Last updated in March 2020.
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 cheap touring bikes that have stood the test of time and proven themselves reliable on real-world bike trips.
What To Expect From An Entry-Level Touring Bike
When I say ‘low budget’ or ‘cheap’, don’t forget that a touring bike still needs the durability to cover a lot of miles while carrying a lot of luggage – otherwise it isn’t worth buying at all.
In this article, then, I have classified a cheap, entry-level touring bike as any touring-specific bicycle with a recommended retail price (RRP) of £1,000 or less.
Why? Because the most popular ‘premium’ touring bikes cost a lot more than this. ‘Cheap’ is relative.
For under £1,000, 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 find a good clearance deal in the low season (see the note at the bottom of this article), you could pay much less.
Entry-level touring bikes available in the UK are usually 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 to be included as standard, and expect contact parts like saddle, pedals, grips and tyres to be 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 too much in a high-end touring bike or bikepacking rig before you’re sure cycle touring is for you. Entry-level touring framesets are often good for upgrading as your touring ambitions grow; and if you find you just don’t get on with bicycle travel, you can sell the bike and cut 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 available today.
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.
Dawes Galaxy 2020 (RRP £700)
Long known as the archetypical British road touring bike, the Galaxy is the entry-level model in Dawes’ current range. 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 (see below), the Galaxy is fitted with Schwalbe Marathon tyres, which will get you across a continent or two before needing replacement. Gearing is definitely road-oriented, with a low ratio of 28x32.
Ridgeback Tour 2019 (RRP £800)
Ridgeback’s touring bike series has gone from strength to strength in the last few years, with an increasing number of long-distance riders using the Panorama, and a move into 26-inch wheel 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 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 2020 (RRP £800)
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 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 a good-value package.
Extra touches include LED front and rear lights, toe clips, a choice of two colours, and no fewer than six frame sizes – particularly interesting for short or tall riders.
Pro Tip #1: 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. So, in January, most stores will start clearing old stock to make space for new season bikes. Discounts are generally around 25–35%, but can be more.
Late spring and summer is peak bike-buying season, making it the worst time to get a good deal on a bike.
Pro Tip #2: How To Avoid Buying The Wrong Bike
As I’ve mentioned many times elsewhere, the safest 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.
Related to this, if you’re having a hard time choosing between a small number of models on your shortlist, it’s probably because the one to choose will be the one that feels right when you test-ride it – and you haven’t test-ridden them yet.
This list of specialist, UK-based touring bike shops might help here…
Pro Tip #3: Some 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 more durable set such as the Marathon Plus or Mondial), and the racks (Tubus’ cromoly racks are second to none).
You might also consider getting the basic headset switched out for a more durable cartridge-bearing 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.
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.)