Bikes Rider Questions Touring Advice

Rider Questions: Should I Buy Touring Bike X Or Touring Bike Y?

Roughly ten thousand* people have written to me over the years with some version of the following question:

Hi Tom,
I’ve been researching touring bikes, and I’ve narrowed my choices down to Bike X and Bike Y. Both look perfect on paper, have great reviews, and fit my budget, but I can’t figure out how to decide between them. Can you help?
Roughly ten thousand people

* this figure may be exaggerated

Well hey, thanks so much for asking! Of all the big, scary dilemmas faced by the newcomer to the intoxicating world of bicycle travel, the question of which is the best touring bike is perhaps the biggest and scariest of all. 

And no wonder: your bike will be the object with which you’ll develop the closest relationship over the days, weeks, months and years of your cycle touring or bikepacking career. It’s common sense to make sure the relationship gets off to the best possible start.

A row of marginally different touring bikes on display at a major bike expo. Which would you choose?

My simple answer to the “Bike X or Bike Y” question has long been as follows:

If it’s hard to choose, there’s probably no meaningful difference, so go for a test-ride and buy what feels right.

Of course, simple answers can sometimes be too simple.

What if you can’t find a store nearby to test-ride any of the bikes on your shortlist?

What if your nearest store’s demo bike isn’t your size and so a test-ride doesn’t really help?

What if you’ve tried every bike on your list in various sizes and configurations and they still don’t feel right?

These and similar scenarios are more common than perhaps they should be. The touring bike occupies one of the smallest and least profitable niches in the bicycle industry, and this seems ever more true as cycling is endlessly reinvented and repackaged around ever-more-specialised pseudo-sporting trends (the current fads are to overuse the word “gravel” and invent brand new size variations for what were previously standardised components). 

As a result, very few stores carry a wide selection of touring bikes in diverse sizes and configurations for test-riding. And the bad news is that the options appear to be dwindling yet further. I’ve written before about the slow demise of the touring bike, and my guess is that this will continue, forcing those who simply want to buy a solid, dependable touring bike to work ever harder in order to find one.

At the end of the day, we’re all just looking for a touring bike we can forget about while we enjoy our time on (or off) the road.

Here, then, are a few points of advice for all of those readers past and present who, for whatever reason, were or are struggling with touring bike choice for an adventurous bicycle journey, and turned to me for help.

1. Accept that buying a touring bike may take more time and effort than you want it to.

In Western societies that produce people who want to travel the world by bicycle, we have grown used to a pattern of consumerism which involves wanting something, rapidly digesting huge amounts of digital information, trying to divine the best choice between many slightly different versions of the same thing (this is where the title question of this post comes in), and pressing a button to make it appear on our doorstep – all without leaving our homes.

(Prehistoric humans, on observing this, would probably have called it magic.)

There are, however, certain purchases – houses, cars, fitted kitchens, etc – for which we’re happy to suspend this pattern and invest real time and effort into the buying decision. This is because we know that we will spend large amounts of time living with the consequences of these choices. 

Yet I hear time and time again from people who have – consciously or otherwise – categorised the bicycle as just another thing it’s okay to buy online and have delivered by a gig worker in a clapped-out van. It isn’t.

(The most popular blog post I’ve ever written, What’s The Best Touring Bike?, doesn’t contain a single link to an online bicycle retailer. Even though I could easily monetise and earn money from affiliate links in this post – and many less scrupulous cycle touring blogs do this, despite it not being in their readers’ best interests – I prefer to stand by my principles and encourage readers to patronise local bike stores and small-scale bike builders instead.)

Yet when I suggest taking one or more touring bikes for a test-ride, I am perhaps guilty of omitting the details of what that might involve. 

So here’s my attempt to remedy that.

The first thing to say is that going straight to your local bike store – while laudable and worthwhile – is not guaranteed to solve the touring bike choice dilemma. 

This is because local bike stores, by their nature, tend to deal with servicing and selling bikes for casual riders – commuters, shoppers, children. Very rarely do they specialise in touring, and if so only alongside the more mainstream forms of cycling. 

You might be lucky enough to find a seasoned cycle tourist working at your local bike store who’ll jump at the chance to help a like-minded customer, and for this reason alone it’s worth dropping in. But the odds of this happening are low – and therefore so are the odds of finding one of the bikes you’ve researched online, in your size, available to try.

What this means is that you’ll need to be a bit more strategic about finding a touring bike supplier. 

You’re looking for someone who understands the specific needs of the bicycle traveller, has access to at least some of the bikes you’ve shortlisted, and is happy to spend time getting your bike built and fitted with you. 

Time spent here is what will make the difference between a well-fitted bike that actually meets your needs, and the significant final assembly and inherent gamble involved when the same bike arrives by courier in a cardboard box, unopened since it left the factory in Taiwan.

One of the factories in Taiwan where touring bikes get put in boxes. Yep, I actually went to see this happening.

For UK readers I maintain a list and interactive map of British bike stores and workshops that specialise in touring bikes.

