Best touring bikes: How to choose the right one for you

The best touring bikes as reviewed by the BikeRadar test team

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The best touring bike as reviewed by the BikeRadar test team

These are some of the best touring bikes on the market as reviewed by the BikeRadar test team.

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Any bike can feasibly be used as a touring bike – gravel and adventure bikes, road bikes, flat-bar hybrids, and even mountain bikes are all perfect candidates to be turned into a competent horizon-seeking touring wagon.

However, there are some distinct advantages offered by a traditional touring bike.

A comfortable and upright ride position, plentiful mounts to easily fit copious amounts of luggage, additional water bottle mounts, overbuilt framesets – most often made of easily-repaired steel – and wide tyre clearances are all hallmarks of a good touring bike, and these features make them easy to live with on long expeditions.

Here we have focused on these more traditional touring bikes that are explicitly designed for long, slower-paced days in the saddle, loaded with panniers and luggage.

Check out our standalone guide for a more in-depth look at what a touring bike actually is and how it compares to an adventure or bikepacking bike.

The best touring bikes in 2020, as rated by our team of expert testers

  • Bristol Bicycles Expedition: £775
  • Thorn Club Tour MK5: £2,071
  • Trek 920: £1,650
  • Fuji Touring Disc: £1,100
  • Ridgeback Panorama: £1,400
  • Surly Bridge Club: £1,400
  • The Light Blue Darwin Two Way Street: £2,055

Bristol Bicycles Expedition

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best touring bike
The Bristol Bicycles Expedition is a totally unfussy adventure wagon.
Robert Smith
  • Great value and highly customisable build
  • Non-glamorous parts, such as the bottom bracket, sensibly upgraded
  • £775

The Bristol Bicycles’ Expedition is a UK-designed frameset that is manufactured in the Far East. The brand builds bikes to spec and does so with just the right approach, upgrading often overlooked but key components such as the bottom bracket and chain.

The geometry gives a super-comfortable upright ride position, with the saddle and bar almost level.

The Expedition is no flyweight at a meaty 14kg, but that weight also includes a 25kg capacity rack and mudguards.

If you’re looking for an easily-customisable, no-nonsense bike, this is unlikely to disappoint.

Thorn Club Tour MK5

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best touring bike
The latest version of Thorn’s Club Tour range boasts powerful brakes.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • High-quality, well-sourced and customisable build kits
  • Relatively light for a full-on touring bike
  • £2,071 as pictured

St John Street Cycles has been producing steel touring bikes for just about forever and its newest version of the Thorn Club Tour is its own unique take on a traditional touring bike.

Thorn offers near-endless customisation, allowing you to tailor the bike exactly to your needs and desires, as is well-illustrated by our test bike, mixing a V-brake fork on the front with a disc on the rear. The options are endless.

Trek 920

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best touring bike
An aluminium, disc-braked bike that stands out from the crowd.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • Surprisingly comprehensive kit with stock build
  • Excellent and very comfortable ride
  • £1,650

With its chunky aluminium frame, hydraulic disc brakes and thru-axles, the mountain bike-inspired Trek 920 frameset really stands out in the touring bike category.

Fitted with 29 x 2.0in Bontrager tyres and a full complement of front and rear racks as stock, this 920 strikes an imposing figure.

It’s not just a looker though, the bike is a serious tourer, designed to take up to 40kg of luggage.

Fuji Touring Disc

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best touring bike
An entry-level bike that’s ready to be packed up for a tour straight out of the box.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • Everything you need from a touring bike straight out of the box
  • Very competitive pricing
  • £1,100

The Fuji Touring Disc is ready for proper loaded expeditions straight out of the box, with a full suite of accessories and a sensible build at a very competitive price.

The Reynolds 520 frameset is TIG-welded to bring costs down, though a handsome cast crown on the fork gives the bike an air of classic looks.

The bar-end shifters are a sensible and hardy option that will stand up to the rigours of touring far better than an equivalent-priced set of integrated shifters.

The extremely low 26×36t gear will also be very welcome if you’re climbing while loaded.

