As cycle touring has grown in popularity in recent years, a handful of manufacturers have begun producing cheap touring bikes aimed at cycle tourists on a low budget.
In this article we’re going to have a look at some of these entry-level tourers available in the UK.
Cheap Touring Bikes – What To Expect
When I say ‘low budget’, don’t expect prices as cheap as those sub-£100 spam bikes from Halfords (though I have no doubt you could pull off a low-budget cycle tour on one of those bikes).
There’s a line below which a cheap touring bike would be so full of compromises and therefore so unfit for its intended purpose that it wouldn’t be worth making or selling it. Touring bikes need to be able to do a lot of miles and carry a lot of luggage – something that will never change.
The result is an entry level price range roughly between £400 and £600 GBP.
For that, you can expect to get a cheap new touring bike from a reputable manufacturer that will serve you well if you understand its limitations.
These bikes are usually road-oriented, with classic touring geometry, 700C wheels, drop handlebars, cantilever rim brakes, and drivetrains taken from the bottom end of the mountain-biking market (or a mix of mountain bike and road components).
They’ll generally be based on aluminium frames (which are cheaper to manufacture than steel), and will come with a basic rear rack and mudguards.
Don’t expect a front rack, though, and expect contact parts like saddle, pedals, grips and tyres to be relatively cheap and cheerful, designed to get you started rather than to keep you going forever.
Such bikes are a good choice for those who want to give cycle touring a try but don’t want to invest several thousand pounds in a top-end touring rig. If you like it, these bikes are often prime for upgrading; if you don’t, you can sell it and lose very little in the process.
Let’s have a look at some of the cheap touring bikes on offer right now in the new touring bike market…
Adventure Flat White (£430)
New from the previously unheard-of Adventure Outdoor Co. is the Flat White, part of a new series of entry-level bikes. It’s an impressive effort to produce what is probably the cheapest off-the-peg touring bike on the market in the UK right now.
The cromoly steel frame in particular will attract a lot of interest, and it looks to be well thought out in terms of eyelets and braze-ons. The 2x7sp Tourney drivetrain isn’t going to impress anyone, but there’s no particular reason it wouldn’t take you a couple of thousand miles before needing attention – and spares for this range are abundant and cheap.
Being a brand new offering from an unknown brand, the Flat White hasn’t yet garnered any reviews; nor does the company’s website offer anything in the way of background information. But the marketing & styling is a cut above, and given that they’re distributed by Sportline, my guess is that it’s an offshoot of a much bigger brand, set up to produce entry-level bikes in a handful of growing niches. It would be interesting to find out – and interesting to hear the first reports on how the Flat White deals with life on the road. Any takers?
Revolution Country 1 (£500)
Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative’s low budget tourer the Revolution Country 1 long held the title of best value budget touring bike in the UK under the name ‘Traveller’. Not only that, but reviews of the bike – including one in the CTC’s ‘Cycle’ magazine – have been unanimously positive. Based on an aluminium frame, it’s slightly higher specced than the Flat White, and the improvements in the drivetrain area may justify the higher price tag to some buyers.
As with many bikes at this end of the market, the Revolution Country 1 has a 3x8sp drivetrain. I’ve written in depth in The Complete Expedition Bike Buyer’s Guide about how, under most circumstances, 9sp and 10sp drivetrains can be considered a downgrade on a touring bike, not an upgrade, so don’t be fooled into thinking this is a weakness of the cheap touring bikes listed here.
Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative have 8 stores across northern England and Scotland, making it a good candidate for a test ride if you’re based at the top end of Britain. They also do mail-order, of course.
Roux Etape 150 (£500)
The Roux Etape 150 is a classically-styled road touring bike based on an aluminium frame; very similar to the Revolution Country Traveller and at the same price point, but with a more basic 3x7sp drivetrain. Aside from that, it has all the features you’d expect from a budget touring bike in this list. It’s available in just 3 rather middling sizes – especially tall or short riders will probably need to look elsewhere.