You may be lucky enough to live close to one of these establishments, but it’s more likely that visiting one will involve a day trip, or even an overnight stay. In any case, contact them in advance of your visit so you know what the options are, and so the staff can prepare in advance if necessary. In other countries, I’d suggest starting with the ‘dealer locator’ page of your candidate touring bike manufacturers’ websites.

When visiting one of these specialists with a touring bike purchase in mind, you should not expect to wheel the bike of your dreams out of the door on day one. 

It’s more likely you’ll spend time with a sales assistant inspecting the demo bikes on display, and then spend some time with an experienced bike fitter figuring out which of the available size options of your final choice of bike is the right one for you. This might involve a fitting session, probably on different but similar bike to the one you’re actually purchasing. It’ll depend on what the shop has in stock at the time. 

(It’s worth saying that, if the differences between the bikes on your shortlist truly are marginal, this shouldn’t be cause for alarm. The goal is to approximate your frame size and to decide whether the cockpit geometry is going to suit your physiology, so the final decision can be made with confidence.)

A fitting session for a petite female rider at the Oxford Bike Works workshop. Okay, okay, it’s my wife.

What the store will do next is to order your chosen bike, in the available size closest to yours, then complete the assembly in their workshop when it arrives a few days or weeks later, as well as making any previously discussed modifications and additions. 

If you live close enough to pay a second visit, you should be able to go back in and have a final tailoring session done at the workshop. At this stage, many stores will, within reason, offer like-for-like swaps of fitting components such as stems and handlebars – and then you’ll get to wheel the touring bike of your dreams out of the door. Otherwise, the store will repack the bike and ship it to you, leaving you only to attach the pedals and realign the handlebars yourself.

Regardless of how much in-store fitting is done, however, you should still expect to make further adjustments over the first few days and weeks of riding as you and the bike get used to each other. 

Which brings me to my next point:

2. Though some will try to convince you otherwise, there’s no such thing as a maintenance-free touring bike.

If you’re used to doing your own bike maintenance, the prospect of adjusting and maintaining your new touring bike is unlikely concern you. You’ll chuck your fix-anything bike touring toolkit in a pannier or frame bag, hit the road, and figure out any issues on the way.

And if you’re new to DIY bike mechanics but you’re willing to learn, you’ll be pleased to hear that working on a touring bike should be quite straightforward. Bike tools are simple, affordable, and mostly standardised, especially compared to their motoring equivalents. Bicycles of this type also tend to be conservatively built, rather than following the latest industry-driven trends, usually using modular parts for which spares and alternatives are easy to find and fit. YouTube is brimming over with visual tutorials covering almost every topic imaginable, including bicycle maintenance.

(I’ll come back to the italicised bits in a short while.)

But if you’re under the impression that choosing the “right” touring bike will exempt you from getting your hands dirty, I’m going to burst that bubble.

Indeed, your reluctant involvement in the mechanical workings of your new touring bike will probably begin on your first day of ownership.

I want to repeat this for clarity: no matter how “perfect” any touring bike looks on the specification sheet or in the manicured photos and videos of the influencer who’s being paid to promote it, how clever-sounding the expensive new technology that promises to make it “maintenance-free”, or how precisely it was fitted in the retailer’s workship, you should still anticipate making additional adjustments to get it just right.

Let’s go through a hypothetical timeline of new touring bike ownership and the work you’ll have to put in.

Before a new touring bike is even ridden, many riders will make a few common modifications, including: 

  • changing the stock tyres to match their intended style/duration of touring,
  • swapping out the saddle for an existing, favoured model (often a previously broken-in Brooks),
  • fitting existing preferred and/or footwear-specific pedals, 
  • adding (or removing) racks and mounts to suit a particular luggage setup, and 
  • adding (or removing) accessories such as mudguards, lights, phone mounts, hub generators and power supplies, etc.

Then, over the course of your first few rides, expect to find yourself making adjustments to, among other things:

  • the tilt, height and fore-aft position of your saddle, which felt fine in the workshop but proves uncomfortable for all-day riding;
  • the precise location and angle of your brake levers and shifters, which again calls for a little time in the saddle to find a natural position;
  • the mounting location of your panniers (if you’re using them) for heel and toe clearance, and that of any frame/cockpit bags to solve knee clearance and turning circle issues;
  • the angle and height of your handlebars, which might involve making adjustments to stem orientation and headset spacers, as well as handlebar rotation.

An experienced rider on a new bike might well head out for a ride carrying a small toolkit with the express intention of making all of these adjustments on the roadside, but as some aspects of bicycle tuning are quite delicate it does help to have some pre-existing knowledge. 

(Do you know how much force it takes to, for example, tighten your stem clamp to the recommended 5 Newton metres you’ll find etched next to the bolt holes? It’s probably less than you think.)

