Touring Bicycles 101

It is possible to tour on just about any bicycle but a “touring” bicycle is preferable and in most cases needed. When selecting a bike its important to understand that it is your only mode of transportation while touring, so choose something dependable and durable. On this page, I will give you insights and suggestions on what to look for when choosing your steel horse.

Be sure to check out the Bicycles Review Page.

Frame Material

When selecting a touring bicycle, it’s important to get something that can take on the ware and tare of cycling countless miles day after day. Bicycle manufacturers offer touring bikes composed of aluminum, titanium, and steel. I’m sure there are more materials out there but lets just stick with these three for now.

The majority of touring bikes are built out of steel and for good reason. In the odd case that your frame cracks or breaks during tour (do to heavy loads, terrain, etc..), nearly any welding and fabrication shop can weld you back together using any of the three most common welding processes: gas metal arc welding (MIG), flux cored welding, gas tungsten arc welding (TIG) and shielded metal arc welding (stick electrode). Getting you back on the road faster. Whereas, aluminum requires TIG welders and titanium needs the less common GTA welders to repair.

Rack Mounts

Rack mounts should be a major consideration when selecting a bike, especially if you plan to use panniers while touring. Rack mounts are usually located on both sides of the fork, at the top of the seat stay, and where the seat stay and chain stay meet. Refer to the diagram.

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Some bikes, mostly commuters, will only have rear rack mounts. Touring bikes should have mounts on the front and rear of the bike to maximize carrying potential. If you do not have rack mounts in either of those places there are still options for you. For example, you may use the Ortlieb Handlebar Pack or the Ortlieb Seat Pack as pannier alternatives. Shop Racks or Shop Bags

Tires/Fenders/Wheel Size

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Planet Bike’s Bamboo Fenders

 

No matter what type of touring you are doing, on or off road, it is best to choose wider tire sizes. Wider tire sizes will have a smoother ride and help absorb the shock created from rugged or uneven terrain. This is the most effective solution to have a cleaner ride because touring bike have rigid frames, frames without any suspension. You will find this extremely helpful on longer tours.

If you are touring in N. America or even most of Europe, you will find the 700c wheel sizes are common and can be replaced/repaired in most places. If you find yourself touring in more remote places of the world, you may want to consider a 26″ wheel size. This wheel size is the most popular wheel size in the world. Meaning, if you were to have mechanical issues with a wheel, you are more like to find 26″ wheel in a village than a 700c wheel.

I have toured with and without fenders and thoroughly enjoyed each. The biggest pro about fenders is the protection during rain. There is nothing worse than the mixture of dirty road debris and water hitting you in the face nonstop, while your ass getting soaked.  When I toured the Oregon coast fenders were a life saver but they didn’t do much for me in Mexico because there wasn’t any rain. Check your weather and climate patterns of your touring regions prior to departure. If it came down to yes or no for fenders, I would recommend yes. Check the manufacturers frame specs to see what the maximum tire size your bike can hole with/without fenders. Shop Fenders

Chain Rings

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Chain rings are apart of every bicycle and contribute to the efficiency of energy being spent while riding. Because they play such a large part, I decided to include them on things to look for when purchasing a touring bicycle. Three is the greatest amount of chain rings a bicycle can have, while one is the smallest. When you have one chain ring you are limited to the gearing of your cassette only. Most cassettes these days will range from 7-10 rings. This means you have all of 7-10 gears to select from.

When you increase the amount of chain rings you will double or triple (depending on 2 chain rings vs. three chain rings) your gear selection. Which will increase those 7-10 gears to a 14-20 or 21-30 gear selection. This important while touring because you will be carrying extra weight is not typically there. This means climbing hills and gaining speed can be challenging. Any extra help you can get will be extremely valuable, especially on longer tours. Shop Chainrings

Water Storage

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Because our bodies sweat so much when cycling, we need to consume plenty of water. When selecting a touring bicycle look for frame mounts for water bottle cages. Most  bikes have one mount on the seat tube and one on the top side of the down tube. Most touring bikes will have a mount on the bottom side of the down tube in addition to the other two mounts.

Surly, Salsa, and a plethora of other brands build forks with additional mounts. Three mounts will carry plenty of water but it doesn’t hurt to carry extra especially if your going long distances or cycling in drier climates. Its worth your time to check out the Salsa Anything Cage HD which will carry the Salsa Anything Cage Bag . Blackburn also makes the Blackburn Outpost Cargo Cage . Both cargo cages will fit any normal size bottle mount and will carry odd shaped bottles and other bags. Shop Water Bottle Cages