There are many different types of bike available, many of which you can use for cycle-touring. Therefore the quest of searching for a perfect bike for your first tour or a new bike for an upcoming tour can seem quite daunting. As you will see there is no perfect solution for everybody and the ultimate decision will come down to a variety of factors, how much you are willing to spend, what type of cycle-touring you will be doing, and what features you ‘need’ from a bicycle in order to accomplish your goal. I have been through these steps a couple of times now and from my experience I hope to shed light on this process so that you can find the ideal bike for you.
Finding the right type of bike is the first hurdle to cross when purchasing a touring bike, what type of bike would suit you and your riding best. For example if you were cycling to the North Pole you would want a completely different bike to a short cycle on roads through the South of France. Therefore the first thing you need to do is determine what terrain you will be cycling on for the majority of your riding. If you also wish to use your bicycle to commute on as a daily bike then you should also take this into account as this may alter the bike to which you would be best suited for the long-term.
The general genres you have to choose between are observed on any large online bike retailers website, mountain bike, road, hybrid, adventure-road, tandem, and touring bikes. It is possible to tour with any bike and therefore this is down to personal preference. Just because you are going to use the bike for touring doesn’t necessarily mean you will need a touring bike. In fact until recently I have done all of my tours on road bikes. On my longer tours I have used a Giant Defy 2, which is able to take a rear rack, and on shorter ones I have used a full carbon Cannondale SuperSix in a bike-packing set-up. This suited me as I predominantly used these bikes to commute to and from school and therefore the ability to also use them as tourers for paved and gravel roads worked perfectly fine for the types of rides I went on. This is important if you are new to cycling or are taking cycling up as a means to get to work cheaply. There are plenty of very good road bikes now for under £500 that offer the option of mounting a rear rack. You still get a great quick bike for commuting on, the primary reason for your bike, but you have the added versatility of adding racks if you need to take slightly more into the office or if you want to load your bike up for a tour. Furthermore if you require these features but would like a more relaxed geometry then there are hybrid bikes or ‘sportive’ road bikes, which will be more tailored to your style of riding. Alternatively if you want a speed machine and like the look of a bike that hasn’t got eyelets on the rear for racks you will still have the opportunity of touring on it. For example see the photo below of Mark Beaumont’s bike that he selected to ride from Cairo to Cape-Town. This has a full carbon frame, electronic gears, and top of the end groupset. However he was still able to tour on it by combining bike-packing bags to maximise the storage space within the bike. If you like to ride fast and cycle quickly on predominantly on paved roads then this could be a great option for you, although you will have to travel a little bit lighter.
The growing option of ‘adventure road bikes’ is something I believe is perfect for a large amount of cyclists who want to embark on some tours. These are generally road/cyclocross bikes that can go on trails and on the road. They have disk-brakes for improved stopping under load and often can take rear panniers. These bikes generally have a slightly more relaxed geometry than road bikes and therefore will be more comfortable for the majority of cycle tourists putting in long hours on the bike. The fact that they can ride trails as well as roads also makes them incredibly versatile, both for touring and for general riding. Whereas on a road bike you would find it difficult (though not impossible) taking a detour through a muddy trail or towpath this is where the adventure road bike is in its element. These bikes eat up the trails, with slightly wider tyres giving you more traction, enabling you to ride wherever you want. Although not as fast as a pure road bike they won’t be a lot slower and therefore I believe offer the best all-round bike for the general cyclist and cycle tourist.
Mountain bikes are perfect for those really off-road cycles, in countries where there are few roads or for cycling across sections of terrain where you want nothing to stand in your way. Although it is rare to find one with pannier eyelets, similar to elite road bikes, you could go for a bike-backing set up meaning that you can go anywhere any take on anything that the wild can throw at you. Furthermore if you wanted to carry extra equipment you can always just hook up your mountain bike to a trailer, a valid alternative to using panniers or bike-packing.
The final genre of bicycle that I will discuss as a possibility is the dedicated touring bike. This has been a staple amongst cycle-tourists for many years now and several bike manufacturers have made their names through understanding the needs of long-distance cyclists and producing bespoke bicycles just for that purpose. Therefore if you are preparing for a really long or round-the-world cycle this is the class of bicycles that you want to be looking at. They are not designed to be the fastest machines, nor have the most up-to-date components however they are designed to last, be rugged to tackle a variety of terrains, carry a large amount of load, and be easily repairable should the worst happen. Due to the slightly bespoke nature of these bikes and the fact that they sit in a small niche the prices are generally higher for these bicycles and therefore you can often get more bike for your money by going for a different type of bicycle, such as a road or adventure road bike. However if you truly require reliability and are willing to sacrifice some of the speed that comes with high-end components then this class of bicycles will suit you perfectly.
Although I have my Giant Defy 2, and after many tens of thousands of kilometres of riding it is still going strong, I felt that for my upcoming Alaska to Mexico cycle it was time to invest in a new bicycle that could suit my cycle-touring needs a little better. I was looking for a bicycle that would be more rugged and reliable so that I would be a less of a risk of having a serious mechanical problem during the long ride. Initially I started looking at adventure road bikes and identified the Pinnacle Pyrolite 2 as a great bicycle which seemed to tick almost all my boxes. However as time wore on I decided that the versatility of being able to use front panniers as well as rear panniers was something that I wanted from a bicycle. Furthermore as I am sure I will be using the bike again for future tours I decided it would be sensible to invest in a proper touring bike. They seemed to tick all the boxes for me so therefore through weighing up the pros and cons of the different bicycle classes I chose to get a dedicated touring bicycle, the Genesis Tour de Fer.
I hope this has helped people understand a little bit about the different bicycle classes and how each one can be used for touring but in their own way and therefore it is down to you to decide what class of bicycle will best help you achieve what you want to with your cycling. I will write a follow up post about components of bicycles, taking you through the different parts of the bike and the different options you have available, then from this it should help you narrow down which bike to buy into just a few manageable options.