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Choosing a Bicycle for Long Distance Touring
Click here to read our most recent ‘choosing a bike’ blog post.
This is the most common question we get asked by people contemplating a bicycle tour with us. For any cycle tourist – whether in a group or going solo, and cycling the smooth cycleways of western Europe or thru the rugged back roads of South America – choosing an appropriate bike for the tour is no easy task.
>>Related: What to Expect on a TDA Bike Tour
Three Basic Types
To help you make the right choice, we have broken down your options into the three most suitable options.
1. Mountain Bike with Front Suspension
A ‘hard tail mountain bike’ is the most versatile choice for any bike tour. It provides suspension and relative comfort for the off roads, and with a thinner set of tires it provides a decent ride on paved roads. The drawback is that it will be a little slower, a little heavier, and a little less efficient than other bikes on pavement. Having locking front suspension is useful, as you can ‘lock out’ on the smooth roads and engage the suspension on the rougher roads. This bike is the most common choice on tours crossing rugged terrain.
PROS: versatility, durability, and comfort
CONS: less efficient on smooth roads, less mounts for panniers, more complicated parts
2. Cyclocross or Touring Bike
Cyclocross bikes are becoming more and more popular among cycle travellers, as they combine the ruggedness of a mountain bike, with the speed and efficiency of a road bike. These are quite similar in style and form to classic touring bikes. While cyclocross/touring bikes do accommodate wider off road tires they do not have suspension, and riders may be seriously challenged on the rougher off-road sections. Touring bikes, moreso than cyclocross bikes will have excellent mounts for racks and extra water bottles. Both these bikes are a good choice for places with better roads or on any tour where speed is more important to you than comfort.
PROS: efficient on the smooth roads, while still rugged enough for the rougher roads
CONS: no suspension, less comfort
3. Hybrid Bicycle
This bike has the same wheel size as a cyclocross bike, but with straight handlebars instead of road style drop bars. Hybrids sometimes have front suspension and suspension in the seatpost. Hybrids are designed more for comfort and leisure than for performance, and have more of an upright sitting position. This is a very popular style of bike for European cycling trips, that also works well in other places.
PROS: comfort, good mounts for racks and bottles
CONS: not always designed for rugged terrain
>>Use our Tour Finder to choose a bike tour that’s right for you (and your bike)
5 Tips for Choosing your Bike
1. Ask an Expert: Bike shops are a great place to get valuable insight into the latest bike technologies and to gain from the collective experience of the cyclists who work in the shop. Most bike shop staff are happy to share some advice and to let you test ride a few different models.
2. Blogs by Cycle Tourists: Type in ‘cycling thru [your destination]’ and you are bound to find a blog from someone who has cycled there recently. Look at their photos and see what they are riding. Then send them an email, and most of the time, they will be happy to share their insights.
3. Consider your Riding Style: What type of rider are? Do you like to sit upright to have a full view and worry little about speed? Or do you like to be tucked into an aerodynamic position and go as fast as you can, and as efficiently as you can? This will help you narrow down your options very quickly.
4. Key Criteria: Durability and Simplicity: As you narrow down your choices, remember that two factors guiding your decision are durability and simplicity of the bike and its components. What frame material is it made from? What quality are the parts? How often will I need to replace them?
5. Don’t Panic: There are nearly limitless choices these days. Each bicycle manufacturer has several models in each category, and so choosing can feel overwhelming. Whatever bike you end up with will have its advantages and disadvantages. There really is no perfect bike. The bike you choose will not be the pivotal factor that makes your trip a success or not.
>>Read: Why Ride with TDA Global Cycling?
If you want to read further on this topic, there are several excellent posts at these websites which will give you another perspective on the topic:
33 Comments for "Choosing a Bicycle for Long Distance Touring"
Hi there is one more bike group to look at and that is the Adventure bike’s.
Like Specialized Awol, Salsa Fargo.
I how have an Awol and this is a 100% better then the Cyclo X bike I had in Africa with TDA in 2012.
My name is Chandan I’m from India I wanna going to do India book of record in India by non stop cycling about 1837 km in 100 hours can u please suggest the best cycle model for this event…
Get a cyclocross! Light and fast! Adjust it so it fits you!
Spezialzed Awol is too heavy – bought one and sold it.
Since TDA transfer all your bags you can choose a bike that it’s not ment to carry all bags around the world on your bike!
