The Best Touring Bikes 2019 (they make great commuter bikes, too!)
We researched the best 2019 touring bicycles and analyzed and aggregated that data
A touring bike is specifically designed to comfortably carry you and your gear on long distance journeys. After analyzing over a dozen professional reviews, drawing on our own personal experience, consulting with long-time bike tourers and a bike mechanic, we believe the 2019 Trek 520 is the best mid-range road touring bike for most people. If you’re willing to pay more to customize your bike, the Surly Disc Trucker sets the standard for mid-range touring bicycles. The Trek and Surly are well-built, reliable, time-tested touring bikes. If you need something beefier for an international touring trip, we recommend the Surly Long Haul Trucker. If keeping your touring bike under $1000 is your goal, we suggest the Fuji Touring series.
THE BEST TOURING BICYCLE FOR MOST PEOPLE: Trek 520
After analyzing and aggregating more than a dozen professional reviews, we believe the 2019 Trek 520 is the best mid-range road touring bicycle for most people. While it was a hard call between the Trek 520 and the Surly Disc Trucker (winner of our Customizable Pick), we chose the Trek because we think it is a better value as a mid-range bike. Unlike other models we considered, the Trek 520 comes complete with front and rear racks, pedals, and all-weather disc brakes, so it’s ready to hit the road as soon as you buy it (though we’d recommend getting it professionally fitted before taking it on a long trip). A majority of the sources we consulted agree that the Trek 520 is a “bombproof” road touring bike and it’s backed with a lifetime warranty.
We like that the Trek has excellent frame geometry (upright riding position, low center of gravity, and chainstay length) to comfortably carry heavy loads. We also like that it has super low gearing (aka, granny gear) that is able to take on tough climbs. Furthermore, the Trek 520 can accommodate 700 x 38c tires with fenders and 700 x 42c tires without fenders that make it capable of handling off-road or gravel conditions. While this isn’t a unique feature (Surly, Fuji, and Salsa also allow for fatter tires), we think if you’re going to spend money on a bike, you’ll appreciate the versatility.
The Trek 520 is also a great choice for exploring the world or commuting to work. Touring bikes make great commuter bikes because they are rugged, reliable, and are designed to carry panniers. We discuss this more in “Can I use my touring bike as a commuter bike?” section. One aspect that makes a touring or commuter bike reliable is whether it uses quality components. Folks in other review sites including Bike Radar, and CyclingAbout applaud the Trek for its quality shifters, derailleurs, and brakes. Justin Black, owner of Doctor Roscoe’s Holistic Bicycle Repair in Bingen, Washington and a long time bike packer said that both the Trek 520 and the Surly Long Haul Trucker/Disc Trucker (our winner for a More Customizable Bike and Best International Touring Bike) set the standard for mid-range touring bikes by being well-built, reliable, and time tested.
Another reason we chose the Trek as the best mid-range touring bike for most people is because of their time-tested lifetime warranty on the frame. As long as you are the original owner, Trek honors this warranty regardless of age of the bike or miles you’ve put on it. My Dad had ten years and over 10,000 miles of fully-loaded touring on his Trek 520 including the Northern Tier and Pacific Coast routes, plus thousands of miles of training and commuting. When his mechanic discovered a small frame defect during regular maintenance earlier this year, Trek replaced his frame. Needless to say, my Dad is a loyal customer. Customer reviews echo this sentiment: Trek has one of the best warranties in the industry.
A More Customizable Touring Bike: Surly Disc Trucker
Another time tested, solid mid-range touring bike is the Surly Disc Trucker. There has been a longstanding debate between Trek 520 and Surly Disc Trucker supporters about which is a better mid-range touring bike. While we think both are equally good, the Surly Disc Trucker is a more expensive option because it does not come equipped with racks and pedals. But, this may better suit folks that want to customize their bike rather than use the front and rear racks and clip-in pedals that come standard on the Trek 520.
Surly does not cut corners on this heavy duty touring bike. Folks in reviews such as Tom’s Bike Trip and Going Around Places say that the Surly Disc Trucker uses quality components (shifters, derailleurs, and brakes) and a solid frame.
The Surly Disc Trucker has the same build and ruggedness of Surly’s renowned world touring bike sibling the Long Haul Trucker. A world touring bike is designed to be taken in rough conditions including gravel roads or places where mechanics with suitable parts may be few and far between. The Surly Disc Trucker will accommodate wider tires for gravel or off-road travel. Unlike the Trek, the Surlys come in a 26" tire model, which are considered a world tire because it is more readily available outside the US.
