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Touring bikes are designed to cover long distances, normally at a relaxed pace. So, how good are they for bike commuting?
Intuitively, you’d think they’re well suited to the task since they’re eminently practical and sturdy.
This article will get into the nitty-gritty of commuting on a touring bike. Can you do it and what changes can you make to the bike to “commuterize” it?
Can You Use A Touring Bike For A Daily Commute?
In theory, yes. You can use almost any bike for commuting, and touring bikes are among the most suitable for the task.
Below, we’ll look at what’s good and not so good about touring commuter bikes.
Geometry always affects the suitability of a bike for a specific purpose. The average touring bike has a more relaxed, more stable geometry than any other road-style bike you can think of.
One chief reason for stability in a touring bike is its long chainstay and wheelbase. A touring bike is designed for carrying panniers. As such, the chainstay is always made long to give your heels plenty of pedaling clearance.
Other aspects of a touring bike, like a slack head tube angle, tall stack height and short reach place the rider in a more relaxed, upright position compared to an aggressive road bike.
A touring bike also has a low center of gravity, with more bottom-bracket drop than gravel bikes, cyclocross bikes, and many road bikes. You will feel planted to the ground and safe during ordinary riding.
If you need to carry lots of stuff to work, a touring bike is ideal. That’s partly because of the geometry mentioned above, but a good touring bike will also have a very sturdy frame and strong wheels.
The wheels of a touring bike are likely to have double-walled rims and be laced with a good number of spokes to support a greater load. Many touring bike wheels will have 36H wheels (36 spoke holes) or 32H at the very least.
Because of their robustness, touring bikes are also a good choice for heavier commuters. The bike and wheels are not indestructible, but touring bikes take more punishment than average lightweight “racing” bikes.
Naturally, the caveat here is that quality still matters. You want a sturdy frame and high-quality wheel rims. Strength is an attribute all good touring bikes have in common.
Touring bikes are heavier on average than road bikes, even when unloaded.
The gears a touring bike has will usually be based on an assumption that you’re carrying lots of stuff. This means you’re likely to have a wider gear range than you need for a commute. Does this matter?
It’s hardly a deal-breaker if you have more gears than you require, but it can make the bike heavier or gear changes less smooth, depending on the configuration.
Fenders & Cargo Racks
A positive point in favor of a touring bike for commuting is the braze-ons (aka eyelets or mounts) it is bound to include for racks and fenders. This is something not all road bikes have, nor all gravel and cyclocross bikes.
Setting Up Your Touring Bike For Riding To Work
You’ll probably have gathered by now that a touring bike is a pretty good choice for commuting. At least, it should suit many people.
The above being said, a touring bike isn’t specifically designed for rides into work. So, what can you do to tweak it and make it more of a commuter bike?
There isn’t much you can do about the geometry of a touring frame. It’ll be long at the base and quite short at the top. You’ll feel stable on the bike and be sitting fairly upright for a bike that probably has drop handlebars.
Read more: Drop vs Flat bars compared
If you do want more speed out of a touring bike, which is purely a personal choice, you can always stretch out your riding position. You might do this with a longer handlebar stem or with a handlebar that has more reach. Or both.
A longer handlebar stem makes you more aero if you’re flexible enough to sustain the lower position. You can also “slam the stem” by removing all headset spacers and getting lower at the front. Only do this if it doesn’t cause discomfort.
It’s also common to install TT bars on a touring bike. This is primarily for reasons of comfort over long distances when done by touring cyclists, but it will also make you more aerodynamic and faster.
Read more: Using a commuting bike for a triathlon
Modern touring bikes have quite a lot of tire clearance. Many are sold with 32mm (32c) tires and have room for more. However, what tires do you need on your commute? Do you care about ride quality or speed?
If the bike comes with a “bomb-proof” tire like the 700 x 32c Schwalbe Marathon (a common choice), you’ll find the ride sluggish if you’re the kind of rider that notices these things. On the plus side, punctures are very unlikely on such a tire.
Most tire brands have all-rounders in their range that are reasonably fast and light whilst still offering decent puncture protection. The Continental Ultra Sport III is an inexpensive all-rounder, for instance.
A wider tire is useful if you’re going off-road a bit on your commute and need to dampen vibration from mild bumps and light debris. On a smooth road, a 28mm tire is as much as you’re likely to need. Touring bikes are designed for fairly even surfaces.
Though some touring bikes are made from lightweight carbon or titanium, many more are made from steel. A typical steel touring bike will weigh around 33 lb. (15 kg) when fitted with a rear rack and fenders.
How can you lighten a touring bike? Here are a few ideas:
- Drivetrain – some touring bikes have a 3X drivetrain, meaning they have three chainrings at the front. This is more than most commuters need, and it adds weight to the bike. Consider converting to a 2X or even 1X drivetrain.
- Cargo Rack & Fenders – you’ll find some touring bikes come with a rear cargo rack and full-sized fenders as standard. Do you envisage carrying panniers to work? If not, take off the rack and remove the fenders during summer.
- Wheels –a touringbike will have robust 32H or 36H wheels that are stronger and heavier than other typical road-bike wheels. Unless you foresee carrying tons of stuff into work or you’re a heavy rider, you could install lighter wheels.
- Tires – tires that come as standard on bikes are often heavy, especially if they’re wire-bead tires with thick sidewalls. You could switch to a faster, foldable tire with lightweight puncture-protection technology.
- Carbon Stuff – you can install a carbon seatpost or handlebar if you want to make the bike as light as possible. These parts will often have a desirable effect on comfort, too, as carbon can be a compliant material depending on the layup.
- Saddle – a touring-bike saddle may well be a heavyweight affair, so you can potentially lose a few ounces here. Of course, it must be comfortable. Ironically, a saddle with less material is often more comfortable over any distance.
Most commutes won’t be helped much or made significantly faster by a lighter bike, so it’s best not to obsess over every last ounce. A “weight weenie” wouldn’t buy a touring bike in the first place, but it’s generally an excellent choice for commutes.
Read more: Bicycle commuter tips
Video: Converting A 3X Drivetrain To A 2X Drivetrain
An area you can look at without necessarily changing anything is the steering. Part of a touring bike’s long wheelbase comes from a large amount of rake usually present in the fork (aka fork offset). What effect does this have?
Counterintuitively, more rake in the fork equals less trail, which makes the steering more responsive. A touring bike may have the same or even less trail than an aggressive road bike, but the two bikes still handle differently. Why?
Because of its slacker head-tube angle, a touring bike has a large amount of “wheel flop”, which lets it make sharp turns at slow speeds. A fast road bike with a steeper head tube angle has less flop, and that increases high-speed stability.
If you have a touring bike whose steering seems over-sensitive, particularly at high speeds, you may be able to stabilize it by installing a fork with yet more rake. This will have the effect of reducing wheel flop.
To reduce wheel flop, you either need more fork rake or a steeper head-tube angle. You can’t turn a touring bike into a road bike, but you might calm a skittish front end. That’s something to think about if you intend riding your touring bike at speed.
The reason a touring bike handles like this is to counteract heavy front loads, which slow steering down. Most people don’t carry four panniers into work, but the bike is designed for that if you do commute with a lot of luggage.