What is a Touring Bike?
Touring bikes are specifically designed to comfortably help carry you and all your luggage on whatever kind of journey you can dream up. They usually resemble road bikes, using 700C wheels and drop handlebars, but will use more relaxed frame geometries and wider tyres to provide the comfort needed for those epic trips.
Bicycle touring has experienced a bit of a renaissance recently, with the popularity of bike-packing and lightweight touring giving riders more options on how they travel. It’s very easy to get inspired with this kind of cycling, especially since it offers so much freedom. If you have got the travelling bug and want to experience bike touring for the first time, there are a few things worth considering before purchasing a touring bike.
Are there different types of Touring Bike?
Traditional Touring Bikes
Traditional touring bikes are very popular due to their tried and tested design. Frames are usually constructed from steel, as steel offers an incredibly smooth ride quality whilst being very durable. Traditional tourers have much in common with road bikes – such as rim brakes and narrow tyres – with a few extra details like rack eyelets and mudguards. They will still have drop bars, but they will not be as aggressive as their racing equivalents, to ensure a comfortable riding experience.
The rise in popularity of bike-packing races like the Tour Divide and Transcontinental has inspired manufacturers to think differently about how they build their touring bikes. Increasingly, we are seeing touring bikes that are made to go fast and cover a wide variety of terrain, all whilst carrying your precious cargo.
This new breed of touring bikes, is often called an “adventure bike” and is blend between a traditional touring bikes and a cyclocross bikes. Adventure bikes come in a variety of styles, but will always have a few key similarities. Most will include disc brakes for reliable stopping power, whilst bigger tyre clearance is now the norm, allowing riders to get creative with their route choices. Some will still feature frame details like rack eyelets, but many are designed to use rackless luggage like Ortlieb’s bike-packing bags.
What type of Touring Bike should I buy?
This will depend on what kind of touring you want to try, as there a few different styles. By their nature, touring bikes are versatile and durable machines, but choosing the right one will make your travelling experience more enjoyable.
Expedition and Long-Distance Touring
If you want to experience the thrill of self-sufficiency that bike touring offers, traditional touring bikes are perfect. They can carry large amounts of luggage with no issues and are designed to be reliable for incredibly long distances. Steel frames are by far the most popular material for these bikes, as durability and comfort are the name of the game. However, high-end tourers may use titanium, which offers the same smooth riding characteristics of steel but has the additional benefit of being lighter. Drivetrains for these bikes will use wide-range ratios to make fully-loaded climbing more comfortable.
Bike-Packing, Mixed Terrain and Shorter Trips
If you’re not so keen on pitching camp every night and would rather keep your bike touring trips short, adventure bikes are a good option. They are designed to carry less luggage than a traditional touring bike, meaning the reduced weight makes them more fun to ride. For this reason, adventure bikes can be constructed from materials like carbon fibre to make handling more akin to a sharp, responsive road bike. Disc brakes are the norm here, and gearing will have more in common with an endurance road bike than a traditional tourer.
What should I look for when buying a Touring bike?
Expect the frame to take some abuse and sustain a few knocks when on tour. Touring frames should be durable and capable of carrying a significant amount of weight, so materials like steel and titanium offer an incredibly reliable platform. However, if you don’t plan on carrying everything but the kitchen sink and want something more responsive, the carbon frames of some adventure bikes are worth trying.
Gears and Drivetrain
Gearing on touring bikes will generally have a very wide range of ratios. Bikes designed for longer distances and more baggage may use a triple chain-set to allow riders to get up steep climbs with all the extra weight. Adventure bikes will use drivetrains that resemble cyclocross bikes or road bikes, but will still offer enough in terms of ratios to get you up the worst hills you can find.
Considering the extra weight that touring bikes have to carry, brakes need to be reliable and dependable. Traditionally designed touring bikes use rim brakes, while expedition focussed bikes will use disc brakes for the extra stopping power and all-weather performance. Brakes are especially important to consider if you plan on tackling any big descents whilst fully laden with bags and equipment.
Wheels and Tyres
Unless you plan on travelling light, standard road bike wheels won’t really cut it here. The increased strains and mileage of bike touring mean bikes need to be built with sturdy wheels; many traditional designs will use 32 to 36 spoke wheels for durability. Some touring bikes will feature dynamo wheel-hubs that power lights and even USB charging docks. Features like these are especially useful if you intend on being self-sufficient for a long period of time.