We had a difficult time choosing between the Surly Disc Trucker and the Trek 520, but the Trek’s lower price and all-included components swayed us. The main reason we didn’t choose the Surly Disc Trucker as our Main Pick is because it does not come equipped with racks or pedals. Surly front and back racks will add $265 to the base price of the Surly Disc Trucker and pedals will likely add another $50-$120. Therefore, when fully equipped, the Disc Trucker is a more expensive option than the Trek 520 by almost 20%.
We spoke with Justin Black, owner of Doctor Roscoe’s Holistic Bicycle Repair in Bingen, Washington and a long time bike packer. Justin said that both the Trek 520 and the Surly Long Haul Trucker/Disc Trucker set the standard for mid-range touring bikes. The Trek and Surly are well built, reliable, time tested touring bikes.
Best Mid-Range Touring Bicycle with Rim Brakes: Surly Long Haul Trucker
Disc brakes have become a more popular option on touring bikes over the last several years; however, rim brakes remain a popular option for many tourers because of their ease of maintenance, which can be especially useful if you are traveling in remote locations. (Not sure whether disc brakes or rim brakes are for you? We discuss the differences between disc and rim brakes below).
The Surly Long Haul Trucker is the best option for those wanting rim brakes on their bike. The Long Haul Trucker and Disc Trucker provide dependability and comfort when carrying loads over long distances. Like the Disc Trucker, the Long Haul Trucker does not come equipped with racks or pedals.
Best Budget Road Touring Bike: Fuji Touring and the Fuji Touring Disc
If you’re looking for an entry-level touring or commuter bicycle, we think the 2018 model of the Fuji Touring and Fuji Touring Disc is a great option. Fuji revamped its touring bike this year and now offers a model with disc brakes (Fuji Touring Disc) as well as a model with rim brakes (Fuji Touring). As we discuss in the “How we Choose” section, to get the most bang for your buck, you need to spend at least $900 to get a quality touring bike. With a price right at that sweet spot, the Fujis offer an excellent budget alternative to other models in this category.
The Fuji has a good frame geometry for touring, decent components, and a solid steel frame. There is also low gearing to take on big climbs. The bikes have ample attachment points for additional racks, water bottles, and fenders. Both the Fuji Touring and Fuji Touring Disc come with a rear rack and pedals. Because these are included, the Fuji’s price reflects most of what you need to hit the road ready.
There may be less expensive options for a road touring bike, especially if you primarily plan to use the bike as a commuting vehicle; however, if you plan to load the bike for long distance touring, we believe the bike should include the essential features of a good touring bike. These features include a sturdy frame, good components, a relaxed geometry, and a longer wheelbase. The Fuji bikes we recommend check all those boxes making them a great value for an entry-level touring or commuter bike.
Best Mid-Range Bike for International Touring: Surly Long Haul Trucker
Reliability and durability takes on increased importance if you plan to tour internationally, especially in areas where western-style parts may not be available. The Surly Long Haul Trucker is well suited for such conditions. The website Tom’s Bike Ride calls the Surly Long Haul Trucker the “Most Well-Travelled Touring Bike.”
The Long Haul Trucker and its sibling the Disc Trucker have rugged steel frames, exceptional components, and are expedition-ready with 26” tire versions available. Why are 26” tires a necessity when touring abroad? The 26” tire is the standard available internationally.
Between the Long Haul Trucker and Disc Trucker, we think the Surly Long Haul Trucker is the best international touring bike because it has rim brakes. The advantage of rim brakes over disc brakes is that they are much easier repaired if there is a problem. When traveling internationally, or in remote places where parts can be hard to find, this can be an advantage. We further discuss disc brakes vs. rim brakes later in this article.
what is a touring bike?
Bike touring gives you the freedom to see the see the country, or countries, from a bike saddle in a self contained manner. Touring bikes are designed to carry heavy loads over long distances. All of the bikes reviewed also make excellent commuter bikes. The qualities that make a great touring bike (toughness, reliability, racks, fenders) are also perfect in-town commuter bikes.
The following are the features of good touring bikes:
Relaxed frame geometry
A touring bike frame specially designed to facilitate riding long distances with heavy loads. The touring frame will allow for a more upright, comfortable riding position. The touring bike’s center of gravity will also be lower than a standard bike to make it easier to carry heavy loads. The chainstays will also be longer. This helps maintains clearance between the rear panniers and peddling feet.
Multiple attachment points (braze-ons)
Braze-ons are attachment points that allow you to customize your bike with racks, water bottle holders, and fenders. They operate like little screws on the frame that allow you to screw on things you may need on a long ride. The more attachment points/braze-ons the better.
Reliability is perhaps the most important characteristic of a touring bike. To determine reliability, we drew on discussions in forums, long-term reviews, our own experience, and interviews with Justin Black. Our two top picks, the Trek 520 and Surly Long Haul Trucker/Disc Trucker are widely regarded as high quality, reliable world touring bikes.