Over the first days and weeks of a tour, expect to find yourself in a series of roadside locations doing some or all of the following:

  • adjusting the indexing of your gears as the new shifter cables stretch and bed in;
  • fiddling with the positioning of brake shoes or calipers to solve an increasingly annoying rubbing or squealing noise; 
  • adding or removing headset spacers, or even changing your stem for one with a different rise or reach, to relieve discomforts that weren’t solved by adjusting the saddle;
  • making various other micro-adjustments that only reveal themselves over time and miles. 

Yet further down the road, you might realise you’d have preferred flat bars to drops, necessitating a complete cockpit rebuilt; or that your skinny tyres, while certainly faster and more efficient, don’t exactly provide much cushioning during long days in the saddle; or that cramming all your life’s posessions into that fancy bespoke frame luggage set is actually really frustrating and you’d a rack and panniers might be better after all.

And… (here’s where I deal with the italics from a few paragraphs ago…)

When your very expensive maintenance-free Rohloff or Pinion or Gates Carbon Drive system or [insert proprietary new technology here] breaks irreparably – not because of a problem with its cleverly engineered design, but because you dropped your bike and broke it, or you forgot to change the gear oil on time, or a rat chewed through the rubber belt in the cargo wagon of a train, or it was badly strapped to the top of a truck while you were hitching a nasty section of potholed road – you may suddenly wish you’d chosen a bike you could fix on the roadside or at a small-town backstreet workshop, and that you’d spent the extra thousand pounds/euros/dollars on an introductory bicycle maintenance course and a good set of tools instead. (Of course, you might also be happy to fly home and get it fixed or replaced – we’re all different.)

Internal hub gears and belt drive systems are a very clever, very expensive way to diminsh your ability to repair and maintain your touring bike on the road.

Of course, I can’t tell you exactly what you’ll want to change and why and when, or what level of involvement in your bicycle’s maintenance you’ll be comfortable with, because these will be different for every rider as they grow into their relationship with a new touring bike and, in the process, learn more and more about themselves, their bike, and their particular style of bicycle travel.

I guess what I’m saying is that – right now, pre-purchase – it might be worth examining your expectations regarding what coming into ownership of a touring bike is going to involve. 

What problem are you trying to solve by agonising over the choice between two bikes so similar you can’t decide between them?

Yes – research is important, and there are meaningful differences between the range of available bikes. 

But if you’re expecting the choice between Bike X and Bike Y to be the last time you have to think about the details of your bike, I’d suggest you instead consider it to be the beginning of that story. 

Indeed, the bike will become an inextricable part of the jouney(s) you’ll make with it. People name their bikes. They’re usually more prominent in people’s Instagram feeds than the rider themselves. They developer characters. (See, for example, Charlie.)

Whether you like it or not, you’re going to have to work with your bicycle as you make your bike trip together. 

And the choice between two marginally different touring bikes at the point of purchase isn’t going to change that.

3. If you’ve tried a range of touring bikes and none are quite right, something else might be going on.

The problem with mainstream, mass-produced touring bikes is that they’re, well, mainstream and mass-produced. 

This presents the same problems for people with diverse physiologies as, say, the clothing industry. Do you struggle to find clothing and footwear that fits you without going to a specialist, a tailor, or the kids’ section? If so, you might have figured out why none of the touring bikes you’ve tried seem to fit.

Can’t get comfortable on a classic touring bike? Perhaps a recumbent tricycle is the answer…

To be fair, the bicycle industry has started to address its inherently ableist approach to bike design. Popular categories of bike now offer much more in the way of accessibility options than they used to. E‑bike proponents often point to pedal-assist as the technology that has brought cycling to more non-cyclists than any other.

With mass-produced touring bikes, however, things mostly remain limited to four or five unisex (ie: men’s, unfortunately) frame sizes per bike, with no variation for people with diverse sizes, proportions or ranges of mobility. Yes, modular components such as handlebars, stem and spacers, seatpost, and crank length do offer adjustability and tailored fitting, but only up to a certain point.

If, then, you do diverge from an average range of heights, builds, weights, ranges of mobility, or other aspects of physiology, and you’re finding this is limiting (or eliminating) the touring bikes available to you, my advice is once again simple:

Book an appointment with your nearest touring bike specialist offering bespoke framebuilding services.

You don’t have to go back more than a couple of generations to find a time when bespoke framebuilding was the norm, and every town would have one. The runaround I had as a teenager and a student was my road-racer grandad’s winter training bike, which bore the livery of the Sleaford framebuilder who’d made it to measure and which I later inherited (it was always a bit on the small side).

The modern-day example I usually point to in the UK is Oxford Bike Works, whose owner Richard Delacour I’ve been working closely with for many years on designing and keeping updated his flagship Expedition heavy-duty touring bike*. He does a line of batch-made stock frames, but also offers tailor-made UK-built frames for a small additional fee.

OBW isn’t the only outfit offering bespoke frames for tourers with diverse requirements. A look through my list of UK touring specialists will reveal that many of them also work in partnership with local framebuilders to offer a similar service. Some offer only bespoke frames, doing away with batch manufacturing completely. 

Elsewhere in the world, many of the makers listed in my massive list of expedition touring bikes available globally feature tailor-made frames as part of their ranges too. 

