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Modern touring bicycle

A touring bicycle is a bicycle designed or modified to handle bicycle touring. Special features may include a long wheelbase for a smoother ride and to avoid pedal-to-luggage conflicts, heavy duty wheels to withstand heavy loading, and multiple mounting points (for luggage racks), fenders (for weather protection), and water bottles.


Touring bicycle configurations are highly variable and may include road, sport/touring, trail, recumbent, or tandem configurations.

Road touring[]

Road touring bicycles have a frame geometry designed to provide a comfortable ride and stable, predictable handling when laden with baggage, provisions for the attachment of fenders and mounting points for carrier racks and panniers.[1]

Modern road tourers may employ 700C (622mm) wheels — the same diameter as a road (racing) bicycle. Other road touring bike may feature wider rims and more clearance in the frame for wider tires. Before the 1980s, many touring bikes for the North American market were built with 27-inch (630mm) wheels which have a slightly larger diameter.

Other touring bikes use 26-inch wheels for touring bikes, for both off-road and on-road use. Advantages of the slightly smaller wheel include additional strength, worldwide tire availability, and lighter weight. Some touring bicycles, such as the Surly Long Haul Trucker, are built around 26" (ISO 559) wheels in smaller sizes and 700C wheels in larger sizes, to keep the frame geometry optimal through the size range. Specially-made touring tires for 26" wheels are now widely available, especially in developing countries, where 700C may be difficult to obtain. Hence, on the mass ride from Paris to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the Fédération Française de Cyclotourisme asked all riders to use 26-inch wheels.

File:Brompton cyclocamping.jpg

16" wheels and loaded for touring

Factors that affect rolling resistance include tire air pressure, tread and tire width as well as wheel size.[2]

Sport Touring[]

The sport/touring bicycle is a very lightweight touring bike fitted with lighter wheels and narrower 25–28 mm (1 - 1.125-inch) tires. It may also be described as a road racing bike fitted with heavier tires and slightly more relaxed frame geometry (though still quicker than the average road touring bike). It is designed as a fast-handling, responsive and quick day touring machine. As such, it is intended to carry only the rider and very light loads, such as encountered in credit card touring, where riders typically carry little more than a pocketbook and credit cards to book overnight lodging at any handy motel, pension, or bed-and-breakfast while on a journey. Gearing is often a mix of closely-spaced ratios for speed, combined with a few low gears for long climbs. Sport/touring bikes may sometimes have provisions for mounting slim fenders and a rear carrier or pannier rack, though in the interests of weight savings and quicker handling, most do not.[1]

Expedition touring[]

There are numerous variants on the traditional road tourer depending on the weight carried and the type of terrain expected. Expedition tourers are strongly built bicycles designed for carrying heavy loads over the roughest roads in remote and far-flung places. These range from simply stronger built mountain bikes, equipped with racks, panniers, mudguards and heavy-duty tires, to purpose-built bicycles built to cope with long-haul touring on tracks and unsealed roads in developing countries throughout Asia, Africa, and the other continents. Their frames are often made of steel as any breakages can be more easily repaired in towns all around the world.

A typical expedition touring bike would be made of relatively heavy duty steel tubing, with 26 inch wheels, and componentry chosen for robustness and ease of maintenance. The main design criteria for such a bike would be to allow all day comfort on the bike, have good handling characteristics under heavy load, and be capable of running smoothly on good roads, but also on the roughest of tracks. Some bike tourers have made their own expedition bikes, by building up on mountain bike frames. The key difference between a mountain bike and an expedition touring bike would be the addition of racks for panniers, and tougher, all purpose tires. They will have a longer wheelbase to allow for more comfortable cruising, at the expense of the manoeverability of an mtb. Most tourers also prefer heavier, stronger wheels than would be normal on a production mountain bike.

It is small, specialist market, so only a small number of bikes are sold under this description, few if any by the biggest manufacturers. Examples are the EXP and Raven from Thorn Cycles, and the Roberts Roughstuff, all made in the UK.

Recumbent touring[]

File:Canto at Niagara.JPG

Recumbent with front and rear racks

File:Tandem loaded for touring.JPG

A tandem loaded for bicycle touring

Recumbents are different in that the rider sits with his legs in front. Recumbents have their handlebars not in front, as with conventional bicycles, but above or below the seat. Depending on design, the ability to carry gear on the front wheel may be limited or absent.

Tandem touring[]

Tandems are bikes built for two riders and many couples tour on them. They can make it easier for two riders of different abilities to ride together, but the tandem frame does not allow for any more luggage than a single bike does. This limitation can be overcome by pulling a trailer.


Touring bicycles are usually equipped with luggage racks front and rear, designed to hold panniers or other forms of luggage. To carry heavy loads and for reliability, touring bicycles typically have steel (CroMo) frames and forks. They may also have durable hubs, double-wall rims and 36-spoke wheels. To accommodate long rides, touring bikes have comfortable handlebars and saddles.

Touring bicycles often appear similar to road bicycles due to the use of drop handlebars. However, they greatly differ by typically having a much longer wheelbase and more stable steering geometry, with numerous attachments for luggage racks, fenders (mudguards), lights, high capacity water bottles, tools and spare parts. Chainstays must be long enough to accommodate panniers without them brushing the rider's heels, and the entire structure must be stiff enough to safely handle long, fast descents with the machine fully loaded.

Touring bicycles may also be fitted with 26" (ISO 559) wheels in preference over 700C (ISO 622). This is because ISO 559 wheels are used on mountain bicycles and are more durable and often easier to source in remote locations than 700C wheels. World bicycle tourers Tim and Cindie Travis are notable advocates of ISO 559 wheels for touring bicycles.

Instead of panniers, some riders prefer a bicycle trailer. Trailers are easy to use and allow touring with bikes on which it is impossible to attach racks. However, trailers decrease manoeuverability and are not particularly suited for touring in mountainous regions or on rugged terrain.

Touring bicycles traditionally use wide-ratio derailleur gears, often with a very low gear, in some countries called a "granny gear", for steep hills under load. Typically the gearing has a triple chain-ring similar to mountain bicycles, whereas most road bicycles have only two chainrings. Internal-geared hubs with 5, 7, 8 or even 14 gear ratios have become popular in recent years because of their robustness and low maintenance.

Touring bicycles usually have linear-pull brakes or cantilever brakes, instead of the caliper brakes used on racing bicycles. Caliper brakes are less suitable because, to fit around mudguards (fenders) and wide tires, they become large and may flex when trying to stop a heavy bike. Some newer touring bikes use disc brakes, because of their greater stopping power in wet and muddy conditions and also to avoid outer rim wear. However, they are more complicated, so repairing them in remote locations can be difficult; they also weigh more than a cantilever brakes, increase the stresses on spokes, and require the front wheel to be dished, which reduces the durability of the wheels.

Thus, touring bikes trade speed for utility and ruggedness. This combination is popular with commuters and couriers as well.

See also[]




  1. 1.0 1.1 Ballantine, Richard (2001). Richard's 21st Century Bicycle Book. New York: Overlook Press. pp. 34–35. ISBN 1585671126. 
  2. Template:Cite web

External links[]

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