. (Yeah, to roadies everything about the posture, etc. of the LHT looks really strange. But my perception is really changing on that.)
I rode 400 miles in Provence last fall on a Lynskey ti race bike with a Topeak seatpost rack. I now realize that trip would have been so much more comfortable and enjoyable on my LHT! Dang! Now I must do it again!