If you’re planning a multi-day adventure by bike and intend to travel as far as your legs can take you – while 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.
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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 tires, 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 bike 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 and is carefully tailored to the carrying of luggage; and these bikes almost always come fitted with mudguards and pannier racks plus wider tires 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.
Best touring bikes 2020
There’s more on what to look for in a touring bike below – but first, here are our top picks.
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Dawes Ultra Galaxy touring bike £1,200 / $NA
With three bikes in the British brand’s touring range, the Ultra Galaxy is built around a Reynolds 520 Double Butted Steel frame, thus keeping the most traditional of touring values.
Being equipped with Shimano nine-speed Sora with mechanical disc brakes does mean that heritage does come with a slight groupset penalty, although the gear combo of the triple chainrings, 48/36/26, and 11-34 cassette should get you over pretty much anything, even with a couple of fully loaded panniers.
If your budget doesn’t quite stretch that far, then the Dawes Galaxy at £699.99 / $N/A keeps almost the same frame geometry as the Ultra, but is constructed out of 6061 aluminum and finished with slightly lower lever 8-speed Shimano Claris,
Both come with a lightweight alloy rear pannier carrier, sturdy and durable fixed chromo plastic mudguards (fenders to our US friends), and 32c Schwalbe Marathon tires, the only thing the Dawes Ultra Galaxy is missing is a touring map and rider.
Salsa Marrakesh Brooks Touring bike, $1,499.99
The Marrakesh is designed to take you touring wherever you wish — including a trip around the world if necessary. The frame is built from 4130 CroMoly tubing and has a serious array of mounts. There’s room for up to five bottle cages thanks to extra fork mounts plus you can equip it with front and rear racks (rear rack included). There’s even a mount to carry a spare spoke.
The model comes in three different builds (the Sora build features front and rear racks as standard) but the Brooks-equipped model gets extra touring style points. Alongside the classic Brooks B-17 saddle it also features bar-end shifters and a 3×9-speed Shimano Deore groupset. The gearing range is designed to get you up the steep stuff even when fully loaded thanks to 48/36/36 triple chainring paired with an 11-34t cassette.
It’s world-touring credentials are further aided by its generous tire clearance – 700 x 40mm even with fenders, and comes stock with Maxxis Roamer 42mm tires. Which means you should eat up the miles in comfort even when the road gets rough.
Buy now in UK: Salsa Marrakesh Sora bike from Keep Pedalling for £1900
Genesis Tour de Fer 30 touring bike, £1,849.99 / $N/A
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, weighing in at 16.6kg / 36.6lbs.
The 160mm rotor mechanical disc brakes are a more modern introduction with a nod to practicality, especially in the wet. The 10 speed Shimano Tiagra drive train is about right for a bike at this price point and the triple chainset, 50/39/30, and 11-34 cassette should help even the weariest legs over the hills.
In an ideal world you’d have hydraulic disc braking, but even the mechanical pull TRP Spyre-C will be a revelation if you’re used to rim braking, especially when fully loaded panniers front and rear.
Schwalbe Marathon tires in 35c will travel well over uneven roads and the build comes with Tubus luggage racks front and rear, plus trekking fenders, and dynamo powered front and rear lights.
Surly Disc Trucker £1,529/$1675
A spin-off of Surly’s much-revered Long Haul Trucker, the Disc Trucker keeps many of the much-loved versatility and can-do attitude, but this time with the addition of mechanical Tektro disc brakes.
A multitude of braze-on mount means the Disc Trucker is capable of running front and rear bags, full-coverage fenders, two water bottles, a spare spoke and even a pump peg.
With both 26″ and 700c wheel build options available, the Disc Trucker can be as adventurous as you choose. The 26″ (in sizes 42-58cm) is capable of taking up to 2.1″ tires, while the 700c version (in sizes 56-64cm) has room for up to 42mm tires — both with fenders.
Made from a CroMoly Steel, the Disc Trucker comes equipped with mostly Shimano Deore XT drivetrain, the 26/36/48 triple Andel crankset and 11-36 ten-speed Shimano cassette will power you over anything, although that is leg dependant if you choose the max rider and weight limit of 161kg (355lb).
Buy now in the US: Surly Disc Trucker from Surly Bikes for $1675
Buy now in the UK: Surly Disc Trucker from Spa Cycles for £1390
Ridgeback Tour bike, £799.99 / $N/A
Classic styling never goes out of date – and the vintage-looking Tour has got it by the bucket load, though a redesign this year means that modern tech has not been overlooked.
The Ridgeback Tour uses 6061 heat-treated aluminum for the frame, with a steel fork. A rack and full fenders come as standard and a triple chainset with an 11-34 cassette powered by Shimano Claris shifters means you’ll always have a gear for the next hill.
Jalco rims with a high spoke count should be pretty bulletproof and they’re fitted with Continental Contact tires that will roll their way over all the badly maintained cracked country lanes and rural roads you could ever dream of. Tektro rim brakes do the stopping. Full weight is 13kg / 28lbs.
Trek 520 disc touring bike, £1,300/$1,679
Constructed from Trek’s Chromoly steel, the frame has been designed around disc brakes and fitted with a rack and fenders mounts.
The Bontrager Affinity rims are tubeless-ready, which might be worth setting up if you want to reduce your chance of flats, but for now, they come with 38c Bontrager H1 hard-case Ultimate tires.
The drivetrain is a mixture of Shimano parts with Sora shifters. The crankset is a triple, with 48-36-26 tooth chainrings, and the cassette is an 11-36 so you’ll have ample gears when the road goes up. TRP Spyre C 2.0 mechanical disc mechanical discs look after stopping.
The overall weight comes in at 14.26 kg / 31.4 lbs in a size 57, which is lighter than some of the more traditional options.
Buy now in the UK: Trek 520 Disc touring bike from Cycles UK for £1,300
Buy now in the US: Trek 520 Disc touring bike from Trek for $1679.99
Cube Travel Pro Trapeze touring bike, £799/$879
With a step-through frame design mounting and dismounting this robust, aluminum touring bike from Cube is easy and convenient.
There’s plenty of clearance for extra-wide tires and the wheels are currently wrapped in Schwalbe’s Marathon Almotion 29×2.15in rubber.
The Travel Pro Trapeze is equipped with a Shimano Nexus internal hub gear system and a Gates CDN Belt Drive system which offers great pedaling efficiency, while Shimano hydraulic disc brakes provide reliable and powerful stopping power.
Finishing off this functional tourer are full-length fenders, an adjustable CUBEstand Pro kickstand, a Knog Oi bell, lights (front and rear), and a semi-integrated carrier for pannier bags; these features will have you covered for any adventure.
Buy now in the UK & US: Cube Travel Pro Trapeze touring bike from Chain Reaction Cycles for £799/US$879
Kona Sutra All Road touring bike, £1,499/$1,499
The gloss concrete green Sutra is made from Kona’s Cromoly steel frame and is kitted out with smooth-rolling Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 700x40c tires on WTB STi23 rims.
It also features a Shimano Deore 3×10 drivetrain with 26/36/48t chainrings and a 11-36t cassette which will provide a great range up the steepest climbs and fastest descents.
With a Brooks B17 leather saddle, mudguards and a pannier rack finishing off this tourer, this good-looking bike oozes style while not forgetting functionality.
What to look for in a touring bike
It’s difficult to lay out 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 aluminum!) 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 aluminum 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 clipping your heels 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 tires
It’s incredible how much difference a set of tires 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 tire pressure and you’ll be bumping about all over the road.
Most touring cyclists will want to go for wider tires – 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 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 fenders 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, like group rides, 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.