Last updated in January 2021. Happy New Year!
The vast range of touring bikes on the market can be bewildering. So it’s no surprise that the single 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 choice of touring bike – not the other way round.
So before we start listing the best touring bikes in 2021, let’s pin down some critical details about your upcoming cycle tour, so we have a clearer idea of what ‘best’ actually means.
1. Exactly what kind of cycle tour are you planning?
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. Most bike trips fall somewhere on the following spectrums:
- Do you want to ride fast or slow?
- Are you travelling short-term or long-term?
- Will you be going ultralight or fully-loaded?
- Is your route mostly on-road or off-road?
These are the questions that will help determine 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 cycle tours land somewhere in the middle of these spectrums. That’s why the big bicycle manufacturers tend to offer a single do-everything 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 sell enough bikes to break even in the small and not-very-profitable niche of cycle touring.
Being distributed alongside much more popular categories of bicycle from the same brands, mainstream touring bikes are relatively easy to find for a test ride at your local bike shop. Cycle touring is a conservative niche, with specifications changing little year on year, meaning many of these touring bikes are well and truly tried and tested.
We’ll be looking at the most often-recommended examples of these touring bikes a little later on.
2. What’s your budget?
Short of cash? It is possible to use any 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 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 bought new for under £1,000 (USD$1,200). Bikes at this price point are considered entry-level. They are similar in design to their more expensive siblings, but with cheaper components and fewer touring-specific accessories to hit the design goal of affordability.
Got a budget for a serious new bike? Accepted wisdom is to get the best quality bike you can afford without compromising your overall trip budget. This is the domain of the premium touring bike or expedition bike, in which the top design priority is durability, using higher-quality components and build principles to achieve that goal – often at any cost.
OK! Let’s have a look at the most tried-and-tested touring bikes throughout the range of budgets.
The Best Entry-Level Touring Bikes In 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; cheaper, heavier and less refined drivetrain components (ie: gearing systems); rim brakes; and perhaps a basic rear rack to get you started. They are nevertheless 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 (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 stood 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 reinforced 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. Check out this list of touring bike specialists for some starting points.
Fuji Touring LTD 2021 (Worldwide, £1,050/€900)
Japanese manufacturer Fuji’s entry-level touring bike, the Touring LTD, features a Reynolds 520 cromoly frameset with classic touring geometry, and is the only bike in the budget category with flat handlebars, which may appeal to those with a hybrid/city or mountain-biking background.
Strong 36-spoke 700C wheels on Shimano Deore hubs, plus a durable Shimano 3×9sp chainset from the middle of their mountain-biking range, point to high ambitions in a good-value package aimed at riders who want to take their time and explore in comfort on a bike that can tackle a wide range of terrain. The Vittoria Randonneur tyres may not be the longest-lasting, but at 40mm (1.6″) in diameter they’ll be comfortable on asphalt and gravel alike until you make the upgrade.
The Touring LTD does feature some throwaways, like toe clips and frame-mounted pump pegs (really?). Far more valuable is the fact it comes in no fewer than seven frame size, allowing more precise fitting, and fewer compromises for short or tall riders.
The more recently introduced (and more expensive) Touring Disc LTD features the well-regarded TRP Spyre cable disc brakes, and switches from flat bars and a mountain bike chainset to drop bars and road gearing, making it an altogether sportier and more performance-orientated bike than the standard Touring LTD, with a different kind of rider in mind.
- Find a list of global dealers on the official Fuji website.
- Buy the Fuju Touring LTD 2021 online in the UK from Wiggle or Chain Reaction Cycles.
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 but remains a touring bike at its core.
Mountain-bike 3×9sp gearing on road wheels and drop bars, plus mixed-terrain Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tyres and a Brooks B17 generously fitted as standard, all point to the happy blend of on-road and off-road use increasingly preferred by riders going on shorter, wilder adventures, as opposed to world-ranging epics. Where others have moved to integrated shifters and brake levers, Kona have (wisely, in my opinion) stuck with bar-end shifters; perhaps less ergonomic but certainly more durable.
The Sutra comes in six fine-grained frame sizes. Fenders and a decent rear rack are fitted as standard, but following the common trend, you only get the mounts for a front rack or lowrider.
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, Reynolds 725 cromoly-framed, disc brake-equipped, premium touring bike with a durable selection of 3×9sp drivetrain components from both road- and mountain-biking ranges. Its traditional, road-oriented frameset is prime for being built up into a fully-loaded, long-haul, asphalt touring machine. As with other bikes in this list, only the rear rack is fitted as standard, with lowrider fork mounts provided for later upgrade.
Weak points on the Panorama include the integrated shifters/brake levers, which break away from the principle of separating potential points of failure – and although you could theoretically swap them out for bar-end or even downtube shifters, it wouldn’t be the simplest task. The wheelset components are also nothing to write home about; get the spokes re-tensioned before taking this bike on a long-haul tour.
In spite of these question marks, 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, ie: 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 the same 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 (Worldwide, £1,400 / $1,350 / CAD1,950)
Note that Surly have, in the F.A.Q. for this bike, quietly mentioned the discontinuation of the Long Haul Trucker “for the time being”. Let’s hope this is a temporary measure.
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 exact specification, Oxford Bike Works have been refining and 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.
More Globally Available Expedition-Grade World Touring Bikes
There is a narrow but surprisingly deep market for the kind of bicycle that will take you on a once-in-a-lifetime round-the-world cycling adventure. As well as the popular choices above, I’ve collected all the bikes I can find that fit this description into a massive list of expedition-grade world touring bikes, which currently features no fewer than 52 such bikes from manufacturers in nine different countries (and counting), all in one nicely-organised table.
This is part of a series of in-depth, continuously-updated blog posts about equipment for cycle touring. 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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