Last summer as I waited for my son's bike repair at a local shop, I began my search for my ideal bicycle, deciding to look at what was available on the shop floor. My basic requirements for a possible touring machine: fork eyelets, rear rack capability, low climbing gears, and clearance for fenders. Beyond that I was open to any type of shifting and braking system.
I test rode the Specialized Vita, climbing Burlington's hills and zipping along the flats. After 20 minutes of experiencing more road vibration than I've felt in years, I headed back to the shop. I'm not enamored with aluminum bikes in general - I know they present a rougher ride - but neither am I opposed to their looks. I don't mind the fatter tubing and they often come in snazzy metallic colors (Cannondale mountain bikes comes to mind). The Vita's gear system was just okay - I needed lower still. I'll give it kudos for a fast ride though. But another deal breaker was the upright posture and I kept wanting to reach about 4" further forward. It was then that I realized where my hunting difficulties would lie - fit will become a major obstacle. Any step-through bike would have to have a more elongated frame geometry (for lack of correct terminology) for me to consider as a possible touring machine.
And just because there was a Raleigh Eva 1 in my size, I took this one out for a spin. It's inexpensive, steel, and classified as a cruiser. After riding a stiff bicycle, the Eva was comfortable, more like my Ross Mt. Saint Helens. It was cushiony, but sluggish on hills. I could live with the fit, but would need to customize the handle bars. After further investigation, it would require major renovations, new fork to handle front panniers, specialized rear rack (frame doesn't have braze-ons), etc. I was excited at first, considered these renovations, but had to admit that drastically altering a bike might only unearth more problems. I was only beginning my search and accepted that this would be a long haul.
But as I'm slowly learning, variety of affordable (1500.00 or less), step through touring bikes available to US consumers is very hard to come by, especially if you want a true step-through* (I'm spoiled with the Ross's 22" step-over height) and not a Mixte, plus the ability to test ride your dream bike before spending money.
The hunt is on. However, I'm jealous of all the options available to Europeans.
*Step-through bike frame construction is supposed to be less stable than their Mixte counterparts, especially for loaded touring, however, with lighter racks and gear choices these days, I believe step-through design is adequate. One can always pack ultralight like this guy...