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 January 29, 2023, removing a number of bikes from the list that are no longer in production. I’m sad to see so many small-scale touring bike builders out of business post-Covid – let’s hope new talent will start to fill the gaps they left!

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 43 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.

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’ve invented.

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
AustraliaVelosmithJotaSteel26”RohloffV‑brakes / DiscFlat6,860
AustriaKTMLife RideAluminium700CDerailleurHydraulic 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” / 700CDerailleur / RohloffVariousVarious950 EUR (frameset)
GermanyRotorReiseradSteel26” / 700C / 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
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 TourSteel700C645 GBP (frame)
UKCondorHeritage / Heritage DiscSteel700CV‑brakes / Disc1,000 / 1,100 GBP (frame)
UKGenesisTour de Fer 20 / 30Steel700CDerailleurDiscFlat / Drop1,800 / 2,200
UKMercian CyclesKing Of MerciaSteel700C1,340 GBP (frame)
UKOxford Bike WorksExpeditionSteel26” / 700CDerailleurV‑brakes / DiscVarious2,790 / 3,000
UKSpa CyclesSteel TourerSteel700CDerailleurV‑brakesFlat950
UKThornNomad Mk3Steel26”Derailleur / RohloffDiscVarious2,400 / 3,300
USABilenkyMidlandsSteel26” / 700CDerailleur / 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)
USARivendell Bicycle WorksAtlantisSteel650B / 700CDerailleurV‑brakes1,750 USD (frame)
USARodriguezUTBSteel26”Derailleur / RohloffV‑brakesVarious3,400
USASalsaMarrakeshSteel700C / 29”DerailleurDiscDrop1,150 / 2,050 USD (frame / complete)
USASurlyDisc TruckerSteel26” / 700CDerailleurDiscDrop2,050

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!

Bikes Touring Bike FAQ

Touring Bike FAQ #7: What Should I Remember Before Handing Over My Cash?

This is #7 in an ever-growing series of answers to frequently-asked questions about touring bikes. If you’re new here, why not start with #1: What Exactly Defines A Touring Bike?

There are a few aspects of touring bike choice so utterly basic that they’re often lost in the quagmire of internet-based research.

This is particularly the case when browsing websites for advice on touring bikes: features and technical specifications are a lot easier to talk about than the all-important intangibles.

In this post, we’ll look at a few final checklist items you should review as a touring bike buyer before you commit to what might be the most significant purchase of your cycle touring career. 

1. Does It Definitely Feel Right? (ie: Have I Taken It For A Test Ride?)

By far the most important criteria for a bike you’re going to be riding all day, every day, is whether or not it feels right when you ride it.

This is something that months of theoretical research into touring bikes will never tell you, and something that you’ll discover within a few seconds of actually trying one out.

For a short trip, if the bike you already own is comfortable enough, why change it? Even a bike that perhaps doesn’t feel perfect is still unlikely to cause problems for short, spontaneous, drop-everything-and-go trips. Assuming you haven’t forgotten to bring a multi-tool, you’ll be able to adjust various bits of the bike until it feels less uncomfortable. Miracles can be performed through saddle adjustment alone. Handlebars are easy to raise or lower.


For anything longer, or involving any kind of significant time and money investment, though, you can barely afford to risk an expensive, carefully-chosen bicycle feeling all wrong when it arrives by courier in a big cardboard box.

The most common cause of discomfort when cycling for longer periods of time is incorrect fit. 

Unless you’re already an experienced cyclist who can hazard a guess as to the best of nine or ten size options, the easiest way to get this right is to get sized up at your local bike shop. You’ll be able to test-ride a variety of bikes, and when you settle on buying one, they’ll be able to adjust or swap components that affect fit.

Depending on your budget, this is also a strong argument in favour of a custom-built touring bike.

The result? A touring bike that feels right. If you’re going to be spending the majority of your waking hours on it, there’s not much more important than that.

(What? You were thinking about buying a touring bike online without test-riding it first…?)

2. Does It Suit My Touring Style? (ie: Is This The Right Tool For The Job?)

Not all touring bikes are built for the same kind of touring. That’s why, when choosing a bike, it’s really important to start by considering the demands of the trip you have in mind. Your ride should dictate your bike, rather than your bike dictating your ride.

Fast, light, on-road and short-term is a combination usually found together in touring.

