titanium touring bike

The 30 Nicest Touring Bikes in the World (2014)

I love my custom-built bikes. For a diehard bike enthusiast, there’s nothing that compares to riding a bike tailored for your exact needs and requirements.

I’ve completed an internet trawl to find some of the nicest, most aesthetically pleasing touring bikes getting about and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with what’s coming up.

Somehow, I’ve ended up with the majority of these bikes made in the USA, so either my taste is for North American builders, or perhaps North American builders are better exposed on the internet.

I’m keen to get a more international splash of handmade bikes on this page, so please drop a comment with a bike that you think is just as worthy as these. It has to be pretty special, with nice paint and colour-matched parts – good drive side pictures are also essential.

Out of the 30 bikes on showcase, this is the characteristic breakdown:

Handlebars: Drop (20), Flat (10).
Brakes: Disc (16), Cantilever (10), Road (1), hydraulic rim (1), V-brake (2).
Mudguards: Metal (16), Plastic (7), None (6), Wooden (1).
Frame Material: Titanium (14), Steel (12), Stainless Steel (4).
Gears: Derailleur (17), Internally Geared Hub (10), Gearbox (3).
Shifters: STI (7), Barend (5), Gripshift (12), Downtube (2), Trigger (2), Stem (1), Retroshift (1).
Country of Origin: USA (19), Switzerland (5), Australia (3), The Netherlands (3).

Hilite Bikes

This Swiss company works with titanium to make unique touring bikes for purposes from light touring to expedition. I couldn’t pick one to show you, so I settled for three. Many of their bikes use Rohloff 14s hubs, Pinion 18s gearboxes and Gates Carbon Drive. Integrated racks and seatposts, and matching stems finish the Hilite look.

Van Nicholas Bikes

This Dutch builder has specialised in titanium over the years, putting together some mighty fine looking touring bikes. The Pioneer Rohloff 29er is unique compared to most touring bikes as it can squeeze in super wide 700c tyres. Van Nicholas come with all the top-end touring gear, including Gates Carbon Drive and a Rohloff 14 speed internal hub. Matching stems, handlebars and seatposts complete the look.

Breadwinner Bikes

Breadwinner of Portland (USA) are Ira Ryan and Tony Pereira. These two builders teamed up together “to get more beautiful bikes to more people who ride everyday”. Although I’m not a huge fan of the green, the matching stem and pump look superb, and make sure to check out the headtube badge in Breadwinner’s website – it’s a work of art. The only thing I don’t agree at all with is the use of Shimano Ultegra crankset and derailleurs, they don’t sit well on such a classic bike. If it were mine, it’d be silver Campagnolo components instead.

Ti Cycles

Dave Levy of Ti Cycles has gone all out on this unique ride. In Dave’s Portland (USA) workshop, he has managed to create a titanium frame that looks nothing like the rest on the list, given the hyper extended top tube. The more impressive features include the custom ti racks with integrated mudguard struts, the u-lock holder and the Supernova dynamo light fittings. My only gripes are the use of yellow on the stem and the Shimano road crankset which seems a bit out of place here.

Horse Cycles

Light blue is pretty much my favourite colour, so it’s no suprise that this stainless steel Horse by Thomas Callahan in New York (USA) makes the list. It seems a bit more randonneur than most on this list, but given it has custom front and rear racks we’ll consider it a tourer. The colour-matched fenders look incredible, as do the racks and fillet-brazed stem. My only gripe is that again, the crankset does not fit in… at all. A White Industries crankset in silver would make me much happier. 🙂

Ahearne Cycles

This stainless steel, fillet-brazed beauty is possibly the wackiest ride on this list, and is without doubt the most expensive. Somewhere between a work of art and a very capable tourer, it was built by Joseph Ahearne in Portland, taking six weeks to build, at 10-12 hours a day with no days off. The estimated value is $25,000 USD which is presumedly made up in labour costs. Interesting features include the high polish finish which exposes immaculate fillet brazing, KVA stainless steel tubing which is much thicker than any other option, Ritchey breakaway parts, additional support tubing for the seatstay/toptube, custom steel racks with a built-in lock holder, a flask holder on the downtube, a super retro Shimano derailleur and a logo panel made of stainless which has been laser cut and left unpolished on the downtube. This Ahearne Flickr album is a must-see to understand the level of detail and work that went into this amazing ride!

