Last updated in May 2020.
The number of touring bikes on the market – that is, bicycles built to serve the needs of cycle travellers – can be bewildering. So it’s no surprise that the most frequently-asked question I get through this blog is some variation of this:
“Help! Which touring bike should I buy?”
Trouble is, it’s one of those questions which is meaningless without context. Let’s get that pinned down first.
(Now might be a good time to put the kettle on.)
Two Questions You Should Answer Before Choosing A Touring Bike
1. What kind of bike trip are you actually going on?
The details of the ride you’re planning will dictate your choice of touring bike. Resist the temptation to go deeper until you’ve decided exactly what kind of cycle tour you want to go on.
What different kinds of bike tour are there? Well, styles of cycle touring (aka: bikepacking) vary in several ways:
- Do you want to travel fast or slow?
- Will you be going ultralight or fully-loaded?
- Is your route mostly on-road or off-road?
- Are you travelling short-term or long-term?
These are the variables that will feed into your choice of touring bike. If you’re not clear on the answer to each of them, it might be time to stop reading about bikes and go back to first principles.
A lot of bike trips land somewhere in the middle. That’s why mainstream, off-the-peg touring bikes are so popular, as manufacturers want to serve as broad a range of customers as they can. They’re easy to find for a test ride, and with the specifications changing little year on year, many such models are well and truly tried and tested.
A little later on we’ll be looking at the best such touring bikes on the market today.
2. What’s your budget?
Short of cash? It is perfectly possible to use any old bike for touring, as long as it’s about the right size. You will (eventually) get from A to B on the rusty heap that’s been sat in the garage for the last decade. This isn’t just rhetoric: read how I actually put together a complete touring bike (plus gear and luggage) for £25.17.
Got a bit of cash but still on a minimal budget? Good quality entry-level touring bikes can be had for well under £1,000 ($1,200). In the long term, used parts will wear quicker, so expect to more maintenance and repairs than someone making the same journey on a new bicycle.
Got a budget for a serious new bike? Accepted wisdom is to get the best quality bike you can afford, as it’ll pay off in the long term. This is the domain of the premium or expedition-grade touring bike or bikepacking rig.
OK! Let’s have a look at the most tried-and-tested touring bikes throughout the range of budgets and touring styles.
The Best Sub-£1,000 Touring Bikes In 2020
If you’re getting started, there’s a growing range of cheap but good-quality touring bikes, luggage-enabled and ready to roll, that can be had for less than £1,000 (around $1,200). A lot less, in some cases.
These bikes are characterised by having cost-saving aluminium frames, basic but solid drivetrain components (ie: gearing systems), rim brakes, and a basic rear rack to get you started. They are designed and built specifically for touring, often sharing a frameset with models at the higher end of the budget spectrum. Bikes at the entry-level 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.
Here are some of the most highly recommended budget touring bikes that have proven themselves over time and miles:
Adventure Flat White (£440)
With an RRP of £439.99 the cheapest off-the-peg touring bike in the UK, the Adventure Flat White has a lugged steel frame with a full set of touring-specific frame features (bottle cage, rack and mudguard mounts), a basic but solid 14-speed drivetrain, mudguards and a rear rack to get you started with undemanding, lightly-loaded road tours close to home.
Launched in 2015, it’s a relative newcomer to the market. Click here to read a guest review of the bike, and scroll down to read some helpful comments from owners of the bike who’ve taken it on longer trips.
Dawes Galaxy 2020 (£700)
The entry-level touring bike in long-running UK firm Dawes’s well-known range is the Galaxy. Previously known as the Galaxy AL (the AL stands for “aluminium”), it’s built on the same design principles as the more expensive models in the range, with a budget 24-speed Shimano Claris drivetrain, 36-spoke wheels and Schwalbe Marathon tyres, which reinforce this bike’s intended use as a heavy-duty, durable road tourer. Since 2019 there’s been a step-through frame option for riders with reduced mobility.
The Dawes Galaxy is one of the most widely available touring bikes in UK high street bike stores. You can find the 2020 model online at Tredz* for £699.
