An overview of bicycle touring and touring bikes
What is Bicycle Touring?
Bicycle touring is getting on a bike; any type of bike—road, mountain, hybrid, tandem, recumbent—anything with two or 3 wheels (tricycles count) —and taking a trip—a vacation—to get away from it all, for a day, a weekend, a year, or a lifetime journey to any place in the world. Your ride could be a century ride hosted by a local bike club, your own 40 mile journey to the beach and back, a tour organized by a bicycle travel company, maybe a supported cross state ride with 5000 others, or a multi-year journey around the world. Bike touring can be broken down into self-supported/loaded touring and credit card touring—with a light load, or no load—all of which is further defined in detail below. Some tourists prefer to let someone else do all the planning and organization of a ride, and enjoy traveling with others and will find a bike tour to take them where they want to go. Some prefer to go it totally alone with no commitments to distance or overnight accommodations and enjoy doing the planning on their own. We should also mention what Randonneuring/Brevet and Grand Fondos/cyclosportifs rides are. Brevet riding is a series of timed, long distance riding events, with a goal of improving personal times, and riding longer and longer distances, within a set time frame. These rides while they can be competitive are not considered races. A gran fondo is an Italian term for a single day cycling race. You'll also hear this type of events called a cyclosportifs (sportif for short). Both of these type events are usually timed or have a section(s) of the route timed. They often follow a spectacular and historically challenging cycling route with multiple distance options. A sportif usually is on roads open to vehicle travel, where adhere to traffic rules is expected, while during a fondo the roads are closed to all traffic. There are rest stops, and snacks, a big meal at the end, and a festive atmosphere for everyone from PRO to grandpa and grandma. These type of events have become more and more popular and we know have many offered throughout the USA.
Whatever your style of travel, your trip most likely can still be defined as discussed below. In this brief overview we cannot cover everything, so come in and ask if you have questions, and let us help you out!
Loaded Touring usually means that you are carrying everything you need to camp, cook, and do repair to your bicycle. And of course you will also need clothing and toiletries, and other personal items you need or want to have available to you, like cameras, laptops, or i-pads. There are those who chose to carry the “load” with panniers (saddle bags) attached to front and rear racks, and those who swear by towing a trailer, and of course a few who will use both a trailer and panniers for the journey. A purist may say that loaded bike touring is what bike touring is, we are not going to argue the point, what we want to do, is clarify for those new to the idea of touring how the term is used by a wide range of cyclist.
Credit Card Touring: Is the term broadly used to describe travelers who prefer not to camp and cook while on bike tour. Within this category is light load touring which would be carrying the clothing and personal necessities you need for the duration of your trip. There is also no load touring, which by definition is van (vehicle) supported, (usually, but not always provided by a bicycle tour company) where your belongs are moved day to day, to your next location, and fully supported van touring where the van is basically available for the duration of the day, for anything you need, or to take you and your bike off the road, if you are done bicycling for the day, or just want to take a pass on that 5000 feet of climbing, much of it at an 8% grade and above. And of course there is one day touring on a bike as well—leave home in the morning and arrive home for dinner and you have toured on your bike, perhaps an organized century ride, or a local charity ride.
What is a “touring” bicycle and do I need a special bike for my tour?
First we need to clarify how you will be traveling by bike, as outlined above. Then we can determine if you need a bike that would be defined as a “true” touring bike. A true “touring bike” is a bicycle with the capacity to carry gear on racks mounted to front and rear racks attached to the bicycle frame. Typically these bikes are all metal bikes, have longer chain stays (this gives better handling and stability to a bike that is fully loaded and provides heel clearance for the pannier, and toe clearance in the front end) accommodates fenders as well as rack mounts, has wheels with a high spoke count making for a stronger wheel when carrying loads, and a frame that accommodates wider tire sizes. The gearing on touring bikes is often similar to mountain bike gearing in order to accommodate ascending when riding a fully loaded bike or a trailer towed behind you. (IE the proper gearing makes it easier to climb hills and mountains under heavy loads). Mountain bikes of course can be used for touring, but suspension can be a disadvantage or advantage, depending on the terrain you will most often be traveling on. There are also bikes that can be called expedition touring bicycles, built with 26 inch wheels, and most often disk brakes (the brakes are located in the center of the wheel as opposed to the rim so they are less affected by wet conditions).
An important key to fun and successful bicycle touring is a bike that fits comfortably for the distances and amount of time you will spend in the saddle each day while on tour. Learn about bike fit and Bicycles East fit services here. Another consideration is can the bike handle the stress of the loads, terrain, and weather conditions you will be traveling on and in and the question of reliability and availability of replacement parts, tubes and tires when the need arises. If you are on a self supported trip in a remote location jungle location in Costa Rica we would recommend you travel with a steel bike. If you are traveling with a tour company in the USA that is van supported you will be fine on a wide variety of bicycle types, and materials. One other consideration when traveling with your bike by plane, train, and bus especially overseas is how to get it there and the question of couplings that allow you bike to be taken apart and packed into a small suitcase and easily put back together again. Bicycles Ea st stocks a special box, the Air Caddy, that allows you to transport the bike in a manner that requires minimal re-assembly. We welcome you into the store to discuss your needs, and to answer any questions you have, and will help you to the right bike for the trip(s) of your dreams.