I'm not asking for you to tell me what bike to get as I know that's a personal decision that's influenced by mutlple factors, more just looking for some feedback and experience from fellow riders.
About a year and half ago I started eyeing the Niner RLT9 Steel. I got tired of seeing turn offs/side roads while out on my road bike and wanted something with a little bigger tire (I'm a former BMXer and current MTBer at heart). Added to the fact my brother and I had been talking about bikepacking for a long time it seemed like a good fit. In the interest of being thorough I tried a few other bikes as well. When I went to my LBS (exclusive Giant dealer) he suggested I try out the TCX Advanced. At first I wrote it off because I figured a CX bike and it would be too "aggressive" but it was a lot more comfortable than I originally thought. I was surprised and really like the feel. Even though he had to order my size, he offered me a good price because I've bought multiple bikes from this shop (I say that because I want to make it clear he wasn't just trying to push something he had on the floor, he's one of the good ones). I pulled the trigger because the spec list seems great for the money compared to the other options. Thru-axle front/rear, 105 11 speed shifting, hydro disc brakes, and full carbon frame, fork, and D-Fuse seat post. I also told myself that I would give CX racing a try to see if that is something I liked, but that never happened. I got busy with work projects and figured I'd like to stick to my original plan of keeping my cycling hobby noncompetitive.
Anyway, I did exactly that with the TCX and enjoyed it. I did a lot gravel rides/events and took it bikepacking in Wisconsin and up in the mountains in California. On the gravel rides the bike did great. I would start to feel it a little after mile 50ish, but I figured that was normal. I made do by buying a Arkel Randonneur Rack to work with my mountless carbon frame so I could carry my Banjo Brother rear back with built in panniers, but it meant that I had to carry a substantial amount of gear in a giant hiking backpack. While do-able...it wasn't ideal.
Now to add to the situation I'm going to be changing work locations that will mean I'll no longer have to ride the train into the office but can commute by bike. It will about 13 miles each way with some mixed terrain for shortcuts. When I started doing the mental check list for bike commuting the thought popped in my head, "Should I sell the TCX and get something better suited for commute/adventure/bikepacking?" I'm not one of those people who feel that I can't do something because of the bike I have, but I also realize bikes are designed with a purpose in mind.
So I've been poking around back at the RLT9 Steel again along with Specialized AWOL and Sequoias. I don't know why but I've always like the idea of steel bike. I know it's the "cool" thing in some circles but that really doesn't influence me here. I like it because people may differ in what they say about it but pretty much everyone agrees it increases comfort during the ride. Whatever I get I want to make sure I have options as far as racks, mounts, fenders, and bags go.
With the sale of the TCX and some added funds I'm looking to keep the bike cost at around $2500. That likely means I'll be sacrificing some component levels/options to keep with a steel frame. That doesn't really bother me as I don't mind adding things later down the road.
So what say you? Anyone taken a "step back" from carbon to steel and regretted it? Did it work out for you?
Giant ToughRoad SLR 1 (drop bar)
Giant Trance 27.5
Giant Defy Composite