Last updated in November 2020.
(Note: Now is a transitional time in the cycling industry retail calendar, with this year’s bikes selling out fast and new stock starting to arrive. I will update these listings with 2021-season bikes as new information becomes available.)
The vast range of touring bikes on the market – that is, bicycles built to serve the specific needs of long-distance bicycle travellers – can be bewildering.
So it’s no surprise that the most frequently-asked question I get asked 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.
In other words, the demands of your ride should dictate your priorities for a touring bike – not the other way round.
So before we start listing the best touring bikes in 2021, let’s get some critical details pinned down first, so we have a better idea of what ‘best’ means for you.
(Now might be a good time to put the kettle on.)
Two Big Questions You Should Answer Before Even Thinking About Choosing A Touring Bike
1. Exactly what kind of tour are you planning?
The details of the ride you’re planning should feed directly into your choice of touring bike.
Resist the temptation to go deeper into your research until you’re clear about exactly what kind of cycle tour you want to go on.
What different kinds of bike tour are there? Well, styles of cycle touring 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.
(And you may realise you actually want to go bikepacking, rather than cycle touring.)
A lot of cycle tours land somewhere in the middle. That’s why most well-known bicycle manufacturers make one off-the-peg touring bike. The only specialisation of these bikes is that they are generalists, catering for a wide range of bicycle travel scenarios, as manufacturers strive to serve as broad a range of customers as they can in the small and not-very-profitable niche of cycle touring.
Being distributed alongside much more popular product lines from the same brands, mainstream touring bikes are relatively easy to find for a test ride. Cycle touring is a conservative niche, and with specifications changing little year on year, many such touring bikes 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 touring bikes can be found new for well under £1,000 (USD$1,200).
You can save more money by buying second-hand, but in the long term, used parts will wear out sooner, 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.
OK! Let’s have a look at the most tried-and-tested touring bikes throughout the range of budgets and touring styles.
The Best Entry-Level Touring Bikes In 2020/2021
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 USD$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 (UK, £440)
Currently the cheapest off-the-peg touring bike I know of, the Adventure Flat White from UK company SportLine has a lugged steel frame with a full set of touring-specific frame features (three bottle cage mounts plus rack mounts front and rear), a basic but solid 14-speed road-oriented drivetrain, mudguards, and a rear rack to get you started with undemanding, lightly-loaded tours close to home.
Launched in 2015, it’s still a relative newcomer to this very conservative market, but is gaining a number of positive write-ups as time goes by. Add your favourite saddle and a couple of rear panniers and you’re away.
- Click here to read a guest review of the Adventure Flat White on this blog, and scroll down for some helpful comments from owners who’ve taken it on longer trips.
- Click here for a list of UK and international stockists of Adventure Outdoor Co bikes.
Dawes Galaxy 2020 (UK, £700)
Note that Dawes have discontinued the Galaxy line for 2021, citing several years of declining in sales. The below information relates to the 2020 Galaxy.
The entry-level touring bike in long-running UK firm Dawes’s well-known range was the Galaxy.
Previously known as the Galaxy AL (the AL stands for “aluminium”), it was built on the same design principles as the more expensive models in the range such as the Super Galaxy and Ultra Galaxy. The regular model had a basic 3×8sp Shimano Claris mountain bike drivetrain, 36-spoke wheels, and Schwalbe Marathon tyres, which reinforce this bike’s intended use as a heavy-duty, durable and versatile tourer for asphalt and gravel.
- The Dawes Galaxy was one of the most widely available touring bikes in UK high street bike stores, so you may still find a few 2020 models for sale.
Fuji Touring LTD 2021 (Europe, €900)
Japanese manufacturer Fuji’s entry-level touring bike, simply named the Touring, features a Reynolds 520 cromoly frameset with classic drop-bar touring geometry. It’s prime for building up into a fully-fledged long-haul touring bike, with three bottle cage mounts on the frame, and lowrider mounts on the fork.
Strong 36-spoke wheels on Shimano Deore hubs, plus a durable mid-range Shimano MTB 3×9sp groupset and bar-end Microshift shifters, point to high ambitions in a good-value package.
The Touring LTD comes with some unnecessary throwaways, like the LED front and rear lights and toe clips. Far more interesting is that it comes in no fewer than seven frame size, allowing more precise fitting, and fewer compromises for short or tall riders.
- Find a list of global dealers on the official website.
