As cycling has advanced, bikes and equipment have changed. It has become much more versatile, and we can adapt bikes to do many different things. I worked in a bike shop for years, and one of the main questions I was asked was, “What should I buy? A road bike or a touring bike?”.
Although this seems like a simple question because the bikes look similar on the surface, it is much more complicated as they are very different. In this article, I want to explain what a road bike and a touring bike are and run you through other frequently asked questions.
What is a Road Bike
Quite simply, it is what it says on the tin. It’s a bike for the road. When you watch the Giro De Italia or the Tour De France, the pro riders will be using road bikes. Some of these road bikes will be made to climb mountains, and others will be made for riding through the flatlands. These do come in many different shapes and sizes though, so let’s talk a little about what essentially makes a road bike.
When we look at the frames, we typically take a couple of things into account, the material and the design. Road bikes come in many different materials, but the most common are aluminum, carbon fiber, and sometimes steel. They are made for speed, so they are light and stiff. When it comes to the design, the bikes are made to cut through the wind, and they are made to put your body into an aerodynamic position.
On road bikes, 99% of the time, you will be on 700c wheels. These wheels are large in diameter and thin in width. They are made to suit small tires, which range from 23c to roughly 30c in size. You get wheels made from aluminum and carbon fiber, generally speaking, the lighter, the better. You also get wheels that are deeper in profile, and we call these aero wheelsets.
Gearing on road bikes comes in many shapes and sizes, but typically they are what we call a 2x groupset. This consists of 2 chainrings at the front and a cassette at the rear. Typically, on a bike made for climbing, you will find a large cassette on the rear for a more extensive range. On aero bikes made for the flats, you will find smaller cassettes with less range but the same gears.
Road bikes always come with drop bars, generally use clip-in pedals, and everything is made to be light, aerodynamic, and fast. On high end road bikes, you will see some fantastic technology such as electronic gearing and power meters.
Road bikes can be as little as $200 and go all the way up to a whopping $18000. The price range is vast when it comes to road bikes, and for the most advanced technology and design, you can end up spending a lot of money.
What Are Road Bikes Suitable for?
Road bikes are made for the road, and limited to that, you might get some light Bikepacking in, but that’s it. You won’t find yourself on off road sections with a bike like this, and although a lot of road bikes are comfortable, you will find spending long durations of time riding these fairly taxing on the body.
- Amazing on the Road
- Very Fast and Light
- Lots of groups and clubs ride road bikes
- Road bikes start at reasonably low prices.
- Limited to just the road
- High End road bikes are costly
- Unlike riding off the road, you have traffic to think about
1. BMC Timemachine SLR7
The BMC Time Machine is a beautiful looking bike and has a huge amount of ability. The frame is made of carbon fiber and being BMC quality, this is going to be extremely stiff and light. It is paired up with some lightweight climbing wheels and the legendary Shimano R7000 groupset.
Not only that, it has hydraulic disc brakes and will stop on a pin. What I love about the BMC Time Machine is the fact it has advanced so much over the years and has not only become a great climbing bike but also has a huge aerodynamic advantage over other bikes of a similar weight.
The price is great value for money and although the components may not be as high end as some other road bikes it will have similar performance.
Pros and Con
- Value for money
- Good Components
- Very lightweight and fragile
2. Rondo HVRT CF2
The Rondo HVRT CF2 is not a bike you will often see when out riding. I feel like if Batman had a road bike it would look a little bit like this. Let’s start with the frame, it has a huge aerodynamic advantage over the majority of its competitors. You can adjust the head angle and fork trail of this bike.
This is an extremely rare feature and seen on so few bikes. It is obviously made of carbon fiber and very lightweight. It has a Hunt Aerodynamic wheelset to match the frame and like the BMC it sports a Shimano 105 R7000 groupset with hydraulic disc brakes.
For the price this bike is it is an amazing bit of kit. It will offer the user so much value to the user and a lot of options when it comes to geometry.
Pros and Cons
- Value for money
- Adjustable geometry
- Very aerodynamic
- Good Components
- Adjustable Geometry is very complicated
- Lightweight and fragile
What is a Touring bike?
Cycling touring is very long distance cycling, and sometimes some people even take to a life on the road. They are not made for speed. They are made to be comfortable and for the user to be riding big miles day after day. Like we did with the road bikes, let’s break a touring bike down into parts and see what makes them different.
Touring bikes generally are made from steel, aluminum, and some high end bikes are made from titanium. These materials are all metal, and they are produced to provide maximum comfort. The frames are typically not as light as road bikes, but they will have the ability to carry pannier bags and will soak up bumps on the road much better than road bikes. They are not made for aerodynamics and will not cut through the wind like a road bike. Instead, they put the rider into a position of comfort to help them stay on the bike for a longer duration.
