Best Bikes For Touring | PedalChef

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There is usually not a one-size-fits-all bike for every cycling occasion, but what is the best bike for touring?

Touring on a bike requires features on a bike that make it easy to spend extended time on the bike and extra weight carrying capacity, but still with enough performance to get some speed out of the bike when necessary.

The best bike for touring will be a bike constructed for durability, comfort, and stability when carrying additional weight. Riding position and tire choice are significant, but the best choice depends on the touring area and the riding conditions you will experience.

Choosing the right touring bike can increase the enjoyment and comfort your will experience on your cycle tour. You will be spending many hours alone in the company of your bike, so choosing a bike with inappropriate features may make you wonder why you had this crazy bike touring idea in the first place!

Fortunately, you can learn from our experiences to choose the right bike for touring, and we have some expert tips and tricks that you may not have considered but will save you miles of aggravation on the road!



Best Touring Bikes

Many bike manufacturers produce excellent bikes for touring, but we have some suggestions for quality touring bikes if you don't know where to start.

Choosing the best touring bike for your requirements should not only be focused on the best bikes available but a view of their features and the pros and cons of each bike.

This information will allow you to choose the bike that has the best features and characteristics for your unique road trip.

Trek 520 Touring Bike

Trek 520 Touring Bike
Trek 520 Touring Bike

Trek is a well-known manufacturer of touring bikes enjoyed by many tour riders for the durability and comfort afforded by these machines.

The Trek 520 touring bike is an all-steel frame tourer made for the long haul. The geometry on this bike is perfect for longer trips where extra gear is needed, and the fender and rack mounts provide a robust framework for all your packing needs.

The Trek 520 is a robust workhorse with gearing designed for heavy loads, making the bike suitable for expedition touring or daily rides.

Trek 520 Touring Bike Pros

Trek is an American-made bike brand designed and built in Wisconsin, and the Trek 520 is the only touring bike in their stable.

Even with only one touring bike to offer, it has proven to be a favorite of ours as well as many other touring enthusiasts.

  • Sitting position. The sitting position on this bike offers one of the most comfortable rides, even more than some pricier bikes.
  • Durable frame. Chromoly steel is an excellent material for a durable frame that will handle heavy loads and rough terrain.
  • Rack frames. The bike comes with a set of frames front and back to mount your cargo carriers.
  • Lower gearing. The Trek 520 offers lower gearing than many other touring bikes, which helps for long climbs with a loaded bike.
  • High-quality disc brakes. The Trek 520 uses TRP Spyre brake sets, some of the best on the market.

Trek 520 Touring Bike Cons

We could not find many disadvantages to the Trek 520, which is why it is one of the most popular touring bikes, but here are the few we did find.

  • Paint chips easily. One of the most common complaints on this bike is that the quality of the paint job is not as good as other bikes and tends to chip more easily.
  • Cost. The bike is not cheap, but replacement parts are reasonably priced.

Surly Disc Trucker Touring Bike

Surly Disc Trucker Touring Bike
Surly Disc Trucker Touring Bike

If you are planning a tour on paved roads, you can't do much better than a Surly bike! These custom-designed steel bikes are built for touring, with robust components and gear sets.

The Surly Disc Trucker comes in both the 700C wheel and the 26-inch wheel format and a Shimano gear set for reliability.

The handlebars on the disc trucker are a good combination of straight and drop bars giving a good choice of different riding positions based on the road conditions.

Another aspect we like about this bike is that you can customize the components on the bike to your preferences. Surly dealers can assist in providing the correct add-ons to create the perfect touring bike!

Surly Disc Trucker Touring Bike Pros

The main features of the Disc Trucker that we believe to be the most beneficial features of the bike include the following.

  • Comfort. Comfort in the saddle is crucial for consecutive days on the road, and the Disc Trucker delivers in this department.
  • Disc brakes. The cable-actuated disc brakes provide excellent stopping power, especially on a heavily loaded bike in wet or muddy conditions.
  • Good cornering. The bike corners well, even fully loaded, and feels completely stable.
  • Good for paved roads and gravel. The Surly Disc Trucker handles paved and gravel roads with equal ease.