Going down this route means you can expect a fit as close as, well, tailored clothing. I can’t overstate how enormously valuable this, not just to riders struggling with commercial framesets, but to any serious long-term bicycle user.

Incidentally, if you’d had your heart set on an off-the-peg bike, but you just can’t find the right fit among the available sizes and options, you’ll be pleased to know that many bespoke builders will be happy to let your (former) dream bike inform the details of the bike they build for you. 

Trade customers of the main component suppliers usually have access to the same range of parts as the bigger manufacturers, and at much lower prices than you’d have access to in the consumer retail market. Although there will always be slight differences because of variations in frame geometry and component compatibility, a good builder will be able to closely parallel the specifications of an existing commercial touring bike so that your bespoke touring bike behaves as similarly as possible. 

You’ll end up with a bike specified very similarly to the one you’d chosen, but with the geometry and fitting tweaked to match your particular physiological requirements, slightly different decals, and probably a handful of improvements and personalisations, making it a better match than any mass-produced bike could ever hope to be.

And then – far more importantly – you’ll be able to put the question of Bike X or Bike Y behind you and get on with the business of riding it!

Well – that was a slightly longer answer than I was expecting it to be. But I hope it comprehensively answers the question of whether you should choose Bike X or Bike Y (or something else) for your next cycle tour…

Bikes Equipment Rider Questions

Rider Questions: Hydraulic Fluid & Tyre Choice For Winter Touring

A reader writes:

In February 2024, I’m finally going to realise my dream: I’m going to cycle from Rovaniemi to Tromso. I have a KTM Lontano Pinion 18. I’ve got a few questions:

  • Do I need a special fluid for freezing temperatures for my hydrolic disc brakes?
  • Do you think Schwalbe Winter Marathon plus 50–622 (240 spikes) are enough or do I really need Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro 57–622 (402 spikes)?

(For context, I myself rode to the Scandinavian Arctic back in 2011, and the reader above has asked these questions after coming across this story.)

Thank you for bringing up these timely questions on the subject of winter cycle touring in sub-zero conditions! The northern-hemisphere winter is approaching fast, and I’ve said before that winter can be a source of fun and novelty for adventure cyclists, so it’s great to hear from someone planning a ride like this.

Let’s start with the question of whether you need special winter fluid for hydraulic disc brakes on a touring bike (or any other type of bicycle, for that matter):

It’s good to hear you’re thinking ahead about the potential for winter conditions to cause your bike and gear behave differently. They will, in many ways – and most of them are predictable, meaning you can prepare in advance.

In general, hydraulic braking systems use either mineral oil or automotive DOT fluid as their transmission medium. The good news is that both types of fluid function well at low temperatures, else they wouldn’t be an appropriate choice for systems such as brakes for cars and bikes, which let’s not forget are also sold in the countries you’re planning on riding through.

Having said that, the only way to guarantee the range of safe operating temperatures is to compare the specification of your brake fluid with the temperatures you’re likely to encounter. So let’s try and do that now.

The manufacturer webpage for your bike, the KTM Life Lontano P18, specifies Shimano BR-T615 brakes, which operate using Shimano’s own mineral oil (part number SM-DB-OIL).

Mineral oil could be argued to be a better choice than DOT fluid for very low temperatures, as it doesn’t absorb moisture over time. (Moisture absorption affects DOT fluid’s performance at extreme temperatures and is one of the reasons automotive brake fluid should be changed at regular intervals.)

However, “mineral oil” is a vague term, unlike DOT fluids whose performance characteristics are clearly defined. Unfortunately Shimano’s own website doesn’t seem to have any detailed information on the oil’s performance specifications, at least not that I could find.

This leads me to make the following educated guesses:

  • It seems likely that a mainstream brake manufacturer would fill their brake systems with a fluid appropriate for a wide range of conditions, and at least issue a warning for special cases. The technical documents accompanying these brakes have no such warnings, so my guess is that cold weather should present no issues.
  • Anecdotally, my Magura mineral oil-filled hydraulic disc brakes ran perfectly well in Arctic Scandinavia, so I’d imagine your Shimano mineral oil-filled brakes will too. (For the record, I encountered temperatures down to at least ‑33ºC.)

In short, if your brakes are well-maintained and checked before you leave, I think it’s highly unlikely you’ll have any problems related to the brake fluid. Frost-bitten fingers reducing your braking power seems more likely!

Regarding your choice of winter touring tyre, and particularly on choosing between Schwalbe’s Marathon Winter and Ice Spiker Pro tyres for cold weather cycle touring:

Both of these tyres have been in Schwalbe’s range of studded winter tyres for over a decade, and therefore are mature products road-tested over a huge number of real-world miles, so you can be pretty confident in their suitability for the task at hand. The question in your case is therefore more about the task than about the tyre. 

Marathon Winters, as with the whole Marathon range, are designed primarily for general purpose longevity, with the studs added for grip on icy roads. The Ice Spiker Pros, on the other hand, are designed for mountain-biking in icy conditions, prioritising tyre volume and tread profile for maximum traction, as well as having almost double the number of studs as the Marathons. In other words, they’re different tyres for different jobs, albeit both in subzero conditions.

