UPDATED February 14, 2020

BY Micah Markson

IN Cycle Touring Advice, Staff Picks


UPDATED February 14, 2020

BY Micah Markson

IN Cycle Touring Advice, Staff Picks


Choosing a bike for a supported cycle tour

HOW TO PREPARE: An 8 part series to get you ready for your first TDA tour. Click here to read more.

The most common question our customers ask before a tour is, “What bike should I bring?”

We’ve created a video with some advice on choosing a bike for one of our tours. However, these tips also apply to anyone planning for a supported cycle tour of a week or longer. Go ahead and click play, or read on below for more details.

Things to consider

There is an almost infinite list of things to consider when choosing a bike, especially one that you’ll be riding all day, day after day, for weeks or months in a row. We’ve broken down these decisions as follows:

Bicycle type
Tire clearance
Bike fit
Carrying your gear
Recommended bikes

Types of bikes

A ‘touring bike’ is not the only option. The type of bike you choose will partly depend on what type of handlebars you like.

Bikes with drop bars

A ‘touring bike’ is, as expected, one of the most common choices. These bikes are designed to cover long distances, to be very durable, and to carry lots of gear. On a supported cycle tour, while you won’t use the full extent of these capabilities, a touring bike is always a good choice.

The next kind of bike is what we call a cyclocross or gravel bike. There are differences between these two categories, but overall are somewhat comparable. These may appear at first to be similar to a touring bike, but are typically designed a bit more for speed than for comfort and durability. They are a good choice for anyone used to riding a road bike, but who needs something a bit burlier for a tour.

Note that we do not recommend narrow tire road racing bikes for any of our tours.

Bikes with flat bars

People often don’t think of hybrids as a good choice for touring. They are certainly not designed to the same level of durability and capability of touring bikes, but for supported cycle tours, they can be a good choice. A hybrid with a flat bar is a good choice for anyone who likes a comfortable, upright position, or who ‘just wants a bike’. They are also often available with front suspension.

A hardtail mountain bike can also be a good option. It is a particularly good choice for any tour where extended portions of the route will be on dirt roads. And for paved sections, you can easily switch back to a thinner set of tires to regain some speed.

Three key elements of bike selection

1. Durability / frame material

Steel frames are well known for their excellent durability, and smooth ride quality. This is our preferred frame material.

Aluminum frames are also a good choice. While they are lighter than steel, they also are typically less durable and a bit less comfortable.

We do not recommend carbon frames for touring. Although newer carbon frames are less delicate than they used to be, they are still more susceptible to damage from smaller things like falling over onto a rock, being carried in vehicles, and so on. In our experience, touring with a carbon bike tends to become a source of stress and worry for the rider. Having said that, a minority of TDA riders do use them, and you can do so if you accept these risks.

2. Tire Clearance

For the vast majority of our tours, we recommend bikes with clearance for at least 40mm wide tires. Even for tours on paved roads, you never know when you’ll come across a detour, broken pavement, or construction, and you’ll appreciate the extra comfort.

On some tours you may want to bring two different sets of tires for varying road conditions. This can be a thinner set around 35mm wide, and 40mm (or wider if your frame will allow it) for dirt sections.

3. Gearing

On a long bike tour, it’s very important to have gears easy enough to allow you to spin up hills. The gears that you might be comfortable using at home, when you tend to have a few days to recover after a ride, may not feel the same when you’ve been riding five or more days in a row.

Many bikes actually come with gear ratios designed for racing, and others now have only a single front chainring. Whether you go for something with a triple crankset, or a double with a wide range cassette, it is essential that the easiest gear is one you’ll be comfortable in on the steepest climbs, and that the hardest will allow you to pedal along happily whenever you find a nice tailwind. Some bikes with the newest single chainring, 12 speed drivetrains do provide a total gear range comparable to a double or triple crankset – just keep in mind that whit this setup, you will be giving up either a little bit of hill climbing ability, or a little bit of top-end speed in exchange for the mechanical simplicity. Look for the biggest cassette size available – 50, 51, or 52 teeth.

More choices

Now that you’ve settled on those basics, there are a few other options that, while based on personal preference, are still very important.