Surly Disc Trucker Touring Bike Cons

There were not many cons to the Surly Disc Trucker, but these are the few that caught our attention.

  • Weight. The Surly Disc Trucker weighs in at almost 29-pounds, or a little over 13kg, putting the bike on the heavy side, but the benefit is additional sturdiness.
  • Not good for rough off-road trails. If you are planning to do some off-road bashing during your road trip, this bike is not the best choice for that environment.
  • Value for money. The Disc Trucker does not come with as many built-in features as other bikes in this price range. You will need to spend more to add cargo carriers and other accessories.

Kona Sutra SE Touring Bike

Kona Sutra SE Touring Bike
Kona Sutra SE Touring Bike

Kona is a USA and Canadian bike brand gaining a following among tour riders. The brand offers a number of touring-ready models, but we like one in particular for an excellent multipurpose touring bike.

The Kona Sutra SE is a steel frame bike designed to take you on day trips around the city or a long-haul tour across a continent with reliability and comfort. The gearing incorporates a 3-gear crankset and a 10-speed Shimano cassette geared for long-distance tours.

The Kona Sutra SE comes fitted with pannier racks ready to mount your panniers and hit the road. The retro-style leather seat is comfortable and lends a stylish traditional look to the bike.

Kona Sutra SE Touring Bike Pros

The following features of the Kona Sutra Se are the ones we found most valuable on the bike.

  • Durability. The bike is built to be tough. It can handle paved roads and gravel roads, even if the gravel roads become more off-road than on-road.
  • Quality components. All the components on the bike are in the upper-mid range category, which gives the bike great overall performance in gearing, braking, and comfort.
  • Great gearing. The gearing on the bike makes it one of the fastest touring bikes, getting to higher speeds on flats and downhills than many other touring bikes.
  • Fenders. The bike comes fitted with fenders and mudflaps, which not only provide a nice retro look but function to keep mud off you and your gear strapped to the bike.

Kona Sutra SE Touring Bike Cons

The following are the areas where we found the Kona Sutra SE to be a little lacking.

  • Rear cargo rack only. The bike comes with only a rear cargo rack as standard, but there are mounting positions to add a front cargo rack to the bike. The front rack would be an optional extra.
  • Gearing is a little challenging for hill climbs. While the gearing is good for flats and downhills, we found the gearing to have some challenges for tackling steep hills with a heavy load.

Genesis Tour de Fer 10 Touring Bike

Genesis bikes are popular mostly for their pricing, but this does not mean they are not a viable contender for a quality touring bike.

The Genesis Tour de Fer 10 is often described as average, but in our opinion, it elevates "average" to a new level. There are better bikes available, but for the price point for this bike, it is more than capable as a good foundation or starting point for a touring bike.

The bike is robust, stable, and certainly performs better than its average reputation. It is a great all-rounder and retains good handling, whether loaded or unloaded.

It is an uncomplicated bike, which can play to your advantage if you are touring in a location where parts and repairs would be more difficult for more sophisticated bikes.

If speed is not your main focus during a bike tour, then this bike is an excellent contender for a solid, reliable, non-nonsense ride for most touring applications.

Genesis Tour de Fer 10 Pros

While the Genesis Tour de Fer does not use high-end components, the bike is rugged and will serve you well as a general tour bike.

  • Durable steel frame. The steel frame is robust and dependable, even over rough ground.
  • Price. The Genesis is well priced, making it easy for anyone to buy a good, reliable touring bike that will suit most touring demands.
  • Predictable handling. There are no surprises when riding this bike in terms of handling. It offers solid performance, which makes it excellent for people new to bike tours.

Genesis Tour de Fer 10 Cons

Our main complaint about this bike was the gracing system, which has some performance issues when braking under load.

  • Brakes are not the best. The main downside to the Genesis Tour de Fer 10 Tourer is that the brakes are not of great quality and require more care on fast corners or steep downhills with a heavy load. Replace the brakes, and you have an excellent all-round touring bike!
  • Availability. The Genesis is designed in the UK but manufactured in Indonesia. The bike range is readily available in Europe and the UK but is only available for online purchase in the USA.