You haven’t mentioned anything about the details of your route. Judging by your choice of bike, I’d guess you’re planning on riding mainly on snowploughed roads and cycleways of hard-packed snow and ice, rather than going snow-biking on trails groomed for fatbike tyres or trying to venture off-road through deep snow. If I’m right about that, perhaps it will help if I say that in retrospect I’d have been able to accomplish my own Arctic cycle tour on the Marathon Winters, and I’d probably have found them to be more efficient in most of the circumstances I encountered. On the other hand, when I did go “off-road” and pedalled across the frozen surface of Lake Storsjön to Östersund, I was very happy to be able to let some air out of the Ice Spikers and have all 402 spikes in contact with the ice, even if only for peace of mind!

I hope this helps you prepare for your deep winter cycle tour, on which more of my advice can be found here. Don’t forget to let me (and everyone else here) know how you get on!

This is part of an occasional series of posts answering questions sent in by readers of this blog about cycle touring, bikepacking, and related topics. If you have a question of your own, first check out the absolutely massive advice & planning page, and if you still don’t find the answer, feel free to write in!

Bikes Equipment New South Wales Coast 2023 Technology

Oxford Bike Works Expedition: New Upgrades For 2023

Before my recent Australia tour, I took Tom’s Expedition Bike back to its birthplace in the UK for a tune-up and a few experimental upgrades. 

This post details what’s changed, explores the thinking behind the upgrades, and goes deep into the specifics of why they were made.

(Warning: it’s a 5,000-word long read, so maybe put the kettle on.)

For those unfamiliar with the provenance of the bike, let me summarise the origin story in one paragraph:

Bikes Equipment Touring Advice

3 Critical Questions To Ask Before You Choose A New Touring Bike

When you’re in the market for a new touring bike, it’s important not to dive too deep until you’re clear about what kind of cycle tour you actually want to go on.

Especially with the current trends towards ultralight bikepacking, gravel bikes, touring e‑bikes, etc, manufacturers will work extremely hard to sell you something you never knew you needed. 

They’ll even give top-of-the-range bikes to social media influencers (yep, they’ve discovered cycle touring and bikepacking too!) to promote products that for most riders are a waste of precious travel funds.

If you’re not careful, before you know it you’ll have bought all the gear for a tour that looks little or nothing like the one you originally dreamed of.

So let’s take a break from industrial-strength marketing tactics and pose three critical questions about your current circumstances and future bike touring plans.

You can do this by talking to yourself, grabbing a pen and paper, jotting down notes on your smartphone, meditating on each question, or whatever form of self-reflection works for you. 

Just try not to rush it – this is one buying decision you really don’t want to get wrong.

1. What type(s) of riding are you planning to do?

It’s often said that no two cycle tours are ever the same. But I’ll bet yours can be placed somewhere on the following spectrums:

  • Will you ride fast or take it slow?
  • Are you touring short-term or exploring long-term?
  • Will you be cycling ultralight or going fully-loaded?
  • Is your route mostly on-road or off-road?

If you’re not sure where your planned bike tour falls on these spectrums, it might be time to stop reading blogs about touring bikes (bookmark this page, though!) and write down a few thoughts about what kind of experience you actually want to have. 

Your answers are important because they’ll change your criteria for choosing the right touring bike – and being clear on your priorities as a buyer is the best way to shine a light through the fog of marketing spiel and the (often undisclosed) commercial interests of influencers.

If you’re finding yourself getting stuck, I’ve written a introductory series of short posts on the possibilities of bicycle travel that may spark inspiration, an position piece on the difference between bikepacking and cycle touring, and an entire ebook about planning bike trips of any length, duration or budget which explores these questions (and more) in detail.

Back to the original question, the law of averages dictates that most bike tours are somewhere in the middle of these spectrums.

That’s why the major bicycle manufacturers – Trek, Kona, Cube, Fuji, etc – tend to offer a single, do-everything touring bike.

Two Kona Sutra 2012 touring bikes at a campsite in the USA.
The Kona Sutra (2012 model pictured) is a good example of a generalist, do-everything touring bike from a relatively major manufacturer.

The only specialisation of these bikes is that they are generalists, catering for a wide range of bicycle travel scenarios, as manufacturers strive to sell enough bikes to break even in the small and not-very-fashionable niche of cycle touring. 

Being distributed alongside road, commuter, mountain and gravel bikes from the same brands, mainstream touring bikes are relatively easy to find at your local bike shop. This is good, because going for a test ride is the single best way to avoid buying the wrong bike.

Cycle touring is a traditional and conservative niche, with touring bike specifications changing little year on year, meaning many commercial touring bikes have a tried, tested, and relatively undiluted heritage.

I’ve listed the most highly-regarded mainstream touring bikes in this popular and regularly-updated blog post. A large proportion of people exploring the touring bike market will find that one of these touring bikes will serve their needs very well.