Bike fit

Whichever bike you choose, it’s a great idea to have a bike fit done at your local shop. During this process they will help you achieve a comfortable riding position by adjusting your saddle, handlebars, etc.


There are thousands of types of saddles available, and finding the right one is an entirely personal choice. Your bike shop should be able to help you with this. Most bike shops will have a device which can measure the width of your sit bones, and this will help you learn what width of saddle you should look for.

The most important thing is to make sure you have a saddle that is comfortable, and that you’ve already spent plenty of time riding on before your trip. Many people will tell you about a particular saddle they have, how much they love it, and how they have used it for years and their bum has never gotten sore. When you hear these stories, keep in mind that everyone’s body is different, and the saddle that works for one person may or may not work at all for someone else.


You’ll have to choose between flat and drop handlebars. Again, this choice is up to you. We always suggest sticking with what you are already used to riding. People often think that you need to use drop bars for long rides, but that is certainly not the case. Your bike shop may also have other more unique options, as well as various grips, extensions, and so on to add comfort, and to give you more hand positions.


You can choose between clip-in or flat pedals. Either choice is perfectly fine, but again you are better off sticking with what you know. If you choose flat pedals, using shoes with a stiff sole will help prevent your feet from getting sore. And if you choose to clip in, make sure that your shoes are also suitable for walking, as any long bike tour will have plenty of off-bike excursions along the way. Road bike pedals are not advised as the clip protrudes too far from the shoe and is susceptible to rapid wear, and makes walking very difficult.


For tours on rougher roads, you may want to look at front suspension. If possible, a fork with a lockout is preferable. There are also options for seatposts and stems with suspension built in. But most riders will be happy with just the cushioning provided by their larger tires.

Carrying your gear

On a supported trip, most of your gear will be transported in the tour vehicles. But you still need to carry a few things like extra clothing layers, rain gear, tools, and water. You should always be able to carry at least two water bottles, whether in bottle cages or elsewhere, but on some tours you might even want three or four. For your other gear, there are countless options from bikepacking frame or seat bags, to handlebar bags, or even a rack with a pannier.

Recommended bikes

The following four bikes have been common choices among past TDA riders, and any one of them would be a good choice. But they can be taken as examples – there are plenty of slightly different models, or even similar bikes from other brands, that would also be suitable.

Kona Sutra (touring bike)
Salsa Vaya (gravel bike)
Trek Dual Sport 4 (hybrid bike with front suspension)
Specialized Rockhopper (hardtail mountain bike)


One last thing to consider is the risk of damage or theft during your trip. For those reasons, we prefer bikes that are not too expensive. This will help you relax and not worry about your bike being locked up at night, and let you focus on the ride.

Whatever bike you choose, make sure you have it well in advance of your tour, and get plenty of miles on it too. You don’t want any surprises when you set off on your next adventure!

Special thanks to Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop for their help in producing this guide.

How to Prepare

An 8 part series to get you ready for your first TDA tour. Click here to read more.

42 Comments for "Choosing a bike for a supported cycle tour"

Love your newsletter!
Great info and interesting articles. Thank you!

A brilliant guide to choosing a bike for a tour. I was fortunate in that when I was taken to my first bike shop, the manager asked what sort of bike I wanted – I didn’t know – what sort of riding did I want to do – you have a choice? – I thought riding was riding & that the only question was how fast you could ride. What sort if terrain did I want to ride on? – the ground…

I could just hear his sighs of exasperation. We eventually got to the sort of answers that would help him, yet I still didn’t realise what, or why, he was asking. After all, a bike is a bike is a bike, is it not?
(Yes, I can just see your eyes rolling in despair yourselves…)

Somehow, in the next 2 hours, or so, and without knowing why, I eventually gave him the information he needed that described a high grade touring bike. Poor guy, he certainly earned his money with me.

So about 7 months later, I ended up with a Roberts Roughstuff touring bike. That was 9 years ago now. Since then, I’ve been on 1 guided tour, several solo tours, a few longish rides with a close friend and countless ‘local’ rides by myself. I’ve never looked back.

Notice that dual suspension was not mentioned. Duallys not recommended?

