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Is The Touring Bike Slowly Dying Out?

A couple of weeks ago, while updating the all-time most popular post on this blog, “What’s The Best Touring Bike?”, I realised something.

Every year, the list of touring bikes gets shorter.

First we lost bikes that were relatively obscure. One that comes to mind is the Revolution Country Traveller made by the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative. This was a fantastic value entry-level tourer and earned great praise as a result. But it was very limited in its distribution, and I’m guessing it didn’t turn much of a profit because it was just so cheap for what it was.

But then, a couple of years back, Dawes quietly announced that the entire Galaxy line was being retired, citing declining sales over time. 

For those unfamiliar with the brand, Dawes are a British outfit who have been making touring bikes for decades. Indeed, when the first Galaxy was launched in 1971, it could be said that Dawes had created the first mainstream off-the-peg touring bike, at least in the UK. When the originator of today’s archetypical touring bike pulls their entire range without warning after almost 50 years on the market, you know something’s up.

The following year, something similar happened Stateside. Surly, who since 2004 had built the reputation of their Long Haul Trucker into a firm favourite of the North American cycle touring community, announced that the “LHT”, too, would cease to be manufactured. Their webpage for the bike and frameset has since been updated with a cute image of a gravestone reading ‘gone but not forgotten’.

Photo of a Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike with overlaid with a tombstone illustration
Product image © Surly Bikes.

These are two striking examples of a trend I’ve noticed while keeping that blog post updated over the 10 years since I originally wrote it. 

But the list of discontinued touring bikes doesn’t end there. We’ve also lost the Ridgeback Tour, the entire Co-op Cycles touring bike range by REI, and the Adventure Flat White, all of which used to be manufactured at scale. At the bespoke end of the spectrum, Roberts’ truly legendary Roughstuff was another British classic whose story came to a slightly quieter conclusion. The picture is even more grim when you look at bikes designed for worldwide expedition touring, where the market is even more of a niche.

And the retailers have followed suit. As I write, the two big online bike retailers in the UK, Chain Reaction and Wiggle (which have now merged in any case), between them list a total of two touring bikes – or, more correctly, two versions of the same bike, the Fuji Touring. In fact, Chain Reaction have deleted the touring bike category from their website altogether. And across the industry the phrase “touring bike” is rapidly being replaced with “adventure bike”. Some of the bikes sold under this banner bear little resemblance to anything I’ve ever listed on that blog post.

This all begs the question ‘why’.

You might think the answer is obvious: the coronavirus pandemic has effectively cancelled the type of free and unrestrained travel exemplified by cycle touring, and manufacturers have simply cut their losses as a result, focusing on bikes for short adventures close to home.

But while there’s little doubt that the pandemic will have hit the cycling industry hard at the crossover with international travel, the downward trend in touring bike sales and availability had already begun before the pandemic.

There’s another easy target here, of course: the rise of bikepacking. I’ve written extensively about my views on this in another post. If you can’t be bothered to read it, the short version is that – in my humble opinion – today’s bikepacking boom is the result of an industry-wide campaign to make what were previously the concerns of a tiny cohort of time-rich mountain-bike travellers appear relevant to people who would otherwise just have bought a touring bike.

I might take some flak for holding this position, but I’ve been watching this industry for a long time, and I’m acutely aware that bikepacking was a thing long before it was a thing, even if its absurdly niche status meant we’d never quite needed the language to describe it. A good example of this is the Rough Stuff Fellowship. Today we would call them a bikepacking club, but they were officially founded in 1955 and they sure as hell didn’t call themselves bikepackers. It would be another two decades before the mountain bike was even invented. All that’s happened is that what they’ve been quietly doing for 70-odd years has suddenly become trendy.


So much for obvious explanations. The truth is that I haven’t conducted an industry-wide survey to gather empirical data on the matter, and I have no intention of doing so. Instead, I’d like to offer the community a few observations on the topic of what this all might mean for us:

1. Let’s first remember that we are experiencing a decline in the manufacture and sale of new touring bikes on an industrial scale. This is not the same as the death of cycle touring itself. It doesn’t mean that every touring bike already in existence suddenly vanishes, nor that smaller manufacturing operations won’t continue. (I just went down to my workshop to check, and my 2012 Kona Sutra is definitely still there.)

