What is the Best Bike for Cycle Touring?

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The type of bike you should use depends on what sort of touring do you intend to do.

HEAVYWEIGHT

Full on touring with full camping gear – need a solid bike with heavy duty wheels and pannier racks and wide gearing. Alternatively you could use a lightweight bike and carry your gear in a bike trailer, or go with a combination.

LIGHTWEIGHT/CREDIT CARD

This is where you buy all the necessaries of life, like food and shelter, on the way (generally using a credit card) so carrying as little as is possible. For this any bike will do – the lighter and faster the better

ASSISTED

Some people tour with a van or car for backup. Since you’re not carrying gear on the bike you’re as well getting the fastest, lightest bike you can afford.

OFFROAD

Do you intend to do off-road touring? If yes a mountain bike may be your best bet and a trailer may be more suitable than using panniers. If all your cycling will be done on good quality roads a mountain bike will be slower and heavier than a road bike.

Where do you intend to go?

– Europe only – 700cc wheels

– outside Europe – 26″ wheels

Main things to look for in touring bike:

COMFORT

– good fit, good quality saddle, relaxed frame geometry

TOUGH AND DURABLE

– good bearings, chainrings, rims, frame, tyres

STORAGE CAPACITY

– plenty of storage capacity, attachment points

EASY TO FIX

– easily replaceable/serviceable components,

Ideally you want tough and durable components that are also easy to service or replace. However, these qualities are often incompatible; the best quality bearings, for example, tend to be sealed. Sealed bearings last a long time, but they will wear out eventually and probably won’t be serviceable. Replacing them might not be possible on a long tour where there are few specialist bike shops. Cheaper components are often serviceable and have standard fittings so they can be more easily replaced in remote places. There is no right or wrong answer here but it is worth considering.

CHOICES

FRAME MATERIAL?

Chromoly steel is generally reckoned to be the best material for bike touring. Other materials like aluminium, titanium and carbon fibre may give a higher strength to weight ratio but are thought to be less comfortable to ride and more difficult to repair in remote locations. Steel, although prone to rust, is less brittle and generally more durable than aluminium or carbon fibre. However, touring on just about any type of bike is possible and many long distance rides have been done on aluminium frames.

DISC OR RIM BRAKES?

Disc brakes are more powerful, which is important with a heavily loaded bike, but are more complicated and reduce wheel strength. Rim brakes are lighter, cheaper, simpler and more easily serviced, but wear out the rims of your wheels. It is possible to buy wheels with very long-lasting rims, but these are either cheap steel ones with poor braking or very expensive ones that require special pads.

WHAT TYPE OF HANDLEBARS?

Drop bars – the type found on racing bikes – are generally thought to be more comfortable for long distance cycling as they give the widest range of hand positions. However, other types of handlebars can be comfortable if set up right. There is no right or wrong style but it is best to make sure you choose a style that is right for you when purchasing a bike as it is not always possible to change without a major overhaul of the bike’s gearing and braking.

NEW BIKE OR SECONDHAND

Unless you know a lot about bikes I recommend buying a new bike rather than a secondhand one. There are lots of pitfalls in buying a secondhand bike and if many parts need replaced, which they likely will, it could take a lot of effort to make roadworthy and might not work out any cheaper.

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