47 Grad Nord Bikes

47 Grad Nord47 Grad Nord 2

47 Degrees North of Switzerland build some stunning steel touring bikes with a very high attention to detail. They select the finest touring wares (Pinion gearboxes, Rohloff hubs, Schmidt hubs, Tubus racks) to complete their builds, and then go about custom painting the parts so that no two bikes can be the same. Make sure to check out their ‘mixte’ ladies frames – they are beautiful.

Chapman Cycles

Chapman cycles touring bike

This touring bike features stainless steel lugs, fenders and fork crown, which looks beautiful against the stealth finish. The fork has a built-in dynamo connector, allowing the dynamo wire to run on the inside of the fork leg for a neat look. This wire powers both the lights and the USB plug found on the top of the stem. The Tubus rear rack has been stripped of it’s original paint, and chrome-plated, matching the front rack perfectly. Even the saddle has a custom finish on it, the leather replaced and re-stitched to match the yellow cables. More photos on the Chapman website.

Firefly Cycles


Firefly Bicycles of Boston (USA) make some of the nicest titanium and stainless steel bikes in the world. The upper bike is setup with Shimano electronic gearing which is normally only featured on road bikes, but has been fitted to work with MTB parts in this case. The lower two bikes have splits for Gates Carbon Drive which works seamlessly in combination with the Rohloff 14s hub – I love my belt drivetrain. The Firefly lettering is sometimes buffed up to a glossy finish on the downtube and can be chemically coated with anything from gold to a rainbow effect. Other nice features include built-in rear racks, internal cabling, custom dynamo light mounts and stunning titanium stem and seatpost combos. James Medeiros and Tyler Evans of Firefly have nailed these modern touring bikes. More @ Firefly’s Flickr.

A-Train Bikes

Alex Cook of A-Train Bicycles in Minneapolis (USA) has whipped together an incredibly simple and elegant tourer. The material of choice: stainless steel. This frame uses stainless S&S couplers which bring the packed bike size right down to about half the regular length. The A-Train custom racks blend right in to this bike.

Bilenky Bikes

I was trying to pick one titanium Bilenky tandem, but just couldn’t do it. These two titanium bikes are probably the nicest touring tandems I’ve ever laid my eyes on. The top tandem, which a bit more of a randonneur, has enough purple to be crazy, but somehow still pulls off a very elegant look (in my humble opinion). The below tandem is long-distance touring ready with a Rohloff hub and some schmick looking racks. The frame is without doubt the most impressive part however, as the curvy, retro style is still very functional and even breaks into three parts so that you can easily get it into an plane. These incredible tandems are manufacturered by Stephen Bilenky and family in Philadelphia (USA).

Independent Fabrication Cycles

Indy Fab of Newmarket (USA) have been around longer than most, and as a result, have mastered the frame-building trade. The finish on an Indy Fab is generally 10/10 and these look to be no exception. I also have no doubts that both would be sturdy enough to complete round-the-world trips. Here’s hoping they get ridden regularly! Via Indy Fab.

Hufnagel Bikes

Jordan Hufnagel has put together this georgeous classic tourer in bespoke bike central, Portland (USA). The paint-matched stem and racks are pure class and I especially love the wooden panels that are inserted into the racks. More images @ UrbanVelo.

Pereira Cycles

Tony Pereira, based in Portland (USA), has built this 650b bike up nice and classic. The high top tube, downtube shifters and birch finish give this bike a timeless look. A colour-matched stem, pump and Tubus cargo rack complete the build. I can’t help but think the bike would look much better with some brown leather Brooks bartape to match the saddle.

