Bicycle touring is a fun, and unique way to travel and explore your world. You can tour on just about any bike but a dedicated touring rig will make your trip much more enjoyable than riding on some old clunker you just pulled out of the garage. There are a variety of factors to consider when choosing a touring bike, including the steel bite pro type of bike (mountain vs. road), riding position, components, frame construction, and wheel size. The list of options for a touring rig is virtually endless and the final decision comes down to preference and budget.
The first thing to consider is what style of bike to get. You can tour on just about any kind of bike from mountain bikes to road bikes. Some people have even completed cross country tours on single speed “fixie” style track bikes. The most common types of bike for touring are steel road bikes and mountain bikes. If most of your tour will be on paved roads then you will probably want to go with a road bike, if you plan to ride mostly on trails, and dirt of gravel roads, the added durability of a mountain bike will help you get the most out of your tour.
Riding Position is another big consideration when buying a touring bicycle. For longer rides you will want an upright position to keep the weight off of your hands and wrists and to help keep your back from getting sore. Drop bars off multiple hand position options and can be fitted to mountain bike as well as road bikes to create a multifaceted touring rig. Bike with a slightly longer frame will also help smooth out the road and make long days in the saddle more enjoyable.
Touring bikes tend to be ridden many more miles than the average recreational bike. Since a touring rig is used for transportation rather than a spin around a loop trail, the bike tends to be ridden more miles each day and more days in a row than normal recreational bikes. It is important that you have the best components your can afford to avoid the downtime and expense of broken gear. Whether you are going with a mountain bike or a road bike for your touring rig, make sure that you get at least mid range components and shoot for top tear component groups if you have the budget. For mountain bikes, the Shimano Deore line is a good component group, while road bike riders may want to consider the Shimano 105 line or better. In all cases, a triple chain ring up front will ensure smooth spinning up big hills while fully loaded with touring gear.
In addition to getting the proper style of bike you want to pick the right frame construction to get the most out of your tour. While bikes made from a variety of materials can all provide a good touring experience, the most common frame material for touring bikes is steel. Steel offers some important advantages over other frame materials. The increased flexibility of steel makes it comfortable over long days, its strength make it better for carrying the heavy loads associated with touring. Because it is a common material, it is also easy to get repaired should it fail – nearly any welding shop can repair a steel frame whereas you may need to find a specialty shop if your aluminum or titanium frame breaks – and if you break a carbon fiber frame – well, you’ll just be off to the bike shop to buy a new rig.
Many bicycle tourists have concerns about wheel size on their rigs. The most common size for modern bike wheels these days is 26 inches for mountain bikes and 700cm for road bikes. Each size is available in a variety of widths as well. When putting together a touring rig, try to get a 26 inch wheel. Your tires and tubes are the one part of the bike that will wear out most often and even in America and Europe there are places where a 26 inch tire will be readily available but asking for a “700 x 32c” will just get you strange looks from the person behind the counter. Get a medium width tire – unless you are going way off road and need something beefier – and get a tread pattern that will match the style of riding you will be doing. Smoother tread for road touring and something with a bit more bite for trail rides.