Touring Bike Buying

Touring Bike Buying Dilemma – Just Ride It.

A little perspective in terms of bicycle prices can go a long way. While recently flipping through a popular bike magazine, I was startled by reviewed cycles ranging from eight to ten thousand dollars.


Yikes. I paid less for my first Honda.

No doubt, all fine bikes indeed. But those sleek carbon-framed machines brought to mind an article from Adventure Cyclist titled The Year of Cycling Dangerously. In 1937 everyday man Douglas Carr set off for a 7,000-mile tour of Africa – part of a total of 15,000 cycling miles through Europe and Africa. On a bike equipped with a three-speed derailer, saddled with massive canvas bags scrunched on a spindly frame (I mean the bike, although Doug wasn’t exactly a robust cyclist either). 150 pounds of bike and gear pounding the mud roads of Africa. Seeing those bags reminded me of the heavy-duty tent I had growing up – it took two kids to drag that canvas brick to the campsite.

At 15 my friends and I pedaled second-hand ten-speed bikes all over hell and back, canteens flung over shoulders, bike tools stored safely at home. We never heard of clipless pedals or frame pumps. CO2 cartridges? Not a chance. Cycling shoes that looked suspiciously like Converse sneakers (back when they weren’t hip). My buddies cycled because it was that or walking. But I loved it.

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy my three (and counting) touring bikes, along with an assortment of road and mountain bikes collected over 30 years of cycling. Some of them can still be ridden. I don’t throw things away.

Gone but not forgotten; three inexpensive bikes that rode over Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, Montana, Taiwan, Belgium, and France

Darren Alff at Bicycle Touring Pro created a long list of potential bikes at The 100 Most Popular Touring Bicycles. This gives you an idea of the many makes and models of bicycles meant for touring. I’m sharing this since he was wise enough to include my beloved Surly Long Haul Trucker.

In terms of money, a new Surly LHT runs about $1900. That’s a reasonable price for a touring bike that will last a lifetime, yet still a significant chunk of change. In the same price range is the classic Trek 520, a mainstay for over 40 years and selling at around $1700 - if you can find it. As of this writing (2023), the Trek website doesn't list any newer models for sale, but there are still some 2022 models out in bike shops. The Fuji Touring Disc is another popular option in the $1500 price range. All making my $500 Bike Nashbar steel touring bike seem like a real steal. Unfortunately, Bike Nashbar (the company) has changed hands a few times and doesn't carry bikes under their own label. My first “touring” bike was a $300 mountain bike, which I thought was ridiculously expensive.

Keep in mind these are new bike prices. Used bikes are always an option, although it’ll take effort to verify the condition and get it tour ready. Ebay, Craigslist, and your local bike shop are good resources to consult. Cost-conscious cyclists will search for bikes with sturdy steel frames that are easily repaired, and forego carbon frames. For serious technical advice on touring bike features, you can geek out on Adventure Cycling’s 2017 Touring Bike Buyers Guide, or a newer collection of articles at Touring Bike Buyer's Guide.

The cyclists at the very informative website TravellingTwo ask if you can really tour with The $100 Touring Bike. Spoiler alert – probably not, but darn close. They do provide good pointers for those considering second-hand bikes.

The key is to cycle, and not feel that you’ve been priced out of bicycle touring. There are bikes out there for every budget. Be inspired by Douglas Carr’s cross-the-world adventure on his three-speed marvel.

An expensive bike doesn’t make the tour. The cyclist does.