Ridgeback Panorama

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best touring bike
Tough, hard-wearing yet comfortable bike that’s made for long days on the road.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • Super wide-range touring-friendly gearing
  • Generous spec as stock, including bottle cages
  • £1,400

Ridgeback’s Panorama features a super-reliable Reynolds 725 steel frame, which is matched with a Chromoly steel fork.

A triple (48/36/26t) Shimano chainset is paired with a wide-range 11-34t cassette, giving super-wide, loaded-climb-friendly gearing. In-line brake levers are also a rare and welcome addition to this bike.

The generous spec extends to the accessories, with the bike shipping with three bottle cages, mudguards and a rear rack as stock.

Surly Bridge Club

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best touring bike
When ridden as a rigid mountain bike, the Bridge Club is really fun and handles tame trails well.
Andy Lloyd / Immediate Media Co
  • Ultra-versatile frameset can be set up to do just about anything
  • Truly enormous tyre clearance
  • £1,400

The Bridge Club is an outlier in the group – while it may look more like an old-school mountain bike, Surly pitches it as an any-terrain touring bike, earning it a spot on this list.

Surly’s touring bike range is extremely broad, covering everything from the classic Long Haul Trucker all the way over to the ECR – a plus tyre’d do-anything load-’er-up shred wagon.

The Bridge Club sits in the middle of this spectrum, with all the usual braze-ons for the essentials covered without over-complicating things.

The Light Blue Darwin Two Way Street

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best touring bike
The Light Blue Darwin Two Way Street.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • Hydraulic disc brakes offer oodles of power and control
  • Spritely ride means the bike can be adapted to all-round riding
  • £2,055

The Light Blue pitches the Darwin as a lightweight “street bike” that can comfortably handle commuting, gravel dalliances and even lightweight touring.

In that former guise, the bike is well-equipped, with sliding dropouts, a full range of rack and mudguard mounts, and compatibility with belt drivetrains.

Also consider

Cinelli Hobootleg Easy Travel

3.5 out of 5 star rating
Best touring bike
Cinelli brings its quintessential Italian style as well as a large dose of practicality.
David Caudery / Immediate Media

Panniers and bags

Best touring bike
It’s hard to beat panniers for utility.
James Huang / Immediate Media

Now you’ve got a suitable bike, what else will you need to get started with touring?

Working out how you want to carry your gear is a good place to start.

Don’t be tempted to use a rucksack – it’ll just hurt your back and leave you with a damp, sweaty patch. Touring bikes are designed with carrying loads in mind, so get as much of it on there as you can.

A rear rack – which will come as stock on many touring bikes – and pannier bags are the most popular option. These can carry a large amount of kit and are easily removed from your bag. If you need additional storage, you can go for an extra front rack plus a handlebar bag.

Best touring bike
Bikepacking bags are an alternative option.
Ortlieb

Alternatively, you could go for a more modern approach with bikepacking bags, which typically strap the luggage straight to the frame, seatpost and handlebars.

This reduces weight and can improve handling in rough terrain.

Disc or rim brakes for a touring bike?

Best touring bike
Cantilever brakes were de rigueur on touring bikes for years, but there’s little compelling reason to go for them these days.
David Caudery / Immediate Media

The vast majority of touring bikes will use disc brakes in place of the V-brake or cantilever brakes of old.

Disc brakes offer superior braking power that – critically – is far more consistent in all weathers.

Is is generally believed that availability for spare parts for disc brakes is still slightly lacking in certain parts of the world compared to rim brakes. This is the only compelling case for continuing to use rim brakes.

Flat bar vs drop bars for a touring bike

Best touring bike
Here, in the UK, the prototypical touring bike in the imagination of the cycling masses probably looks a little like this.
Paul Smith

There is no right or wrong handlebar setup for a touring bike. Some will prefer the upright position and extra control a flat bar will offer, while others prefer the additional hand positions and more aero position that is attainable with a drop bar.

Here, in the UK, our vision of the prototypical touring bike usually includes drop bars, so they are more commonly seen. On the continent, the opposite is true and flat bars rule the roost.

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Experimentation is the key but, as touring bikes tend to have fairly upright geometry, it’s usually possible to swap between the two down the line if you find you’re unhappy with your setup (though to do so you would usually have to, at least, also swap your brake levers and shifters).