Giant Toughroad SLR 1 Touring Bikes

Giant is a well-known bicycle brand from the UK and is a true adventure touring bike! The main feature of the Toughroad SLR 1 touring bike is the frame. The frame is made from aluminum, giving the bike a significant weight-saving compared to other touring bikes in its class.

The forks are composite, providing stable, smooth handling on the front end, giving superior comfort in steering the bike.

The Giant Toughroad provides a superb ride no matter the road condition. The bike has a high weight-bearing capacity and remains rock-solid on the road, even when carrying a heavy load. The bike comes with front and rear cargo racks as standard.

Giant Toughroad SLR 1 Pros

The Giant Toughroad is a superb bike that has many strong points that will make it a dream bike to take on a long tour. We have highlighted some of the characteristics we liked the most.

  • Stability. Even when heavily laden, the elongated geometry provides excellent stability downhill and around corners.
  • Hydraulic disc brakes. The hydraulic assisted disc brakes perform superbly and instill confidence in the bikes stopping power, even when gaining substantial downhill speed.
  • Kickstand. The bike comes with a kickstand, which is not a common feature on touring bikes from other manufacturers, but they are very useful on fully-laden bikes.

Giant Toughroad SLR 1 Cons

There is not much bad to say about the Giant Toughroad, but one of the biggest cons for ease of repairs on the road is the lack of thru-axles.

  • Flat handlebars. The Giant Toughroad comes standard with flat handlebars, so if you prefer having the option for drop handlebars, you would need to add them as an optional extra.
  • No thru-axles. One fairly significant limitation on the Toughroad is the lack of thru-axles, making the removal of the wheels more of a chore than they need to be.
  • Not the best choice for remote country touring. The hydraulic brakes and aluminum frame are great advantages but may pose problems for touring in remote locations where repairs and spares may be difficult to acquire.

Masi Giramondo Touring Bike

The Masi Bike brand has roots in Italy and the USA. The brand was started by Italian cyclist Alberto Masi, who began to manufacture bike frames in Carlsbad, California.

Haro Bikes later bought out the brand and is still operated by this company. The local heritage ensures spares are readily available across the USA. The Giramondo is not a common sight on the touring scene, probably due to the lower production volumes than most other bike companies.

However, the bike is well-built, comfortable, and robust, making it more than a match for most touring adventures and able to compete with similar brands in the same price range.

The bike geometry makes for a comfortable ride, even for consecutive days on the road, and the standard-issue front and rear cargo racks give plenty of carrying capacity.

Masi Giramondo Touring Bike Pros

While the Giramondo may not be a common sight on the road, it has some great features that give it a thumbs-up in our evaluation.

  • Bar-end shifters. The bar-end shifters make it easy to change gears without moving your hands from the drop bars.
  • Extra water bottle mountings. The bike has 3 water bottle mountings in the main triangle of the frame and two on the front fork legs, allowing for extra fluid transportation for those long rides.
  • Comfort. The bike geometry provides good comfort for long hours and consecutive days on the road.
  • Quality gear set. The bike has the Shimano Deore FD-T6000  gear set, known for its reliability and durability.

Masi Giramondo Touring Bike Cons

The Giramondo does have a few shortcomings, but they are not major obstacles for most serious touring enthusiasts.

  • Shorter head tube. The shorter head tube does not allow for a comfortable upright riding position for riders with this preference.
  • Weight. This bike comes in on the heavy side of touring bikes, with a dry weight of 31.8-pounds or 14.5kg.

Salsa Marrakesh Drop Bar Brooks Touring Bike

Salsa is an American brand bike out of Bloomington, Minnesota, and produces good quality touring bikes as part of their range of products.

The Salsa Marakesh is a steel frame tourer aimed at the upper mid-range touring bike market. It has great components on the bike, promoting a comfortable, easy ride.

The mechanical disc brakes provide good braking power and are easy to maintain and adjust. The Shimano Deore gear set offers clean, precise gear changes and relatively low maintenance, perfect for touring.

