I know, I know. It’s a bit late in the season for picking the best touring bikes for 2020. But with Summer soon arriving for many of you, I think you will really appreciate the best touring bikes for 2020!
I have gone through my 2020 Touring Bicycle Buyer’s Guide and picked out all of the bikes that stand out to me. You can get a copy of my book which teaches you all the ins-and-outs of touring bikes, comparing over 160 bikes, right HERE.
Today, we’ll be going through all of my picks, and I’ll be using as many data points as possible to justify why I picked them. Even if you don’t like my bike choices, you will be able to apply this information to any touring bike you’re looking to buy.
How Did I Select The Best Touring Bikes?
Some people will argue that the bikes I’ve selected are not cheap enough, but it’s my experience that you get great performance and reliability through investing a bit more in your touring bike, especially if you’re planning on using it long-term. If you want a cheaper bike, I recommending getting an older version of these bikes second-hand…
I have carefully assessed the frame geometries for each of these bikes to see whether they are suitable for the intended use. Everything I’ve picked is stable, upright and has the appropriate steering speed for the handlebar type.
Low Gear Ratios
I wish I didn’t have to talk about gear ratios so much, but all too often I find that touring bikes are under-geared. Bike designers often don’t travel themselves, so they don’t understand that we are climbing all kinds of gradients with a tonne of equipment… and maybe a few days of food too! Today, we’ll be comparing touring bike using gear inches. This is the diameter of the wheel, times the size of the front chainring and divided by the size of the rear cog. With this information, we can compare bikes with different wheel sizes and drivetrain setups. All you really need to know is that lower is always better, and ideally, your touring bike will have something around 20-inches in the smallest gear for on-road, and less for off-road road. These numbers are relative: a bike with an 18-inch gear will climb 10% slower than a 20-inch gear, which means you’ll either find the same hill easier – or you can use to this mechanical advantage to comfortably ride up steeper gradients.
The majority of touring bikes support a front and rear load, and your frame is the medium which needs to resists the twisting forces between these two points. When it comes to the handling, stability and general feel of a touring bike, we want our frames to be as stiff as possible without having the weight of a boat anchor. You can determine the approximate stiffness of a frame by the diameter size of the tubes employed. On a steel bike, we’re looking for downtubes that are 34.9mm or larger.
Wide Tyre & Fender Widths
Traditionally, touring bikes have had very narrow tyres. This is ok on smooth roads, but the reality is that there is very little speed penalty to using a wide slick, which will take you on the rougher backroads. The optimal tyre with fender clearance for most touring bikes is around 50mm or 2.0″. That way you can run a 35 or 40mm on the smooth tarmac, but switch to something closer to a mountain bike size if you find yourself on dirt roads.
Kickstands are so damn useful when you’re touring, in fact, I think it’s crazy so many touring bikes don’t have them. I don’t realise how much I use mine until I borrow a bike without one, a kickstand is just 250 grams extra weight – so expect many options on this list to be kickstand-friendly.
Best Touring Bikes: Long Distance
Cube Travel // €799
This is probably the most under-rated touring bike you can buy. The Cube Travel is incredibly capable on a mix of surfaces, with 29×2.2″ tyre clearance with fenders. It comes with lots of great features including a rear rack, rear-mount kickstand, Shimano Deore 27-speed gearing, hydraulic brakes and a dynamo hub and lights. The frame is available in five sizes, and there are an additional three step-through frames for ease of getting on and off. The climbing gear is pretty good too at 22 inches.
Fuji Touring // US $899 – €899 – £799 – AU $1499
If you don’t mind giving up some braking performance, the Fuji Touring is a killer build for the price. This Reynolds steel bike is ready to cross a continent with its 36 spoke wheels, 27-speed Shimano gearing, easy-to-repair brakes and Vittoria Randonneur kevlar tyres. The bike is available in seven sizes, so it will suit riders of all heights. The long chainstays and fork rake help to offer a long and stable wheelbase, and this is paired with the quick steering necessary of a drop bar touring bike. The climbing gear is a 21″ which ain’t bad at all. If you want a kickstand, check out the Pletscher Multi for a good fit.