At the extreme end of this scale are ‘credit card tours’, in which the traveller packs little more than a toothbrush, a credit card and the clothes on their back, and travels with the philosophy that they’ll buy what they need when circumstance demands it (including accommodation). The Himalayas have been crossed by bicycle in this way, though it might be worth starting out with something a little less ambitious.

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Road and hybrid bikes with luggage-carrying abilities are fine for this kind of touring, and the niche is well served by the numerous mainstream touring bikes on offer.

Slow, heavy, rough-road and long-term are likely to co-incide too.

Many years ago, on a deserted road in Egypt’s Sinai peninsular, I met Katya and Mirko, a Slovenian couple who truly did live on their bikes.


Their heavy-duty mountain bikes were piled high with luggage; a guitar sat atop a heap of jewellery-making equipment in a two-wheeled cargo trailer. From there, they would ride to Israel, where they would spend time making and selling jewellery in order to fund the next stage of their journey through life. At the time of writing they are riding through South-East Asia.

For those in it for the long haul, heavy-duty ‘expedition’ bikes are available, if not as commonly seen as your standard road tourer. They’re built specifically to cater for the demands of fully-loaded world travel, and you’ll find they differ in a few very specific ways from ‘standard’ touring bikes.

Most tours fall somewhere in the middle. You are not breaking records, but you do want to feel like you’ve got somewhere at the end of a day. You’ll carry the essentials for riding, camping and cooking in varying weather, but pack a few personal luxuries too. Roads will comprise the majority of your trip, but your might find yourself on a dirt track every now and then. You’ll usually ride for a few weeks at a time, make a few shorter trips closer to home, and occasionally go for a Big Ride.

The majority of bikes sold as ‘touring bikes’ are designed to cater for this broad category of rider. If this is the first time you’ve been asked to think about your specialist touring requirements, it’s likely you fit this category, and you’ll be pleased to hear that you’ve got lots of choices.

If a mainstream tourer doesn’t fit your plans, on the other hand, consider a custom touring or expedition bike like mine. You might also find inspiration in my personal bikeography, covering the bikes I’ve used myself over the last few years of touring.

More questions about touring bikes? Ask in the comments below and I’ll add more FAQ posts to this series. Magic!

Bikes Touring Bike FAQ

Touring Bike FAQ #6: What’s The Best Way To Avoid Buying The Wrong Bike?

This is #6 in an ever-growing series of answers to frequently-asked questions about touring bikes. If you’re new here, why not start with #1: What Exactly Defines A Touring Bike?

When it comes to actually buying the touring bike you’ve spent months researching, it can be tempting to start researching online retailers. After all, that’s how we buy everything else these days.

Online-only bike retailers can often undercut high street bike shops by a large amount, for various reasons:

  • there’s no physical shop front to maintain,
  • fewer skilled and experienced staff are needed,
  • there’s no need to spend time fitting and specifying each bicycle to each customer,
  • customer service demands are more limited as the customer can’t bring a product back in person,
  • economies of scale reduce overheads and enable competitive pricing.

These, however, are not reasons to buy a touring bike online.

They’re reasons not to buy a touring bike online.

Look at that list again.

What Matters Most When Buying A Touring Bike?

It’s really critical to understand what your priorities as a touring cyclist should be, especially when buying the single most important piece of gear you’ll need: the bicycle itself.

While your overall strategy might well be to save as much money as possible so you can spend more time on the road, doing this successfully requires understanding when it is worth spending a little more to avoid unnecessary problems later on. 

The purchase of your new touring bike is one of these occasions.

If you’re unconvinced, think about it this way:

If you were buying a new car or a house, and you knew that the quality of your daily life would depend on making a well-thought-out decision about which car or house to buy… would you choose a 10% discount in return for not being able to test-drive the car, or not being able to look around the house? Would simply being sent the keys in the post, having looked at the online description and photographs alone, be worth the money saved, given the stakes involved if you made a mistake?

I suspect you’d rather be sure that what you’re buying is right. You’d rather pay full price and then drive economically or make a few cost-cutting lifestyle tweaks to reduce your bills.

In order words, you’d rather spend when you need to, and save where it’s safe to.

A new touring bike is not a new car, and probably doesn’t carry the same weight in your mind when thinking about major purchases.

But it should.

Once you’re on the road, your bike isn’t just the equivalent of a car; it’s the equivalent of a car you drive all day long – that you might as well drive for a living. 

So sacrifice your daily coffee for a few weeks. It’s a compromise worth making.

A touring bike fitting session in progress at Oxford Bike Works, Abingdon, England.