The bike has a great carrying capacity, with a rear rack rated for 59.5-pounds and 33-pounds for the front rack.

The bike handles well on paved and gravel roads, and the robust steel frame can handle some off-road riding when necessary.

Salsa Marrakesh Drop Bar Brooks Pros

The main characteristics of the Salsa Marrakesh that we think count in favor of this bike is as follows.

  • Alternator dropouts. This feature gives drivetrain options for single-speed, geared, or thru-axle alternatives.
  • Spare spoke mount. The rear left chainstay has a specialized mounting location for storing spare wheel spokes.

Salsa Marrakesh Drop Bar Brooks Cons

The Salsa Marrakesh is a good all-around bike, but we felt the incompatibility with alternative rack mounts was the main disadvantage.

  • Weight. The bike's heavy-duty steel frame is robust but ranks on the heavy side of the scale at 31.8-pounds or 14kg.
  • Rear rack incompatibility. Some bikers reported that the rear rack is not compatible with many non-Salsa rear racks

Best Touring Bike Buyers Guide?

In our experience, the best bike for touring is not necessarily the fastest bike you can lay your hands on, but rather a bike where you will be comfortable spending hours in the saddle!

As mentioned, there are many bikes that can be used for touring, and you may be considering customizing a bike you already have into a tourer. This may work in some cases, but you don't want to find out you made the wrong choice once your tour starts!

There are many touring bikes with different features designed for different touring conditions. The implication is that before you start looking for the right touring bike, you should consider the touring destination and what lies on the road ahead!

Where are you Touring With Your Bike?

Your travel destination will play a large role in choosing the best features for your touring bike. You should ask some questions and undertake some research regarding your touring location before you decide on certain features for the best bike.

The following questions would be useful to gain an understanding of what you will be facing on the road during your bike tour.

  • Elevation. Will your planned tour be on relatively flat terrain, or are there steep hills, mountainous roads, or a mixture of both? This can affect your choice of gearing on the bike.
  • Road conditions. Will you be riding on mostly paved roads, gravel roads, or dirt tracks? The answers to this question can affect tire choice.
  • Weather conditions. What gear do you need to pack to keep you comfortable on the trip? Cold conditions may require additional packing space for cold-weather clothing.
  • Distances to travel each day. How far will you travel each day from one overnight stop to the other? Will you need to camp on the road? The distances between stops and accommodation will have implications for the packing space you need for gear.

A word of advice when planning your bike tour is to not underestimate distances and terrain. It may not look far from one destination to another on a map, but you must consider the road conditions, the topography of the route you will take, and the additional weight you carry on the bike.

These factors can increase the time it takes to cycle between overnight spots, which can catch you unawares in your planning if you are unfamiliar with the location.

Best Features For A Touring Bike

When it comes to selecting your touring bike, you need to find a bike with features that offer function rather than a flashy gimmick.

Features for a touring bike should be beneficial for the rider and provide advantages for the conditions the bike will be used in and give the most comfort to the rider.

Many features on standard road bicycles, racing bikes, and mountain bikes are suited to that specific riding style and may be inappropriate or not the best choice for touring.

For this reason, your current bike may not be the best choice for touring, even after basic customizing. This is especially true if your planned tour will be over an extended period and you will be covering long distances on the bike.

Features that provide advantages in the following areas should be considered for inclusion when choosing your touring bike.

  • Riding position. The riding position is important for comfort and to prevent injury, especially for consecutive days on the road or long distances.
  • Stability. Weight distribution on the bike is important for stability and safe riding.
  • Gear carrying capacity. Depending on the duration of your tour, you may need more or less carrying space.
  • Braking system. An effective braking system is needed on touring bikes due to the additional weight onboard.
  • Durability. Reliability, durability, and fixability of the bike are important, especially when touring in remote regions where repairs or spares could be difficult to source.
  • Performance. A touring bike needs all the aforementioned features but still providing excellent performance on the road and giving you the ability and confidence to push hard when necessary and stay safe.

Our guide to choosing the best touring bike will help you make the right choice to get the most out of your adventure!

