Touring Bike Vs Road Bike: Which One Is Good For What?

Touring Bike Vs Road Bike

This post will compare a touring bike vs road bike. Enjoy!

At some point, wanderlust hits any avid cyclist. A desire to travel and see the wider world.

It may be a plan for a day trip, overnight camping, or perhaps a long weekend.

Touring Bike Vs Road Bike

As the desire for adventure grows, a cyclist may begin to wonder if their regular commuting bike has what it takes to make such a trip.

Would a touring bike be better? 

What’s the real difference between the two? Well, let’s take a look.

Touring bike frames are heavier

Most road bikes are made for speed. They, therefore, have lighter frames, usually made out of carbon fiber or aluminum. This means they allow the bike to travel faster but can’t take as much of a beating.

They are also much easier to carry. Lifting an aluminum or carbon fiber bike over a bridge, or up a flight of steps to reach the next cycle lane is easier than lugging one with a steel frame.

Touring bikes are almost always made out of steel. It makes the bike heavier and more difficult to turn. Crucially, it also makes it more durable and is much more forgiving of small accidents and knocks.

If someone offers you a touring bike with a lighter frame, don’t take it. It’s supposed to be sturdy and needs to be durable. Steel is the best option.

Steel touring bike

Touring bikes have a longer wheelbase

You'll begin to notice a theme here. The wheelbase of a road bike is shorter which makes it much more responsive and allows for nice tight angles on the frame. Again, it’s all about speed and rider control.

Conversely, the wheelbase on a touring bike is much longer. It has to be to accommodate the bags and baskets that cyclists take on tour with them. It also makes the ride much smoother and more comfortable.

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You won’t be making any tight turns very quickly on a touring bike. You will find the pace more leisurely and comfortable, perfect for taking in the scenery. 

Touring bikes have a longer chainstay

The chainstay is the section of the frame that connects from the bottom of the seat tube over to the wheel. It comes in two pieces, one on either side of the wheel. It’s called a chainstay because it runs next to the chain.

road bike vs touring bike speed

On a road bike, the chainstay is much shorter which makes your center of gravity better. This means you are going to turn much quicker. It also means going up hill could be easier because the back wheel will be tucked in closely behind you.

The touring bike has a much longer chainstay for a crucial reason. Most touring bikes like to carry a pannier rack on the back with bags that can be placed on it. With a short chainstay your back wheel will be closer and when you pedal your heels will hit those bags.

A longer chainstay means the bags hang further back. When you cycle, your heels will not hit the bags and therefore you can still move the pedals around, which is pretty important for any cyclist!

If you opt for a short chainstay, you may find you can no longer attach bags to the pannier on the back of the bike. This is not something that good touring bikes should have.

Road bike wheels are slimmer

As mentioned earlier in the post, a road bike is made for speed. Wheels are slim, spoke count is small, and once again, responsiveness is high. Most road bikes can’t fit wheels of a wider base due to frame restrictions.

Touring bikes have wider wheels. This gives a lot more stability, especially when carrying a heavy load. Imagine trying to balance a couple of backpacks and a sleeping bag on top of your road bike. It’s not going to happen, not least because of the incredible difficulty you will have in balancing your bike as you ride.

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With a touring bike, this is possible because the wheels can take the weight. It’s designed to carry more and act almost like a ‘beast of burden.’

Road bike tires are slimmer

Road bikes have just enough grip to keep you on the road, with the intention of going forward as fast as possible. Sure, you can change these out but there’s very little point because they’re perfect for what you need.

Touring bikes have better grip and often are equipped with the Schwalbe marathon tire. This provides extra protection against punctures and a stronger sidewall which protects, in extreme cases, from splitting. It also allows the cyclist to ride a little further on tires that are low on air.

Touring bikes have a wider gear range

On your regular road bike, you will find a shorter width and higher top gear. This accommodates higher top speeds and the streamlined style that is familiar with them.

Touring bikes have wider gear range. Their top gear may not be as effective, but their lower gears go lower because you’re pulling a lot more weight and are going to need it for going up any sort of hill.

You can put more stuff on a touring bike

There’s a huge difference here. Road bikes may come with a place to install a bottle holder, but not much else. You’re not going to be taking sleeping gear, walking boots and other items with you anywhere you go.

On the other hand, you don’t need to. You’re usually getting from point A (home) to point B (work) and back again. Maybe you cycle to the local park, but carrying a bag on your back and a water bottle on your frame will be more than enough for what you need.

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It’s not unusual to have at least three places for water bottles on your touring bike. You will also have eyelets in the front to supports bags and racks. There will be rear drop outs for the same reason.

Basically, you will have space on a touring bike to bring along anything you feel is essential.

Check out the video below by bicycletouringpro which goes through how to pack a bicycle. As you watch the video you'll see just how much stuff the bike can handle.

Touring bike vs road bike - Summary

The main trade off between the touring bike and road bike is comfort vs speed. You will spend many more hours on your touring bike and the designers know this. They want you to feel as comfortable as possible.

A longer wheelbase, space for amenities and even gears are all created with the tourist in mind. There’s absolutely no need to buy one of these, unless you are going to regularly carry bags and spend large amounts of time on the road.

The road bike may look more similar to the tourist bike as compared to the mountain bike, but it’s vastly different. Cyclists with relatively simple commutes will make a better investment in this bike. It’s more responsive, faster and lighter.

You will find yourself weaving in and out of traffic, or lifting it over steps in a way that would not be possible with a touring bike or other design.

Think about what you need and make to make the best investment for you.

Image Credit Flickr Creative Commons - M_e_mccarron, It's Bruce