There are many bikes genres out there that are well suited to cycle trips - but traditional touring bikes carry an undeniable charisma
If you’re planning a multi-day adventure by bike and intend to travel as far as your legs can take you, carrying everything you need for the expedition, then a touring bike might be on your equipment list.
The good news for touring cyclists is that the range of bikes available to cater for their needs has grown substantially in the last few years.
Endurance road bikes offer comfort over long distances, but are usually closer to a race bike than a traditional touring bike. Adventure road and gravel bikes are robust and have wide, often knobbly tyres, disc brakes and even dropper seat posts – making them ideal for cycle tours that might venture off the beaten path.
Endurance and adventure road bikes could both handle a cycle touring trip. As, indeed, could an entry level road bike provided it was set up sensibly. The traditional touring bike, however, is a breed all of its own.
Touring bikes are generally made of steel, ideally placed thanks to the springy ride and durability it provides. The geometry creates a relaxed riding position, is carefully tailored to the carrying of luggage; and these bikes almost always come fitted with mudguards and pannier racks plus wider tyres than a road bike.
The ideal bike for your touring trip will depend upon the terrain you plan to cover and how much kit you want to take with you.
In this guide, we’ve rounded up the more traditional options. If you’re thinking of going off-road, perhaps investigate gravel orientated options in our buying guide here, and if you plan to go quick and travel light, see endurance road bikes here.
Genesis Tour de Fer 20 touring bike, £1499
The name says it all – this is a bike that’s been created exclusively to provide a comfortable and practical ride for a touring cyclist.
The Reynolds 725 Heat-Treated Chromoly frame promises a springy ride, and an incredibly strong base. The 160mm rotor mechanical disc brakes are a more modern introduction with a nod to practicality, especially in the wet.
The shifters are Shimano Tiagra, which isn’t the crispest but will last the test of time without a problem, and there’s a triple chainset with 11-32 cassette to help even the weariest legs over the hills. Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tyres in 35c will travel well over uneven roads and the build comes with Tubus luggage racks front and rear, plus trekking mudguards, and dynamo powered front and rear lights.
For those looking to spend a little less, there’s also the Genesis Tour de Fer 10, which comes with Genesis’ own Mjölnir Cromoly material instead of the Reynolds option, and a lower end finishing kit – but still offers a comfy ride. With fewer accessories it’s actually lighter at 14kg as opposed to 15kg for the 20 – so worth considering if you’re carrying less kit and don’t need front and rear racks.
Condor Fratello, £749.99 (frame only)
A longstanding model, the Fratello comes from Condor as a frame only, though you can book in for an appointment to have someone help you create the perfect complete bike.
The Fratello is a little more speed focused than other options on the market – so one if you want a bit of zipp and are less concerned about built in lights and luggage.
The triple butted steel frame made from custom Columbus Spirit tubing aims to keep weight low where it can, maintaining strength and stiffness at key junctions. The fork is constructed from Condor Pioggia carbon, with an aluminium steerer – setting it apart from other bikes mentioned with a lighter front end.
Careful attention has been paid to the shape of the tubes. The downtube in particular graduates from an oval to hexagonal outline as it reaches the bottom bracket, and the top tube is flatter, with a squarer shape where stress is applied. Where compliance is key, the rear stays are curved for a smoother journey.
The frame has been designed so that it can accommodate 28mm tyres whilst still fitting full mudguards – a narrower tyre than most listed here that will feel quicker but absorb less shock from bumpy roads.
A medium sized frame weighs 1.9kg and the fork comes in at 580g.
Dawes Galaxy Plus touring bike, £999.99
The Dawes Galaxy has been traipsing the globe since the 70s. Sure, a move from brazed frames with tubes and lugs to TIG welding way back when, and a total reinvention of almost every piece of componentry mean it’s far from the same bike – but the character and purpose hasn’t changed.
The Galaxy range includes several models with assorted frame materials, and women’s versions with a tuned geometry and step through frame.
The Galaxy Plus has a Reynolds 520 Chromoly frame which is a little heavier than top end options, but does keep the price under the magic £1k mark.
Unlike most models in the range, the Galaxy Plus enjoys mechanical disc brakes which bring better stopping in the wet. The tyres are also 32c Schwalbe Marathon Plus and an alloy rack is fitted as standard along with full mudguards.
The Shifters are Shimano Sora, with a 48-36-26T triple chainset and 11-32 cassette – that’s plenty of options on the hills. The total weight is 14.5kg – which is fairly average among the competition.
Specialized AWOL touring bike, £1,100
A more modern take on the touring bike, the AWOL keeps the important elements close to heart and gives going ‘absent without leave’ via bicycle a facelift that will be welcome to many.
The frame and fork are constructed by custom butted Chromoly, meaning the designers have created the tubing in a way which offers strength where needed but keeps the weight as low as possible.
Specialized call the set up ‘adventure geometry’ – which is the 2017 way of saying ‘more relaxed’ but also suitable for light off roading, as are the Tektro mechanical discs and notably beefy 45mm tyres.
