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I am considering getting a touring bike and have some questions for the collective.  I see three options and am seeking opinions. I want to be able to tour with front and  rear racks/panniers.

1. I have a 1997 Jamis Aurora which at the time was a lower end chromoly road bike. It has been various things over the years.  It has braze ons for front and rear racks. It fits me great.  Would this be acceptable if new wheels, front and rear racks, chainrings and perhaps a new stem and bar were added?

2. A friend has suggested the Windsor at Bikes Direct because it is dirt cheap and any upgrades I want such as lower geared chain rings could be purchased with the savings.

3. go to a shop and buy either a Trek 520 or Surley Long Haul Trucker. The extra dollars spent will be rewarded with less stress and a better bike.

Touristas and gear heads. Waddya think? Thanks for the input.

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I think the Bianchi Volpe is a better choice over the Long Haul Trucker because the Volpe has better handling, I believe is lighter, and they have it available with disc brakes. I own a Volpe from a few years ago (upgraded my brakes). When I had it loaded with front and rear panniers for a bike camping trip, the bike just felt right. 

The trucker is available with disc brakes.

Also, the Volpe is much  more cross bike than tour bike.  I guess you could say it handles 'better' in the sense that it will be quicker handling but it lacks the long stays and relaxed head tube of an actual touring bike and will not be as stable loaded down.

That said it could be a fine tour bike, lots of people tour on Crosschecks.

The Aurora's already billed as a touring bike. Buy some racks, load it up and see how it feels if you're already comfortable on it. You can always move the racks to another bike if you don't like it.

If the Aurora feels good loaded three rings and a cassette with a variety of ratios (assuming a simple 9 speed) will be around $100, with stem and handlebars a little less than that. That's a quarter to a third the price of a new steel tourer.

That said I'm very comfortable on my Long Haul Trucker. As long as it's balanced properly it feels positively perpetual when loaded and moving on level ground. The extra momentum makes it feel effortless.

I'm with Tricolor on this one.  While your components may need an upgrade your frame is most likely in excellent shape.  With that said, have it inspected and then frame saved before building it back up.  It's best to do any repairs, cleaning, or paint retouching while you've got it stripped down to the frame.  When you've got it all back together it will be just as nice as any new touring bike.  Consider that the Jamis Aurora was $670 in 1997, so that's really not a cheap bike.  By the way, I've heard from bike mechanics that upgrading to Hollowtech cranks and external bottom bracket bearings will increase your power transfer and make pedaling much easier.

I see that the bike has caliper brakes.  You should look into getting fatter tires for the bike (for rough unpaved trails) and that would probably require either a center pull brake conversion or putting on cantilever studs for 700C or 650B wheels.  There are frame repair and builders in the Chicago area who could put cantilever studs on for you for less than the price of a new frame and fork (provided you stripped the parts off before you bring it to the shop and provided you do not fully repaint the frame).  If you go with center pull brakes you'll likely need to split your fenders in half to accommodate larger tires.  With larger tires you'll also have to watch the space between your chain stays and make sure the tire walls have enough clearance for when the wheel gets a little out of true.

In my humble biking world, that Jamis Aurora is a darn nice bike and very suitable for touring.  It appears that's what it was made for, according to Bikepedia.  Nice cromoly frame.  I don't think nice cromoly frames have evolved that much since 1997.  Plenty light.  Competent Shimano groupset.  You say it fits you great.  I'd stick with it and maybe splurge on some new wheels and possibly just a hair wider tires, like 32s or 35s, depending on your weight and how much you'll be carrying.  Are the chainrings worn?  Because to me, they're perfectly good chainrings for a touring bike.  That 26-24 granny gear is plenty low.  If not, throw on a cassette with a 26 or 28, with a new chain.  Do the brakes feel good?  If so, put on some quality new pads and call it a day.  Is there some particular reason you'd want to mess with the stem and handlebars?  Maybe some new pedals would be useful.   

A bike that really fits is a treasure.  There's nothing wrong with Bikes Direct, but you might not get that same fit just ordering by numbers.  I don't see how you could go wrong buying a new Trek or Surley, but I don't know that they would be significantly better than just tricking out what you have a little, as needed or desired.  To me, it wouldn't be stressful working up the Aurora, it would be a lot of fun.  But I'm no uber-biker, and others might disagree.  I think any of the three alternatives could work out fine.        

As an owner of a Long Haul Trucker, I can't help but recommend it should you choose to get a new bike (although I'd go with the disc trucker if I had to do it again).

With that said, I couldn't agree more with the others who have recommended building up your Aurora for touring first to see what you think. My LHT rides totally different (read: better) when fully loaded vs. bare and I can't help but image that your Aurora might be similar. Worse case, you'll need to move the touring bits over to a new bike if you don't end up liking it.

Chiming in to mostly agree - just stick with the Aurora and get it nicely geared up. For the most part, if you decide on a new (or different) frame in the future, your gear can be moved onto something different. But the Aurora is a nice touring bike, and many have covered many thousands of miles with no complaints.

