Touring bikes are super tough, comfortable, go almost anywhere bikes. As a general rule, they can clear big tires, fenders, have low low gearing and have the ability to carry a load of gear. The best touring bikes are always steel, because it suffers dings and scratches well, can be repaired in a pinch, and it let’s you easily add rack and fender braze ones everywhere.
Touring bikes reached a sort of zenith in the 1980’s. Every major and minor manufacturer had at least one touring bike in the line up, and most of them where really good. Trek made a beautiful one, as did Specialized, Miyata, Nishiki, Bridgestone… the list goes on. Almost universally, they were lugged steel frames. As good as 80’s touring bikes were, today we have better tires, machined rims that have more braking bite, brake levers for smaller hands, stronger hubs, and better handlebar shapes. New touring bikes don’t look drastically different, but they are safer and more comfortable than off the peg vintage touring bikes.
Gravel & Grind custom builds touring bikes with smart, durable, good looking parts. Rivendell makes our favorite all time touring bike, the Atlantis. They also produce the Hunqapillar, a heavy duty, mountain trail worth touring bike, as well as the even heavier duty Bombadill. All good touring bikes. All US built Rivendell frames are made to order, and currently take around 4-5 months to build. We also source production frames like the Soma Saga, the Surly Long Haul Trucker, the All City Space Horse, and the New Albion Privateer, which also happens to be the basis for our touring rental bikes. Basic custom touring bikes start around 1850, with fenders and racks. Rivendell models, complete, start around $3600. Custom builds start with a conversation, a written estimate and a 50% deposit.
Our walls are lined with racks from Nitto, Axiom, Velo Orange and Dajia. Frost River, Velo Orange, Rivendell’s Sackville line, Ostrich and Cardiff make up our bag selection. We stock almost all sizes of SKS fenders, and can source Honjo and Velo Orange fenders.
In an effort to eventually become a one stop shop for touring, you’ll also find alcohol stoves, sleeping mats, headlamps, knives, cook kits, pack rafts and other bike camping stuff in the store. We’re working on getting good tents in. Currently you can rent one, but we have no models in stock for sale. Look for that in the spring.
Touring bikes are almost totally immune from trends. That said, here’s a few trends our bikes tend to ignore:
Disc Brakes. Disc brakes make sense for heavy loads and extreme mountain biking. We will build a Long Haul Trucker with discs if the rider plus gear is approaching 300lbs. The additional stopping power is beneficial at times, and might be a safety concern. That said, we stick with rim brakes for everyone else. Here’s why: touring bikes should ride like normal bikes with a load or without. That means they should be comfortable, and part of that comfort comes from the flex that happens at the end of the fork blade and at the rear drop out area of the frame. Disc brakes do away with that flex, because builders have to reenforce that area with heavier tubes and steel plates to deal with the forces the disc brake puts out. That’s bad. Disc brakes are also mystery boxes to the average home mechanic. Most models make you pull the wheel out to really get a good look at the condition of the brake pads, and most people don’t even know which part of the brake is the pad. When the brake itself is such a mystery, it’s hard to know if your brakes are in fine shape for a long ride or not. Rim brake pads have a very easy to see wear line built in, so you know: if you glance down and don’t see the line, it’s not a good idea to ride. Simple. We’ve seen discs fail, under decent home mechanics, on long descents, because the pads were fried. That’s scary, and potentially life threatening. Use discs if you really really need them. And then if you do, learn how to inspect them and work on them.
Really heavy touring tires. Beefy, flat proof tires are spec’d on lots of touring bikes these days. These are tires once reserved for trips across Siberia or the mountains of India. They are up to 3 times heavier than our favorite tire, the Panaracer Pasela PT. This extra weight goes into thick, downhill tire style sidewalls, dense puncture resistant layers, and heavy inverted treads. These tires, in our eye, make unloaded bikes feel loaded, and loaded bikes feel like trucks. If you’re rides include tons of glass, thorns, or sharp rocks, by all means, get a heavy touring tire. If you are going to another country, can’t bring a spare tire, and won’t be back for years, get a heavy touring tire. But if you occasionally ride trails, dirt roads, normal roads and bike paths, a Pasela has a softer ride, is easier to push around, and will maybe flat once every few years on average. Flats are not a big deal. If you are a tourist, know how to fix a flat, just like you should know how to start a camp fire or pitch a tent.
Index shifting. Index shifting limits your gearing options. Touring bikes are about low gearing, and index shifting is about racing or fast recreational riding. Those two don’t mix. The lowest decent quality integrated shifter gearing you can get outta the box from Shimano or SRAM is a 34 tooth middle chainring and a 32t rear. If you futz with Shimano or SRAM, you get get down to a 42 in the back, but you are still stuck with a 34 up front, and it will only shift adequately. With friction shifting, you can run down to a 20 up front, and down to a 42 in the back, which is mega low. Probably too low. We usually set touring bikes up with a 24 up front and a 34 or 36 in the back. We tend to stick to 8 or 9 speeds, for durability and ease of use.