Ridgeback Tour 2020 (£800)
The Tour – the cheapest of Ridgeback’s touring bike range – has much in common with its more expensive siblings, but with a cost-saving aluminium frame and a basic Shimano Claris/Acera 24-speed drivetrain. Ridgeback have improved the specification (and therefore the RRP) of the Tour over the last couple of years, putting it today at the upper end of this low-budget category. The 2020 model is identical in price, appearance and specification to the 2019 model.
Ridgeback touring bikes are widely available from UK high street bike shops. Online stockists of the Ridgeback Tour include Tredz, who currently have a discount on the 2019 model. You can also buy direct from the Ridgeback website.
The Best Premium (£1,000+) Touring Bikes In 2020
Most longer-term cycle tourists are not breaking records, but they do want to feel like they’ve got somewhere at the end of a day. They’ll carry all the essentials but pack a few personal luxuries too. Roads will comprise the majority of their trip, but they might find themselves on a dirt track every now and then. They’ll usually travel for a few weeks, make a few shorter trips closer to home, and occasionally go for a Big Ride of months or more.
This broad space is the domain of the premium touring bike.
Almost all cycle tourists could conduct their travels successfully on any of the following bikes. They’re all mature, capable machines, tried and tested and with sensible price-tags, in need of nothing more than a nicely broken-in Brooks B17 saddle and a rider.
Expect to spend between £1,000–£2,000 ($1,250–$2,500 USD) on a new, fully-featured premium tourer, and for it to last many years (if not a lifetime) and handle most touring scenarios very well.
Ridgeback Panorama 2020 (£1,400)
The Ridgeback Panorama is a steel-framed, disc brake-equipped touring bike with a durable selection of drivetrain components drawn from both road- and mountain-biking ranges. Though lacking a front rack, its road-oriented frameset places it well for fully-loaded, long-haul asphalt touring. It’s very much tried and tested, too: read Tim & Laura’s detailed guest review of the Panorama after a 6,000-mile road test (they subsequently completed their round-the-world trip on the same bikes). The 2020 model is identical to 2019’s offering.
Kona Sutra 2020 (£1,400)
Kona have long inhabited the left-of-centre in cycling, producing a fascinating range of bikes. The Sutra, too, is progressively-minded, with powerful disc brakes, bolt-through axles, and a nimble and sporty cyclocross-inspired steel frameset (shared with the dirt-oriented Sutra LTD) all pointing to a happy blend of on-road and off-road use. I’ve been riding one since 2012 and I love it; you can still read my original long-term road test review here.
Surly Long Haul Trucker 2020 (£1,400)
While not as easy to find in the UK as the Dawes or Ridgeback ranges, the Surly Long Haul Trucker is perhaps the most legendary of the bikes in this list. It’s a supremely versatile and well-balanced on- and off-road adventure touring bike at a price affordable to many, also available in a 26″ wheel size for smaller riders or other cases in which that’s preferable. You’re left to choose your own racks and mudguards.
Surly Disc Trucker 2020 (£1,600)
Back when the jury was still out regarding disc brakes as a realistic option for touring, Surly went ahead and produced a disc-specific version of the Long Haul Trucker anyway, the cunningly named Disc Trucker. Everything else about it is the same as the LHT — tried, true, and one of the most versatile touring bikes on the planet – and as with the LHT it’s available as a complete bike or a frameset only. In either case, racks and mudguards are for you to retrofit.
More Premium Touring Bikes Available Worldwide
The following bikes from have been recommended by my blog readers as also fitting this category. Some of them are on the budget end, some straying into the top end, but I’ve listed them for the sake of completeness:
- Trek 520 (USA & Worldwide)*
- Cinelli HoBootleg (Worldwide)*
- Vivente World Randonneur (Australia)
- Co-op Cycles (REI) ADV 1.1 (USA)*
- KHS TR 101 (USA)
- Fahrradmanufaktur TX-800 (Germany)
Side note: How to choose between premium touring bikes
If you’re having trouble choosing between the touring bikes above, the reason is probably that they are pretty much all the same.