How to Choose a Touring Bike

At first glance, a touring bike may look like most other bikes in its basic shape and design. However, subtle design differences can make a significant difference to the practicality and performance of the bike on tour.

In many cases, the design features of a touring bike can make it look a little retro and old-fashioned. Don't be put off by this visual appearance since the "retro-look" is often to enhance the bike's functionality for touring rather than a fashion statement!

What's Your Budget For A Touring Bike?

Your budget for a touring bike will affect the features you select for the right bike for your tour. You should try to source the best touring bike you can for the budget you have. If your tour bike budget is limited, you should focus on the durability and upgradability of the bike.

A durable bike will give the reliability and longevity you need in a touring bike. The upgradeability of the bike will give you the ability to add improvements when your budget allows.

Best Riding Position For A Touring Bike

The sitting position or riding position is an important comfort consideration when choosing a touring bike.

If the bike only has one riding position, it can quickly become uncomfortable after spending many hours on the road.

The riding position is affected by the frame style and the handlebar type installed on the bike. Many touring bikes are set up for a more upright riding position than most other racing or mountain bikes.

However, we recommend that your select a bike that offers choice in the riding position, especially for longer tours.

If you are struggling against an unexpected headwind, the last thing you want is to be limited to an upright riding position on your bike.

Bikes with seat positions that have you permanently leaning forward or where the seat is higher than the handlebars are not suitable for touring bikes.

The seat position should be adjustable to allow for a level in line or lower than the handlebars. This design will allow you to adjust the seat level for different conditions you may encounter on the road.

Most bikes come with a single handlebar style, flat or drop-bar handles. We recommend that you choose a handlebar design for your touring bike that combines straight and drop-bar handles. This combination gives you options for the riding position depending on your needs on the trip.

Best Materials For A Touring Bike

While lightweight materials are the best choice for racing bikes and competition bikes, they are not always the best choice for touring bikes.

Lightweight materials will increase the cost of the bike and make repairs to the bike difficult or impossible in certain circumstances. Lightweight construction materials may be suitable to handle the particular stresses placed on the bike for racing but may not be able to handle the additional weight carried on a touring bike.

Steel is a good choice for frame material on a touring bike because it provides strength and durability and is easily repairable.

The repairability is of particular importance when traveling in remote or rural areas where facilities and spares may not be available to repair lightweight materials such as carbon fiber.

In contrast, a steel frame can easily be repaired with a welder, which is more easily sourced in rural areas than tools to fix space-age material frames.

Best Touring Bike Frame Geometry

Touring bikes need a different geometry to be able to carry additional weight and still give a comfortable and stable ride.

A difference in touring bikes that is less perceptible is the longer wheelbase than standard bikes. The bike wheelbase is defined as the distance between the front and rear axle of the bike. A longer wheelbase offers more space to accommodate carrying more cargo on the bike and gives better stability for a heavily-laden bike.

Steering a loaded bike is easier on a bike with a longer wheelbase, with less twitch in the handlebars. Standard bikes have a wheelbase of about 39.2-inches or 996mm, while a touring bike's wheelbase can range from 41.3-inches or 1050mm to 42.1-inches or 1070mm.

Touring bikes have a slightly longer and more robust chainstay. The longer chainstay gives more room for cargo bags on the side of the bike, while the thicker chainstay makes it more robust to carry the additional weight. The chainstay is the horizontal bar connecting the rear axle to the pedals.

Best Wheels For Touring Bikes

Wheels for touring bikes differ from standard bikes to cater to the additional weight carried by the bike and the surface you expect to encounter during the tour.

The number of spokes in the wheel determines the strength of the wheel rim and its load-carrying capacity. Generally speaking, the more spokes in the wheel, the more weight the wheel can carry.

A 32-spoke-count wheel would be the minimum for a light-load touring bike, whereas a 36-spoke-count wheel would be a better selection if you are loading the bike to maximum capacity.

Wheels with traditional wire spokes would be preferable over any wheels and spokes made from composite materials. Wire spoke wheels are more durable and easier to maintain and repair, especially when your trip takes you on roads less traveled in remote locations.

Wheel size is another point of consideration for taking a bike on a road trip. Larger wheels are more efficient and give better performance on paved surfaces.

