Touring bikes need to be versatile, comfortable and at the same time offering a good performance on the road. Most touring bikes are suitable for the odd off-road / badly made road. However, if you want to do a lot of off-road riding, you may be better off looking to a converted mountain bike with panniers.
At first glance a touring bike looks similar to a road bike. The frame is similar, dropped handlebars offering a range of positions. A touring bike will have extras to a road bike. A good touring bike will also be very versatile useful for commuting.
- Third chain ring – for greater gear choice (often referred to as having a granny ring – useful for lugging luggage up steep hills)
- Wider tyres (perhaps 28′ on 700c wheels) These tyres offer greater stability and comfort than thinner road tyres.
- Panniers front / back
Frames for Touring Bikes
Many touring bikes are based on Steel frames.Note these are often referred to as Cro-Moly Frames. This means a mix of predominantly steel with other metals to make a stronger and lighter frame.
For example, the Reynolds 853, 531 frames (see: Reynolds frames) or Columbus SLX. These are high quality steel frames. Despite a reputation for being heavy. These top end steel alloys can actually be surprisingly light. The main advantages of steel are:
- Inherent springiness and ability to absorb. This makes a more comfortable ride which is important for when you are spending long hours on a tour. With steel frames, you don’t need any shock absorbers.
- Steel is also quite versatile, if you have a crash it can be more easily welded back. If a Carbon frame springs a crack, that is probably it – end of frame.
- ‘Steel is real’ – a popular saying amongst cyclists. I enjoy riding steel frames as it gives a good responsive feel.
- Most custom frame builders work with steel.- For example, with Robert Penn developed his dream bike, he got a custom 953 Reynolds frame built by a local frame builder (Brian Rourke).
- A good steel frame can last for a lifetime.
Disadvantages of Steel
- Can be heavier than many Aluminium alloys.
- Can easily rust if exposed to the rain.
See more: best bike frame material
Touring Bike Models
Unfortunately, touring bikes don’t tend to be cheap. It’s a little bit like single speed bikes, because they are not mass-marketed they tend to be a little more expensive for what you get.
The Dawes Galaxy is one of the best selling touring bikes on the market. The basic Dawes Galaxy retails at £1,199. It is is based on a steel Reynolds 631 frame and Reynolds 520 fork
Frame: Reynolds 631 butted
Fork: Triple butted chromoly blades
Groupset: mixture of Shimano Deore and Tiagra triple chainset.
Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon 700x32c
Dawes have a long tradition of touring bikes, the Dawes galaxy is ideal for the purpose of touring. The 653 steel frame is excellent for all day riding comfort. It will absorb rough roads, but still give a responsive ride. The extras are carefully chosen to offer good value, but do the job. There isn’t anything you would need to really change. (e.g. Schwalbe Marathon tyres) are great at puncture protection.
Within this brand of bikes there is actually a range of different options based around the same principles. For example, the Dawes Galaxy Ultra (£1,799) comes with a frame upgrade Reynolds 853 tig welded and specific touring Brooks B17 saddle.
Another alternative touring bike is something like the Cannondale Trekking conquest. Built around an SI Trekking lite frame and Shimano Deore. It provides a good touring bike for under £700. There are different versions of the Cannondale Trekking model. For £1,200 you can buy a lightweight version based on SI Trekking Superlite frame and Shimano LX, it also comes with hydraulic disc brakes a superiod braking system.
- Frame: Reynolds 520 Cro Mo
- Fork: Cro Moly
- Gearset: mix of Shimano sora and Shimano Deore – 27 gears. 48/38/28 chainrings
- Brakes: Tektro 992AG
- Handlebars and Stem: 6061 Aluminium Ergo Tour
- Tyres: Continental Contact 700 x 32c
- Saddle: Tour leather
The Ridgeback Voyage is good value for a touring bike. It costs under £800 and comes equipped ready to tour. It is dissappointing to pay £800 and still only get Sora and Deore gears, but this is common for touring bikes. It is a very solid built bike with potential for great long distance rides. A good no-nonense introduction to touring bikes
Ridgeback Voyage 2012 at Evans Cycles
Santos Touring Bikes
A range of custom built touring bikes. These range from £1,000 to under £3,000 for a top of the range touring bikes. The Santos Travel Master 2.6 was used by James Bowthorpe in a successful around the world cycle challenge (18,000 miles in 178 days) so comes very well tested. It makes innovative use of Santos chain drive and Rolhoff gears – for ease of use and maintenance. See: Review of Santos Touring Bikes
Touring Bikes Under £1000
- Ridgeback Platinum – comes in at £999. Giving Shimano 105, Carbon Fork and Triple butted aluminium. Use of aluminium frame helps keep price down. The Carbon fork gives more cushioning on the front end of the bike to compensate for the loss of steel cushioning.
- Cinelli Gazetta Della Strada Touring bike – £999. Using Columbus Cromo Steel and Shimano Sora groupset. Cinelli Gazetta
- Dawes Vantage (£549) big price saving because it uses cheaper aluminium alloy 6061 frame. This is less forgiving ride and good for someone on a budget, who wants to get their first taste of touring. Dawes Vantage at Evans cycles
- Ridgeback Voyage 2012 £849 at Evans Cycles
What to Look for in A Good Touring Bicycle
- Low Maintenance
- Room for Panniers
- Range of Gears
- Reasonable weight. A touring bike will never win a weight weenies competition, but choosing low weight components will help on those hills.