A touring bike should have low gearing to get a heavily loaded bike up and over the hills.
The touring bike frame must be strong enough to carry heavy loads, while providing a comfortable ride. All of the touring bikes reviewed have chromoly frames. This is a strong and reliable steel alloy. Steel frames are more easily repaired than aluminum if something goes wrong on a far flung journey. In addition, the steel provides more flexibility than an aluminum frame. This bit of flexibility makes for a more comfortable ride.
Comfort is one of the most important factors in choosing a touring bike. You will be on the bike for many hours a day. Small adjustments to the bike seat, stem, or handlebars makes a world of difference. We recommend that you train with your bike before taking it out on a multi-day journey. We also think it is a good idea to get your bike professionally fitted before heading out on a long journey.
A good touring bike will not be as light and nimble as a regular road bike. While no one wants to ride an overly heavy bike, we didn’t use weight as main criteria in our picks for two reasons: First, the weight differences between the bikes we considered are relatively small. All of the bikes weigh approximately 30 pounds. While weight is important, for your first touring trip, it’s often easier and less expensive for beginners to focus on carrying less gear rather than bike weight.
Second, we found there wasn’t a clear “apples for apples” weight comparison between manufacturers. Disc brakes will add approximately one pound of weight. Racks, fenders, and other attachments will also add additional weight. We found that some manufacturers weren’t clear whether they were including racks and pedals in their calculations. For example, Salsa’s website lists a different weight than the REI website.
Should I get Disc or Rim Brakes?
As we previously noted, the touring bike market has been trending toward disc brakes. The Trek 520 has phased out rim brakes. Surly and Fuji provide disc and rim brake versions of their touring bikes. The following are the advantages and disadvantages of each:
Disc brakes will be more responsive and reliable in wet conditions. Wheel lockup is less likely. Wheel lockup is a scary and potentially dangerous situation when a wheel “locks” or stops suddenly when the brakes are used in wet conditions.
Disc brakes have better stopping power, especially on long descents. In contrast, rim brakes can cause tire blowouts if they heat up too much on long descents.
Disc brakes, while generally reliable, are more difficult to repair. This could be a bigger issue if you plan to bike tour in more remote areas.
Disc brakes can add up to an additional pound of weight.
Disc brakes are more expensive.
Rim brakes are less responsive, especially in wet conditions.
There is no single correct answer. If you expect to be touring in wet conditions or bombing down steep hills, disc brakes may be a better choice. But, if cost or ease of maintenance is a primary concern, then go with rim brakes.
Rim brakes are easier to maintain and repair.
Rim brakes are less expensive.
What kind of pedals should I get for bike touring?
Pedal Options - Platform, Toe Clip, Clipless/SPD, or Dual Platform/SPD
Selecting a pedal is your first big decision after selecting a new touring bike. Most bikes do not come with pedals. The notable exceptions are the Trek 520 and Fuji Touring and Touring Disc bikes that come with clip-in pedals; however, you may decide to upgrade the pedals on these bikes. Below is a summary of pedal options:
Platform pedals are the simplest option. No special bike shoes are required. Your feet are not attached to the pedals. You will lose some pedalling efficiency with platforms, especially when climbing hills. On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about detaching your feet when coming to a stop.
If you opt for a platform pedal, we recommend that you use a wide pedal with pins to help keep your feet in place. A good option for our recommendations is the Shimano XT Flat M8040.
The toe clip pedals offer increased pedaling efficiency without the need for specialized biking shoes. Your feet are held to the pedal with a strap or basket. While not as efficient as clipless pedals, toe clips are a popular touring option because you will not need to pack an additional pair of shoes.
As previously noted, the Trek and Fuji bikes come with toe clip pedals. Another good clip-in option is the Power Grips High-Performance Pedal Kit.
Clipless pedals are designed for use with cleated cycling shoes. Clipless pedals are the most efficient system because the foot is held to the pedal and you can take full advantage of the upstroke. It can be a little intimidating to use clipless pedals for the first time; however, it quickly becomes second nature to release the foot from the pedal.
Normal clipless pedals allow you to "clip in" on either side of the pedal which is more convenient if you will always be wearing bike shoes when you ride.
If you decide to go with a clipless pedal we recommend that you use a mountain bike pedal (SPD) such as the Shimano Deore XT PD-M8020 Trail Pedals. SPD pedals have the cleats retracted and are more flexible cycling shoes. This will allow you to get more easily get off and walk around without changing your shoes.
Our favorite pedal option is a dual platform/SPD pedal. One side of the pedal is platform for use with any type of walking shoes, while the opposite side of the pedal is SPD for use with a bike shoe. This system allows for maximum flexibility. You can use the bicycle to commute with regular walking shoes, then switch to a specialized biking shoe when you are out touring. They aren't necessarily more expensive than normal clipless pedals, either.
