It’s entirely possible to tour on nearly any bike — grab your cruiser, strap on a backpack, and go! — but there’s a whole world of bikes and gear created by passionate bicycle travelers that can make life easier and more comfortable on the road or trail (for starters, backpacks are best avoided in favor of on-bike luggage). There’s no need to make a huge investment to take a bike overnight or even a continental crossing, so take a long look at what’s already in your garage and get out there!
Love to ride on buttery smooth tarmac? More of a singletrack slayer? Prefer long days on gravel roads or short stints along paths between B&Bs? These questions and more will help you choose the right bike for the type of touring you have in mind. Here are a few of the major categories.
The classic touring bike sports a steel frame, dropbars, a wide-range drivetrain of up to 30 gears, 700c wheels with 35mm tires, and mounts for front and rear racks onto which you could mount panniers (see below). Built with heavier tubing to accommodate heavier loads, these bikes are the pickup trucks of the cycling world — rugged, reliable, and able to haul nearly anything from here to there.
Bikepacking bikes can share many traits with mountain bikes or very few. What they nearly always feature are large mountain bike tires (or even larger “plus” tires) and low gearing. They can utilize dropbars or flat bars, front suspension or rigid forks, and can come in a range of shapes. Bikepackers often opt for soft luggage (see below) that attach to the bike without racks. So some options will feature rack mounts for ultimate versatility, while many will not. If your rides almost always turn off the beaten path, these are a great option.
A relatively new category, “gravel” bikes range wildly from high-performance carbon machines built for racing to relaxed adventure bikes well-suited for tours. Featuring dropbars, clearance for wider tires (up to 50mm), and suited for racks and panniers or bikepacking-style bags depending on the model, these machines are extremely versatile and can offer an excellent compromise between loaded and unloaded riding on a variety of surfaces.
Sometimes a little assist is what it takes to get on tour, and eBikes offer an intriguing option. Premium models aren’t cheap (and cheap models aren’t as reliable for touring), but the modern era of pedelec (pedal assist, no throttle) eBikes provide some extra oomph for any tour with reliable motors and long-range batteries. While many models are made for commuting or recreational cycling, touring eBikes are available from most major manufacturers.
Then put on your reading helmet.
Recumbent bikes and trikes, folding bikes, tandems — there’s almost no limit to the types of bike you can take on tour. Dive into adventurecycling.org and you’re bound to find some insight on every type.