08 February, 2023

If you can only have one bike, make it a tourer!

 velo orange polyvalent on tour in europe

The versatility of a touring bicycle like our Polyvalent is one of its greatest attributes. With a few simple modifications, one bicycle can easily be used for a variety of different riding styles and purposes. Let's take a look at how to set up one bike for exploring gravel roads, touring remote areas, everyday commuting, and even a road ride or two!

What makes a Touring Bike?

Well, touring bikes at their core are designed to be comfortable, capable, and confident in a wide variety of terrains and environments. They are designed so that the rider can focus on the experience rather than on fiddling with equipment and worries about component robustness. 

velo orange polyvalent low kicker with road runner bags accessories

Typically speaking, traditional touring bikes are set up to have neutral geometry, longer rear triangles, and wide tire clearances. With that set-up, they can excel admirably at almost anything that is thrown at them.

From a technical standpoint, touring bikes have a headtube angle of between 69-73 degrees, with the steeper angle allowing for a slightly more forward-loading bias. In practice, it doesn't really matter as, I assure you, you will get used to whatever you're riding in a few miles. It's when you get even steeper (track bikes) or more slack (progressive mountain bikes) that handling and geometry can be more of a factor in your comfort over the long haul.

velo orange bike crossing a stream with fully loaded panniers

Touring bikes also usually have longer rear triangles to allow for heel clearance for rear racks and panniers. A longer wheelbase also makes the bike more stable, again, making it easier to ride for longer distances than something with the rear wheel tucked tight behind the seattube.

Touring bikes typically have all sorts of mounts for fenders, cargo, multiple bottle cages, lighting, kickstand, etc...almost anything and everything! This will be important in the next coming sections. 

velo orange piolet prototype with cargo bags

Lastly, touring bikes have generous tire clearances. Bigger tires use a bigger cushion of air which aids in traction, comfort, and reliability. Imagine hitting a rock with a 23mm tire vs a 48mm tire. The 48mm tire will deform and squish around an obstacle and a 23mm won't, and you'll have a higher risk of a flat. Over a couple hundred miles, that extra cushion of air is a welcome addition.

Simply put, touring bikes have geometry, clearances, and design to eat up the miles comfortably and safely. 

Ready for Gravel?

velo orange pass hunter with road runner bags biggish and day tripper

In recent years, Gravel is everything: gravel shoes, gravel pumps, and gravel helmets. It allows you to explore the back roads and paths less traveled, and provides a great way to get off the beaten path and experience the beauty of nature - all ideally without any worries about traffic or cars.

The nice thing is that in actuality, you don't need much to get into riding gravel. Just a bike with neutral geometry, comfortable fit, and generous tire clearances. Sound familiar to a touring bike? 

As far as building up a touring bike for gravel, I'd forgo fenders and racks and just accept getting dirty and having to strategically strap on bags to the bike. Otherwise, I think you'll be hard pressed to find any big differences between a gravel bike and a touring bike.

velo orange low kicker polyvalent

For cargo, the extra nubbins and mounts that a touring bike has are useful for carrying extra water on the fork blades.

Of course, the caveat being if you're racing, then you'll want lighter everything so you aren't carrying any weight that isn't absolutely necessary. But that can lead to its own problems with components that may be more susceptible to a catastrophic failure all in the name of saving a couple minutes. Which could mean getting paid or not getting paid, I get it honestly.

When Touring Bikes Aren't Touring, They're Excellent Commuters

velo orange camargue with wine and porteur front rack

Commuting by bicycle is a great way to stay active on the daily and reduce your carbon footprint to get to and from work and around town. The vast majority of my own riding is just doing things around town: going to the library, hitting up the playground with the family, picking up take-out, grabbing quick groceries, late night snacks, running down the hardware store, etc... The cool thing about a touring bike is that there are no modifications you need to make to make it a good commuter!

The only difference is amount of stuff you need to take. Instead of 4 fully loaded panniers on your racks, you might just have one, or two for a trip to the farmers' market. Riding position, tire choice, tools, component selection, racks, and fenders can all stay the same.

velo orange polyvalent with front rack and porteur bag

For a commuter or tourer, I value simplicity of maintenance, comfort, and utility. So you can see how one could be good as the other with little to no changes.

Transforming into a Randonneur is Easy

velo orange polyvalent with front campeur rack in germany

While I can't necessarily say that a true touring bike could be on the same echelon as a full-on roadie, touring bikes do make excellent randonneuring bikes. 

They say randonneuring is just touring with more paperwork - which is hilarious. As far as making it a true randonneur for brevets, there are some specific considerations you need to be within the RUSA (Randonneurs USA) safety requirements: that includes having a rear light, front light, and reflective vest - honestly, good things to have anyway for touring and commuting.

As far as other gear, I'd simply drop a rear rack and only have a small front rack or just a bikepacking style bag like a BiggishMini Rando, or Burrito. Basically enough room for just the essentials like nutrition, tools, medications, and any extras you personally need.

velo orange burrito front bag on polyvalent

Pro-tip: you can make a paper cue sheet holder using a binder clip and a zip tie.

In conclusion, with a few simple modifications, one bike can easily be used for a variety of different riding styles and purposes. Whether you're gravel riding, touring, or commuting, a versatile bike is the key to making the most of your riding experience. Take the time to understand your needs, and set up your bike accordingly.

I'll also note that VO Frames are currently 20% off, so if you are interested in building up your next touring, randonneur, gravel, and commuter, now is the time to save some cash!


AG said...

I have a Surly LHT. As a tourer, it is great and comfortable. However, it is way too harsh when not loaded. The frame is built to be strong but smooth when carrying 40-100 lb of stuff, not so much for light riding. That is why I am looking for a lighter, randonneur-type bike/frame. Maybe the latter with a trailer (I have a BOB) would be an even better solution for a one-bike-formula.

Wildtoad said...

Indeed, touring bikes are tremendously versatile, particularly the modern variants that have great tire clearance. 650B x 48-50mm all road tires (or mini knobby variants) make the bikes tremendously versatile in many applications and fun to ride, and frankly mitigates the oft-repeated narrative in various bike fora (generic) that touring bikes are overly harsh when unloaded. Not accurate w/ proper setup. Many touring bikes are set up w/ tires that are too narrow for optimal versatility.

Yes, moving around racks/bags depending on how you want to use the bike can easily transform a touring bike into an all road bike, and utility bike, etc. Generally, good rear racks are just too versatile to remove (indeed, rear racks are a current "in" and "new" thing in the bikepacking world, LOL). But front lowriders can be removed when not on tour and replaced w/ cargo cages or a basket for light touring, gravel or around town utility. And you can always pull a trailer for heavy duty utility purposes.

I am fortunate to have many bikes, and enjoy building bikes from frames as a hobby. But my current touring bike gets the most use because it's so versatile and just fun to ride. So, yes, if you have only one bike, a modern "touring" bike is the way to go. To be on trend, you can certainly call your touring bike an "adventure" bike, or an "all road" touring bike.