Got a Kona ( Jake the snake) for Paris – Istanbul – loved it. Now its ready for Venice – Lisboa
[…] For reference read ‘Choosing a Bike for Long Distance Touring’. […]
I see a lot of down talk in various blogs and sights over hybrid use for long distance touring! I ame a man and purchased a womans hybrid fuji silloette! The bike shop guy never could sell it due to being black painted as it was more masculine look didnt apeal to the gals! It fit me perfect !! It has 9 rings on the cassette and a tripple on the front ! My climber is a 32 , rapid fire shifters and chain stay is 2 inches longer than my specialize carbon fiber robaix ! Also disc brakes ! My super tor dx rack is solid on the mounts provided and i carry 25 lbd of stealth camping gear with absolutely no problems! The bike control is awesome even on gravel roads and old trainbed trails with 32 tires ! I have no problen clearing my panniers with my heels !! When traveling with the soandex croud of course tge roubaix is the way to go with sagg supported touring cruising 15 to 17 mph avg. but then i get tired of the testosterone hype of having to make the distances quicker and missing out on taking some pictures etc. am i slower on it? Of course but who cares when time is ni factor in the equasion ! I avg anywhere from 12.5 to 13.2 moh avg loaded and that was on a 55 mile journey including a dirt road here and there! I have seen many expedition bikers only avg 9 to 11 moh averages ! This bike is aluminum frame and feels very sturdy traveling! Also very cofortable ! To me cross country tourin/ adventuring is not about how fast you go its about nature/ fun ! If it is a little more effort riding all you do is take more breaks. No big deal! Sure i like to get out and haul on my carbon fiber niw and then but when alone i could care less about soeed ! I say tge right hybrid is a great long distance traveler !
Thanks for mentioning that there are three basic types of mountain bikes. You also said that a ‘hard tail’ mountain bike is the most versatile option. I think it’s a good idea to choose a mountain bike that has a comfortable seat for long-distance travel.
Have you considered payments for “image rights” now that I’m a famous touring cyclist?
lookin’ good Mick 🙂
Good memory Shanny hope all is well.
I know the cycling. Enjoyed cycling as a child. Still I am physically fit and do yoga regularly. I just want to do cycling for long distance to nature with cycling.
I plan to browse route 66 on bicycle what kind of bicycle and accessories could you advice me
How about a Brampton, Dahon or other folding bike?
That might be a challenge is the daily distances get over 80 kms.
I am just starting out bicycling to stay in shape and just for the fun of it. I have found some really nice bikes but they are used. but of good quality and would like to know of a good web site that could help me get them back in shape. Do you have any suggestions for me? Thanks
Kong Sutra wheel question
North American Epic 2019
I have the ‘factory’ equipment, including those giant 50 mm wheels.
Will my bike be too slow? I can’t really get an idea On my own, because I haven’t been able to get out this spring to enjoy riding…. or even to train…. due to breaking an elbow, having the fortune of living in this century, so an orthopedist could insert a metal device and 8 screws to hitch the olecranon back onto the ulna …so I don’t know how it will perform….
Will I wish I had suspension systems?
Should I bring another set of wheels? I’m not sure how much of the trip will be on paved roads
The first week or so of riding is on dirt roads where those tires would be a good fit. After that, there are mostly paved roads, and you may want to bring a second set of thinner tires. However, this is a matter of personal preference. This is a tour, not a race, and many people are perfectly happy to ride on paved roads on 50c tires.
I plan for long distance bycycle trip ( approx 2000+ km ) could you advice me, which is best bycycle & what kind of assesories are require.
What is the general advice on e-bikes with pedal assist? I’m concerned that I will not quite be up to the task and would like some assistance with the big hills and headwinds.
I’m told that riding the newer ones without using the assist is just like the regular ‘sister’ of a particular e-bike model – except for the added weight. So for the most part I would be un-assisted – just not sure about the toughest days.
I ride a lot of long distance. Did the Camino in 2013 on my Cervello RS road bike with an 11-32 rear cassette. With the stiff frame and slightly easier rear cassette range, I could do 22% grades.
Since then I’ve switched to an aluminum Trek 720. The bottom bracket is not as stiff, but I’ve put an 11-36 cassette on the back which makes the steeps easier. The really nice thing for distance is that I can put a carrier on for a pannier to carry rain gear etc. I also modified the standard tires with an upgrade to a 32mm tire. I can actually corner better with the bigger tires. They’re also nice on gravel and dirt. I use drop bars as I can put my hands in many different positions over the course of the day. I find that I get ulnar nerve parasthesias with flat bars. Plus it’s easier to fight a headwind when you’re down low. Standard handlebars too low, you can always get a stem with a rise so that you can still get down on the bars, but not so low to be uncomfortable. All in all, not as fast or light as the Cervello, but more versatile.