2. Let’s also remember that while we’ve lost bikes of real pedigree, none exhibited any major mechanical differences from each other. That’s because the core design principles for a good touring bike are tried and tested; no longer unique to any one brand. In any case, almost all manufacturing is outsourced to the same handful of factories in Taiwan, some of which I’ve visited and watched all the brands roll off the line together. In other words, what we’ve seen is the closing of a few chapters in the story of the bike industry, not the loss of some essential body of engineering knowledge.

3. Because touring bikes tend to be “forever” purchases, they’re intrinsically bad for business, so none of this should be a surprise. Most of us spend a rather large amount of money on the one touring bike we intend to ride for the remainder of our touring careers. These bikes were probably never particularly profitable for their manufacturers anyway, but they’re even less of a compelling product when you consider the unlikelihood of repeat purchases. Given that, it’s hardly surprising that the touring bike would be an easy target for cost-cutting in times of financial duress.

4. Good news – limited choice should make it easier to choose a touring bike. Some personality types (I believe they’re known as “maximisers”) want to see all the options and spend endless hours picking over the most trivial of differences in order to somehow divine the best possible purchase. On the other hand, I recently received an email from a reader complaining that the only bike she could find in her local bike shop that fitted her was an extra-small Salsa Fargo, and that she didn’t want to buy it just because it was the only choice. I suggested that it being the only choice might actually be the best reason to buy it.

5. There’s probably never been a better time to buy a custom-built touring bike. Especially if it’s a “forever” purchase, and even more so if you have diverse physiological requirements, there’s a strong case for shunning the mainstream altogether and getting yourself a one-off touring bike that’s finely tuned to your individual needs. While expert touring bike builders can be found throughout the land, I shall cheekily take this opportunity to recommend to UK readers Richard at Oxford Bike Works, whose workshop is open to anyone within visiting distance, and whose flagship expedition touring bike I helped design.

What do you think? Is the touring bike dying out? Or are we just seeing a spurt in its evolution?

Bogged down in research for your next big bicycle adventure?

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28 replies on “Is The Touring Bike Slowly Dying Out?”

The Long Haul Trucker was phased out only because it was replaced with the Disc Trucker. A 26″ rim-brake-based frame just seemed obsolete today to those making these decisions in the bike industry. The LHT and Disc Trucker frames are pretty much identical, so Surly seems to still be just as committed to touring.

What about German and Dutch manufacturers such as Tout terrain, Fahrrad manufacturer, Santos…?
It seems they are going great and even pushing their touring bikes.

Cancelling the old rim brake Long Haul Trucker was probably a no-brainer for Surly, because I bet the overwhelming majority of buyers spent the extra $150 for disc brakes (I certainly did when I bought my Disc Trucker last year). 

Anecdotally, I think you’re right about the fact that there’s little pressure to upgrade a good quality touring bike every few years to get new technology, like there is in the mountain bike world. 

But I’m hearing that there are a lot more first-time tourers out there, at least in the US in places like the GAP trail, the Erie Canal Towpath and an increasing list of scenic rail trails of 100–300 miles in length (150–500 km).

I’d be interested on your take of the Bombtrack Arise. It’s a fairly new entry into the touring bike market and looks pretty sweet in my estimation. I think touring bikes have always been a niche market, maybe more so with the advent of “adventure bikes”. And for what it’s worth, I cannot count how many folks have asked me where I got my adventure bike… I just smile and tell them it’s 2011 Dawes Galaxy Touring bike!

Is it possible that political instability around the world has made super-long-distance bike tours less attractive for people with the time and means to go on one?

FWIW I see quite a few “adventure” bikes, round where I live in London, which don’t have a speck of mud on them. So I wonder how much of the trend stems from industry marketing to get people to buy a new bike.

As opposed to turning their existing bike into an “adventure” bike by putting slightly wider tyres and a shorter stem on it, as I did with my 2013 Ridgeback Voyage.