- Buy the Fuju Touring online in the UK from Wiggle or Chain Reaction Cycles.
- In the USA, a disc brake-equipped version is available at a slightly higher price.
Ridgeback Tour 2021 (UK, £850)
The Tour – the cheapest of UK manufacturer Ridgeback’s touring bike range – has much in common with its high-end sibling the Panorama (see below), but with a cost-saving aluminium frame, rim brakes, and a basic Shimano Claris/Acera 3×8sp mountain bike drivetrain.
Ridgeback have improved the specification of the Tour over the last few years, putting it today at the upper end of the entry-level category. If you were looking at the Dawes Galaxy before, this is probably the closest UK-designed tourer in terms of design, specification, price, and availabilty.
The 2021 model is identical in specification to the 2019/2020 models, but gets a £50 price increase and a new paint-job.
- Ridgeback touring bikes are widely available from UK bike shops.
- Buy the Ridgeback Tour online in the UK from Tredz.
- You can also buy direct from the Ridgeback website.
The Best Premium Touring Bikes For 2021
Most experienced 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 or gravel 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 some luggage and perhaps a nicely broken-in Brooks B17 saddle – and, of course, an intrepid rider.
Expect to spend between £1,000–2,000 (USD$1,250–2,500 / CAD$1,750–3,500) on a new, fully-featured premium touring bike. It will last a lifetime if well cared-for and handle most touring scenarios very well.
Kona Sutra 2021 (Worldwide, £1,500)
Kona have long inhabited the left-of-centre in cycling. The Sutra, too, is progressively-minded. It was one of the first mainstream touring bikes to make the switch to disc brakes back in the early 2010s. Since then, Kona have adopted the stiffer and stronger bolt-through axle standard (another first amongst bikes in this list), and tightened up the frame geometry to produce a nimble and sporty cyclocross-inspired steel frameset, which is shared with the firmly gravel-oriented Sutra LTD.
All that, plus the mixed-terrain Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tyres and the Brooks B17 fitted as standard, points to the happy blend of on-road and off-road use increasingly preferred by riders going on shorter, wilder adventures, as opposed to a single world-ranging epic. The Sutra comes in six fine-grained frame sizes.
As with many other bikes in this list, the 2021 specification is essentially unchanged, but a weaker pound means the price tag in the UK is a little higher than in previous years.
- I’ve been riding a Kona Sutra since 2012. Read my original long-term review of the legacy model here.
- The Kona website has a handy list of worldwide dealers so you can find a place to test-ride the 2021 Sutra.
- Buy the 2021 Kona Sutra online in the UK from Wiggle, Tredz or Cyclestore.
Ridgeback Panorama 2021 (UK, £1,500)
The Ridgeback Panorama is a UK-designed, steel-framed, disc brake-equipped touring bike with a durable selection of drivetrain components drawn from both road- and mountain-biking ranges. With mounts for a front lowrider, its traditional, road-oriented frameset is prime for being built up into a fully-loaded, long-haul asphalt touring machine.
The Panorama has been around for a long time and is very much tried and tested: read Tim & Laura’s detailed guest review of the Panorama after a 6,000-mile road test, after which they completed their round-the-world trip on the same bikes.
The 2021 Panorama gets a fresh, bright-red paint job and a £100 price-tag increase, but is otherwise the same as the 2020 model.
- The 2021 Ridgeback Panorama is available from these authorised UK dealers.
- Buy the 2021 Ridgeback Panorama online in the UK from Tredz.
Surly Disc Trucker 2021 (Worldwide, £1,600 / $1,750 / CAD2,450)
Back in 2012, when the jury was still out on disc brakes as a reliable choice for long-distance touring, Surly produced a disc-specific version of their legendary Long Haul Trucker (see below), cunningly naming it the Disc Trucker, which has evolved into one of the most versatile and tried-and-tested touring bikes on the planet. Racks and mudguards are excluded, the intention being for you to retrofit your own according to your needs.
The Disc Trucker platform has had a major update for 2021, about which more detail on the Surly blog. Wheel diameter now complements frame size – in that bigger wheels suit taller riders and the vice-versa – for a whopping 11 frame/wheel size combinations. Similarly to the Kona Sutra (see above), performance tweaks such as bolt-through axles and touring/bikepacking versatility improvements have been implemented to match the kind of wilder, mixed-terrain rides for which the Disc Trucker is increasingly used.
The garish yellow paint option of the 2021 Disc Trucker won’t be for everyone, but Surly tell us that it’s also available in hi-viz black.