So, a frame as light as you can get while still being durable, wide range gears, slightly bigger tires and drop bars. The Trek lineup has some nice bikes in their gravel category that seem very similar to my 720 (maybe that’s why they dumped it from the touring line up). The frame is set up for racks and fenders and there’s a pretty nice drive train. Comes in all carbon or aluminum.
Great tips and very easy to understand, Thank you.
I am living in Prague. I like cycling. After 5 years, now i am starting starting bycycle. Sometimes, i am riding in city & outside Prague. In near Prague lots of cycling route & medium level mountain track road.. igo to mountain & staying alone in roadside with my tent.my question ROADRIDER ST530 is good for my,this type of travel. I like this bycycle because hydrolic brakes, tyre thick & grip is good,winter & rainy days perfect.next week,i buying this bycycle. What is your suggestion. My height 6 feet & weight 90kg.
That’s a great bike for off road conditions and camping with gear. I would check on the bikes company website regarding sizing recommendations.
I’m planning to do a bike tour in Europe and don’t know what type of bike to get. I’m 5feet 3inches tall weighing 58kg. being new to cycling, of course I wish to have something as much strength-efficient as possible. I do hiking a lot though. I guess I need to mount a camping gear, personal effects and essentials.
Please advise me, thank you.
Hi Maureen, thank you for your question. We have a great blog about choosing a bike for fully supported tour, these bikes also work very well for solo touring.
sir i am from nepal and want to travel from my place to southern part of nepal i have a bicycle but don’t know how to prepare my bike for the ride please help me
Hello, thank you for your comment. We have some great resources on our website in the “touring advice” blog section. I would suggest you research the road and trail conditions you will be on and start by getting good tires. Check out our tire blog https://tdaglobalcycling.com/2020/08/the-best-tires-for-cycle-touring-schwalbe-marathon/.
Hello, thank you for your comment. We have some great resources on our website in the “touring advice” blog section. I would suggest you research the road and trail conditions you will be on and start by getting good tires.
I am long distance cycling
important points to consider
1 tyre selection is huge, choose tyres with much lower rolling resistance
2 bike fit is huge, having a good fit becomes much more important with long distance cycling
3 as stated in the article there is no perfect bike, every type of bike is a compromise, but there is a perfect bike fit and a perfect type of tyre, and even a perfect aerodynamic can be achieved with pannier and load placement
4 start off slowly and focus on enjoyment and experience rather than distances, live in the moment
I am surprised that Ridgeback is still fitting aluminium racks to its high-end touring bikes when most other brands fit cro-moly. Aluminium whilst okay for components such as wheel rims, handlebars, and seatposts, is too fragile for heavily loaded racks with thin small diameter tubes and suffers too easily from metal fatigue.
I know you wlll destroy me for me for this idea: But why not using a Road bike or even a triathlon frame for travel? I am a Triathlete and a world cyclist traveller. I have a road bike, a Salsa Fargo and a TT Frame Bike. I travelling the last 6 years with Salsa. Sure you can drive everywhere. BUT i became step by step a problem with my back and Piriformis because i sitting too much upwards. I assembly an aero handlebar extension and now a bit better. In October i try with my road bike to go into the mountains and made 450km in 4 days and two big mountain climbs. And i feel much comfortable on the road as ever with the Salsa. Why? Because i put less stuff on the bike, my lagguage was much lighter then with 4 -5 Ortlieb packs. i was faster, i made some 30-35km within one hour and arrived much earlier on the hotel. And i was not that tired after 100km as with the Salsa 100km. All in all it was a much better way to travel, because i thinking about what i need on the way and what i dont need. i would try i out in spring with the time trial frame and a Extrawheel trailer.
I used to ride a stock Specialized Rockhopper mtb until the straight handlebars started causing numbness in my hands and forearms after a long ride.
I still ride the same, but have swapped the straight handle for a touring bar – difference is amazing. No more soreness in hands, much more comfortable and enjoyable on long distances. I’ve also put on smoother tyres for a better road experience. Almost feels like a sofa.
The ruggedness of the mtb frame and wheels gives confidence on the potholed roads and the tougher components give much more confidence on the longer trips….and it’s not heavy.