How to Load Your Touring Bike
“Ultralight” has come to bike packing in the form of bags strapped directly to the frame. This is especially true for off-road bikepacking. However, the vast majority of road touring still uses the traditional racks and panniers.
That said, weight does matter. You should take steps to minimize your weight carried. The easiest, most cost effective way to reduce your weight is to carry less stuff. Do you really need two sets of town clothes or three cook pots?
The traditional touring setup is panniers on the front and back tires, and sometimes a handlebar bag. One way to reduce cost and weight is to only carry one set of panniers, either on the front or back tires. There has been a spirited debate in the cycling community about whether it is better to use either front or back panniers. Ultimately, it will be a personal choice. The most important factor is to keep each side as balanced as possible. The following are some advantages of each option:
FRONT PANNIERS ONLY
Better for climbing hills.
Better for dirt roads because there is more grip over the front of the bike.
There is better heel clearance.
REAR PANNIERS ONLY
There is more storage space. Rear panniers are typically larger than front panniers.
Slow speed maneuverability and U-turns are easier.
Parking and pushing it up stairs is easier. The urban environment is fraught with stair hazards. Whether a few steps up walkway or a flight of motel stairs, inevitably, we will be called on to push a fully-loaded bike up a flight of stairs.
Our personal bike touring setup is a back rack with two rear panniers (Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Panniers) and a handlebar bag (Ortlieb Ultimate 6 S Plus Handlebar Bag). The handlebar bag is very convenient for touring. It can be used to store valuables. The handlebar bag is easily removed and carried when you park your bike. If you choose to use front panniers, Ortlieb Sport-Roller Classic is a great option. The Sport Roller Classic is smaller than the Back-Roller Classic (25 liters vs. 40 liters) to better fit on the front rack. Both panniers are very durable and waterproof.
Our recommended bike, the Trek 520, comes with front and back racks. These are aluminum racks. The front rack with a 33 lb. capacity and a rear rack with a 55 lb. capacity. If you select a model without racks or want to upgrade to steel racks with more capacity, the Tubus Logo Evo Classic Rear Bicycle Rack (88 lb. capacity) and Tubus Tara Lowrider Front Rack (33 lb. capacity) are excellent options.
The Tubus racks will fit the Surly Disc Trucker or Long Haul Trucker. Alternatively, you could buy Surly’s own very sturdy steel front and rear racks. Surly’s front rack has a 70 lb. capacity and the rear rack has an 80 lb. capacity.
Can I use my touring bike as a commuter bike?
Yes! For those who live in small apartments or don’t want to own too many bikes, there’s a lot of crossover between touring bikes and commuter bikes.
Touring bicycles make excellent commuter bikes because they are rugged, reliable, and are designed to carry panniers. On a commute, much like on the long, open road, you’re likely to encounter some similar road conditions including potholes and occasional gravel.
Reliability is important for both commuter bikes and touring bikes because you’re unlikely to have a support crew or want to deal with repairs all the time in both situations.
When commuting, you may need to protect work documents or a laptop in panniers.
If you can only choose one kind of bike, we think a touring bike will be able to meet multiple needs. As we suggest below (but it’s worth mentioning again here), if you’re commuting with your bike, you already know bike theft is a problem in urban areas. Put it on the National Bike Registry.
How can I deter bicycle theft?
Bike theft is a huge problem. We strongly recommend that you register your bike with the National Bike Registry.
The Registry has teamed up with 529 Garage (which registers, reports, and recovers stolen bikes) to create a North American database of bicycles. Bike shops and law enforcement can use the database to find and return stolen bikes.
How we researched
To develop our criteria to consider when choosing a touring bike, we consulted the Adventure Cycling Association, CyclingAbout.com, Tomsbiketrip.com, Simplycycling.org, Goingaroundplacing.com, Road.cc, Bicycling.com, Roadbikereview.com, bikeradar.com, biketouringpro.com, and Bikeforums.net.
We also interviewed Justin Black, owner of Doctor Roscoe’s Holistic Bicycle Repair, in Bingen, Washington, which is on the popular Lewis and Clark bike route. Justin has been a professional mechanic for over 10 years. He and his family have bike packed together for many years. He’s also the founder of Columbia Gorge Gravity Bike Association.
We also used our own experience bike touring, including completion of the Pacific Coast Route and large sections of the Northern Tier and Sierra Cascade Routes. These routes and thousands of additional miles were accomplished with my, always reliable, Surly Long Haul Trucker.
Justin Black, Owner of Doctor Roscoe’s Holistic Bicycle Repair, Bingen, Washington
Adventure Cycling Association