The Many Manners of Touring
It seems like every year in this industry, someone comes out with another sub-category of cycling to differentiate their product or their experience from the others. Be it the advent of the "down-country" mountain bike (Short travel, slack geo), to the "all-road" bike (just a gravel bike?), everyone wants to name their slice of the pie.
Velo Orange has been making touring bikes since its inception. Granted we've offered different specs and styles over the years, but the moniker never really changed all that much - life's simpler that way. Our Pass Hunter may be our one exception to this, being what would widely be defined as an "all-road" bike, but it can still take front racks, fenders, bags, and 650Bx42mm tires.
Kevin's Pass Hunter, sans Rando Rack
However, in today's cycling world, even touring (perhaps the most general and least-finicky flavor of cycling) isn't safe from subdivision. There's Credit Card Touring, Sport Touring, Traditional Touring, Bike Packing, Nomadic Touring, and Randonneuring, just to name a few. So what gives? You're putting your stuff on your bike and staying someplace - is it not all the same? No. At least that's what Scott tells me, so let's dive in.
While mountain bike categorization is generally based off of amount of suspension travel, geometry, and frame kinematics, the differences in touring bikes seem to be based more on how much stuff you carry, and less on where you're going. From what I can glean, here they are listed from lightest to heaviest load:
Credit Card Touring
Light, fast road touring bike. You maybe have a small handlebar bag with a change of clothes, you're staying at hotels/BnBs, and you're paying for everything (food, shelter, utilities) on a credit card, hence the name. In theory, you could step outside your door with your bike and credit card and go for a tour.
Slightly more gear, perhaps this is a longer trip, a few more changes of clothes, and you'll be staying at multiple places. Still a lighter duty bike, designed less for load carrying, and more geared towards speed.
This is probably the "fastest" form of touring because you're dealing with a time limit. Similar to Sport Touring, but with more paperwork. If you're interested in Randonneuring, check out the RUSA (Randonneurs USA) group: https://rusa.org/about
More tire clearance, maybe you're hitting slightly rougher roads, carrying your full load including your food and shelter. Think racks and two to four panniers.
You're fully loaded, going on and off road, running wider, knobby tires. You likely aren't running racks, hanging bags fore and aft, and you're camping in remote areas not necessarily set aside for camping. About as remote as it gets.
Perhaps a bit of a backlash from bikepacking luggage and its often times over-complex system of straps, pads, enormous saddle bags, more straps, lashes, plastic holders, and straps, basketpacking is a happy medium between the practicality of traditional touring bags and the out-of-the-way-of-obstacles afforded by bikepacking bags. Through, you do need a front rack and basket, so there are some hard mounting points to keep in mind for those seeking rougher terrain.
You have sold all of your possessions and now indefinitely are touring, riding where you please, making home where you roam.
So maybe it does have a little bit to do with where you're going. I feel like most "Bikepacking" bikes I see have more in common with modern long wheelbase hardtails than they do traditional touring bikes, and they're often pictured in remote, wild areas with no trace of civilization in sight. Despite this, they're still far removed in essence from mountain bikes.
Scott and Melissa's setup during their Iceland tour
I would challenge anyone to convince me that what we call the "modern touring bike" isn't just a gravel bike with bits and bobs bolted onto it. Endurance geometry compatible with flat or drop bars, wide tire clearance and a little room for fenders and/or bags? Sure sounds like a gravel bike to me. Recalling that gravel bikes were once your off-season cyclocross bikes with big tires squeezed in, and that the early 'cross bikes were cantilever tourers with knobby tires glued on. You see how things begin to seem a little muddled?
I think that the modern tendency to categorize everything has its benefits - it allows people, concepts, and designs to stand apart and differentiate themselves from the crowd. Concerning bikes, however, does it not also create a whirlwind effect where there are too many categories to choose from? I recall my time as a bike mechanic and salesperson back when the gravel boom exploded. The average customer didn't know what to make of this new category. Was it a road bike, a 'cross bike, or a hybrid (or a combination of all three)? The customer is sometimes lost in a sea of subdivisions and thus ultimately put off by the process of buying a bike.
This begs the question; does touring (and cycling as a whole) benefit from this kind of categorization? Or is it just another barrier to entry for folks interested in cycling and/or more specifically, touring? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
I’ve had four traditional “loaded” touring bikes over the past 40 years and ridden every form of touring, except bike-packing on gravel/trails. I’ve done everything ranging from a van supported overnighter in a hotel to a three-month-long, self-contained trip across the U.S. I would suggest there are just two variables that matter: where one is riding (road/trails, mountainous/rolling/flat, remote/in civilization [important consideration if nearest bike shop is 200 miles away and you’re stuck!]) and what one needs to carry (unsupported loaded with tent, cooking gear, clothing, etc. vs. credit card needing just a change of clothes vs. supported where vehicle carries everything needed). Bike must be comfortable to ride 5, 6 or more hours a day, day-after-day and must have gearing and wheels/tires necessary to negotiate whatever terrain is expected. Given this I suggest three categories should do it… traditional loaded touring, sport touring and gravel/mountain bike packing bike…
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