I used to have what I think was a 1998 Aurora, and while I never toured on it (I use an older Schwinn Voyageur for that) it was certainly a nicer bike than a Windsor Tourist, and in my mind on par with a newer 520 or LHT. If it ain't broke...

Take that Aurora out for a spin. That's a great touring rig. I've done loads with a Surly Crosscheck and an All-City Space Horse. Both are solid. The LHT is great too and I used to have a Trek 520 that I destroyed before I could ride it long distance. The bottle line, and what other folks have already said, is that the Aurora is built for touring. Jam on that thing. It'll take it.

I'll start by saying that any bike is a touring bike if you use your imagination. I've ridden cross-country on a trek 520 and done the lake Michigan circle tour on a track bike; they both got the job done. If you go touring on a bike then it's a touring bike for the duration of your trip.

Now for the long answer.

As most everyone here has already said, the Jamis Aurora makes a fine touring bike. You already have it, it fits, and it has braze-ons aplenty. My recommendation would be to keep it and spend the money on good panniers and camping gear. However, if you don't want to go that route then there is a lot to consider. First and most importantly is what kind of touring you're into. Are you thinking traditional grand bicycle touring, hitting the open road fully loaded for a long comfortable ride through vast open places? Are you thinking of taking the ultra-racer approach of minimal stuff and maximal miles? Somewhere in the middle? This is the question that defines the rest of your needs. Before you buy anything, you need to know that. Period.

If you're wanting to lean towards the fully-loaded rack-and-panniers approach, you might want to look towards a dedicated touring bike. The geometry of a touring frame is different from a road frame, but not in the way others here have stated. It's not designed to waste your power or make you less efficient, as it's assumed that on a tour you will be riding for a long time - being less efficient is pointless. It's also not designed to handle "slower" - it's designed to handle normally when it's fully loaded with gear. That's the difference the increased rake, slack head tube, and long chainstays make. When you have panniers front and rear with a rack on the back for good measure, a road bike will handle like absolute garbage. A (for example) Trek 520 will handle like a road bike. Cool, right? Unloaded, the bike will be a bit slower, sure. So really it just means you should always be out bike camping. Problem solved. As you carry less stuff, you can shift tour weight around. Front panniers are the first to go, then stuff on the rear rack, then the rear panniers, etc. And as you carry less and less your bike's geometry can creep back towards a more "standard" endurance-road frame. This means a road frame that's a bit more upright, as you're probably not going to want to be so aero for your entire trip - it's just not comfortable. Disc brakes vs calipers - doesn't matter. Weight is almost irrelevant. Fancy polymer inserts aren't worth the plastic they're made of. If you want to get fancy with something on your bike, you could look for a frame with good vertical compliance that can clear wide tires. Or just get something steel that can clear wide tires and call it good.

Tires are... whatever. Just get something 28c or wider, throw in a tuffy strip, and hit the road. Don't over-inflate them or you'll feel it sooner than you want to. Gatorskins are good, Schwalbe Marathons are better.

Buy good camping gear and never look back. Again, your style has a lot to do with what you'll need, but there's one piece of advice that I can pass on to save you a lot of trouble: The best way to save weight on gear is not to buy light gear, but just to take less stuff. Seriously. The amount of stuff you'll bring on a trip that you never need is astounding. I still struggle with that, and I've been paring my packing list for years.

This is all getting out of hand, so I'll stop now.

TL;DR Get a rack and panniers on the Jamis, go camping, and never look back.

+1 on this.  When I started bike touring, I ended up converting an old mountain bike I was underutilizing, instead of buying a new touring class bike.  I used spare parts, and bought and traded for racks and panniers.  My touring bike ended up being lighter than a new Long Haul Trucker or 520, and was more comfortable because of the wider tires.  It also handles unpaved roads better.  Money saved on the frame and components, allowed me to splurge on a nice Old Man Mtn rear rack that will last forever, nice rear panniers, new lightweight tent, and a new light, bottles, etc.  Any bike can be a road touring bike, as long as you know how to get comfortable on it.

This is great advice and I will synthesize it and figure out a plan.  I went last year with a group of friends that does a self planned tour every year.  I used my commuter, Trek Fx7.5,  which has a carbon fork and cannot easily handle a front rack. I pulled a chariot and that was fine until we went on  a forest road and uphill.  I switched from the unsupported to supported group and do not want to repeat that. My concern with using the Aurora is that I will lose my road bike. If I convert it I will have lower gearing (44-32-22), sturdier wheels and no bike I want to ride for 75 or more miles with minimal gear. Yet, as mentioned in the comments, I may have the frame I need for a loaded but not overloaded tour of a week or so. Jeremy's comments about geometry give me some pause. The Aurora can adapt to a tour but is built for a comfortable century; good but not ideal. I have the smallest frame they made, 47 cm as I am very short legged. I will have my shop look at it and talk to me about what they suggest if it is adapted to touring. Thanks again fellow riders.

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