How to Build A Round-The-World Budget Touring Bike

Hi Alee

I’m a university student and am keen to do some bike travel in between semesters. Your website has been a great help to me, although most of the parts and gear you talk about is pretty expensive stuff. I’m looking at building up my own bike, but I really only have limited funds to do this at the moment. After I’ve finished my course I’m thinking of doing a big trip, maybe the North and South American continents. Can you tell me which components of a touring bike I can save money, and which components I should put more money into.

Thanks in advance,


My Advice

Like Paul, you might be wanting to build a bike capable of taking on the world, but on a limited budget. This article looks at the parts most likely to fail on a long distance tour, and suggests mid-high end products which are WORTH EVERY DOLLAR.

My suggested investment of around US $1000 may not be considered ‘budget’ in some circles, but what I’ve suggested will genuinely last a LIFETIME.

Other than part failures, I recommend investing in the contact points between you and the bike (pedals, seat and grips). Your bike tour will be more comfortable with good quality gear in these locations.

Note: The prices are listed at retail price, you can find them much cheaper if you go second hand or shop around!


Put Your Money Here:


Given the heavy loads you might be carrying, your wheels will take a lot of abuse. Rough roads make things harder for your wheels! If you’re using v-brakes we recommend using 36 hole Rigida CSS rims (26″ Andra 30 or 700c Grizzly). If you want to go disc brake, you can save US $100 on your wheelset by using the non-CSS version of those rims. I think Shimano XT hubs offer good value for their performance as the cup/cone bearings are easy to replace, although if you wanted to save another US $15 you could use a Deore front hub instead. With decent double butted spokes (Sapim or DT Swiss) and brass nipples, your wheels will be sure to last a lifetime. Spend some money on a good wheel builder to put them together. My Rigida Andra 30 rim review is HERE. Price: Non-CSS Wheelset US $340, CSS Wheelset US $440.


Schwalbe make some killer touring tyres; you’d be crazy buying anything else. We have got 15000km+ out of both the Marathon Plus and Marathon Mondial models. The folding Marathon Mondial tyres are 35% lighter than the wire bead Marathon Plus, but this comes at a price. Wire beads are known to sometimes ‘blow out’ the side or the tyre. So if your tyre is going to last this distance, it’s definitely worth putting your money into the folding version. My Schwalbe tyre roundup is HERE and my Mondial review is HERE. Price: Wire US $50 each, Folding US $90 each.


Tubus racks are money well spent: it is very rare to see failures. Made from steel and backed with a good warranty, you can’t go wrong. Be aware that most of the Tubus front racks require a mid-mount fork bolt. Reviews: Cargo HERE and Tara HERE. Price: Logo Rear US $120, Tara Front US $100.


A good saddle is a good investment. Unfortunately you can’t really try one before you buy one, but the Brooks B17 is the favourite for the majority of world cyclists. I have a list of the best bicycle touring saddles HEREPrice: US $110.


Ortlieb Backroller Classic Bags are waterproof roll top bags with a great clip system and super durable parts. We’ve seen failed panniers from most other popular brands. The only modification you may have to do to your Backroller is shown HERE. Price: US $120 per pair.

You Can Save Money Here:

Second Hand Bicycle – An obvious way to save money is to buy a second hand bike for the frame and bits, and make the above wheel/tyre/rack/bag upgrades.

Second Hand MTB Frame – A steel touring frame is preferred, but old mountain bike frames with rack mounts can be fine for touring. A frame failure is rare when it comes to broken touring gear.

Bar/Stem/Seatpost – Non-moving parts are unlikely to fail.

Brakes – Cheap Shimano v-brakes will definitely do the job. Avid BB7 or TRP Spyre disc brakes are both super cheap and high performing. For more on brakes, read my roundup HERE.

Drivetrain/Gears – A Shimano Deore or SLX drivetrain will last just as long as XT, although the gear changes mightn’t be as quick or precise.

Lights – Without spending a lot on a dynamo setup, you can get cheap rechargable lights which are super bright and plug in at the wall. If you only need lights ‘to be seen’, a couple of flashers will barely cost you a thing.

Complete Touring Bikes

Complete bikes are often really good value. You mightn’t get quite as strong/durable wheel or tyres, but you will get a touring specific frame/fork and drivetrain which is likely durable enough.

For a brand new, budget round-the-world build I would suggest using one of the below bikes with a custom wheelset, a good saddle and some good tyres. A Rigida wheelset, Brooks saddle and Schwalbe tyres will lift these bike prices north of US $1300 (950€, £800), but these upgrades really make the most of your money, and will take lots of stress away from your trip.

Check out some of these steel touring bikes for value:

Dawes Galaxy Cross Cromo Tourer (UK) – £599
Motobecane Gran Turismo (USA) – US $699
Nashbar Steel Touring (USA) – US $699
Novara Safari (USA) – US $899
Revolution Country Traveller (UK) – £499
Ridgeback World Tour (UK) – £599
Roux Etape 150 (UK) – £480
VSF Fahrrad Manufaktur T-50 (Germany) – 499€
Windsor Tourist (USA) – US $599

Click HERE for our complete list of touring bike manufacturers.


For the lowest price bombproof touring bike, it makes sense to put most of your money into the parts likely to break: wheels, tyres, racks and bags. I recommend spending a moderate amount on your contact points, and think you can go somewhat more budget on the rest.

Do the maths though, it may work out that a complete new bike (with modifications) will be a better bike for the price.

