The first and foremost aspect of a bicycle frame is that it
needs to fit correctly. Similar to shoes; bicycles are sold in different
sizes. The wrong size will be uncomfortable, handle badly, and forever
ruin the appeal of the bike. A correct fit will make a cheap frame ride
better and a high quality frame feel like an extension of your body. It
makes me sad when I see a touring cyclist on a beautiful and expensive frame but
obviously the wrong size for the rider.
The problem with determining the correct touring bicycle frame
size is that there are many differently philosophies and measurement systems.
I have no idea which system is the best.
Different frame geometry is confusing. I ride a 63 cm road bike, a 23 inch Mt. bike and my
current 26 inch wheeled touring bike has a 60 cm frame. All of these bikes
fit the same rider, me. It is also interesting to note that if I bought a
700c wheeled touring bike 700c I would have yet another frame size.
Few bikes sold on the floor of the local bike shop will
satisfy the high end touring bike shopper. More experienced touring bicycle shoppers buy
their bike or frame on the
internet through mail order. This means that the frame sizing is purely a
measuring and mathematical formula. Cindie's first touring bike
bought for our current trip was too small. There was no time to return it.
She dealt with it for two years. She often complained of neck and hand pain.
When we switched to our new bikes and one that fit her correctly her riding pain
I believe that the method and accuracy of the measuring system
is as important as the tubing brand. I suggest picking a brand and model
and consulting the dealer about fit. They are experts for their particular
With shoes on, measure from your crotch to the floor. This gives
you your inseam length.
Find the stand-over height on the bicycle sizing chart ("A" in
the illustration at right).
For mountain, touring, urban and comfort bikes, the difference
between your inseam length and the stand-over height should be
around 2 inches; for road bikes, this difference should be
around 1 inch.
How to Choose a Touring Bike
about any bike can be used for touring, as long as it's in good mechanical
condition and it fits you well. But some bikes are better suited to the
sport than others. It's fine to try a short tour or two on whatever bike you
have available. Just remember that touring is far easier and more enjoyable
when it is done with the right equipment.
Basic Bicycle Types
Here's a quick look at the main bicycle categories and how they stack up
when it comes to touring:
Touring bikes are designed to perform efficiently and comfortably for
extended periods on smooth, hard surfaces. They achieve this through the
use of tough, elongated frames and curved handlebars (touring-specific or
like those found on racing bikes), allowing riders to pedal comfortably in
lower, more aerodynamic postures.
Most touring bikes offer wide gearing ranges for good performance on
variable terrain. Most come with relatively narrow, high-pressure tires
(to minimize rolling resistance and increase efficiency on paved
surfaces). But many can be outfitted with wider tires to perform better on
softer surfaces like trails and dirt roads.
Minuses: Touring bikes are designed specifically for long-distance
cycling. This means they tend to be less effective than other bikes for
other kinds of cycling (mountain biking, racing).
Mountain bikes are designed to perform best on soft riding surfaces like
dirt roads and trails. They usually have wider, lower-pressure tires for
good grip and control, and heavier, beefier frames and components to
handle rougher terrain. Mountain bikes are designed to handle heavy loads
and most have convenient attachment points for racks. Most mountain bikes
have wide gearing ranges, with lower gears for better performance on hills
when carrying heavy loads.
Minuses: Because of their wider, lower pressure-tires and heavier weights,
mountain bikes are less efficient than touring and racing bikes on paved
roads and other hard, smooth surfaces. However, most accept narrower
tires. Their straight handlebars provide fewer hand positions but adding
bar ends will give you more options. Mountain bike frame shapes cause most
riders to sit up more vertically while riding, which increases wind
Town and Trail Bike
Town and trail bikes combine the ruggedness and go-anywhere nature of
mountain bikes with the efficiency and road-readiness of bikes designed
for paved surfaces. They offer a compromise to riders who are interested
in riding and touring on a wide variety of riding surfaces. Compared to
mountain bikes, these bikes usually have slightly narrower, high-pressure
tires. They also offer elongated frame geometries that deliver better
cruising on flat surfaces.
Minuses: As a combination of two extremes, town and trail bikes cannot
compete performance-wise with touring bikes on paved routes or with
mountain bikes on rugged terrain. They're designed to provide reliable,
basic performance on a mixture of riding surfaces. Most bikes of this type
have straight, mountain bike handlebars, though curved bars can be
substituted. They tend to be heavier than racing and touring bicycles.
Pluses: Lightweight and extremely efficient, road bikes are perfect for
smooth, paved surfaces.
Road bikes are not designed for hours of comfortable riding, nor are they
designed to handle bike bags or the added weight of big gear loads. Most
do not have attachment points for racks or other storage accessories. Road
bike gears are often designed for racing, not cruising, and their limited
low gears can make climbing up long and/or steep hills, under load,
difficult. Road bikes also tend to have very narrow tires, which on soft
riding surfaces can be inefficient and hard to control.
Other Factors to Consider
Touring cyclists spend a lot of time on their bicycles, so comfort is
important. The overall fit of the bicycle, then, becomes extremely
important. Check out our article on
bicycle fit to learn more. The shape and padding of the saddle and
handlebars, the position of the brake and shift levers and other factors
also affect your comfort.
The easier a bike is to pedal mile after mile, the more enjoyment you'll get
from touring. In general, the key to smooth cycling is a solid, well-made
bike with high-quality bike components. Proper maintenance is also
important. As noted earlier, the specific type of bike you use can play a
major role since different bikes are designed for different riding surfaces.
Gears affect how easy it is for you to pedal on variable terrain. Having
lots of gearing options (especially low gears, which help make pedaling
uphill easier) makes touring easier and more enjoyable.
Touring bikes must stand up to lots of miles and heavy loads. Durable frames
and components will reduce the chance of mechanical breakdowns.
Adult touring cyclists should look for bikes weighing around 25-30 pounds.
Lighter bikes may be used for touring, but make sure they're durable enough
to stand up to lots of hard riding.
Your bike tires can have a significant effect on performance. They can
affect the rolling resistance of your bicycle as well as how it handles in
various riding conditions and surfaces. Make sure your tires match up with
the route you have planned before you leave home.
Eyelets and braze-ons are frame attachment points that you can use to attach
bike bags and other equipment. (All touring bikes have them.) They're not
absolutely necessary for touring (some racks and bike bags can be attached
directly to bike frames). But attachment points do make outfitting bikes for
touring far easier.