Baum Cycles

Darren Baum of Geelong (Australia) is a household name around custom bike enthusiasts. His frames are world class and are always dressed with incredible paint jobs. These two bikes have been put together for two cyclists who completed a charity ride across three continents, documented on the website The Long Road Tour. Check out the Baum Flickr for more.

Pilot Cycles

Pilot make their titanium bikes in the Netherlands; the finishing is top quality. On these bikes you’ll find Rohloff 14s hubs, Pinion 18s gearboxes and Gates Carbon Drivetrains. They’re certainly something to drool over.

Clockwork Cycles

This custom Clockwork randonneur was too good to keep off the list. Apart from the stunning looks, there are lots of nice design details to be found including a custom mount for downtube shifters located on the top tube. The matching painted rack and leather saddle complete the look.

Kumo Cycles

Keith Marshall from Canberra (Australia) is inspired by Japanese metalwork, but really, the Japanese should probably be inspired by him! This stainless steel beauty is again a bit more on the randonneur side of things, but damn, look at it. It features S&S couplers to break the frame down nice and small, internal cable routing for the dynamo lights and beautiful Llewellyn lugs (these lugs are best in the business btw). More @ Kumo Cycles.

Geekhouse Bikes

John from the Radavist takes photos of the nicest custom bikes in the world, but also has his fair share of sweet rides! I love the simplicity and colour of his Geekhouse, which is made by Marty Walsh and the team in Boston (USA). John has the colours and tones on this bike right down to the gold bidons – I love the custom racks too. The bike employs a double 50-32 crankset and an 11-36t cassette which gives ample low-end gearing for the type of riding John does. More @ The Radavist.

Vanilla Bikes

Sacha White of Vanilla Bicycles in Portland (USA) had so many pre-ordered frames to build that he no longer takes orders. That’s 5+ years worth, so I hope you’re not lusting for one too badly. This Vanilla is more of a randonneur than a tourer, but given it’s impeccable finish it was too hard to keep it off my list. I particularly love the lugs and the colour matched guards/pump. The stem is a work of art too, check it out on the Vanilla website.

Rivendell Cycles

Rivendell is well known for their touring bikes but this Hunqapillar takes the cake. The ‘diagatube’ is the most obvious feature on this bike, designed to stiffen the bike up by increasing the triangulation. Wooden guards, a lugged frame construction, retro racks and the Rohloff 14s hub give this bike a distinctive look.

Do you know of any bikes that should be on this list?

  1. Nice bikes, but I have to agree on the North American bias! Just to start you off, I’ll drop in a bike from my own country. We’re Dutch and we know bikes…


    I encourage you to check out some more detailed shots to see some of the fine craftsmanship displayed, all performed below sealevel!

  2. Thanks Thirty Dee. I’m very familiar with Van Nicholas bikes – I’ll search through some of their finest to get some Euro flavour into the mix! Alee

  3. Great. I have one question. Why almost every bicycle has got road handlebars? I think it isn’t so comfotable as normal or touring handlebars. But of course you don’t have so wind resistance.

    Mark, CZE

  4. I’ve wondered about that as well. I think it’s related to regional preference and personal style. The list is about the “nicest” bikes, not the most functional for touring. But besides that, most US tourers have road handlebars, whereas the euro-style is more touring handlebars.

    For me, I can tour much longer on the touring style, and wind-resistance is much less of a problem when you are fully loaded and in hilly terrain.

  5. I like the different hand positions that a road handlebar offers. However, they’re most common on this list for aesthetic purposes.

  6. Here is a picture of my Surly Disk trucker in the middle of Cambodia. We had just travelled from Thailand through Cambodia and onto Vietnam, Loved every Km….Next mod will be a Rohloff hub.

  7. Hey Alee, there is a world outside of the U.S.! You’ll find a wide variety of decent manufacturers in Europe. As a drop handlebar lover, you might want to have a look at the Papalagi series of http://www.mtbcycletech.com. However, our personal favorite is http://www.velotraum.de – they offer almost infinite configuration possibilities and a huge range of >200 RAL colors.