Wheels with a slightly smaller diameter are preferable for a mixture of off-road and on-road riding. The smaller diameter makes for a sturdier, more robust construction. This allows the wheel to absorb impacts from rough terrain better than larger wheels.

The wheel size of 700C is the common standard for touring bikes used primarily on paved roads. This size translates to a 29-inch wheel and generally accommodates thinner tires.

A 650B wheel or 26-inch wheel is the preferred choice for off-road riding. These wheels can accommodate wider tires which offer better traction and road-holding in sandy and rough road conditions.

Traveling to remote international destinations will also play a role in your wheel choice. Tires and spare parts for 26-inch wheels are more readily available in places like Africa and other rural and remote areas. This availability is often due to the road conditions in these regions, so the 650B or 26-inch wheel would make the most sense on your bike anyway.

Tire Choice For A Touring Bike

The tire choice for your bike will largely be determined by the wheel size you opt to fit for your trip. Even though you have limited choice on width with a 700C wheel, there is a range of tire widths to choose from within this size specification.

We have found that choosing a slightly wider tire has more benefits than choosing a thinner, faster tire for a touring bike. Some speed is sacrificed by selecting a wider tire, but the tire's additional comfort over the many hours on the road is a worthwhile trade-off.

The wheel size of 650B or 26-inches gives you the option for a wider tire, but going too wide can provide unnecessary friction that does not offer any additional benefit to make it worthwhile.

In our experience, a tire width of 1.37-inches or 35mm is the optimal width that provides better comfort with the least compromise in the tire's speed.

Best Touring Bike Brakes

Rim brakes are the traditional brakes installed on touring bikes, but it is not the only option available.

Rim brakes are typically mounted on the upper part of the forks with a spring-driven C-clamp mechanism. The rubber brakes mounted on the clamp bite down on the wheel's rim to slow the bike down.

The main disadvantage of traditional rim brakes is that they have limited stopping power, especially on heavily loaded bikes in wet or muddy conditions. Rim brakes also result in heavy wear on the wheel rim, shortening the longevity of the wheel. The advantage is that spares are readily available in most parts of the world.

Disc brakes are more efficient and have better stopping power across a wider range of conditions than rim brakes. Disc brakes are the better braking system choice for a tour primarily on paved roads.

Disc brakes have a disadvantage for touring in that they require more maintenance and are more difficult to set than rim brakes. Parts can be difficult to acquire when touring abroad in remote locations.

For remote trips or travel to far-flung locations in the world, rim brakes are the better choice due to the availability of replacement rubbers, cables, and other parts for this braking system worldwide.

Best Pedals For Touring Bikes

Racing bikes typically use clip-on pedals, which require specialized cycling shoes to clip into position on the pedals.

My preference if pedal-style for touring is for toe-clip pedals. These pedals have a metal frame over the toe and an adjustable strap that fits over your foot.

The toe-clip pedal allows you to wear normal shoes but still allows for safe standing on the pedals to power up a hill!

Since no specialized shoes are needed, it is one less item to pack and makes walking easier when you stop to have a break!

Best Gearing For Touring Bikes

The gearing for a bike consists of the cassette, which are the gears fitted to the axle on the rear wheel, and the crankset fitted to the righthand pedal.

Various gearing ratios can be chosen for different cycling applications. Bikes built for touring will generally have an appropriate gear set installed on the bike.

Most tour riders prefer a 3-gear crankset combined with a 10-speed cassette on the back. This gear set gives a combination that provides easier gears rather than a harder gear set typical for racing applications.

Good quality components in your gearing are essential to have minimal problems with your gear set during the trip. The less complicated the gears and gear selector mechanisms, the easier it will be to maintain and adjust the system on the road.

Internal gearing hubs are another option for touring bikes, and many riders prefer these systems because they are reliable and maintenance-free. However, if something were to malfunction in the internal gearing, you would be stuck on the road since these systems are not user-fixable.

If you are working on a limited bike-budget for your touring bike, an internal gearing hub would be costly, and a simpler external derailleur gearing system would be better.