Which bike is good for touring?
If you’re touring, you’ll be on that bike for hours, days, weeks and maybe months at a time. While there’s no such thing as a ‘right’ bike (people tour on town bikes, road bikes, recumbents, mountain bikes, even Bromptons!), it’s important to have a bike that’s right for you.
- The frame
Steel frames are great for touring, as they are strong, springy, and easy to fix. Aluminium is lighter and cheaper, but doesn’t absorb bumps and won’t take a load quite as well. Titanium is an option – it’s lighter than steel and just as strong, but much more expensive. A standard touring bike will most likely be made of steel.
- The handlebars
Most touring bikes come with drop handlebars. Drops aren’t for everyone, and a good alternative is butterfly bars or wide-sweep bars which can give a more upright posture. The important thing is being able to vary your grip position, as you may well develop vibration and pressure problems in your hands and wrists if you are in the same position for hours at a time. Drops offer at least three positions (bar, hoods and drops), and are good for climbing as you can pull upwards on them.
- The pedals
Pedals with toe clips, or clip-less pedals where a fitting on the pedal attaches to the cleat in your shoe, can be fantastic for touring. Hill climbing is easier, and you become less fatigued, as your pulling muscles are utilised as well as your pushing ones. However, clips usually mean that your foot remains static, which can cause problems in the knee. Make sure that you are unclipping every so often and shaking your foot out. Also there’s the danger of the comical fall while clipped in! I prefer pedals with a standard platform on one side and SPDs on the other, so I can use a variety of footwear.
- The saddle
Some people swear by Brookes, but be careful to buy in advance of the tour – they’re only comfortable if they’ve been worn in. The key is making sure you are comfortable, so whichever saddle you go for, make sure you’ve ridden on it a fair amount before setting off. You can adjust the saddle forwards and backwards as well as up and down, and also tilt it to get the best possible position for you. Use in combination with padded shorts and chamois cream.
- The luggage
One advantage of a ‘proper’ touring bike is that it will have plenty of fixings for taking racks, bags and bottle cages. There are hundreds of options: rear panniers, low risers on the front, saddle bags, handlebar bags, frame bags, backpacks, even trailers. Weight distribution side to side doesn’t matter too much once you’re riding, but front and back does: too much weight on the front and you’ll find steering very difficult, but too much weight on the back and you’ll find the front wheel lifting each time you go uphill. Trailers can be a terrific way of keeping the weight off the bike, but they increase the drag factor when climbing and in strong winds, though they push you down hills which can be great fun!
- The fit
Whichever bike you choose, it must fit you. Take the time to check this before you leave – it will prevent problems later on. A bike shop will be able to advise you. General guidance: the crossbar should be 1-2 inches below your crotch when standing flat on the floor; your leg should be fully extended when your heel is on the pedal at the bottom of its stroke, therefore just bent when the ball of your foot is on the pedal; with legs level in the pedals, your forward knee should be directly above the pedal spindle.
- The make
Ridgeback do excellent entry-level and mid-level touring bikes (the ‘World’ range). Expect to pay between £800 and £1250. Surly makes the fabulous Long Haul Trucker which comes in at around £1000. Dawes Galaxy can vary from basic (£600) to top-of-the-range (£1800). The more you pay, the better quality the components, and the more durable and versatile your ride.