The Critical Importance of Fitting & Sizing

Whether the bike itself is new or second-hand, cheap or expensive, it needs to feel right. And in order to feel right, it needs to fit you pretty precisely.

Badly-fitting bikes are the most common cause of injury and chronic discomfort among cycle tourists. It’s also worth mentioning that ill-fitting bicycles are one of the key reasons many of us don’t ride bikes past adolescence: we’ve never ridden a bike that actually fits us.

Fitting a bicycle is not a magical art, but there are a few prerequisites:

  • experience on the part of the fitter;
  • the ability to make small adjustments to or substitutions of components depending on the unique physiology of the rider, and
  • the ability for the rider to put in enough riding to identify issues and have them resolved.

Taking the first pedal stroke on a correctly sized and fitted bicycle is, for many adults, a real revelation, and something that committed cyclists often forget.

Yet More Reasons Not To Buy A Touring Bike Online

At this point, a quick glance back at the reasons online-only bike stores are cheaper will remind you why mail-ordering a bike is a poor choice for the touring cyclist.

Forget about test-riding bikes and being able to get that intuitive and all-important “this is right” feeling from the bike you’re potentially going to be riding for months or years on end. You won’t know you’ve made the right choice until the big cardboard box turns up at your home, at which point you’re pretty much on your own.

Any self-respecting bike shop owner, on the other hand, will happily devote hours of staff time to sizing and fitting a bike for you, and will within reason swap out components that affect bike fit and ergonomics, such as stem, handlebars, saddle and grips at little or no extra cost while the bike is still brand new.

With a mail-order bike, it’s “like it or lump it” – stock components or nothing (or make your own modifications), and no set-up help either.

Finally, a bike shop with whom you’ve made a significant investment will often offer a post-purchase “check-up” during which you’ll be able to tweak the setup after a few test rides.

In other words, that 10% or so you’d save online is the difference between a bike that fits, feels right, has been set up correctly, and has been tweaked to fit your body and riding style; and a bike that’s come straight from the factory in a cardboard box, which you have to finish building and setting up yourself, and for which the only after-sales service you’ll get is an automated email asking you to review your purchase on the website. Given that you’ll be racking up more cycling hours on tour than in any other cycling discipline, it’s probably not a 10% worth saving.

This is really important. Sorry to bore you by repeating myself, but it is amazing how many people will happily spend days, weeks or even months researching touring bikes online, yet when it comes to actually making possibly the most significant purchase of their cycle touring lives to date, they’d rather risk getting the wrong size or even on receiving (in pieces) a bike which in reality doesn’t quite agree with them, for the sake of saving a few quid.

It’s understandable to a point, as it fits with the buying habits that many of us exhibit on a daily basis, but we must realise the importance of avoiding it in this particular case.

Let’s not forget that the bicycle will be, for several hours a day, the sole interface between you and the world. It’s practically an extension of your body in that sense. It’s too important to leave key aspects of this symbiotic relationship to chance. I will repeat this so that there can be no possible room for ambiguity: do all the web-based research you like on the best touring bikes, but do not buy a touring bike online.

Instead, find the nearest specialist bike shop that will order and assemble a touring bike or expedition bike to meet your needs, negotiate for a good price, and enjoy the resulting comfort and after-sales service.

Exceptions To The Rule

Now, there are a couple of legitimate cases when you might ignore my otherwise categorical advice not to buy a touring bike online.

The first is when:

  1. you know exactly which bike you need and are utterly confident in its suitability for your tour,
  2. you know exactly what size will fit you (from previous experience of fitting and riding similar bicycles, not just by looking at sizing charts), and
  3. you are an experienced enough mechanic to build it, fit it and tweak it to perfection yourself.

Pay close attention: if you don’t honestly, truly satisfy these three criteria, you’ll be better off with a slightly cheaper bike and spending the savings on visiting a store and getting it sized, fitted and set up properly.

Like a tailor-made suit, the most expensive touring bike in the world will not be the slightest bit of use if it doesn’t fit you. Comparatively, a scrapyard-rescued bike that’s properly sized and set up will be a comparative joy to ride.

The second is when the touring bikes on your wishlist are simply unavailable in your local area.

I’ve received a few emails from readers where this has been the case, and the only way to get their hands on a new and high quality touring bike has been to have one couriered in (in a cardboard box, in pieces) from abroad.

This should be considered a last resort, and the benefits of doing this should clearly outweigh travelling to a place where quality touring bikes are available, buying one locally, and beginning a tour from there.