It’s likely that you’ll find little to choose from between this, the Country Traveller and the Regent on paper. The Etape 150, however, will probably be one of the easier ones to find and test-ride – which, as we all should know, is the single best way to avoiding buying the wrong touring bike.
Ridgeback Tour (£550)
Ridgeback’s World series has gone from strength to strength in the last few years, with an increasing number of long-distance tours being pulled off on the Panorama, and a brave move into 26-inch wheel expedition bike territory with the Expedition. The Ridgeback Tour is their entry-level offering, and for the price, you’ll find an impressively well-specified aluminium-framed touring bike with plenty of upgrade potential.
The 3x8sp mountain-bike drivetrain with an Acera rear derailleur and an 11-32t cassette gives the Tour a very good range of gear ratios, and the Continental Contact tyres are above average at this price point – expect to get a good few thousand miles out of these. 36-hole rims, toe clips, and a range of 5 frame sizes are all plus points too. Ridgeback being distributed by Madison, you’ll have few problems finding a dealer in your area.
Claud Butler Regent (£575)
The Claud Butler Regent is a middle-of-the-road budget tourer designed with light road touring firmly in mind, as the rather narrow-ranged 12-26t cassette and sportier geometry will attest. Also based on an aluminium frame, it caters slightly better for smaller riders than some of the other bikes in this list, with a 48cm frame size available.
Claud Butler bikes also benefit from wide distribution across the UK for the purposes of test riding. Given the specification, however, the Regent does feel somewhat overpriced when compared to, say, the Ridgeback Tour.
Raleigh Royal (£600)
The Raleigh Royal is the only other sub-£600 touring bike I’ve found with a cromoly steel frameset, which is of interest to tourers for several reasons. The classic styling will only add to its old-school appeal. Aside from that, it’s a sensibly-specified drop-bar touring bike, comparable in many ways to the other bikes on this list, and available in four frame sizes.
You won’t just get the cromo frame for your extra money – Schwalbe’s flagship Marathon tyres are a strong indicator as to the designer’s intentions for this bike. All in all, it’s a strong entry-level touring bike offering from the previously flagging British brand, who look to be making a bit of a comeback (though, sadly, no longer manufacturing their bikes in the UK).
A Quick Word On Buying The Right Bike
As I’ve hinted (OK, drilled into you) in this article, the only guaranteed way to avoid getting the wrong bike is to test ride it first.
You’ll also benefit from getting the bike set up by an expert bike fitter for your unique size, shape and comfort preferences.
Read this article for more on why this is such a critical stage of choosing a bicycle, be it a cheap touring bike from this list or a ludicrously expensive expedition bike to take you round the world.
It is all the more relevant when you look at the specifications of the bikes in the above list and realise that they are all pretty much the same bike, with just a few minor differences.
If you’re having a hard time choosing between one or the other on paper, that’s probably because paper is no longer relevant – by the time you’re at that stage, the one to choose is the one that feels right when you ride it.
Upgrading Cheap Touring Bikes
As mentioned earlier, many of these bikes – particularly those with steel frames – are prime for upgrading if you decide to make touring a more regular thing, or you have something more adventurous in mind.
Among the best places to start are with the wheels (changing the stock wheels for a hand-built pair), the tyres (upgrading to a durable set such as the Marathon Plus), and the racks and lowrider (Tubus’ cromoly racks are second to none). You might also consider getting the headset switched out for a more durable unit.
Upgrading these parts alone will make your bike a much more capable long-haul touring machine, as they’re critical structural parts that you’ll want to make as fail-safe as possible.
Drivetrains, pedal bearings, gear and brake cables and the like will wear out, of course, but that’s true of bikes twice the price – and in any case, these are things you can easily replace when you’re already on the road.
Any other cheap touring bikes in the UK that I’ve missed from this list?
(Readers from other countries – feel free to add suggestions for your own part of the world and I’ll incorporate them into this article.)