Diamant 135 // €1299 – £1149 – US $1410
I’m almost certain you haven’t seen this bike before, but if you have, I bet you didn’t know this: the Diamant 135 is a re-branded Trek 520, but with better parts and a lower price! This frame is available in six sizes, it has a great touring geometry has recently been updated with a larger downtube for increased frame stiffness. Like most European-specced bikes the 135 comes with all the features you need: racks, dynamo lights, kickstand and the Brooks B17 saddle which is universally well-liked. The spec is great with tough 36 spoke wheels and Deore 30-speed gearing with a 22″ climbing gear. There is one glaring downside to the 135, however, and that’s the funky handlebars. Fit a regular flat bar with bar-ends or an alt handlebar – and you will love it.
Vivente Anatolia // US $1474 – €1362 – £1186 – AU $2500
Here’s another bike you haven’t heard of. Vivente is an Australian brand that specialises in touring bikes. The owner of the company has been touring all over the world for over 40 years and as a result offers stiff, steel touring bikes with all of the touring features he likes himself – from a rear-mount kickstand, a top-tier rear rack, dynamo lights and even a mirror. These bikes come with a perfect 19″ climbing gear and super strong wheels which even feature triple-butted rear spokes – that’s attention to detail. Wait, why am I telling you about some obscure Australian touring bikes? Well, they’ll ship their bikes anywhere in the world for just US $190. That actually makes them a really awesome deal.
Kona Sutra // US $1499 – £1449 – €1499 – AU $2500
One of the hardest choices on this list was a drop bar touring bike at the mid-price point. The competition is stiff here – it was a toss-up between the Salsa Marrakesh, the Trek 520 and the Kona Sutra. I ended up picking the Sutra because it is $200-$300 cheaper than the others but comes with the best components of the lot, including a 30-speed Deore drivetrain, a 20″ climbing gear, TRP cable disc brakes, a rear rack, fenders and a Brooks B17 saddle. It’ll also clear 29×2.2″ tyres without fenders if you plan to do any off-roading. The biggest downside to the Kona Sutra is that there is no kickstand plate and they’re kinda hard to fit too. For good kickstand mounting alone, you might be better off with the 520 or Marrakesh.
Best Touring Bikes: Light Touring
2020 Diamondback Haanjo EXP // US $1999
If you’re up for packing light and travelling fast, you can’t go past the Diamondback Haanjo EXP. This bike is under 10kg and depending on your body weight, will be good to support a 10-15kg load. The lowest gear is just 21 gear inches, so you should be able to comfortably ride up the steepest road gradients, and given the bike weighs so little, it certainly won’t hold you back either. While the frameset uses a modern lightweight carbon construction, Diamondback has kept the parts simple, fitting bar-end shifters, TRP cable disc brakes and a threaded bottom bracket shell to the bike. This bike will clear 27.5 x 2.0″ tyres, it has 3x bidon mounts on the frame and provision for front and rear racks along with fenders.
2020 Salsa Journeyman Flat Bar Sora // US $1199
My other lightweight bike of choice is the flat bar Salsa Journeyman. The Journeyman uses an aluminium frame and carbon fork to keep the weight down to 11.3kg, which is really decent for a bike at this price. You can choose between 700c wheels with narrow tyres or 27.5″ wheels with fatter tyres. The climbing gear is a little high at 24 gear inches, but you can fit cost-effective Acera 9-speed parts to the Journeyman (eg. 42-32-22t crankset) which will get the climbing gear right down to 18 gear inches! This bike has a frame geometry ripe for an alt handlebar conversion such as my KOGA Denham Bars or the Surly Molokos, which will provide both an aerodynamic hand positioning along with the stability of a wide flat bar.
Best Touring Bikes: Off-Road
2020 Surly Bridge Club // US $1200 – £1350 – AU $2500
The Surly Bridge Club is one of my favourite dirt road touring bikes. This simple steel rig is just $1200, it has an 18 gear inch climbing gear from the new SRAM SX 1X drivetrain and it will clear 27.5 x 2.8″ tyres. For an all-round touring setup, you could fit some fat 2.4” Schwalbe Super Moto-X slicks and fenders and this bike will be great on a dirt road tour too. The Bridge Club frameset has got all the braze-ons you can think of, including mounts for the Surly-8 and 24-Pack rando racks.