If you find an off-the-peg touring bike isn’t a good fit, digging deeper will reveal a vast diversity of niche touring bikes, from off-road and gravel oriented adventure bikes and bikepacking rigs to recumbent touring bikes, custom-built touring bikes and framesets, touring e‑bikes, tricycles, hand cycles, tandems and triplets, unicycles, penny farthings… yes, whatever the most esoteric kind of pedal-powered vehicle you can imagine, I’ll bet you someone’s taken one bike touring!

Two fully-loaded cycle tourists and their bikes and trailers crossing Egypt's Sinai Peninsular.
Want to take your guitar and jewellery-making workshop on your bike tour so you can earn money selling souvenirs to tourists on beaches? No problem!

2. What’s your startup budget for equipment?

The next basic question is a financial one.

What’s your budget for your new touring bike? 

Hold on – you have already budgeted for your bike trip, right? 

So you already know what the on-the-ground costs of your trip are likely to be, and how much money you’re putting aside for the big equipment binge before you hit the road?


If you’re in the early stages of planning a bike trip, I’m guessing there’s a chance you haven’t got this far. You may still be wondering just how much you’ll need to spend on the single most important piece of gear of all, so you know what kind of number to put in that budget you’ve been meaning to make.

Well, the good news is this:

A new touring bike can be as cheap or expensive as you want it it be.

Let’s take a quick look at what you might expect from touring bikes at the range of price points, from next to nothing up to thousands of pounds or dollars.

The author pictured cycling the length of England in 2014 on a £10 scrapyard touring bike.
Yours truly, cycling the length of England without money on a scrapyard touring bike with donated luggage.

No-budget or low-budget touring bicycles.

Short of cash? No problem. It’s possible to use almost any bike for touring, as long as it’s about the right size. All it needs to do is carry you – and your luggage.

This isn’t just rhetoric. See the photo above, then click here to read the story of how I put together a touring bike for £25.17. If you don’t have a budget for a new touring bike, my advice is to dig where you stand. 

You will (eventually) get from A to B on the rusty heap that’s been sat in the garage for the last decade.

Or if you’re coming to touring from another cycling discipline – say, road biking or gravel riding, mountain biking, or bicycle commuting – then you already have a bike. For your first tour at least, and if money is limited, all you need to do is adapt your existing bike to carry a few bits of luggage. 

Pannier racks are available to fit bikes with traditional frame mounting points, and some brands offer mounting kits for those without. Trailers are cumbersome but take the strain off the bike and are perhaps the easiest adaptation, usually requiring nothing more than a replacement rear axle skewer or bolt. And mountain-bikers are better served than ever by the explosion of frame luggage, which even outdoor megastores like Decathlon and REI produce and sell.

The Ridgeback Expedition 2014 expedition touring bike with rear panniers.
The entry-level Ridgeback Expedition was originally lauched in 2014 at £999. In the niche world of new touring bikes, this actually qualifies as ‘low budget’.

Entry-level touring bikes for newcomers to cycle touring

Got a bit of cash but still on a budget? Capable touring bikes can still be bought new for well under £1,000 (USD$1,200 or CAD$1,500).

Touring bikes at this price point are considered entry-level. These bikes usually differ from premium models by having cost-saving aluminium frames, cheaper drivetrain components (ie: gearing systems), rim brakes aka: V‑brakes rather than disc brakes (though this is changing), and often only a basic rear rack to carry a pair of panniers.

They are nevertheless designed and built specifically for light touring (sometimes called ‘trekking’ in parts of Europe), often sharing a frameset with models at the higher end of the budget spectrum. 

Entry-level touring bikes are often prime for future upgrades for longer and more demanding tours – perhaps after you’ve tried your hand at a short cycle tour a little closer to home.

To help you get your head around the commercial options at this end of the scale, I’ve published a list of so-called ‘cheap’ touring bikes in this round-up post.

Yours truly, riding a 2012 Kona Sutra premium touring bike along the U.S. West Coast.

Premium touring bikes for exploring almost anywhere

Got serious funds for a serious new touring bike? Accepted wisdom is to get the best bike you can afford – without compromising your overall trip budget.

This is the domain of the premium touring bike. The top design priority here is long-term durability, using higher-specification components, framesets built specifically to the rigorous demands of long-term touring, and the highest quality touring-specific accessories (racks, lights, etc) available.

There’s a rich selection of bikes at this price point, and almost all cycle tourists could conduct their travels successfully on any of them. It’s a mature niche filled with capable, tried-and-tested machines, with sensible price-tags and in need of nothing more than some tough panniers and perhaps a nicely broken-in Brooks saddle – and, of course, an intrepid rider.

Expect to spend between £1,500–2,000 (US$1,600–2,200 / CA$2,000–2,800) on an off-the-peg premium touring bike. It will last a lifetime if well cared-for and handle most touring scenarios very well.

Many of the bikes that appear towards the middle of my list of the best off-the-peg touring bikes fit the description of the premium touring bike very well.

