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Touring Bike vs Road Bike (Which One to Choose?)

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Have you ever thought about dropping everything, getting on the saddle and just riding where the wind takes you?

No work. No stress.

A touring bike could be exactly what you need.

Comfortable and strong enough to carry you and all your luggage on epic multi-day cycle trips.

Maybe you just want to go fast, leave hills in your wake, fly down technical descents and win bragging rides at the cafe stop.

The all-out speed of a road bike is the ticket.

What is the right bike for you, road bike vs touring bike.

Here we look at the main differences to help you choose the right machine.

Road Bike Characteristics

  • Built for speed over comfort.
  • Lightweight carbon or aluminum frame.
  • Shorter wheelbase for responsive handling.

Aerodynamic Frame

Road bike frames are dominated by carbon frames at the high end and good quality aluminum everywhere else.

They are lightweight for maximum efficiency and stiff for maximum power transfer.

The frames are built to put the rider in an aerodynamic position, cutting through the air as efficiently as possible.

This is great for speed but unless you are accustomed to this aggressive position it can be uncomfortable on long cycles.  

Disc Brakes

Since becoming accepted in the pro-peloton, more and more road bikes come with disc brakes.

Compared to rim brakes, disc brakes offer more modulation and better stopping power in all conditions.

Read more: Road bike brakes roundup

Performance Tires


When people think of road bikes they think of skinny tires.

The philosophy was always “the skinnier, the faster” but even this tradition has been shattered in the last few years.

Testing has shown that wider tires might actually be faster and more comfortable at the same time.

25mm are more common nowadays but the trend is going even wider so that gravel riding is not off the menu.

Limited On-Bike Storage

Storage on most road bikes consists of bottle cages and a small saddle bag for a puncture repair kit.

Enough for a few hours in the saddle.

Whilst you can buy racks that don’t need specific mounting points, carbon frames are not designed to carry heavy loads.

It is also not a good idea to clamp heavy racks to carbon as it can be easily weakened and while it won’t fail immediately it might fail eventually.

Touring Bike Characteristics

  • Built for comfort over long distances.
  • Robust steel frames.
  • Longer wheelbase for increased stability when carrying luggage racks.

Relaxed Frame

Steel is the frame material of choice for most serious touring bikes.

The strength of steel makes it ideal for bikes designed to cover big miles.

Although aluminum is becoming more and more popular for touring bikes, it doesn’t have the same flexibility of steel.

On long rides this flexibility contributes massively to comfort.

Compared to road bikes, the head tube angle on a touring bike is more relaxed, bringing the handlebar closer to the rider and providing a more upright position.

The last thing you need on an epic ride is an aching back.

The longer wheelbase, or the distance between the front and rear wheel, on a touring frame means much needed stability when carrying panniers.

The longer wheelbase also keeps the panniers away from your heels when pedaling.

You can use panniers on some road bikes too.

In general, touring bikes stick religiously to the KISS principle…Keep It Simple Stupid! 

Disc Brakes

With all the extra weight to bring to a stop, modern touring bikes come equipped with disc brakes.

They have superior stopping power compared to rim brakes, especially in wet conditions.

They can require more maintenance than rim brakes and if they are not properly set up the pads can rub off the rotor which will drive you insane on long days in the saddle.

Some front storage racks are attached using the axle through the front wheel so extra care needs to be taken with disc brakes to ensure compatibility.

Wide Range of Gears

For long distances into the wilderness, miles from any bike shop, first and foremost you need reliable components on your touring bike.

You also need a wide range of gears to help you pull all the extra luggage weight up long, steep roads.

Triple chainsets are popular on touring bikes thanks to their wide gear ratio down to 1:1 or even lower.

This gives you plenty of range to find a good gear to spin up any climb.

Puncture Resistant Tires

Puncture resistance is the number one priority for tires.

The tire tread you need depends if the majority of your touring will be on the road or off the beaten track.

Lots Of On-Bike Storage Options

It wouldn’t be a touring bike if it couldn’t carry luggage on the road.

Touring bike frames offer plenty of mounting eyelets and braze-ons for the racks needed to be self-sufficient on your epic journey.

Once fully laden it is hard to see the bike for all the luggage.

Touring Or Road Bike: Which One?

The choice between a road bike or a touring bike comes down to the type of riding you want to experience.

Do you want to go fast or do you want to go far?

Do you want to be self-sufficient and carry everything you need with you?

Do you want multi-day adventures or are you all about squeezing cycling around a busy life?

For riders that plan to take on the challenge of epic, self-sufficient, multi-day cycling trips then a quality touring bike is required.

Their simplicity is their strength.

You don’t want to be trying to fix overcomplicated components in the middle of nowhere.

When you are hauling 50lbs of luggage, the extra weight of a touring bike compared to a road bike becomes a little academic.

But you will be thankful for the extra comfort and the stability of a proper touring bike.

A touring bike could be used as a commuter bike since they are reliable and offer plenty of rack options for taking your stuff to the office.

On the other hand, if your legs twitch to go fast then a road bike is the answer.

Road bikes allow you to train harder and go further on a ride.

Great for riders trying to squeeze miles in around family and work commitments.

More and more people don’t want a bike that can just do one thing.

Even pure road bikes have evolved in recent years to be able to tackle gravel and offer more flexibility.

Understanding that riders don’t want to be pigeonholed and want a versatile machine, manufacturers have turned their attention to good quality endurance style bikes.

These offer relaxed frames without scrubbing too much speed.

If you are interested in a road bike that will allow you to get a taste of touring cycling, then these endurance bikes could be a great option.

Final Words

In the pursuit of new thrills, more and more riders are finding the joy of bike touring. 

A touring bike means freedom.

The freedom to go where you want, when you want.

The freedom to pitch a tent away from the world.

A touring bike forces you to look up from power meters and see the world.

If you want to be self-sufficient and go where the wind takes you then a touring bike allows this freedom.

Deciding between a road bike and a touring bike is a personal choice that should be based on what you love doing.

Leave a comment and let us know what kind of bike you would choose.

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Mark Whitley
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Mark is the founder of BikePush, a bicycle commuting website. When he's not working on BikePush, you can find him out riding.

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