Great post and agree with all.
A factor here may be the rise of gravel bikes which are obviously trendy right now but in many ways make good touring bikes. My wife and I both bought “gravel” bikes for touring the last couple of years and these have worked out well.
A thing I fear which may be getting lost in this decline of true touring bikes is the “longer” frame which just kind of feels more stable for touring, especially on long descents.

You may have overlooked one other possibility, at least for the US. More and more folks are getting off the asphalt due to distracted drivers and heading to rail trails and gravel. Seems to me the industry is just replacing the traditional touring bike with designs that can handle more off road adventures and tires wider than 2 inches. The surly Ogre and Bridge Club come to mind. As for the Bikepacking craze….I believe it may be short lived as I hear many on social medial praising the ability to carrying more gear no mater the cost in weight simply to be more comfortable. I for one would rather carry 2 or 4 panniers with a little extra clothing or food and with the ease of being able to remove bags knowing exactly what is in each. It seems crazy to me to have bags strapped to evert possible frame part Bikepacking style and not easily be able to carry them off the bike to camp or lodge. That may be fine for a weekend trip, but for longer rides I prefer panniers.

“Distracted drivers” is an excuse. Fundamentally, in the US, cyclists have indeed been frightened away from the roads. US motorists and US governments and even US cycling advocacy organizations simply think cyclists do not belong on the roads. For their own good. And for the good of traffic. So US cyclists and all 3 above organizations are asking for separate facilities. Such facilities are quite limited in availability much less in distances and destinations (and surface quality).

Following all the big FB pages on touring and bikepacking I think there is still the interest in touring specific bikes but I think one of the reasons it may be getting less popular generally is as mentioned above, a lot more people want to get off-road and away from traffic and want a bike that can do it all. I’m a typical example of that, just retired and had the funds to buy pretty much anything I wanted. Looking at the overloading I see with many traditional touring set-ups this was not appealing to me. I have bought a custom Titanium/Pinion all-terrain bike with 2 wheel sets(one 27.5 2.8inch) for the rough stuff and a 29er 2.25 set for gravel/road. I can run mainly bikepacking bags but a rear rack gives me versatility to run micro panniers as well and or a just change the rack and run a traditional pannier system if I want. I looked at all of the main high end tourers and none really delivered on this sort of versatility being one bike that could take you anywhere. I look at the standard birds eye view of what people are taking on these big trips and most are taking far too much crap IMO. And the rise of the Gravel bike which is also a handy tourer must surely be eating into the touring market.

There’s so many articles and YouTube videos about gravel bikes these days. The idea of getting away for the weekend with that weird bag that hangs from your seat post clearly appeals to many people. Who has time for touring? Actually, me sometimes.

I have a feeling that, just like people who own SUVs, many mountain and gravel bikes owners never get into the countryside. They are buying what’s fashionable rather than what they actually need.

I visited a bicycle manufacturer near Bon in Germany. He’s a 4th generation bike builder. His parents started KOGA. His great grandfather made penny farthings!

IDWorx make off-road touring bikes. They are designed to accommodate panniers like a traditional touring bike, but the frame geometry and large tyres makes them suitable to handle rough terrain — best of both worlds.

https://www.idworx-bikes.de/product/opinion_ti_blt

Great stuff Tom as always.
I built my ‘Touring’ bike from your list and also bought a frame from Richard at Oxford Bikes (who everyone knows is a top guy and so helpful).
I agree with Tim about panniers, so much easier to use and be organised daily- who cares about ‘streamlining’, just get out and ride.
As I move into my 60’s and do ‘shorter’, but still quite challenging rides, the only thing I have had to do is buy a bigger cassette for a couple of extra low gears ( still using a 2 x system, the other craze being 1 x system that Manufacturers have got into peoples heads, though I have nothing against it.
Thanks Tom , cheers
Mike

We are doing our first tour on e‑bikes this year, as we are both now mid-60’s. Camping and charging the bikes is difficult, so we are staying b&b. Not cycle touring for purists, but better than car touring!

I enjoyed your essay Tom and think there has been a change… but it’s based on the rise of gravel based touring. The Surly LHT was already there with their FFF (Fatties Fit Fine) approach and the Disc Trucker remains. I think there is a shift… but it’s not exactly “away from touring” rather is “towards gravel”.

