Last updated in April 2018.
As cycle touring has exploded 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 the entry-level options available in to UK buyers.
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. 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 entry-level price point for touring bikes is therefore roughly between £400 and £650 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 basic 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, 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 a thousand pounds or more in a classic high-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.
All the usual advice regarding buying bikes online applies equally here. Having said that, let’s have a look at some of the cheapest touring bikes on offer right now in the new touring bike market…
Adventure Flat White (RRP £440)
First up from Adventure Outdoor Co (a sub-brand of Sportline, one of the UK’s biggest bicycle distributors) is the Flat White, part of their 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.
Read more at the Adventure Outdoor Co website, or read a review of the Flat White by an experienced bike builder right here. I’ve found them online at Very.co.uk, as well as Damian Harris Cycles in Cardiff, Freeborn in Horsham, and Swinnerton Cycles in Stoke-on-Trent.
Roux Etape 150 (RRP £530)
The Roux Etape 150 is a classically-styled road touring bike based on an aluminium frame and a basic 3x7sp drivetrain. 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.
On paper, you’ll find little to choose from between this and other bikes in this list. The Etape 150, however, will probably be one of the harder ones to find and test-ride – which, as we all know, is the single best way to avoiding buying the wrong touring bike.
Ridgeback Tour (RRP £600)
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 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 – a step up from the Flat White and the Etape 150 – gives the Tour a very good range of gear ratios, and the Continental Contact tyres are above average: expect to get a good few thousand miles out of these. Other plus points include 36-spoke wheels, toe clips, a sturdy rear rack, and a range of 5 frame sizes. Ridgeback are well distributed; it shouldn’t be hard to find a dealer in your area.
Dawes Galaxy (£650)
Long known as the archetypical British road touring bike, the Dawes Galaxy moves down to the bottom of Dawes’ current range with an RRP of £650. For the money, you get a remarkably accomplished machine with one of the longest-running British bike manufacturers’ names behind it.
Very close on paper to the Ridgeback Tour above, the Galaxy is fitted with Schwalbe Marathon tyres, which will get you across a continent or two before needing replacement. Gearing is a little road-oriented in terms of lowest ratios available (28×32), but this isn’t a deal-breaker.
What’s particularly nice is that Dawes have seen fit to offer a step-through version (the Galaxy Low Step) at the same price and specification, especially for shorter (and probably female) riders.
How To Get Cheap Touring Bikes Even Cheaper
Whether online or in store, getting good discounts on bikes is usually a case of timing.
New season models start rolling out over winter, but sales decline at this time of year. Come springtime, however, most stores will start flogging off any left-over stock with greater urgency to make way for incoming new stock. Discounts are generally around the 25-35% mark. (This often coincides with the time a lot of people start drawing up their touring plans for the summer. Handy.)
Summer/autumn is peak bike-buying season and old-stock models will have long since been snapped up, making it the worst time to get a good deal on a bike.
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.
Click here for a map/list of UK-based touring bike specialists, any one of whom will sort you right out.
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 available 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.)