They’re all priced within a couple of hundred pounds of each other. They all have steel frames, wide gearing, drop bars, non-aggressive riding positions, pannier racks or at least rack mounts, hybrid drivetrains cut from the middle of Shimano’s mountain-bike and road-bike ranges, and boring saddles (because they know you’ll swap the stock saddle for your favourite). They’re all built primarily for paved roads, but could handle a dirt track or two if need be.
So how to choose? Simple – go down to your local bike shop and take a few of them for a test ride. You’ll feel what’s right for you.
The Best Expedition-Grade World Touring Bikes In 2020
I’d like to draw attention to the existence of ‘expedition’ bikes, as opposed to ‘touring’ bikes. It’s by no means an industry standard term, but it’s a distinction that needs to be made.
The majority of cycle touring takes place relatively close to home, in the developed world, and for limited periods of time (a few weeks at most).
But occasionally a bike will need to survive for months on end in parts of the world where modern Western parts, spares and mechanical help are simply unavailable.
This is the domain of the ‘expedition’ bike. These bikes are usually characterised by having 26-inch wheels for maximum compatibility with the tyres, tubes and wheel parts ubiquitous in the developing world, allowing for much fatter tyres to be fitted for unpaved roads, using old-fashioned standard components such as 8- or 9‑speed drivetrains, square-taper bottom brackets, V‑brakes rather than disc brakes, etc, and having steel frames built for even heavier duty service in the long haul.
They don’t necessarily cost more than a top-end touring bike, but they have a slightly different focus in mind. Does this apply to you?
Ridgeback Expedition 2019 (£1,000)
Launched in 2014, tweaked in the years since and now thoroughly tested on longer trips, the Ridgeback Expedition is a strong contender for best value expedition-ready touring bike on the market. Read my full review here, and do check out the comments for more recent opinions from long-haul riders.
Like the rest of Ridgeback’s range, the Expedition should be available from any good Ridgeback dealer.
Surly Long Haul Trucker 2020 (£1,400) / Disc Trucker 2020 (£1,600) (26-inch models)
Surly have shown their versatility by producing expedition-ready 26-inch versions of the already super-versatile Long Haul Trucker and Disc Trucker models — near-perfect expedition bikes by all accounts. All the same praise goes here as for the 700c versions above. Again, you’ll need to add your own racks and mudguards. (Photo is of the 2017 model.)
Thorn Sherpa (from £1,368)
Thorn’s 26-inch steel tourer, the Sherpa, starts at well over a grand and depending on specification could be double that, but the Somerset-based company have established themselves as creating ultra-reliable expedition bikes on an individual basis. You’ll need to book an appointment with St John’s Street Cycles in Bridgewater to get yours specified and fitted to your needs.
Oxford Bike Works Expedition (from £2,299)
My expedition bike of choice is an Oxford Bike Works Expedition. But then it would be: I designed it down to the very last bolt.
Originally a one-off ‘ultimate expedition bike’, Richard Delacour, the founder of Oxford Bike Works, has been building these out of his UK workshop since 2015, and the spec sheet for 2020 has evolved significantly. As standard, each bike features a hand-built Reynolds 525 cromoly steel frame, a choice of 26″ or 700C hand-built wheels, the best Tubus racks in the business, rim or disc brake options, thumbshifters, and tons of other expedition-specific touches. He’s gradually moving all frame production to the UK, too, minimising shipping emissions and allowing yet more individual tailoring.
The only way to get one is to request a (free) consultation with Richard, either by phone or at his workshop in person, to determine exactly what your needs and preferences are. All the details are on the Oxford Bike Works website.
You’ve probably got more questions about cycle touring, so do check out my absolutely massive advice & planning page for dozens more articles on every aspect of planning a tour.
If all the free content I’ve published still isn’t enough (or if you’d prefer to read it in some kind of logical order), you’ll be interested to know that I’ve written a total newcomer’s guide to cycle touring, which is available on Amazon as a low-cost Kindle ebook.
Finally, if you’ve reached the end of this article realising that you’d never be able to afford any of the bikes in this list, but you still want to go cycle touring, check this article out to find out how…