Choosing the Correct Bicycle for Touring

Bicycle travel
Bicycle travel

No other form of travel can show you as much of the world as the humble cycle

Touring on a bicycle is one of the most satisfying ways to spend a holiday. No other form of travel can show you as much of the world as the humble cycle.

Every other travel style, will see you whizzing through the scenery, missing the finer details of the countryside. On a bicycle your speeds are so low, that you have enough time to enjoy the view, stop to talk to people and become a part of the scenery.

Bicycles are available in a wide variety. There are road bikes, mountain bikes, folding bikes, touring bikes, city bikes to name a few. Within each broad classification, there are multiple sub-categories as well. As a result, it can be quite difficult for someone new to cycling to choose the perfect bicycle for touring. So, here’s a guide to help you out.

The type of bicycle you choose for touring depends entirely on the kind of touring you want to do. Which depends on the routes you want to cover.

Choosing the Correct Bicycle for Touring

Ultra-light Touring

A relatively recent phenomenon in the world of cycle touring. This format is loved by strong cyclists, who want to cover large distances at a faster pace and don’t want to be burdened by excessive materialism. People carry minimal luggage and plan long distances to be covered every day. The kind of bicycle you choose for such riding depends on the terrain. These tours tend to be shorter, generally limited to a fortnight at most.

If you are planning a full road course, then a good road bike with endurance geometry can take you places. Many riders prefer steel bikes over aluminium or carbon, because of the sturdiness. But a few years ago, that truism was turned on its head by a rider who rode his carbon road bike around the world. For those planning trail rides and camping, a hard tail mountain bike makes perfect sense. You also get ultra-light camping gear to complement your bike. But it does cost a pretty penny.

Choosing the Correct Bicycle for Touring

BikePacking Setup

A couple of decades ago, the best way to carry your luggage on your bicycle was with a rack and pannier system. For that you needed a bicycle which could accommodate a rack and preferably fenders as well. With the advent of the bikepacking luggage systems, the world of bicycle touring was revolutionised. You could carry a decent amount of luggage to travel long distances. The best part of the bikepacking setup was that you could use practically any kind of bicycle you wanted. Whatever you happened to have parked in the garage worked perfectly!

This now gives a lot of flexibility to cyclists in choosing a bicycle. In this case, you tour with whatever bike you own, just buy and strap your luggage on with bikepacking bags.

Choosing the Correct Bicycle for Touring

Full Blown Touring Bikes

Thanks to the changing world and rider preferences, these bikes are getting limited to few users. Only those looking to spend months touring, get themselves a touring bicycle.

These bikes are generally made of steel, since it is easiest to repair in remote parts of the world. Such bikes will have a nice comfortable geometry, so the rider can be completely relaxed in the saddle. Most of these bikes will come with fender and rack mounts, so that you can install both. The technology on these bikes is very traditional and has remained largely unchanged in the last 3 decades. These bikes aren’t built to go fast or look good, they are meant to be work horses, which don’t stand out. Often you will find these bikes built with dynamo hubs so that you can charge batteries and lights while riding. Most people who invest in a touring bike will keep it for many years before even contemplating upgrading the bike.

Choosing the Correct Bicycle for Touring

Which Bike Should You Choose?

This question can best be answered by what kind of touring are you planning. If you are just getting into touring, we suggest using whatever bicycle you have at your disposal. Try it out and then decide if touring is your thing, only then get a proper touring bicycle.

If you do not own any kind of bicycle and are looking to get one for a tour, then we suggest start simple. Get a decent entry-level hybrid bicycle. This would be decent for shorter duration tours, you will get to understand cycling, maintenance and on-road repairs. Once you have understood the spirit of bicycle touring, you can always look at upgrading.

A basic touring bicycle costs anywhere upwards of 1 lakh rupees. It doesn’t make sense for a casual cyclist to invest this money till the time you aren’t sure of doing long tours. After you buy your touring bicycle you will then need to buy lights, racks, fenders, bags, touring saddles and more. All of that gradually adds up to a whopping bill! That money is better spent on a long tour with a cheaper bicycle.

To sum up, if you are planning a short tour, use whatever cycle you own. If you are buying a cycle specifically to start touring, first get a decent entry-level hybrid, before splurging. Once you are sure of being a dyed in the wool bicycle tourer, then go all out and treat yourself to the best touring equipment in the market.