    We completed more than 20’000 km with our shiny Velotraum bikes so far:

  8. Check out Mk Fenders. Mark is making contoured fenders out of wood, not the flat ones that are mass produced. They are as much a piece of art for your bike as they are functional. He has a website mkfenders.com but his facebook page is much more up to date. Check them out you will not be sorry. Just an FYI they are not cheap but worth every penny.

  9. Completely missing recumbent bike and trike porn from leaders like HP Velotechnik,
    Steintrikes, Azub, Bacchetta, Lightning, Optima, Greenspeed, TerraTrike, and so on. Many offer rides that have better comfort, cargo capacity, and speed over anything listed above.

  10. of course The Netherlands is at the top for short range cycling (in the city), but maybe a bit less for long distances?

  11. I’ve met plenty of lovely Dutch folk on lovely Dutch touring bikes, riding around the world. They are a versatile bunch – long distance, short distance, city, deserts, mountains, you name it! 🙂

  12. yes, I have to admit is true, just while visiting The Netherlands I didn’t see many on touring bicycles, maybe they do it more outside the country.

  13. Koga and Co-Motion are two that are probably worth mentioning as they seem like big players in the touring market. Thorn may be another one although I’m less familiar with their bikes I’ve heard the name in touring circles before. I ride a Firefly and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them for a custom touring rig.

  14. KOGA World Traveller is my favorite. Made by a Dutch company, it is hard to purchase in North America. Triple butted aluminum frame. Mark Beaumont used Koga for his world record around the world trip.

  15. For an off-the-rack bike, the Salsa Vaya Travel is excellent. Stock with S&S couplers. The parts spec is well-thought out, so I only replaced the saddle and bartape out of preference. Stainless steel means no rust and no worries about scratches – a little buffing with a Scotch-brite makes it look new.

    It’s not for *heavy* loaded touring – I’d call it sturdy enough for medium loads – but it makes up for it by being a complete blast to ride with no load.

  16. I’m waiting for the list with the nicest touring bicycles under 1200 dollar.
    Expensive bikes are for people without imagination, and no time to ride.
    It’s nice to have a handmade bicycle on the wall in your loft, it’s even nicer to ride the bike(if you dare to ride a bicycle of 25.000 dollar)
    Here is my candidate. A refurbished cyclocrossframe with self-made frontcarrier.
    Total cost: 1000 dollar. The pleasure a already had with this bike is priceless.

  17. All very pretty bikes no doubt, but there is no way I would get into a distance touring trip with any of them. It seems very risky to put 4000 EUR of bike into the mistreatment of airline checking luggage, or on top of a Chinese truck, or locked casually outside a Buddhist temple. I prefer something less pretty that leaves me sleep at night.
    Most of those bikes, to me, seem to be built for the bike travelers that endlessly discuss set up on online forums but only do Sunday rides (with plenty of pictures to post later on such online forums) 🙂

  18. Great article about a nice bunch of Touring bikes! Maybe the bikes I built last year together with my friend and frame builder Justin Burls could be added to the list as well 🙂 I was looking to buy a high end, good looking, light and low maintenance Touring bike but at the end I ended up building two. No cheep but they are fantastic and made to measure. Have a look here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/524599056568286333/

  19. Nice bikes. One of the consistent issues with touring bikes is the rear rack platform isn’t anywhere near large enough to carry the gear even lightweight tourist carry back there. Most people you pass out there in NA have a synthetic sleeping bags and a normal 2 person tent, and the result is like putting a whole roast turkey on a slice of toast, as far as how much they overhang and are not controlled by the rack. This is the difference between bikes designed by touring cyclists and artists, the artistic ones represent pretty variations on stuff that doesn’t work on the stock bikes we can all buy. The experienced builders solve real problems. For instance in my opinion frame mounted pumps and locks do not solve real problems. Reel tourist these days use mini stirrup pumps and they pack easily, same with locks, who wants one rattling away in the rack mile after mile.