  1. I really like your article! It was eye opening.
    The trekking/touring bikes I see in the shops are the opposite: better bikes cost more because lots of money are spent on brakes, gears, lights… and they have the same poor wheelset and racks as the base models.

  2. I prefer affordable bikes for touring for many reasons: more spare cash for travelling, less worry when leaving the bike locked while doing other stuff, less worry when the bikes are usually mistreated when loading into planes, trucks, trains, etc. In trips of less than a month, I like to buy a used bike just for that trip, and donate it at the end of the trip to a person in need. Usually the bike might have cost the same as the airline will charge me to bring the bike back. In other occasions, I sell it to another backpacker I might meet in a hostel interested in changing from walking to cycling on their own trip.
    For 500 EUR you can have:
    -a decent used steel mtb from the early 90s on the middle/top range (150 EUR). In that price you can have a Trek/Specialized/Marin with Deore LX/XT components in decent condition and with quality steel tubing, with most of the holes to include all the touring extras.
    -a 350 EUR spare budget to fix/improve those parts on that used bike that need replacement or upgrade, like the ones mentioned in the article (racks, saddle, grips, wheels, etc.) or mechanicals (new chain or cassette, new bottom bracket, etc.).

  3. Older post here, but I came across it on google just now and had a few small things to add. I agree with everything else you wrote, though!

    Surely you mean brass nipples, not steel, correct? I’m not even aware of current steel nipples, only aluminum and brass for the most part. Brass nipples are known for building more durable wheels, though.

    If that rim manufacturer is a sponsor, hey, cool, it’s likely a wonderful wheelset. If not, there are ways to do cheaper but still solid wheelsets.

    I just put together a 36 spoke 700c wheelset that would have cost me $140 after shipping if I would have bought a front hub rather than using the extra dynamo I already had. Double butted sapim spokes, brass nipples, sun cr18 rims, tiagra hub (126 rear spacing on my frame, no mtb rear hubs). Even after giving someone $100 to hand build them for you, that’s still a solid wheelset at a cheaper price. Partial to velocity rims myself, but that puts the wheelset into the price of the other one you mentioned.

    And lastly, schwalbe Mondial tires are wonderful. I had some on the disc trucker I used to have and put them through 4,000+ (3,000 loaded) miles with a single flat: a 2″ screw acquired during a 30mph descent.

  4. Strongly disagree about Ortlieb panniers. They are watertight both in and out. If you open them during a downpour all the rain that gets in stays in. They are each all one big sack so you will spend your tour rummaging around in them. The more you rummage the more disorganized and harder to find your stuff becomes. Plus they are heavy. And expensive.

    A vastly better solution is to get decent nylon (not polyester) panniers with plenty of exterior convenience pockets. Make sure you are happy with their mounting system. You do not want them rattling while you ride. They will be both cheaper and lighter than Ortliebs.

    Then hie thee to a supermarket for clear plastic ziplock freezer bags. They are completely watertight, come in sandwich, quart, gallon, and even two- and five- gallon sizes. They weigh nothing, cost little, are clear so you can see what’s inside, and are available everywhere. Socks in one, headlamp in another, cellphone in a third, gorp in a fourth, and so on. You can even nest them. They keep your stuff organized and thus minimize rummaging which is frustrating and time-consuming.

  5. I wouldn’t mind traveling on a more expensive durable bike, if I didn’t have to be afraid of having it stolen. I don’t want to have to worry about that all the time. Sometimes I just want to leave it somewhere locked for a few days while I go hiking, or while I explore a city.

  6. As a resident of Amsterdam, I am well aware of how to lock bikes, and also well aware of the fact that it will get stolen anyway. That said, I’ve found something of a solution: insurance. Though they won’t ship me back my bike when I am in the middle of Mexico… Still, the risk is just part of the trip.

  7. Alee….could use your guidance man!
    I purchased a 2015 Trek 7.2 Hybrid for all-around use. It has an alloy frame & steel fork. Now, I want to get into doing a few short distance (in-state) tours. I am having a hard time deciding on if I need to get a bike designed specifically for touring (budget one like the Fuji touring) or adapt this bike for it.
    I have a really nice Bontrager rear rack w/Bontrager paniers for the back, Ergon grips & Planet Bike fenders. I was thinking of of putting the Jandd Extreme front rack on because it looks most like Trek’s 920 front rack. I’ve tried butterfly bars but my brake/shifter combo was pretty tight. I know wheels are important, however I only weigh about 158 lbs.
    If I keep it, i was thinking about installing a drop bar, Tektro brake levers & installing bar-end micro shifters.
    I’ve heard many stories of people doing some awesome tours on the Trek FX. Any thoughts? Anything you’d swap out or add?

  8. You can bike tour on any bike! Your Trek 7.2FX is probably fine for the type of touring you’re planning on doing. You can always just replace parts if they break along the way seeing as though you won’t be a million miles from home.

    Regarding the handlebars, just keep in mind that a drop handlebar has a longer ‘reach’ than a flat handlebar. This means that in the ‘hood’ position you’ll be further forward by 5-6cm. The only way to make sure your position stays the same is by shortening your stem significantly. My article on the Crazy Bars explains this in more detail: https://www.cyclingabout.com/velo-orange-crazy-bar-review/

    That said, given that you’re thinking about swapping the handlebars, it could be beneficial to get a touring specific bike (like the Fuji) which is optimised for a drop handlebar and already has strong wheels and a really wide set of gear ratios. There’s nothing to swap out, so it will undoubtedly work out cheaper in the long-term.

  9. Thanks Alee for the quick reply! I don’t want to purchase a touring specific bike until I see that I stick with it. Cheers!

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