I once actually moved house using my Oxford Bike Works Expedition touring bike as a removal vehicle.

Expedition touring bikes for the toughest rides on Earth

Shortly beyond mainstream touring bikes, we find ourselves entering expedition touring bike territory. 

This is an obscure and daunting place most commonly visited by riders planning transcontinental or round-the world rides. It is also, however, where riders come to find the holy grail: a unique bike for which every single aspect of the design, build and fit will have been tailored to your exact needs.

Likely prices might start from £2,000 (US$2,200 / CA2,800) for a custom build on a stock frame up to double that or more if bespoke framebuilding is involved. If you’re planning the ride of a lifetime or a lifelong touring career, and you have the necessary funds, it’ll almost definitely be worth the investment.

I try to keep up-to-date this massive list of 43 expedition touring bikes available around the world to give you an idea of what this end of the market looks like.

And I’ve also partnered with Richard Delacour at Oxford Bike Works to offer the Expedition – a line of custom-built touring bikes produced to order in Oxfordshire, England, and designed with exactly this kind of ride in mind.

If you’re mechanically inclined, you might even consider – as I did once I had several years of touring experience under my belt – building your own ultimate round-the-world expedition bike.

This bike, in fact, was the prototype that led to the above-mentioned Expedition being launched.

A selection of touring bikes on display outside the workshop of Oxford Bike Works

3. Where are you buying your new touring bike?

Don’t forget that not all touring bikes are available everywhere. 

Many of the big bike manufacturers have global distribution networks – but their one-size-fits-all touring bikes, by definition, don’t always cater for everyone’s needs. 

Smaller, more specialised bike retailers (such as these in the UK) can offer far more in the way of individual tailoring – but they typically operate on a local or regional level, limiting their potential customer base.

This means that the touring bike-buying decision will change with where you’re looking.

I generally encourage you to consider that a good thing: you’ll have a smaller, more manageable selection of bikes to choose from, and you’ll have a reason to get to know your local bike shop staff while you’re avoiding buying the wrong bike by test-riding it first.

If you can’t find the right touring bike for you locally, however, another option is to incorporating the bike-buying process into your trip. 

Plan your starting point around a shop or bike builder you’ve contacted in advance, and spend a few extra days at the beginning of your trip getting your bike fitted and built.

It’s worth mentioning that many of the manufacturers in this list of expedition bikes available around the world – currently representing 9 countries on 3 continents – also build ‘regular’ touring bikes.

This approach makes even more sense if you’re flying long-haul to your starting point and you want to save the money, hassle and emissions associated with flying with a bike.

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Congratulations! You’ve now got a much better idea of the key criteria for touring bike choice. Why not celebrate by reading about something completely different, like how cycle touring actually makes you live longer?


A Massive List Of Expedition Touring Bikes For Round-The-World Rides

Last updated on June 12, 2023, removing the listing for Velosmith as it’s been reported that the builder has now retired.

Upgrading an Oxford Bike Works Expedition bike at their workshop near Abingdon, UK.
Upgrading an Oxford Bike Works Expedition bike at their workshop near Abingdon, UK.

After an irritatingly huge amount of research, I’m pleased to present to you a tabulated list of expedition-grade world touring bikes being built around the world, featuring bicycles from 42 manufacturers and small-scale makers in 9 countries on 3 continents.

The list below is designed as a starting point for you to research suppliers of bicycles that have been designed not for short cycling holidays, nor as mainstream do-everything touring bikes, but for long-distance, heavily-loaded bicycle journeys in remote parts of the world on varied and challenging terrain. 

In other words, this is a list of touring bikes designed for the most demanding cycling expeditions on Earth.

A Santos Travelmaster touring bike fitted with Brooks panniers.
The Dutch-built Santos Travelmaster is a long-standing classic among bikes for round-the-world rides.

There’s no clearly agreed-upon name for this category, so ‘expedition touring bike’ is the one I’m using here.

Why bother listing them all in one place? Simply because expedition touring bikes (and the accompanying specialist knowledge) can be hard to find in this ultra-tiny niche, and my goal with this blog is to help you get out riding on the right bike.

Expedition touring bikes rarely appear even in specialist bike shops and usually have to be specially ordered, often involving at least one in-person visit to a workshop or factory.

Because so many of these bikes are built to order, the table is sorted by country of origin. Your ability to test ride the bike is critical in a sensible buying process at these prices and for this purpose, so where you’re based plays a big part in the expedition bike buying decision.

You’ll find columns comparing each bike on the main differences I’ve written about in detail in my touring bike FAQ series of posts, including wheel size, frame material, drivetrain type, braking system, etc. This means you can easily shortlist the bikes that fit your requirements without trawling specification charts. Some are available in different configurations, eg: derailleur and Rohloff models of the same bike, so I’ve mentioned this (and the difference in price) where appropriate.

Where there is a bigger range of options and upgrades, the price for the cheapest option (frame and/or complete bike) is listed. Many manufacturers allow you to ‘configure’ your bike online. Have fun seeing how high you can get the final price to be!

