Last updated in February 2019. Photo above taken on the crossing from Thailand to Myanmar in 2018, showing an upcycled mountain bike frame rebuilt for touring (for my wife!) by Oxford Bike Works.
As cycle touring and bikepacking have exploded in popularity, many manufacturers have begun producing cheap, entry-level touring bikes aimed at cyclists and travellers on a low budget.
In this post, we’re going to have a look at some of the best options available in the UK that – importantly – have stood the test of time and proven themselves reliable.
What To Expect From An Entry-Level Touring Bike
When I say ‘low budget’, don’t expect prices on a par with Halfords or Decathlon. A touring bike will always need the durability to rack up a lot of miles while carrying a fair amount of luggage, and that will never change. There’s a line, therefore, below which a bike would be so unfit for this purpose that I couldn’t honestly recommend it at all.
For the sake of this article, then, I’m classifying an entry-level touring bike as anything with a recommended retail price (RRP) of less than £1,000.
For that, you can expect to get a brand new touring bike from a reputable manufacturer that will serve you well if you understand its limitations.
And if you grab a good out-of-season clearance deal (see the note at the bottom of this article), you could pay much less.
Entry-level touring bikes available in the UK are usually (but not always) road-oriented, with classic touring geometry, 700C wheels, drop handlebars, cantilever rim brakes, and drivetrain components taken from the budget end of Shimano’s mountain-biking and road component ranges. They’ll generally be based on aluminium frames (which are cheaper to manufacture than steel), and – given their intended purpose – will almost always come with a basic rear rack and mudguards.
Don’t expect a front rack or lowrider, though, and expect contact parts like saddle, pedals, grips and tyres to be cheap and cheerful, designed to get you started rather than to keep you going for the long haul.
These bikes are a good choice if you want to give cycle touring a try but don’t want to invest a thousand pounds or more in a high-end touring bike or bikepacking rig. Entry-level touring framesets are often prime for upgrading as your touring ambitions grow; and if you find you just don’t get on with bicycle travel, you can sell a cheap bike and minimise your losses.
All the usual advice regarding buying bikes online applies equally with cheap touring bikes. Having said that, let’s have a look at some of the best-value options for 2019 in the UK.
Adventure Flat White 2019 (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.
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.
Dawes Galaxy 2019 (RRP £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 below, 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 nice is that Dawes have seen fit to offer a step-through version (the Galaxy Low Step) at the same price and specification, which may appeal to shorter riders or those with reduced agility.
Ridgeback Tour 2019 (RRP £750)
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.
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.
If you think you might want to upgrade at a later date, you might also consider the steel-framed Voyage (RRP £999).
Fuji Touring 2019 (RRP £850)
Globally-distributed Japanese manufacturer Fuji’s entry-level touring bike, simply named the Touring, features a Reynolds 520 cromoly frameset with classic drop-bar touring geometry. It’s prime for upgrades and additions, with three bottle cage mounts on the frame and lowrider & bottle mounts on the fork. Strong 36-spoke wheels on Shimano Deore hubs, plus a durable mid-range Shimano MTB groupset and bar-end Microshift shifters, point to high ambitions in this remarkably good-value package. Nice extra touches include LED front and rear lights, toe clips, a choice of two colours, and no fewer than six frame sizes. A little more gets you disc brakes too.
Read more about the Fuji Touring on the official website. They’re generally distributed in the UK by Evans*, though no new stock was shown on their website at the time of update. Chain Reaction Cycles* and Wiggle* both have some 2018 stock on clearance.
Ridgeback Expedition 2019 (RRP £1000)
Just making the cut at an RRP of £999, the Ridgeback Expedition is a strong contender for best value expedition-ready touring bike in the UK, and thus deserves a special mention here. Launched in 2014, it’s been tweaked in the years since and is now thoroughly tested on longer trips. Read my full review here, and check out the comments section for more recent opinions from long-haul riders.
How To Get A Cheap Touring Bike Even Cheaper
Whether online or in store, getting discounts on touring bikes is all about timing.
New season models start rolling out over winter, but sales decline at this time of year. Come New Year, therefore, most stores will start clearing left-over stock to make space for incoming new models. 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.)
Here are some good examples as of February 2019, all in stock and priced at under £1,000, in descending order of discount:
41% off Fuji Touring LTD 2018 steel touring bikes (50cm) from Wiggle 41% off Fuji Touring LTD 2018 steel touring bikes (50cm) from Chain Reaction Cycles 41% off Fuji Touring 2018 steel touring bikes (50cm) from Wiggle 41% off Fuji Touring 2018 steel touring bikes (50cm) from Chain Reaction Cycles
- 41% off Ridgeback Panorama 2015 steel touring bikes (47cm) from Winstanleys Bikes
- 36% off Dawes Galaxy custom-built steel touring bike (51cm) from Spa Cycles
35% off Kona Sutra steel touring bikes (49cm) from CycleStore.co.uk
- 34% off Roux Etape 150 aluminium touring bikes (55cm) from Broadribb Cycles
33% off Cinelli HoBootleg 2018 steel touring bikes (XS/S/M) from Evans Cycles
- 26% off Ridgeback Tour 2018 aluminum touring bikes (50cm) from Cycle Gear
23% off Ridgeback Expedition 2018 steel touring bikes (S) from Tredz
- 22% off Ridgeback Tour 2018 aluminium touring bikes (XS) from Tredz*
- 20% off Spa Cycles ex-demo flat bar steel touring bikes (48/51/54cm) from Spa Cycles
- 19% off Spa Cycles ex-demo drop bar steel touring bikes (48/51/54/57/60cm) from Spa Cycles
- 15% off Ridgeback Voyage 2018 steel touring bikes (S/M) from Winstanleys Bikes
Summer is peak bike-buying season, making it the worst time to get a good deal on a bike.
A Quick Hint On How To Avoid Buying The Wrong Bike
As I’ve suggested in this and other articles, 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, usually in the paint job.
If you’re having a hard time choosing, that’s probably because by the time you’re at that stage, the one to choose is the one that feels right when you test-ride it.
Click here for a map and list of UK-based touring bike specialists, any one of whom will sort you right out.
Advice On 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 (Tubus’ cromoly racks are second to none). You might also consider getting the headset switched out for a more durable unit.
Upgrading these parts 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 on the road.
You might also consider building your own touring bike on a budget using a classic steel mountain bike frame, as in the header photo.
Any other good-value 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.)