When someone asks, “Which touring bike should I buy?” there isn’t a simple answer. In my experience, though, there are four bikes in a similar price range that you should test ride. Which bike you buy depends entirely on which bike fits you best and your budget.
If you want longer lists and more detailed information, you can peruse the Adventure Cycling Touring Bike Buyer’s Guide. If you want more details about what makes a touring bike, see the recent Adventure Cycling article, Touring Bike Buyer’s Guide: Geometry.
Surly Long Haul Trucker
The Surly Long Haul Trucker is one of the most common touring bikes I see people riding. I do not like this bike. It’s heavy and, for me, extremely uncomfortable. It has a pretty long top tube, which isn’t ideal if you don’t have a correspondingly long torso. You should test ride it. You should also test ride the other bikes in this list before deciding to buy the Long Haul Trucker.
The Trek 520 is the classic touring bike. It appears that the current model, the 520 Disc, has disc brakes. Disc brakes are wonderful, so that might be an improvement. My experience is only with the classic version of the Trek 520, which is a solidly built bike that will stand the test of time, and the test of touring.
The Salsa Vaya is more an everything bike than strictly a touring bike. If you don’t have a long torso, this bike will probably be the most comfortable option for you. The bike is very sturdy, and the standard components will last awhile before needing to be replaced. I’ve been touring on a Salsa Vaya for over a decade, and I love it.
I know very little about the Kona Sutra apart from the fact that it seems to be a good value for the price and it arrives ready for bike touring. If I were in the market for a new touring bike, I would definitely test ride this one.