    We don’t recommend dual suspension bikes. They tend to be less efficient over long distances, and also the roads are usually not rough enough to really benefit from that.

Fantastic read, which bike would you recommend if biking from Streatham London to Pakistan Near Lahore.
I was planning a bike ride round the coast of Spain In 1981, but just a month before leaving my Tourer galaxy bike Got stolen.

    Hello Asim, thank you for your comment and question. If the route you are taking is mostly paved or light trails a touring bike with quality tires for mixed terrain would do well. You will want to choose a bike that can fit tires in the size range of 700 x 35-40mm or larger. I would suggest you discuss this more with your local bike shop.

Are road race bikes or aero bikes suitable

    Hi Kelvin, a road bike will most likely not be appropriate unless it can accommodate a tire in the size range of 700 x 35-40mm. A touring, gravel or adventure style bike would be best.

I have ridden a 2-wheel , short wheelbase Bacchetta Corsa on tours of the GAP/C&O Canal Trails, Erie Canal Trail and MIchigander tour of Michigan, with various tire widths. I find it very comfortable for long days, although hills can be a challenge. Recumbents are a bike style to consider

OK I have a titanium moots gravel bike

too expensive & risky?

    Hi Tom, thank you for your question. Titanium bikes are very strong and your bike would do well on a tour. You will want to ensure your parts are easily found in bike shops around the world if you need repair or replacement while on tour. You will also want to get insurance coverage if your bike is very valuable.

I often read that Hybrid bikes offer a more upright riding position but in my experience that is not always true. The trends of recent years and probably since the early days of mountain bikes (also true for the later birth of hybrids in the 90s) is for the forward weighted stretched position, especially in the so called “sports hybrids” to be the trend. The “sporty look” that boosts sales but not aid enjoyment for less sporty types. The dilemma for me is go for the smaller frame with a shorter top tube (shorter reach) but raise the saddle way above the top of steerer tube or go for the larger frame where correct saddle height will be lower compared to the top tube and steerer tube. Both put the rider in a forward weighted and stretched position with weight on the arms and tilting the pelvis so that weight is not so much on the sit bones. The former because bars are low and latter because bars are further away. Usual geometry dictates that top tubes on a drop bar bike (road or gravel) are shorter than on a straight bar bike (hybrid) so I now wonder if the best solution for a comfortable upright position for oldies like me is to buy a gravel bike and convert to a straight bar. Off the peg straight bar gravel bikes tend to have the longer reach that is the enemy so that is not the answer. A partial but poor solution is to fit stem raisers or shorter stems ( this trend of fitting long stems is just another fashion from the past where shorter bars were the norm). That gravel bike route is not a complete solution since a gravel bike has a less relaxed geometry to a hybrid and we then lose that comfort factor. What is needed is for the bike industry to cater for us oldies that can’t ride drops like we used to! After all, In the UK my impression is that the revival of the bike sales has been driven by the “later years crisis set” like me.!

    There are now some drop bar bikes with more upright positions – usually called ‘adventure bikes’. Think of models like the Salsa Fargo.

Very interested in 2022 Tour da Afrique
The touring bike I would like to ride will only accept up to 32 m tires. Have people rode the TdA with that width? I could put a wider tire on the front ??

    Hi Jack
    Glad to hear you are interested in joining us! It is possible to only use a tire in that size but we highly discourage it. We recommend all riders have two sets of tires, one for the paved sections in the range of 700 x 35-40mm and another for the off road sections in the range of 700 x 45-50mm. There can be long stretches with unpaved portions including loose gravel, corrugation and dirt, and this is mixed in with a lot of climbing to make it extra difficult. Some roads can be very muddy if it rains, and can be rocky with loose gravel in parts. Having a bike that can accommodate a wider tire will help to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable experience. Please feel free to email me directly if you want to chat about this in more detail at [email protected].

Hey all, I’m interested in the Africa tour and I currently have a Cube Nuroad WS with aluminium frame and carbon fork. I see carbon frames are not recommended, would only a carbon fork also be a problem?

    The risks mentioned in the post still apply to the fork – but not quite as much of a risk as the fork is usually built a bit stronger than the carbon frames are. Having said that, many people (myself included) have used carbon forks on our tours with success. So it is not our first choice, but many people are now doing this as carbon forks are becoming so common on new bikes.