    Arvon Stacy did some nice racks, he isn’t working any more, but he got it right when he was.This one is more whymsical than strong:


    More practically:


  20. The reason road bars are on bikes that do the “Tour” de France, is that they are the most ergo and practical, just getting tucked in does not require drops. But being able to be high and low, and have hands in many positions, and have the hands in the best ergo position, so far nobody has beat road bars.

  21. Top thirty? They don’t belong, They are mass produced asian bikes or farmed out bikes. Some of them have bizarre features. The great thing about Rivendell is they deliver a warm feeling because Grant is one of the great marketers of all time. When you buy one of his bikes you are buying into every passionate piece of prose he has written about bikes. But the bikes are just barely good enough to stand the praise. And that isn’t a criticism, the general environment of support a manufacturer creates for their product is as important as the product.

    Most of these bikes are NABHS babies, there are many classic rides like Mariposa that are missing, . Bruce Gordon. Sakkit. What gets bikes press at Nahbs are gimmicks and nice paint.

    Among Young Builders I think one of the better ones is Rob English. I particularly like his folding system, this bike doesn’t have one though:


    Here is Mr Rivendell’s interview with Mr Mariposa, if you want to know who is what.


  22. I mentioned mariposa. After the interview below, Mike eventually stopped trading, and the bikes stopped being made. But since that time, their web presence has remained, and Mike’s son, after getting sheep dipped with Lance Armstrong, has taken over the building of the bikes. So the brand is moving on.

  23. Great bikes, There are a lot of really good young builders today, I hope the market can support them. I got a custom Fitz 3 years ago and have trimmed my heard as this is the only bike I want to ride. His lug work is wonderful check out his site http://www.fitzcyclez.com/frames.html Mine is “The Juice”

  24. I have done about 30,000km of traveling, using three bikes. My favorite of all time is my Co-Motion Americano, which I just rode from Gibraltar to Copenhagen and last summer rode across China.
    Sorry to increase your North American bias, but it was made in Portland Oregon.

  25. Too many with a far too short rear end on them. Longer chainstays (44cms+) are a big factor for touring bikes, especially for blokes with bigger shoe sizes, to avoid heel-clip and ensure your load can be placed more forward over the rear wheel, producing greater riding stability.

  26. Since no one has mentioned one of the best touring bikes out there, I better mention it:
    Id-worx (made by a Dutch man, living in Germany), check it out!

  27. Very similar to my Thorn Audax when I bought it in ’96. Nice to see d/t shifters (mine were bar-ends until they went STi)

  28. I have to agree with the crakset issue – modern cranks look particularly ugly to me, though they have their place on MTBs and some modern framesets. I’m trying to replace/upgrade my Exage 500 crankset and I’ve yet to find anything sensibly priced that has the elegance of older cranksets

  29. Hi Alee. How about this one? 90s bike, Federal Street Cat 550, made in Indonesia.

    I build this bike for one of my friend and I think it suits with your tips.
    1. Minimum colors
    2. Balance with black and silver
    3. Match the color of the seat and bartape
    4. Metal Fender
    5. The fenders has the same color with the frame
    6. Paint my stem and racks the same colour as the frame
    7. Classic-styled cranks on classic-styled build


  30. Van Nicholas Yukon Rohloff…….
    Santos Race lite rohloff
    Santos travel lite rohloff

    to name a few top quality bikes, Europe ofcourse.

  31. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e9329dc55cc01d6de75f6181fc7a746d1ff434e7930da291ead4172d1b3b06c8.jpg

    I’m a fan of the older style of touring bicycles. As a regular visitor to Japan I’m amazed by the new hand made bicycles appearing. My favorite builder is C.S. Hirose who builds a terrific range of bikes, look for them on Google images, his shop is like something out of a cycling fairy tale. He has been building bicycles since the early 1970’s.

  32. Great article, great comments, great site. Just stumbled upon it by accident. Cheers and please keep posting.

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