2020 Masi Giramondo 27.5 // US $1199
The $1200 Masi Giramondo has long been recommended by me. Not only has it got a super cool paint job, but it’s running 27.5″ x 2.1″ mountain bike tyres, TRP cable disc brakes, reliable bar-end shifters and 30-speed Deore gears with a 18.5″ climbing gear. I’m honestly surprised I don’t see more of these steel bikes floating about.
2020 Salsa Fargo Apex // US $2199, £2250,
The Fargo is one of the most capable drop bar bikes, offering 29 x 3.0″ tyre clearance, a 22″ climbing gear, and the ability to fit a Rohloff 14-speed gearbox hub and belt drivetrain. The Fargo frame geometry is super upright; it’s intended to be this tall so that you can ride in comfort in the drops for long periods of time, where you have the best access to the brakes. The SRAM Apex model is actually $400 cheaper than last year, and that’s even with the awesome Salsa Firestarter carbon fork. Like many Salsa bikes, perfectly-fitting frame packs are available for the Fargo in all sizes.
Best Touring Bikes: Trekking
2020 Canyon Pathlite AL 4 // €799, £749, US $799
The Pathlite AL 4 is a standout in terms of value and reliability amongst trekking bikes. Wait, what’s a hybrid doing on this list? Well, you’ll be really surprised what these bikes are capable of. The highlight of this rig is the coil-sprung suspension fork which is nice and reliable and will add significant comfort and traction on dirt roads. The bike has an insanely low 17″ climbing gear from its 20-speed Shimano Deore drivetrain. Chuck a handlebar pack and rear panniers on this bike and it will take you a really long way.
Best Touring Bike: All-Round
KOGA WorldTraveller Signature // from €2600, US $2800, £2300, AU $4400
The KOGA WorldTraveller is one of the best touring bikes you can buy – and yes, I can justify this objectively (they’re my personal bike sponsor, however, this isn’t a paid ad nor did KOGA have any input on this list). The KOGA frame has very high attention to detail – incorporating full-length internal cable routing, a steering limiter, super smooth welds and an abrasion-resistant paint job. You can choose from 11 stock paint colours, or as an optional extra, any custom colour you desire!
You choose between a step-through or traditional frame which are both available in five sizes. The frame geometry is very stable thanks to the long wheelbase but it’s paired with agile steering up the front which tempers a heavy front load. The frame is optimised to be super stiff laterally, so you can load up the bike with a tonne of gear and it will always ride without fuss.
KOGA bikes are custom-built from the ground up using many components that I personally use and recommend. You can choose between fast-rolling 700C wheels for the road, or the 27.5″ wheels that I use for off-road terrain. These are the strongest wheels you’ll find on any stock bike – I’ve been using Ryde rims for over a decade and never had a failure. You can then pick easy-to-repair rim brakes or super powerful and reliable Shimano XT disc brakes. The WTS comes with a full XT 30-speed derailleur drivetrain, which is good as it gears for touring, or if you have deeper pockets you can choose the Rohloff internal gear hub like me.
If you want the best dynamo lighting and charging, that’s an option. Kickstand? No problem. Brooks saddle? Sure thing.
Like the Vivente, you can get these bikes shipped globally for €300, and in the process save the 21% VAT included in the price. You will, however, have to pay your local tax and import duties – so do the calculations because it might actually be cheaper to plan a bike trip in Europe, picking your bike up along the way!
That rounds out the best touring bikes for 2020! It was super hard narrowing this list down to so few, but I think these models really stand out in each of their categories. Let me know what your favourites are in the comments below!
Also, if you’d like to know everything about touring bikes, check out the 2020 Touring Bicycle Buyer’s Guide, which teaches you about all the touring bike features, before equipping you with all the tools you need to compare over 160 current bikes. It’s updated yearly for free – forever – and is a product I’m super proud of.