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This page last updated on: July 23 2019
By David May
Which Bicycle for Touring?
Bicycle tours usually provides bicycles, or rent them at moderate prices. (The exception is tours targeted for avid road bikers.) Given the additional costs and difficulty of providing your own bicycle, riders on a commercial tour have a strong incentive to ride the bicycle the tour provides, perhaps with the addition of their own pedals or seat.
The tour companies provide a great variety of brands, but mostly they use hybrids or road bikes, fitted with only a basket or a rear trunk, that is, usually without fenders (mud guards). That is reasonable in areas where rain is infrequent, because the tour company transports baggage by van and transports riders and their bikes if there is heavy rain of long duration.
For self guided tours, commercial or self-organized, in regions where it may rain, most riders will want fenders. However, my reading of online forums on the topic of fenders indicates that, in areas where rain is not that likely, at least a quarter or a third of riders are willing to undergo the gauntlet of riding in the rain in order to ride a light-weight road bike or the bike that they have. After all, that is what Tour de France riders do! It isn't fun or edifying to ride in continuous heavy rain; so on a self-organized tour not in high season it may be possible to wait the rain out, or to change ones accommodations.
Those who own light-weight road bicycles or hybrids can use their bike to tour in Europe only if (1) they are going to ride mainly on good quality roads; and (2) they will have their baggage transported, or they will only travel with the bicycling clothes they wear, one change, and a few tools that can fit in a clamp-on rear rack trunk (or very small pannier) and a small handlebar bag.
Road bike owners should strongly consider changing to wider tires (if their bike permits), and perhaps more robust rims if they are going to carry even minimal baggage, or if they are going to ride on any side roads. Some hybrids, particularly those built in the 20th century, may be stiff enough and have a long enough chainstay. Check with a good bike store.
It is finally possible to fit fenders, almost full length, to road bikes.
There are three reasons to consider City Bikes—that is bikes with an heavy durable frame and an upright riding position (and a bike rack): (1) you already own a city bike and you aren't going far; (2) second if you are going on a short tour in the Netherlands, which has flat but often has bumpy bicycle paths, where distances are short, and where virtually everybody rides city bicycles of the very upright type—often with only 3 or 7 gears; and (3) if you wish to rent a bicycle for a short tour, because almost every city or larger tourist town has city bicycles for rent, but, in many countries, not touring bicycles..
The disadvantages of city bikes are: (1) They are more work to pedal, both because of weight and, for the Dutch type (the old 3-speed type) the very inefficient upright riding position which makes it difficult to apply power.. (2) They will be very difficult to pilot into stiff winds or at higher speeds, and they will be very difficult to ride up long or steep inclines, because of heaver frames, lack of the lowest gears, and inefficient riding position. With these disadvantages, except for very powerful riders, it will be difficult to cover long distances riding a city bike.
**Very Light Cycle Touring, roads only, no panniers.
This has been discussed above. Many riders will use the road bike or hybrid they own, with a clamp on rear rack.
**Light Touring on a Modified Hybrid (if possible) or Touring Bike with rear panniesr on roads and bike paths.
This is the kind of bicycle touring I usually do in Europe. There are some touring bikes that would be fine for this, although not heavier touring. Some older hyberids may have the mounting points necessary for fenders, a rear bike rack, and rear struts wide enough for wide tires.
Electric Touring Bicycles
Keep in mind that bicycle batteries cannot be transported on airplanes; and that you must stay in locations that allow recharging.
**Heavy Cycle Touring on roads and bike paths, with front racks, camping out.
A strong touring bike will definitely be required.
**Heavy Cycle Touring in areas with limited repair facilities and bike shops.
You will need a touring bike outfitted only with components that can be easily repaired. Some touring bikes are designed for this.
Not discussed on this site.
A touring bike should have a different geometry than other kinds of bicycles..
The front wheel axle of a touring bicycle should be angled further forward – for steering stability; the chainstay (distance between the pedals and the rear axel) should be longer – to allow placement of the rear paniers further forward without impinging on the rider's heels.) This is expecially important if loads are to be carried only in the rear paniers). otherwise the bike may shimmy, particularly when climbing or descending steep hills.
Additionally, the distance from the seat to the handlebars should be shorter, to allow for a more upright position, and the bicycle should allow the handlebars to be mouted higher as desired- up to the level of the seat, for older riders. A more upright positions is less efficient but it allows for a better view—which, after all is a principal reason for touring, and puts less strain on the neck.. Straight handlebars, as opposed to drop handelbars, make a bike easier to steer. Observing many cyclists on muy rides and tours, I hardly ever see them using the drops on drop handlebars. Even Tour de France riders are usully on the upper (admittedly low) position of their handlebars.
Ideally one should ride on 700C (27 inch) wheels rather than smaller ones (except perhaps for very small riders) because they provide a smoother ride; however, a smaller tire size can be compensated for by very wide tires. If touring in developing countries with very few road bikes, parts may be more available for 26 inch wheels.