I first became interested in TDA a few years ago, but have not done a trip yet. I recall that your earlier advice included more specific details regarding gears, brakes and tyres. Are these specifics still important and/or do you feel that it is something best dealt with by my local Bike Shop?

    Hi Andrew, we would love to have you join us! Yes, there are specifics for each tour. Please contact Eva at [email protected] for more information.

Hello there,
love the look of your trips… I am older and wondered if an e-bike might work best for me?

    Yes, please contact us for details on which trips are e-bike friendly.

I have a quite expensive LItespeed Watia gravel/touring bike that would be ideal for TDA except that it is expensive and has a (very sturdy) carbon fork. I am not worried about the fork but I would hate to have the bike stolen. How risky would it be to bring it on the T d’Afrique or Pura Vida tours?

    We have certainly had many titanium litespeeds on our tours. The risk of theft is generally low but this depends on how committed you are to keeping it locked up at night and within eye sight during the ride day. The other risk with expensive carbon and titanium bikes is damage to the frame that would be unrepairable during the tour. Lastly, scratched, scuffs, cracks are always possible when they are moved in and out of vehicles, or leaned up against railings or other bikes. That’s why sometimes its just nice to have a less expensive steel or aluminum bike you don’t have to worry about as much.

Love to do trans caucuses ride
I’m an experienced cyclist with many trips under my belt . However my wife has had major surgery for cancer 4 years ago . She is very well but uses an electric bike . Would this ride be doable with electric bike

    Hi Neil, While we are expanding the number of e-bike friendly tours we offer, the Trans-Caucasus is not one of them.

Hi. I’m interested in the upcoming Bamboo Tour. I already have a touring bicycle that will fit tires up to 50mm so the 35-40mm is no problem. My dilemma is in picking which tire as I would like to use the tire for this tour but then also for unsupported tours afterward (possibly continuing on through Indonesia after the tour concludes). I have used both the greenguard 420 and the supremes and liked both. As the supremes are faster I would like to use them but would they be adequate for this tour or would the greenguard be better? I noticed in another section of the site that the write said that they had used supremes a lot but never fully loaded. BTW – I’m a bit of a super clyde so the bike is always loaded….:-)

Thanks, Steve

    Hi Steve. Glad you are interested. The Schwalbe Marathon Supremes are pretty good. Not great on unpaved roads (which there are some on Bamboo). Maybe consider the Schwalbe Marathon Mondial or Plus. And pack a spare set that you could use if it starts wearing through quicker when you are fully loaded. We allow everyone to bring a spare set of tires that we store in our support vehicles. This is a great blog about touring tires… https://tdaglobalcycling.com/2020/08/the-best-tires-for-cycle-touring-schwalbe-marathon/


Have people used recumbent trikes on your tours before? I own a foldable Catrike 559 with Schwalbe Marathon plus tires. I have done many wonderful 3-day bike camping trips on gravel trails with it, but I do not know if it would be suitable for your tours.

Hi ,
One of the bikes you recommend is a salsa vaya (which I have ) the biggest tyre I can fit is a 2.1 . Yet the smallest tyre you recommend is 35/40 …. So am I very limited to tours I can sign up to ?

    Hi Renata,

    These are using two different systems of measurement. The 2.1 maximum size for your bike is in inches, while our 35/40 recommendation is in millimetres. The max for your bike in millimetres is around 53 – so 35 or 40 size tires will fit just fine.

We are signed up for the trans europa next year Estonia and peeling off in Italy- My partner has a good road bike but it takes only size 28 tires. I did the Orient express in 2015 with narrow tires ( because I was such a novice that I did not know what I was doing)- Visually it looked like many of the riders had narrower tires than recommended. When I did the Odessey in 2017, I had 40’s on my bike and seemed to be the only one with such large bike tires-I’m told that the first half of the trans Europa is pretty flat and not as nearly terrain challenging as other rides- Any thoughts about narrower tires? Is there a lot of expected gravel on the TransEuropa? I know that you can never predict road conditions- New bikes are expensive and It’s always a problem when you have a bike that you like but it doesn’t check all the boxes- Also any thoughts on carbon wheels? My concern is that they are not tough enough for touring.Thank you- Kathy Herson

    Thanks for the question Kathy – an important one indeed. I hope you are getting excited for the ride next year!!