Shown naked here, the bike comes with mudguard and rack mounts, and can take quite a load when fitted up, and also has a kickstand plate. The custom designed handlebars flare our at the bottom for added stability and there’s a triple (50/39/30) chainset with 11-36 cassette to offer a wide gear range.
Ridgeback Voyage touring bike, £799.99
Classic styling never goes out of date – and the vintage looking Voyage has got it by the bucket load.
The Voyage has a Reynolds 520 Chromoly steel frame at its heart, with a matching steel fork. The 520 material is a little on the heavier side, but it’s also less expensive as mirrored in the overall price of the bike.
A rack and full mudguards come as standard and a triple chainset (26/36/48) with an 11-34 cassette powered by Shimano Sora shifters means you’ll always have a gear for the next incline.
Alex Ace rims with a high spoke count should be pretty bullet proof, if not the lightest wheels in the world and they’re fitted with Continental Contact Kevlar 32c tyres that will roll their way over all the badly maintained cracked country lanes you could ever dream of.
Tektro cantilever brakes do the stopping – and the full weight is 14kg.
Trek 520 disc touring bike, £1000
Constructed from Trek’s chromoly material, the frame has been designed around disc brakes and fitted with a rack and mudguard mounts.
The rims are Bontrager’s own, with hard case tyres in 32c. The drivetrain comes from a mixture of Shimano parts, but rather excitingly, the bar end shifters used are Shimano Dura Ace – a nice nod to the top end system that will be a pleasure to click up and down. Hayes CX Expert mechanical discs look after stopping.
The overall weight comes in at 13.08kg in a size 57, which is lighter than some of the more traditional options.
What to look for in a touring bike
It’s difficult to set out a specific criteria when it comes to choosing a touring bike – because the beauty of touring is that it can be whatever you want it to be. No two tours are the same.
However, there are key elements to consider when selecting your two-wheeled riding buddy.
Touring bike frame
If you’re planning a longer trip, and intend the bike to be used primarily for such adventures, then the resilience and comfort of steel is a sensible choice. The amount you’re willing to invest will dictate the weight, strength and character of the steel you end up with.
When looking at steel touring bikes, expect to see the word ‘Chromoly’ a lot. This is a form of low alloy steel that is used when strength is particularly important, it takes its name from two of the primary alloying (mixing of metals, not aluminium!) elements used: “chromium” and “molybdenum”.
If you’re planning on using the bike for touring and other duties: club runs, commutes, shorter rides where speed might be more in your interest, consider aluminium or carbon.
Bikes suitable for touring will have a relaxed geometry: a shorter top tube and taller stack to put the rider in a more relaxed position. The wheelbase will be longer, to create a feeling of stability. You’ll also notice that the chainstays are longer – this means panniers can be mounted without a chance of heel-knock and it allows for better distribution when panniers are full.
Touring bike wheels
Elsewhere in the cycling world, we talk about low weight and aerodynamics when it comes to bicycle wheels. And sure, if you’re aiming to break a world record on your cycle tour then those are probably still very important areas to consider.
However, if you mainly want to get to somewhere rather far away, and you’d like to arrive there with a wheel that’s still true and contains the same number of spokes you left with, then a strong wheel is what you desire. Look for a higher spoke count that you might opt for on a speedy road bike.
Touring bike tyres
It’s incredible how much differance a set of tyres can make to a bike. The frame can be designed with comfort top of the agenda, but put on some narrow rubber shoes and pump them up to the wrong tyre pressure and you’ll be bumping about all over the road.
Most touring cyclists will want to go for wider tyres – 28mm+ – when compared with their road racing cousins. The further off the beaten track you want to go, the wider they should be. If you plan on tackling some light trails, look for 32mm+ – but bear in mind this will have implications on the speed at which you travel on tarmac.
Touring bike brakes
Traditionally, touring bikes had rim brakes and these will certainly do the job for most road based tours. However, disc brakes do provide far superior stopping power, especially in the wet.
Since disc brakes don’t rely upon the rim to bring the bike to a halt, they also reduce the risk of the rims becoming worn through debris building up on the pads.
Add in that many touring cyclists are carrying luggage, therefore adding to the overall load, powerful brakes that work in all weathers do seem like a sensible addition. However, not everyone likes the appearance of disc brakes on a traditional steel machine and the pads are just a tiny bit harder to replace and set up which is worth considering if you’re maintaining your bike on the road.
Luggage and Lights on a touring bike
A purpose built touring bike will come with pannier racks fitted, as well as mudguards and perhaps even built-in lights. These all add to the overall weight, but if the intended purpose requires them, it’s no bother.
If you plan to use the bike for other purposes, such as faster club runs, then you may want to look for a bike that comes with eyelets for guards and racks, so that you can remove and fit them as and when.
There’s a lot of clever luggage solutions around these days, such as frame bags and oversized saddlebags, that allow you to do away with panniers if you’d rather distribute weight differently.