Wow!!!😳😔I’ve not been following the latest trends too closely, so didn’t realise thing’s were getting this bad! I was particularly sad to read about the Dawes Galaxy, having bought a 1989 Mixte framed 531 version last summer. It did require some restoration though, with it having no front wheel, saddle, pedals…and cables all over the place! 😂 I’ve recently got it going though and fitted a dynohub front wheel, 1980s ‘Rolls’ saddle…and ironically some beautiful MKS Sylvan quill pedals with toeclips…that came from a 1989 Dawes Galaxy!!! It’s a triple Shimano Deore chainset and Deore cantilever brakes, with Dawes engraved handlebars. The Mixte frame is REALLY comfortable, and without the top tube you can really lean it around bends. It’s got a 6 speed freewheel and Suntour downtube shifters, that you can switch from Indexed to friction modes… I love it! I’ve fitted mudguards and some Busch & Muller dynamo lighting. It already had a Bor Yueh rear rack already fitted, but I’ll also be fitting a front rack…the type that goes over the front wheel…not low loaders. Next month I’m hoping to take it for a one month cycle ride in Ireland, wild camping and hostelling. After the overnight boat to Belfast I’ll make my way to Galway, Connemara and Co. Mayo for some exploring, as I missed those areas on a 6 week 1400 mile ride around Ireland I did in 2019 from Belfast to Cork on my old 1990s MTB… that I bought for £40 and adapted!😀. Can’t wait…it’s been a LONG 2 years!
Very sad to read about the Dawes Galaxy though! 😏.
G…

Plus. One contributing factor. The world in general has become a more dangerous place. Local and world news can back up opinion 🤔

I see more ebikes on the road than before. The Sunday ebike riders are everywhere. I think the ebike business will fade while the batteries are getting more expensive than previously anticipated. The raw finite materials are going to be harder to get a hold of. 1 Tesla is also equal to 100 ebikes. So when people realize when it’s time for a new battery, there may be serious problems. The problem was also emerging before the pandemic. This could also be part of the reason. More people are buying ebikes and they can’t go on long distance tours unless they stay in motel, hotel, b&b , pension and so in. Some campgrounds offer charging stations, but I personally don’t take chances
So more ebike tours, fewer touring bikes. It’s not easy to fit multiple water bottles and the cockpit seems limited.
You can find second hand excellent steel frame lugged touring bikes in great shape for 100–200 depending on brand.
So ebikes might have contributed to the problem

I agree with you Tom.
I don’t think the world is any more dangerous now — we are always creating wars — and always have been — its the main way the economic system gets propped up!! (what if they gave a war and nobody came?! Brecht?)
I do think that everything is only about making money — and there ain’t much to be made from tourers — cos you tend to spend years riding them — they are not a fashion statement — and therefore probably doomed..! Best to hang on to the good ones!
Bikepacking is just a fashion too — it seems quite ridiculous to me — people haring along as fast as they can — carrying the bare minimum — just to get there and say — ‘I did it’.… No sense of enjoying the journey or exploring.…. but that fits modern society too — no depth, no content — just a perfect instagram pic.….
Obviously this is a gross generalisation — (smiley smiley) — if you really are short on time and want a micro adventure — it is a way to do it.… But surely we should all be trying to slow down and smell the flowers — never mind the coffee? We recently cycled the King Alfred’s Way — and scaled down to just rear panniers and tent on top — It took us 8 days and we had a fantastic time — camping by the racehorse tomb, all those endless gravel tracks, Wayland’s smithy — so much history on the way — so many clouds of butterflies to watch.….we could go back round again.… But everyone we met were steely determined to do it in anything from 2 days to 4.….. When you asked them had they seen this or that.…. no — they hadn’t — all they had seen was the track and their gpx file.….. We showed a mother and son Wayland’s Smithy and the kid was blown away — he had never seen anything like it — but they didn’t even know it was there.…
This is the difference between touring and bikepacking I think.…
Bikes wise — I really think you can tour on whatever.…. I did over ten thousand miles on a Specialised Globe with a dodgy set of gears — that’s on and off road — it went over mountains and across an estuary or two!! After seeing so many folk in Europe with Rohloff — I bit the bullet and got a proper tourer — a Thorn Raven with Rohloff — secondhand! It is a beautiful bike to ride — and I’m taking it in its first proper tour round Scotland this summer. But I will be going slowly — and seeing everything along the way.……!!!