    Firstly, I think the advice in this blog is sound and the ideal size for Trans-Europa is 35-40mm tires. This will give you the versatility to ride on all types of roads. Did you find this had advantages when you had wider tires in 2017?

    The first half of Trans-Europa is not necessarily flat, but the start in Estonia and the Baltic States are not mountainous and it does give you a bit of time to ease into the hillier portions in Poland, Slovakia and onwards. The road surfaces are mostly good paved roads but we do have on occasion a dirt or gravel road or bike path and sections of roadway under construction – so its good to be prepared for anything.

    That being said, everyone is welcome to bring the bike (and tire size) they choose – these are just our recommendations from our many tours and years of experience. Everyone in the end has to make the best choices fr their situation and no one bike will be perfectly suited. If you are riding on narrower tires, just be prepared for less traction and stability on loose surfaces. Carbon rims are not ideal, as they are more prone to nicks and scratches when out in the elements and leaned up and piled at coffee stops.

Hi. My wife is considering the Madagascar tour next year. She is a slow but sure cyclist so needs a reasonably quick bike. The most suitable I’ve seen is the Van Nicholas Yukon Disc. Please look at its specs and let me know if it would be ok or if you have a better option. Cost is not critical. Thanks. David Goldschmidt.

    Hi David, its a beautiful looking bike, but not ideal for our tours. It appears that the maximum tire clearance is around 30mm. For Madagascar (where road conditions vary greatly) you want to have a good and wide tire that is versatile on different road surfaces and also helps to absorb the vibrations and bumps of the road. We recommend 45 – 50mm tires for Madagascar. Titaniium is a nice light weigh material though more expensive to replace if stolen. We tend to recommend midrange aluminum or steal framed bikes.

    You could check out the Kona Sutra line, Salsa and Surly bikes, as well as the Cannondale Topstone series and the Specialized Diverge bikes. Good luck and happy bike shopping, feel free to email us with any follow up questions.

I’ve registered for “Journey to the East” 2024. I’ve been more into road bike but understand that for this journey I need a new bike. As years go by, carbon frames becomes more and more frequent and also more durable. – My plan is also to go bikepacking . So it would be nice to have a little bit upgraded bike. Looking for a Canyon Grizl SL 8 with Sram electronic shifting. Or something similar but also carbon or titanium. So the question is; Is it a strong recommendation to avoid carbon or is it up to my judgement.

Best regards
Bo Fagergren

    Hi Bo, While as a general rule we do not recommend carbon bikes for any of our tours, it is a personal choice and really up to you.

I’ve signed up for the Ruta Maya this year. You recommend an MTB and not a tourer. I have a Koga Miyata World Traveller Signature Plus with 26″ wheels which I have used to tour in, for example, New Zealand where there was a mix of trail and sealed roads.
My question is: should I really be looking at getting a new MTB? I can gear down on the Rohloff and would put the widest tyres (Marathon Plus) I can fit but I need to make a decision asap so your advice and input would be greatly appreciated.
Best regards

    We suggest a MTB as some of the roads are quite rough, and most people would be happier with front suspension. However, if you can fit a 2″ / 50mm wide tire on your bike, then it would certainly be able to handle the tour.

I am signed up for S. America 2024. What percentage is paved vs offroad? Thx

    About 15% is off-road. Some of the paved portions are in very good condition, but other parts can be in poor condition, with gravel patches and potholes etc. You should be able to fit a 45mm tire on your bike, at minimum.

Hello I am signed up for Ruta Maya,2023 and considering upgrading my bike for more lower gears. I currently have Liv Giant, Crankset 32-48T, Cassette 11-34T, 10 Speed. I have sourced a Cassette 11-42T 10 Speed.
Tires are Cross Cut Tubeless 700 x 38c – I can upgrade to 45mm Also what spare tire would I need?
What are your thoughts?

    Hi Sally, The bike sounds good. We have replied to your other questions by email.

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