Choosing a Bicycle for Long Distance Touring


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.

On the road

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

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.

Further Reading

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:

Travelling Two

Matador Network

The Adventure Journal


8 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.

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.

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