Bicycle chainstays with panniers

Touring Bike Buyers Be Warned: There’s A Difference Between Traditional & Ultra-Lite Touring Bicycles

It’s quite common for bicycle manufacturers and local bike shops alike to purposely blur the lines between “traditional” and “ultra-lite touring bicycles.”

Their reasoning, of course, is simple: money. If they don’t carry the type of touring bicycle that you actually need for the type of bicycle touring you plan to conduct, they’ll try and sell you a bicycle that is equipped for a different type of touring altogether. Uninformed buyers often times fall for this sales tactic and the person who gets hurt, of course, is the consumer (YOU!).

The truth, however, is that there are several different types of touring bicycles, and each specific type has been designed for a different and specific breed of bicycle touring.  Get the right type of touring bicycle and your cycle touring adventures will be a dream come true. But get the wrong touring bicycle and your trip by bike (no matter what the length) could be over before it has even had a chance to begin.

This is a scenario reader, Danny Levine, recently ran into while out shopping for his first touring bicycle. Here is what he had to say is his recent email to me:

Hi Darren,

I know a few months ago I emailed you about 13 questions and you took the time to respond to me- thank you very much for your help. I also wanted you to know that I have bought from your website your 3 electronic books (free lodging, touring blueprint, and stretching) as well as the DVD.

Before I begin reading/watching these things, quick 2 question about selecting a touring bike:

I was told at a Giant bike store that in order to get a good touring bike, you should select one that has side frame bars extra long, so that way you can attach panniers to the sides of them without your feet kicking into them when you pedal. (If the side bars are too short your panniers will not have room without your feet hitting them each time you pedal). But then I talked to a different bike company, Specailized.

Specialized told me I could buy a good touring bike from them for 990 dollars- and that it does not matter how short the side frame bars are that connect the wheels together- because you don’t need to attach your panniers so they are hanging on the sides of the bike. Instead, they told me at Specialized that you can attach your panniers to the back of the bike on the fork and the front of the bike over the wheel- and you can have the side frame bars completely free of panniers. So do you think I can buy a good touring bike for 990 dollars if that is what they said? And is it true you don’t need to attach your pannier to the sides of the bike?

Also, one more question- you said in your video that a touring bike should be heavier and made out of steal. But wouldn’t that make it harder to ride- I mean a lightweight bike made of aluminum or carbon is easier to ride if it is lighter isn’t it? They told me at Specialized that they have there touring bikes made of lighter metals than steel. So is that ok if the touring bike is made of carbon or aluminum frames?

Here is how I responded to Danny about his two questions:


It is true what the people at Giant told you. Most traditional touring bicycles have longer chain stays. They are called “chain stays”. And like they said, this allows for the panniers on your rear rack of your bicycle to be mounted further back on your bike so that they don’t hit the heels of your feet as you ride.

As for the second part of this question, I don’t know what you are asking when you want to know if the panniers do or do not need to hang off the sides of your bicycles. Please remember that your panniers attach to racks on the front and/or rear of your bicycle. You first buy the bicycle, then attach then racks to the bicycle, and lastly attach the panniers to the racks. You would never attach a pannier directly to the chain stays themselves. You always attach them to the racks! That is where panniers hang – on the sides of the front and rear racks!

You also need to remember that when looking at touring bicycles, there are several different types of bikes that can be described as “touring bicycles.” There are “traditional” touring bicycles (which are the ones I am usually talking about on Bicycle Touring Pro, and are designed to carry lots of gear and go at a relatively slow speed) and then there are “ultra-light” or “light” touring bicycles. A traditional touring bicycle is made to carry a bunch of gear and go super long distances. An “ultra-light” or “light” touring bicycle, however, is made to carry far less gear (sometimes no gear at all!) and to get you to your destination in a much quicker time.

It sounds to me like the people at Specialized might be trying to push you towards an “ultra-light” or “light” touring bicycle in which you would be able to carry a small amount of gear and go a whole lot faster than you would with a traditional touring bicycle. But if you want to get a traditional touring bicycle so you can carry a lot of gear (like camping equipment, food, clothing, etc), then I would listen to the people at Giant shop you visited.

As for your second question about touring bicycles being made out of steel vs. aluminum or carbon… yes, a steel bicycle is heavier than a bicycle made out of these other materials. If speed and distance is your #1 concern, then you probably wouldn’t want a steel bicycle. But for a long-distance bicycle traveler, speed and overall daily distance are usually not as important. Instead, being able to carry all your gear (without your bicycle’s frame breaking) is priority #1. Speed and distance are secondary.

So again, Specialized is correct if you are wanting an “ultra-light” or “light” touring bicycles. But if you want to do traditional long-distance bicycle touring, then you will probably want a bicycle that is made out of steel (which is better equipped to carry a whole bunch of gear) and will be more comfortable for you to ride day after day.

So the question to all of this really depends on you and the type of touring that you plan to conduct. Once you figure that out, finding the perfect touring bicycle will become a whole lot easier.

I hope I answered Danny’s questions here. But more than anything, I hope this helps to answer any questions YOU might have while searching for your perfect touring bicycle.

For more help finding your perfect touring bicycle (whether it be a traditional touring bike or a speedy ultra-lite), be sure to check out “The Essential Guide To Touring Bicycles” – my digital buyers guide to the 5 main types of touring bicycles.

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