Buying a touring bicycle is always challenging, especially because we usually travel one or twice a year and it’s not easy to face a purchase – besides, heavy – for an item that will mostly live in our basement. Luckily during these last years, the concept itself of bicycle tour has been changing, and along with it, the bikes evolved as well, becoming everyday things.
This allows us to make a more thoughtful choice, and maybe pledge a higher budget for this mixed-use means of transportation. This year too I decided to do a short (and surely not exhaustive) research, trying to understand which are the most popular travel bicycles and which are used with more satisfaction by bike travelers. See below the 12 best adventure and touring bicycles of 2020.
Updated on December 2019
Best touring bikes? Yes, but why?
This article is not a guide about the features of a touring bicycle. We will discuss it in another article
Genesis Tour de Fer 20
After stalling for a while, in 2018 Vero finally decided to buy a less “aggressive” bicycle than the Bombtrack Beyond. So Genesis Tour de Fer 20 has been chosen. This English brand presents a broad range of touring bikes, but we were not just looking for a steel frame. Tour de Fer 20 offers robust components and doesn’t care much about the weight, as we usually do on our bike trips. The trustworthy Shimano Deore, a dynamo hub, the steel frameset, its 700c wheels, the Tubus steel racks, its three bottle mounts and the possibility to add a front rack: these are just a few of the features that helped us with this purchase. The turning point for Vero’s choice of this bicycle over the Tour de Fer 30 model is the flat handlebar, which she prefers over the drop-bar handlebar.
This bike looks made to last… and up to now, Vero has covered more than 15,000 km and the only fault that it has found is the rather narrow fork and frame width that can accept wheels only up to 42mm (Vero has mounted 47 wheels but it is really at the limit). The price in this case is around 1700 € while the 30 version is around 1900 €.
Koga World Traveller
Another growing company among the most demanding and dynamic bicycle tourists is Koga, which is expanding thanks to its World Traveller, ideal for long distances lovers. Its flat handlebar with integrated Ergon grips bar-ends is perfect for different hand positions. The bicycle is sold equipped with two kickstands (front and rear), front and rear carrier, dynamo hub, lights and ring lock. The Shimano SLX shift is way better than the previous bikes, but what turns my nose up are on one side the Magura disk hydraulic rim brakes (we had our bad moments with the mineral oil brake fluid during our trips, but I have to admit I have never tried these specific brakes), and on the other the aluminium frameset (with internal cable routing), lighter and more versatile but more difficult to get fixed if you’d have problems in some not actually bike-friendly countries. As you can see this and Giant are the only bikes with aluminium frameset inside this list: I’m not sure if you guessed that I prefer steel framesets…
Components and accessories are not lacking (aluminum water bottles are a nice treat). The price is around € 2300 but the reliability of the Dutch brand is proven and if you are planning a long raid, this touring bike could be the one for you. If you want to save a little but have something less in quality, you could think of Koga Grandtourer while for the less trained there is also an electric version of the World Traveler.
Surly Long Haul Tracker
Let’s not leave the robustness club: Surly Long Haul Tracker is another great and loved bicycle. Steel frameset, simple but comfortable geometry, rear derailleur Shimano XT. Cantilever brakes (an antique at our latitudes) and bar-end shifters do not convince me. This star and stripes company has built a great reputation among bike travellers and not rarely I have seen its bikes during many trips. The frameset is often customized with different components, following the demanding traveller’s desires. The LHT is an icon of the world of cyclists, even though lately many companies have seen the potential of bicycle touring and have thrown themselves into creating travel bikes, inserting precautions that Surly did not or did not want to introduce on its flagship.
Among the Surly bikes, the Ogre model has geometries that are more suitable for those who prefer to travel in dirt-track, doing bikepacking and trails.
A successful model in bicycle touring is for sure Kona Sutra, by the American brand. This bicycle these last years has been modernized without being overturned. Steel frameset, Shimano shifters and Tektro disk brakes are a good compromise between innovation and robustness, considered the competitive price (1500 € circa). Last year Kona introduced thru-axle on Sutra too, in addition to its model LTD: this can be either positive or negative, depending on the trip you are going to face. In 2020 the differences with the model of last year are the presence of 3 eyelets on the fork instead of two and the WTB wheels of 23mm (like those of Bombtrack). The model in question has no dynamo hub, mechanical disc brakes and 28″ wheels.
Brooks saddle and Marathon Mondial tyres are a guarantee, however, the bar-end shifters are a peculiarity to be considered before purchasing. The company offers Sutra LTD for 2300 €, more offroad touring and adventure-oriented (loved by bikepackers) and one new gravel bicycle that you’ll discover in the other article linked on the top.
Fuji, another prominent brand from the Far East (even if it’s based in the USA too) has successfully been developing a remarkable touring bicycle: Fuji Touring Disc. In my list of the best travel bicycles, I prefer to include the mechanic disk brakes model (like Sutra), although there is a V-brakes version of it. In comparison to the bikes presented until now, this is a bargain bicycle: its price is consequently more competitive (1200€ circa). It has a steel frameset (Raynolds 520), with three bottle mounts inside the front triangle, 28″ wheels with Vittoria Randonneur tyres, it is sold with a rear rack and it can fit cargo cages or a front pannier rack. If you are looking for good quality at a small price, it is a great choice.