CountryBrandModelFrameWheelsDrivetrainBrakingBarsPrice FromURL
AustraliaViventeAnatoliaSteel700C (28”)DerailleurDiscTrekking2,750
AustriaKTMLife RideAluminium700C (28”)DerailleurHydraulic discFlat1,000
FranceAlex SingerCyclo
FranceGilles BerthoudBerthoud
FranceRando CyclesGlobe-TrotterSteel26”DerailleurV‑brakesFlat2,000
GermanyBoettcherSafariSteel26”Derailleur / RohloffV‑brakesFlat1,350
GermanyIdworxGrandone Travel / All RohlerAluminium26”Derailleur / RohloffDiscFlat5,100 / 6,000
GermanyIntecM01Steel26”DerailleurV‑brakes /
GermanyNorwidSpitzbergenSteel26”1,200 EUR (frame)
GermanyPatriaTerraSteel26”Derailleur / RohloffHydraulic rimFlat2,582 / 3,694
GermanyPoisonMorphinSteel26”Shimano AlfineV‑brakes / DiscFlat1,732
GermanyRad-SpannereiHardo WagnerSteel26” / 700C (28”)Derailleur / RohloffVariousVarious950 EUR (frameset)
GermanyRotorReiseradSteel26” / 700C (28”) / 29”RohloffV‑brakes /
GermanyTout TerrainSilkroad IISteel26” / 27.5”Derailleur / Rohloff / PinionDiscVarious3,500 / 4,700 / 4,500
GermanyUtopia VeloSilberMöweSteel26”DerailleurV‑brakes / hydraulic rimFlat2,787
GermanyVelotraumVK2 / VK3Steel26” / 27.5”DerailleurV‑brakes / DiscFlat2,790 / 2,890
GermanyVSFTX-800 / TX-1000 / TX-1200Steel26”Derailleur / Rohloff / PinionHydraulic rim / DiscFlat2,600 / 4,800 / 5,600
ItalyCinelliHobootlegSteel700C (28”)DerailleurCantileverDrop1,690
NetherlandsAvaghonS28Steel700C (28”)Derailleur / Rohloff / PinionHydraulic rim / Hydraulic discVarious2,910 / 4,010 / 4,710
NetherlandsKogaWorldTravellerAluminium700C (28”)DerailleurDiscFlat2,600
NetherlandsSantosTravelmaster 2.6 / 2.8Aluminium26” / 700C (28”)RohloffV‑brakesFlat4,615
NetherlandsSNELSteel Ride 26 / 28Steel26” / 700C (28”)DerailleurV‑brakesFlat2,000
SwitzerlandAariosExperienceSteel26”Derailleur / RohloffV‑brakesFlat3,460 / 5,300
SwitzerlandMTB CycletechPapalagi GiSteel26”Derailleur / RohloffDiscVarious3,600
UKBob JacksonWorld TourSteel700C (28”)645 GBP (frame)
UKCondorHeritage / Heritage DiscSteel700C (28”)V‑brakes / Disc1,000 / 1,100 GBP (frame)
UKGenesisTour de Fer 20 / 30Steel700C (28”)DerailleurDiscFlat / Drop1,800 / 2,200
UKMercian CyclesKing Of MerciaSteel700C (28”)1,340 GBP (frame)
UKOxford Bike WorksExpeditionSteel26” / 700C (28”)DerailleurV‑brakes / DiscVarious2,790 / 3,000
UKSpa CyclesSteel TourerSteel700C (28”)DerailleurV‑brakesFlat950
UKThornNomad Mk3Steel26”Derailleur / RohloffDiscVarious2,400 / 3,300
USABilenkyMidlandsSteel26” / 700C (28”)Derailleur / RohloffV‑brakesVarious3,047 / 4,927 USD (frame / complete)
USABruce GordonRock ‘n Road TourSteel26”DerailleurV‑
USACo-MotionPangaeaSteel26”Derailleur / Rohloff / PinionDiscDrop2,400 / 4,000 USD (frame / complete)
USAKonaSutraSteel700C (28”)DerailleurDiscDrop1,900
USARivendell Bicycle WorksAtlantisSteel650B / 700C (28”)DerailleurV‑brakes1,750 USD (frame)
USARodriguezUTBSteel26”Derailleur / RohloffV‑brakesVarious3,400
USASalsaMarrakeshSteel700C (28”) / 29”DerailleurDiscDrop1,150 / 2,050 USD (frame / complete)
USASurlyDisc TruckerSteel26” / 700C (28”)DerailleurDiscDrop2,050
USATrek520Steel700C (28”)DerailleurDiscDrop1,830

If these price tags make you feel physically sick, by the way, and you’re not afraid of putting in a bit of effort, you can probably get a touring bike for cheap or free. Check out the story of how a scrapyard touring bike made it all the way across Eurasia. There are also plenty of mainstream touring bikes available at more reasonable prices.

If you know of any expedition touring bikes in production that are missing from this list, let us know in the comments. Thanks!