If purchasing a new bicycle for touring, do try the bicycle as loaded as you will ride it – on hills. Otherwise – I know this first hand – you may very much regret your choice. If doing this is not possible, read online the satisfaction reports of others who are doing the kind of touring as you plan to do.
not listed above , but worth checking out is the REI Coop trekking bicycles
A number of makes of folding bicycles are available, often costing up to double the cost of a non-folding bicycle, for example the Rodriguez W2, the Ritchey, the Montague, the Dahon, the Bike Friday, or the Brompton. The advantage of these bikes is the often lower cost taking them on flights, and the convenience of transport in cars, trains and airplanes. This is particularly true of the ones with tiny wheels, that collapse in less than a minute. However, do you want to go on a bumpy cycle path or a multi-day trip on these tiny wheels? I have seen them on the road, and talked with their riders. In the judgement of these riders, they got the job done, but were slower and less stable and less comfortable than bigger wheeled bicycles.
The folding bikes with 26 inch or 700c wheels are road-worthy (and bike path worthy), but they must be disassembled to fit in a suitcase.
You can mount fenders or front and rear panniers on many folding bicycles, but then they will not fold into their suitcases.
What if you want to do a point to point trip with no easy way back to the starting point? It would not work out for you. (Well, you could pull the suitcase on a trailer behind your bicycle, perhaps loaded with your extra clothes, but this would be inconvenient and cumbersome, and require putting the trailer on the airplane at high expense or inconvenience.)
Given their advantages and disadvantages, folding bicycles seem best for fair-weather day trips and short loop trips: You would check into your hotel or hostel, friend's house or campground, leave the bicycle suitcase there, and take off by bike for the day unincumbered
(If you are interested in the mathematics of bicycle speed and power, click here.)
There are now on the Internet many sites that do an excellent job of describing the benefits and pitfalls of various cycling compontents and bicycles. For this reason I add only a few comments of my own.
Tire Size and Wheel Size: For a very knowledgable presentation about choosing appropriate tires, tubes and wheel sizes for bicycle touring, please read my loose translation (with permission) of a French bicycle builder's web site. For a definitive account of wheel and tire sizes, please see this site: sheldonbrown.com/tire-sizing.html
The above site recommends 18 to 100 inches for heavy loads, sometimes off roads (a relationship of 5.5 to 1). Dividing by about 28 inches (700C wheels with large tires) for each turn of the pedals we have 2/3rds of a turn of the back wheel to 3 1/2 turns. Thus, for the lowest gear we have about 22 to 32 or 24 to 36, and for the highest about 42 to 12. I concur.
Spoke and Spoke Count, Rim Strength: Rims with 36 heavy duty 2mm (14 gauge) spokes are ideal, but rims with 32 medium weight spokes can suffice for light touring. Hub and rim technology keeps changing: The rims of today are far better than those of 20 years ago. Ask your bike shop if the rims and spokes of the bike you have, or are buying, are sufficiently strong.
Shifters:One reads and hears that bar-end shifters are best for touring bicycles, because they have less that can go wrong and are easier to repair. That is surely true for touring in the less-developed regions of the world. Personally, however, for the type of touring I do in Europe, I prefer to have the shifters located where they are immediately available. I don't wish to take my hands off the handlebars if I need to shift to a lower gear while climbing or riding in traffic.
Fenders/Mud Guards: www.cyclingabout.com/mudguards-and-fenders-for-bicycle-touring/
Light and Bell: Consider also whether you want a headlight, a taillight and a bell (horn). In some countries a bell is obligatory (Germany, Austria ). In others use of a bell is highly unusual, and will scare people, but still is occasionally convenient. In Austria, a headlight and a taillight are mandatory; in Germany, a headlight and a tail light are mandatory for riding after dark. You could wait to buy these items locally, if and when you need them.
Shoes: Shoes that you can easily walk in are less efficient than non-flexible shoes, but do you really want to spend all day in Europe in the saddle? I like to walk comfortably around towns and monuments. If you are doing a "very light" road bike tour without support, then you may not want to carry an extra pair of shoes, and flexible shoes can suffice for casual evening wear.
Racks and other components: See the index at: www.cyclingabout.com/article-directory/
As a rough guide, figure about $80 - $100 (without labor) to change the front change ring to a smaller size and to install a wide range derailleur; add about $25 for a chain deflector. If changing a rear cassette ring and putting in a wider range rear derailleur, figure another $100. For fenders of quality, count about $50; for a touring quality rear rack and front rack, about $80-= 100 each. Touring Tires, about $80. Possible total: up to $450.
Generally Americans will bebetter off buying their bicycles in America for two reason: most important, they will have time to shop slowly, have their bicycle modified, and to try it out; secondly, in general sales or VAT taxes are much lower in America.
In southern Europe, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc., and in England, bicycle touring is uncommon. Stores with a good selection will be hard to find, and prices, including the Value Added Tax will likely be high. Touring bicycles will most often be foreign brands. In Britain, Dawes makes a full line of touring bicycles, some with drop handlebars and some with straight handle bars, with varying qualities of components. Thorn builds touring bikes to order, and has a very informative web site. Prices are astronomical.
In Germany and Austria, there are many brands of touring bikes with a wide range of prices, generally reasonable This is likely to be so in Scandanavia, though I have not confirmed it. The reason for a good selection and good pricing is that the touring bicycle market is huge; through most of the year Germans and Austrians use touring bicycles for shopping and for short trips. In larger cities and even if medium sized towns, there are often very large bike shops with a very good selection of bicycles and components, as well as a service department. With advanced research to choose the appropriate store, one day should be sufficient to buy a touring bicycle.