Wheelsets on Touring bikes are made to be strong so that they can carry lots of weight. They have a lot of spokes, generally looking around 32 spokes per wheel. They can compensate for the extra weight of luggage and are more reliable on rougher terrain. The wheels are not of an aerodynamic profile and are made to fit wider tires from 30c all the way up to 47c typically. Tires of this size will help on bumpy roads, trails, and paths. Although big tires are excellent for bike comfort, they will be slower than thinner tires.
The gearing on touring bikes varies much more than road bikes. You can have a 1x system with a single front chainring and a huge cassette on the rear. You can have a 2x system just like the road bike. A unique feature of many touring bikes is that they can have a 3x system. This offers the user three chainrings at the front and a medium-sized cassette at the rear. One thing you will get on a touring bike is a vast range of lower gears. This is to help you get a heavily loaded bike up a big hill or for rougher more technical terrain to make it much more manageable.
Touring bikes usually come with a wide range of accessories. They are known to have suspension forks, panniers racks to mount luggage, extra bottle cage mounting points, and some even have flat or specialist handlebars. You won’t see too much high technology on touring bikes as they build them to be reliable and straightforward.
Touring bikes are fantastic value for money. They range from as little as $200 and max out anywhere up to $3000 typically. They are a great way to get into cycling as a first bike, and they hold their value when it comes to resale.
What is a Touring bike suitable for?
Touring bikes are made for distance. They are designed to take you a long way comfortably while carrying a lot of weight. They will not be fast like a road bike, but they will go the distance and make the miles much easier on the body.
These are bikes you can ride day after day and not feel too much discomfort. Unlike road bikes, they can go on rougher terrain and a much better bike for exploration and adventures where you might need something a little more rugged.
Pros and Cons
- Super Comfortable
- Will carry lots of weight
- Great value for money
1. Surly Disc Trucker
When it comes to touring bikes one of the best and often spoken about by experienced tourers is the Surly Disc Trucker. This a very unique bike and you won’t see many other bikes on the market like it. In true tourer style the frame is of an extremely relaxed geometry and is made of CroMo steel.
It is extremely forgiving and comfortable on all terrain and provides every rack mount and bottle cage attachment possible. The wheelset is a 700c aluminum set and comes with 47c tires as standard.
The groupset is the Shimano Sora 3×9 and will get you up a seriously steep climb with ease and still have gears to spare. It has mechanical disc brakes which are ok, they are reliable but wont give you the same power as hydraulic.
Pros and Cons
- Very Comfortable
- Lots of gears
- Lots of mounting options
- Strong steel frame
- Quite old school technology
- Cable disc brakes
2. Marin DSX 2
I am a huge fan of Marin bikes and the DSX 2 is a great example of the great quality Marin can produce. The DSX 2 has a very lightweight aluminum frame with a relaxed geometry.
It is paired with a stiff carbon fork which gives it a huge amount of control at the flat handlebars, and an agile feel to it. It has a 650b wheelset and comes with 45c tires, if that wasn’t big enough for you though it has the ability to go up to 2.1 mountain bike tires.
The groupset is Shimano Deore 1x mountain bike gearing and it also sports the Deore hydraulic disc brakes. This is a touring bike made for some seriously rough trails and would suit a mountain biker who wants to go touring.
Pros and Cons
- Excellent off road bike
- Amazing value for money
- Strong and controllable
- Huge tire clearance
- Slow on the road
- Flat bars are not for everyone
Road bikes are made for speed and to be fast on the road, but they are constrained to only just doing this. They will not be super comfortable, but they will get you to where you want to be fast.
Touring bikes are made to be much more comfortable. They won’t get you to places fast, but you will have a much better time riding further distances.
Touring bikes also offer the ability to go off road a little more, and they can carry a lot of gear on them. Although they look similar, they will give a completely different experience for the rider.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I tour on a Road bike?
You can go touring on a road bike, yes, but it does come with a few challenges. Firstly unless you have mounting points for racks, you will find yourself using Bikepacking bags to carry your gear. You will also have to be careful about where you plan to tour as you need to only be on roads. They also don’t always offer the comfort that a touring bike will.
Can I go road biking on my Touring bike?
Yes, you can. You might struggle to keep up with road bikes as touring bikes are slower and heavier. The work will be more challenging for you compared to others on road bikes. Providing your riding with considerate people who will go at your speed, you will be fine.
Are there any bikes that can do both road cycling and touring?
Gravel bikes do offer this ability. They are near as light as a road bike and will generally provide all the mounting points a touring bike will have. They are a lot of fun and are a happy medium between the two. I am a massive fan of gravel bikes and highly recommend them.
Where’s the best place for road cycling and touring?
I have cycled worldwide and have always loved cycling in Europe, each part is unique, and the road users generally are very considerate to cyclists.
Road bikes and touring bikes are a lot of fun. You can turn a great ride into quite an unpleasant experience quite quickly by not being set up correctly. To get the best out of your riding, I highly recommend getting a bike fit for your local shop. This will keep you comfortable and injury free.