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What to consider before buying a touring bike
The first thing that you must consider before buying a touring bike, is asking yourself how far and how often will I be using a touring bike? Secondly, you’ll need to ask how much am I willing to spend? Bicycles better equipped for more frequent and longer use will inevitably cost more money.
Once these points are considered then selecting a bicycle should be a lot easier. But a way to make sure you are getting the best bike for your money is by looking at the components that make up your bike. Using suitable parts and materials on your touring bike can optimise your riding experience. Here’s what to pay attention to before buying a modern touring bike:
1. Frame material
What is on offer
Touring bikes are usually made out of Steel, Carbon or Titanium. All come at different price points - so consider what kind of ride you’re going to be using the bike for before purchasing.
Minimum Weight of frame
Extremely expensive or impossible
Short rides on paved roads
Medium length tours
Comparison of different frame materials for modern touring bikes
Steel will absorb most of the abrasions on the road surface, providing you with the most comfortable ride. However, the material of the frame alone will not improve or ruin your ride. By selecting a suitable material for the type of ride you will be doing and considering the components, all materials can perform very well for bike tours. ***Note from the author: Whilst Aluminium is also used by manufacturers for touring bicycle frames - the material’s tendency to crack with catastrophic consequences has meant it has been omitted from the table above.
What is on offer
There are two main materials that manufacturers of touring saddles tend to use: a synthetic material or leather. Below we will go through some of the advantages of good quality saddles made from both materials to help you decide.
Easy to clean and waterproof
Not suitable for use in the rain
Comparison of different materials of saddle for modern touring bikes
For longer rides one should look for a firm saddle as the rigidity of the saddle supports your sit bones which causes less pain over a longer period of time. For shorter distances, wider, softer saddles are appropriate and call also offer slight protection from road surfaces.
***Note from the author: many manufacturers try to save costs by fitting poor quality and cheap saddles to new touring bikes - so consider replacing the saddle before undertaking any serious journey!
Handlebars for touring bikes will be predominantly either flat bars, or drop bars. It is always advised to pick handlebars that you feel most comfortable with before setting off on longer rides.
More aerodynamic and therefore faster
More upright and therefore more comfortable
Few days away
Comparison of different handlebars for modern touring bikes
***Note from the author: while drop handlebars are faster and offer more hand positions, you are forced into an aerodynamic body position when using them and this can cause discomfort over prolonged periods of time. Flat bars also offer more space around the cockpit for add-ons like lamps, phones and computers. Nevertheless, drop bars look way cooler!
Investing in pannier racks is heavily recommended as it takes weight off your body and puts it onto the bike which makes a huge difference on longer rides.
At least 25kg
Up to 16kg
Needed for shorter trips
Only needed for extended trips
Comparing benefits of front and rear racks for modern touring bikes
Racks mainly come in 3 materials: Aluminium, Steel or Titanium. Aluminium is cheapest and does a reasonable job. Steel is the strongest of these materials but can corrode over time and Titanium is the lightest but is the most expensive option of the three.
***Note from the author: rear racks are essential for all types of touring, as they provide the possibility of using pannier bags which are a life-saver on your back. Front racks should only be considered for longer trips where extra space is required. The added weight at the front of the bike makes it harder to steer and should be avoided where possible.
Pre-built bicycles will come with between 1 and 3 chainrings at the front indicating how suitable they are for climbs and how much weight the bike can carry whilst still performing.
Number of gears
Typically provide 11 gears
Anywhere from 18 to 30 gears
Shorter tours and less mountainous terrain
Longer tours with varying altitudes
Comparison between 1x and 2/3x chainring for modern touring bikes
***Note from the author: having many gears on your bike will make touring much easier. However, the simplicity of maintenance involved with a 1x chainring can be very desirable. Consider how much weight you intend to carry and how steep your routes will be before jumping straight in for more chainrings and front derailleurs. The added rings add complexity in repairs and expense at the added componentry.
There are two main options to choose from: Rim brakes which use brake pads slowing down the rim of the bike. Or Hydraulic brakes or Disc brakes which use a metal disc next to the hub and a mechanism next to this disc to slow down upon pulling the brake lever.
Easier to maintain as mechanisms are visible
Involve more intricate parts so more complexed
More expensive due to technology involved
Better for short tours
Better for longer tours
Comparison of rim and disc brakes for modern touring bikes
***Note from the author: while disc brakes have a stronger stopping power and are more reliable in all weather conditions, many people, including the author, prefer rim brakes. This is predominantly for their simplicity and ease to repair. More expensive touring bikes will typically come with disc brakes though, as their strength is appealing to manufacturers.
Touring tyres will generally be suited to either devouring all types of terrain or specifically designed to roll over paved surfaces with ease. You should consider what types of routes you will be encountering before purchasing suitable tyres.
The longer your tour is and the more varied the surfaces you will be riding on, the wider and more textured your tyres should be. Thicker tyres will also prevent as many punctures. Make sure your frame has enough clearance (space in the area the wheel turns) to put wider tyres on your bike, if you need to do so. The wheels themselves should be made of either Aluminium or Carbon for the best performance whilst remaining lightweight and strong.
For longer rides, you should definitely consider installing Clipless pedals to minimise loss of power with each stroke and energy wastage. SPD pedals are best as the shoes that are compatible with them have integrated cleats in the sole, meaning you can walk more comfortably in them when not on the bike.