And finally in the Touring Bike FAQ series: What Should I Remember Before Handing Over My Cash?

Bikes Touring Bike FAQ

Touring Bike FAQ #5: Derailleurs Or Internal Hub Gears (Rohloff)?

This is #5 in an ever-growing series of answers to frequently-asked questions about touring bikes. If you’re new here, why not start with #1: What Exactly Defines A Touring Bike?

There are plenty of people in this world who you could put in a room and let them argue until the end of time about whether or not a touring bike should be fitted with a Rohloff Speedhub.

I am not one of these people. You probably aren’t, either.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Rohloff, it’s a brand of internal gear hub for the rear wheel of a bicycle which costs more than a new entry-level touring bike.

Internal gear hubs like the Rohloff are designed to offer a wide range of gear ratios which are selectable with a single cable-operated handlebar shifter, eliminating all the derailleurs, sprocket cassettes, chainrings, and other gumpf used to offer selectable gear ratios on most other bikes. Competing models include the Alfine range from Shimano, and more recently the Pinion range of crank-mounted gearboxes.

Rohloff Speedhub internals
The mystical internal workings of a Rohloff Speedhub revealed. Image © Rohloff AG.

Internet search spirals will unearth no end of people who ‘swear by’ Rohloffs and endless ultra-detailed kit-lists from folk who’ve shelled out the cash to equip their bike with one. 

Among arguments often heard in their favour against traditional derailleur setups, they’re more reliable, less messy, simpler on the outside, smoother to use, and you can change gear while stationary.

But they are not essential items of equipment for touring bikes.

People have indeed cycled round the world with Rohloffs. Yet more people have cycled round the world with traditional derailleur gears, having had a century’s head start.

The decision to invest in a Rohloff is not about whether it will will get you through a very long bike trip ‘better’ than a derailleur. As evidenced by the Database of Long Distance Cycling Journeys, or my massive list of worldwide expedition touring bikes, they’ll clearly both do the job.

For me, it’s more a question of the approach you take towards cycle touring, travel, and possibly life in general.

The Real Reason People Choose (Or Don’t Choose) A Rohloff Speedhub

I’ll wager that the single biggest reason for differences in choice relates to how people respond to the fear of things going wrong.

When your non-user-serviceable Rohloff Speedhub breaks (and they do), you send it back to Germany and spend a couple of weeks waiting in whichever city you had to hitch-hike to when it happened. Rohloff repair or replace the hub and send it back to you.

You hope that this happens before a) the locals customs department gets hold of it, and b) your tourist visa runs out.

Eventually, you continue with your tour.

When your derailleur gets mashed into your spokes, you try to fix it yourself, because all the parts are accessible and serviceable, you’ve been on the road for long enough to know how to fix your bike, you’ve got the right tools, and you stopped caring about getting greasy fingers a long time ago.

If you can’t fix it, you remove a few links from your chain and turn your bike into a single-speeder until you get to the next city, where you check into the local hostel to find another cycle tourist awaiting the return of his or her Rohloff hub from Germany. You find a new derailleur or gear hanger or cassette or chain or chainring from any local bike shop.

Eventually, you continue with your tour.

When all’s said and done, the only difference was how the broken gears got fixed – by you, by the nearest bike shop, or by a technician in Kassel-Fuldatal.

That time my derailleur actually did get mashed into the spokes and I actually did have to single-speed my bike for a few days before fixing it. Photo © Chris Goodman.

The second part of the decision is whether you would prefer the reassurance of a Rohloff or an extra £1,000 towards your bike trip.

What would an extra £1,000 in spending money mean for you?

Consider that there’s no difference between the two systems that will occupy your mind when you’re actually turning the pedals. You’ll have better things to think about. Ultimately, both systems will allow you to choose the right gear when you need to – until, inevitably, something eventually goes wrong.

So if money is no object at this stage of your bike-choice process, the only real way to decide between the two is by rather whimsically thinking about which you like the idea of best.

1. Out of sight, out of mind, out of pocket (sorry) for tens of thousands of miles – until it possibly breaks catastrophically? Rohloff it is.


2. Needing occasional servicing and parts replacement, but fixable on the roadside and by every bicycle mechanic on the planet? Derailleur it is.

Still can’t decide? Flip a coin, cover it up, and then think about which side you really wanted it to land on.

Next in the Touring Bike FAQ series: What’s The Best Way To Avoid Buying The Wrong Bike?