- Click here to read my full review of the legacy Disc Trucker.
- To find a place to test-ride one, start with Surly’s global dealer locator.
- In the UK, also try these local bike shops specialising in touring bikes.
More Globally-Available Premium Touring Bikes
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 Disc (USA & Worldwide)
- Cinelli HoBootleg (Italy & Worldwide)
- Vivente World Randonneur (Australia)
- Co-op Cycles (REI) ADV 1.1 (USA)
- KHS TR 101 (USA)
- Fahrradmanufaktur TX-800 (Germany)
How to choose between premium touring bikes?
If you’re having trouble choosing between the premium touring bikes listed above, the reason is probably that – on paper – they are basically all the same bike.
They’re all priced within a couple of hundred pounds/dollars of each other. They all have steel frames, wide gearing, drop bars, non-aggressive riding positions, pannier racks or at least rack mounts, and hybrid drivetrains cut from the middle of Shimano’s mountain-bike and road-bike ranges. They’re all built primarily for paved roads, but could handle a dirt track or gravel road if need be.
So how to choose between them?
The answer is actually very simple. Go to your local bike shop and take a few for a test ride. You’ll quickly feel what’s right for you.
The Best Expedition-Grade World Touring Bikes In 2021
Finally, 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 I think is worth making.
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). That’s what the bikes in the premium category above are for.
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 particular set of touring circumstances is the specialised 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?
(If yes, you might also want to check out my Massive List Of Expedition Touring Bikes For Round-The-World Rides.)
Ridgeback Expedition 2021 (UK, £1,100)
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 touring bike on the market.
The 2021 model has the same wide-range 3×9sp mountain bike gearing, chunky 26-inch wheels, and upright riding position as the original version, but now comes with flat bars and cable disc brakes as standard. Upgrade the rear rack, add a front lowrider and your favourite saddle, and you’ll be ready for the most remote of the planet’s backroads.
- Read my full review of the Ridgeback Expedition here, and check the comments for feedback from other long-haul riders.
- Like the rest of Ridgeback’s range, the Expedition should be available from any authorised Ridgeback dealer.
- Buy the Ridgeback Expedition 2021 touring bike online in the UK from Tredz.
Surly Long Haul Trucker 2021 (Worldwide, £1,400 / $1,350 / CAD1,950)
The Surly Long Haul Trucker is perhaps the most legendary of the bikes in this list owing to the proliferation of American riders hauling it around the globe. Since its launch in the mid-2000s, it’s proved itself a supremely versatile and well-balanced world touring bike at an affordable price.
A pure-bred world tourer – as opposed to its sportier sibling the Disc Trucker – the Long Haul Trucker is still proudly fitted with rim brakes, which is no bad thing if you’re riding it round the planet. You’re left to fit your own racks and mudguards, putting the Trucker halfway between an off-the-peg tourer and a configurable platform for a wide range of global adventures.
All sizes of previous years’ framesets were available to fit both 26″ and 700c wheel diameters. This thinking has been updated for 2021 on the basis that ‘fit comes first’, with the 42–58cm sizes made for 26″ wheels, and the 56–62cm frames designed for the 700c standard, with a slight overlap in the middle of the range. Tall riders who want 26-inch wheels for reasons not related to fit should probably look elsewhere.
- Find a list of global retailers on Surly’s dealer locator.
- In the UK, also try these local bike shops specialising in touring bikes.
Thorn Sherpa (UK, 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. They also make the Rohloff-equipped Nomad.
- To buy one, 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 (UK, from £2,299)
Originally a one-off ‘ultimate expedition bike’ built to my own specification, Oxford Bike Works have been custom-building the Expedition to order since 2015, and many have now circled the globe.
As standard, each bike features a hand-built Reynolds 525 cromoly steel frame, a choice of 26″ or 700C hand-built wheels, Tubus racks, rim or disc brake options, thumbshifters, and tons of other expedition-specific touches. Oxford Bike Works are currently moving all frame production to the UK, minimising shipping emissions and allowing yet more individual tailoring.
- To get one, start with a (free) Zoom consultation to determine your needs and preferences. All the details are on the Oxford Bike Works website.
This is one of a growing series of in-depth, continuously-updated blog posts about equipment for cycle touring. Before you go, check out my advice & planning page for tons more seasoned advice on every aspect of planning a cycle tour.
Still struggling to choose?
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