As for swapping parts around and upgrading your bike, many of us do it. Once you become a competent mechanic, you will do all sorts of swaps that you could never afford to have a bike store do.
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Thanks for the very useful info Wayne and Dave. I am leaning towards going with MTB cranks at the moment to get the gearing I want. I will probably go the ebay route for some lightly used XTs to keep the cost down. Just have to be sure and get the correct BB. Thanks again, Jack
Shimano LX is the standard for touring, with a few opting for the more expensive XT components. A common upgrade is an XT rear derailleur on an otherwise LX equipped bike.
.....sounds like the levers are not able to pull enough cable to make the brakes effective. I too would suggest Travel agentsFirst the bike came with V-brakes (Avid SD5) and matching long pull levers. There are no longer pull levers and a Travel Agent will only make the leverage worse, not better. Either the OP has the pads set too far from the rims at rest or the brake arm are too flexible or the pads are inferior.