You have over focussed on big wheel bikes. One firm with quality touring bikes is Moulton and the Pashley built TSR range are good tourers and not overpriced.

An interesting post. As a happy owner of a Surly Long Haul Trucker for the past fourteen years, I’m sorry to hear the market just wasn’t there for continued production.

I’m bemused by the fact that “gravel bikes” are the current fad. I bought my LHT in 2008 specifically for a trip that finished with 750 km on a rough gravel road. I’ve since toured on perhaps thousands more km of gravel roads and a considerable number of km on off-road routes. The LHT has been a great gravel bike for me, in part because it also rides comfortably and with reasonable efficiency on long stretches of pavement.

So I can’t help wonder if many “gravel bike” buyers are actually well-served by a bike that is designed specifically for non-paved routes.

By the same token cargo bikes get a whole lot of play in recent years. To read some breathless reviews, if you plan on hauling more than a liter of oat milk by bike, you should buy a cargo bike. But given how much cargo can be carried with a touring bike, I question how many people actually need the extra weight/bulk and handling complications of a long-tail cargo bike.

Good article though a lot of touring brands have gone unmentioned, also how many e‑bikes have moved into this marketplace.

A couple of years ago I built my own touring bike for the first time, based on a hard tail 29er mountain bike frame and rigid fork with a pinion gearbox and gates belt drive. I ditched the panniers and old man mountain racks for bags, simply because they’re easier to manage and lighter. After two tours of Europe, a 4 day break in the Scottish highlands and a 24 hour mtb race I can confidently say it is the most comfortable, yet toughest and easiest to maintain bike I’ve ever owned. About twenty years ago I started with a cheap tourer/hybrid, a Dawes Sonoran, when I first rode it out of the shop I loved it, they put on some butterfly bars and basic srsuntour shock forks for comfort. But boy did it like to break; broken spokes, rack, bottom bracket.… and that was just one tour of the highlands of central Iceland. In the end I gave up on it, it needed so much attention, it just seemed fragile, especially under load off-tarmac and I do love to go off the beaten track. Although I do have some great memories of that bike. I don’t think there’s a strict definition of a ‘touring bike’ and I don’t think there ever should be. My journey began pretty cheaply, but it’s no crime to progress, change, spend a bit more and embrace the new based on your own touring experiences.

In the UK, Spa Cycles in Harrogate are worth a mention for their own touring bikes. Very knowledgeable and helpful people.
Paul Hewitt in Leyland, Lancashire also have very well regarded touring bikes, I have one.

I am also disappointed that 26 inch tyres are almost extinct while they make 650b tyres that are only a few millimetres different but not interchangeable.

Pure marketing hype to make 26 inch obselete.

“For as long as the majority of the world’s existing bicycles have 26″ wheels…”

Even if that is still the majority of the world’s bicycles, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be the situation wherever one happens to be traveling. It has been a few years now that cyclists in various parts of Latin America, for example, have found it challenging to quickly replace a 26″ tire because the LBS have gone over to 700c.

Moreover, while manufacturers like Schwalbe will continue to offer some tires in 26″, that doesn’t mean those tires will be among their best. Compare the situation to, say, Shimano that still offers some 9‑speed parts but no longer in their premium product lines. Our community has already been impacted by the fact that Schwalbe has discontinued the 2.25″ version of their 26″ Mondial tire.

Great article — but sad, to me — though it led me to your book and other interests I had forgotten. I’ll order the book in physical form shortly. Lost my mojo the last two years!

Are you Stephen Lord of The Adventure Cycle Touring Handbook: A Worldwide Cycling Route & Planning Guide?
If so, and you’ve ‘lost your mojo’, I’ll stop worrying about mine!

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