Feb 212011
 
Cycle Touring

What type of bicycle do you need for long distance, multi-day cycle rides, such as Lands End to John o’Groats or London to Edinburgh?

In our view there are three types of bikes to consider for a cycling tour: hybrid, road bike or a specialist touring bike. To date we have always ridden converted road bikes on these sorts of rides but now we abandon all prejudice and set out the pros and cons for each type of bike:

Hybrid

A hybrid bicycle is a cross between a racing bicycle and a mountain bike.  They tend to be relatively lightweight and have narrow tyres for speed (like a racing bike) and flat handlebars for an upright position (like a mountain bike).

Pros:

  • a good all-rounder which is versatile enough to use after the tour as a commuting bike or on leisure rides;
  • the upright position provided by the flat handlebars will allow you to enjoy the views whilst riding;
  • speedy. The more speedy hybrids are nearly as fast as racing bikes and share many of the same components and similar frame geometry;
  • good value. Hybrids tend to be cheaper than either road or touring bikes.

Cons:

  • you may be forgoing some of the comfort offered by drop handlebars and will be jealous of your fellow tourers who are able to huddle down onto the drops when battling into a head wind;
  • not as fast as a road bike;
  • may have front-suspension, which is heavy and redundant on road;
  • may not be able to fasten front and rear pannier racks.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE LATEST SELECTION OF HYBRID BIKES TO BUY ON THE GGB MARKETPLACE

 

Road/Racing bike

A road bike is principally made for going fast. Whilst this is clearly an appealing thought when you have many miles to ride over a stretch of days it can mean that the bike is not ideal for multi-day rides.

Pros:

  • fast. A road bike is built for speed and is lightweight, has slim tyres and offers an aerodynamic riding position.
  • road bikes have drop handlebars. This offers multiple riding positions and the ability to get “on the drops” and adopt an aerodynamic position.

Cons:

  • pannier rack problems. Road bikes may not be strong enough for panniers and they may not have the necessary eyelets to fasten the racks.
  • lack of comfort. A road bike has an “aggressive” geometry which is designed for speed. In addition, the frame of a road bike is rigid and has narrow tyres. As a result the vibrations from the road will not be dampened. These may both become tiring after several hours in the saddle.
  • cost. Road bikes are not the cheapest option.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE LATEST SELECTION OF ROAD BIKES TO BUY ON THE GGB MARKETPLACE

 

Touring bicycle

A touring bicycle is made for long distance cycle touring (including cycling on gravel). As a result they are robust with mudguards, built in front and rear carriers, a third chainring and slightly wider tyres. In addition, the frames are usually stronger than normal bikes so they can withstand the rigours and weight of a long unsupported ride. Tourers have dropped handlebars.

Pros:

  • strong and robust. A touring bike is purpose-built for long distance multi-day rides.
  • comfort. The combination of dropped handlebars, integrated mudguards, slightly wider tyres and “touring geometry” means that touring bikes are a comfortable option for multiple days in the saddle.
  • has capacity to carry all your kit.

Cons:

  • cost. An entry level touring bike will cost more than an entry level road bike or hybrid.
  • gold plating. If you are participating in a supported multi-day ride then you may question the sense in splashing out on an expensive touring bike. However, if you are going it alone and have further trips planned (particularly if there is an off-road element) a tourer may be worthwhile.

 

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE LATEST SELECTION OF MOUNTAIN BIKES TO BUY ON THE GGB MARKETPLACE

 

5 other things to consider for a cycle tour:

Is your ride supported?

If not then you will need a bike that can carry panniers (take it from us that carrying a rucksack get tiring very quickly). For this your bike needs eyelets on the seat-stay (see bikepedia to bust the cycling jargon) and at the rear drop outs. I have cycled for over a month using only rear panniers. However, if you require front panniers then you will also need the appropriate fastenings on your fork!

If your ride has support that will carry your kit then you won’t need a bike that can carry panniers.

Comfy saddle

Many days riding demands a comfortable saddle. Soft does not necessarily mean comfortable. You can get measured for a good fitting saddle and can “ride it in” to get used to your new saddle.

Gearing

It’s not worth getting all macho about your bike’s gearing. If you expect your route to be anything other than pancake flat then you should consider getting a triple chainring fitted on your bike.

A compact chainring gives you a good range of gearing but (especially if you are carrying your own kit) you may be grateful for a triple when the road heads up.

Kickstand

When I converted my road bike for touring I did not contemplate fastening a kickstand. Given that I was carrying two panniers and the amount of time I was getting on and off the bike it would have been very useful and I recommend getting one attached.

Tarmac or also gravel?

If you are heading onto gravel at some stage of your ride then you need appropriate tyres. A road bike usually has 23mm or 25mm tyres. This is fine for tarmac but might not withstand the rigours of gravel. Consider getting some 28mm or 32mm tyres fitted.

See Also:

Second hand and used bicycle buying guide



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