Thorn Nomad mkIII
Thorn touring bicycles are a reference in Great Britain, but here they were almost impossible to find… problem solved thanks to the Internet! Firstly Thorn Sherpa (1300 £), then Thorn Mercury 700c, then Thorn Raven and Thorn Nomad (2413 £). The bicycle I chose to introduce to you, even if all the range is dedicated to trips and Thorn’s strong point is robustness, is exactly this last one. Rohloff system (lack of front derailleur, internally geared rear hub… someday I’ll talk about it) protects the shift, the most delicate component, especially during the trips.
The chance to mount 26” or 650B wheels guarantees the possibility of finding and replacing them almost all around the world (although it’s more and more complicated to find 26″ in the most developed countries) and its steel frameset rhymes with solidity. Someday I’d really like to try one of these bikes! Pay attention: your order might take more than a month to be shipped in.
Trek 520 had to be included in this list: it’s one of the most long-lived and best touring bicycles (the most long-lived of the American brand, for sure). After the succulent news of last year (the aluminium fork mounted on its steel frameset. Second news: the security system of Thru-Skew, blocking the front wheel unless the thru-axle isn’t completely removed) this year for the Trek 520 there are more confirmations, apart from the introduction of a second color (anthracite) in addition to the red color of the photo. Mechanic disk brakes, 27-speed Shimano Sora chainset, Bontrager Tubeless Ready wheels with puncture-resistant tyres and drop handlebar. It is sold with an included front and rear rack. In conclusion: being older than 30 years, Trek 520 is living a new youth. The retail price is 1350 € circa.
Salsa bikes made themselves noticed among adventure travellers and its models Fargo, Vaya and Marrakesh are the most loved in Italy. Personally, I don’t like them because of their drop-bar handlebar, but it’s the market trend. For this specific list I have chosen Salsa Marrakesh, the most versatile of these three, suitable for long journeys or outdoor day trips, either on or off-road. Marrakesh too is being sold only in the drop-bar handlebar version, rather than with a flat handlebar. Steel frameset and fork, 28” wheels, mechanic disk brakes, rear rack included and from this year there are two versions, the one with the Shimano Deore group more voted for offroad and the one with the Shimano Sora group more for big trips.The most curious feature of this bicycle is the alternator dropout, that delivers incredible drivetrain versatility, allowing you to run single-speed or geared, freehub or Rohloff. The retail price on the official site is 1599$.
Giant Toughroad SLR GX1
The stars and stripes big company did not miss the opportunity to enter an expanding market niche such as that of bicycle touring and for some years has been producing Toughroad. The SLR GX1 is the 2020 model and like the previous ones has an aluminum frame with internal cable routing and a fork made of composite material. This is why I do not see this bike as a trusted travel companion for large expeditions but on the other hand I consider it a excellent investment for those wishing to travel for a few weeks and do it on a bike that is both comfortable and fast at the same time. Eyelets for the luggage rack are present both on the fork and on the rear, the Shimano Sora gearbox and the brakes are hydraulic discs. The price is very interesting and stands at € 1100.
VSF Fahrradmanufaktur TX-800
One of my favorite companies, even though I’ve never had the pleasure of trying their bikes, is the VSF Fahrradmanufaktur which, as the name implies, is German. Their TX-1200 pinion is a traveling tank but for this list I preferred to insert the younger sister TX-800 which does not present the belt but a classic Shimano Deore XT gearbox. 180 mm disc brakes, the CroMo frame, already equipped with Tubus racks, straps for bags, bottle cage, Busch&Müller lighting system and Schwalbe Marathon tires. In short, a bike ready to take you to the end of the world and with a style that I personally find intriguing.
Cinelli Hobootleg Easy Travel
I kept this travel bicycle for the very end of my list because I have direct experience with this one. In reality the bike with which we faced the journey in South Africa and Lesotho and with which I still travel is the Cinelli Hobootleg Geo, version of 2015. “My” Geo in 2019 underwent some adjustments that follow the needs of the market: the color changes to light blue, the brakes are hydraulic rather than mechanical, from the double front you switch to the mono-speed 11-speed and the flat handlebar is replaced with a dropbar with a very open fold (it could even be usable from Vero:)). It is possible to mount 29″ or 27.5″ with thicknesses up to 3″. These features make it clearly much more suited to the offroad pushed compared to the Interrail, introduced in 2019, smoother and faster or to Hobootleg, more suited to heavy loads and travel long range. Unfortunately, my review of the Cinelli Hobo Geo, becomes a bit obsolete. In the Cinelli range of travel bikes the flagship is still the Hobootleg with bar-end controls and Shimano Deore. What I propose here is the new arrival of 2020, the Easy Travel which is an evolution of the Hobootleg, less oriented to expeditions and more to the journeys of any cyclist. The change is on the brakes instead of bar-end (much better from my point of view), the luggage racks are lighter and the color is a brighter blue… for the rest it is a younger sister of the Hobootleg. The price of the Hobootleg Easy Travel is € 1460, the only one already “ready to go” for classic cycle tourism with the Cinelli flagship Hobootleg.
What about you? Which one are you dreaming about or which bicycle would you love to ride during your 2020 trips? Let us know in the comment section below!