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Commuting/Touring Bicycles

  • Page Status
  • Introduction
  • Ultimate Commuting Bike/Touring Bike Features
  • Bicycle Manufacturers and Comments on Bicycles
  • Tips on Buying Your Bike
  • Information on Components
  • Accessories and Clothing
  • Web References on Bicycling
  • Contributors
  • History
  • last revised: 14 Aug 2008.

    Page Status 8/14/08

    This is a really old page. I don't do much with my old web site there days, mostly I blog (using another name for business reasons).

    Even though it's very old, I still get email about it fairly often. I hope to do more updates in 8/08. Please check the history list to see what's been updated.

    Bicycle commuting has become more popular as gas prices have risen.. Alas, at this odd point in my life I can't commute by bicycle, but I hope that will change.

    I'm sorry I can't respond to most of the email I get, but I save them all and review them during my yearly maintenance cysles.


    This web page is intended to be an aid to persons looking for a serious commuting bicycle. For reasons described below, I recommend a true touring bike for most commuters. Much of the content here comes from members of the rec.bicycles.misc community who've responded to my inquiries, and by others who've come across the page. Special thanks to our contributors!

    This page first discusses what I think one needs in a serious commuting bike, and then I review some alternatives with appropriate links. I've come to avoid links to manufacturer sites; the lack of link stability at those sites suggests truly incompetent web masters running amok.

    Ultimate Commuting Bike/Touring Bike Features

    I've commuted on racing/touring bikes, hacked together 10 speeds, and "cross bikes" (a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike). After 21 years of bike commuting in snow, ice, wind, and baking heat, I think that a bike commuter basically needs a very serious touring bike. There are alternatives, of course. A mountain bike is best in snow and ice. A cross or hybrid bike, with its upright posture and heavy wheels, is nice for short rides in heavy traffic, when wind is not a factor. For most commuting beyond 10 miles, however, both mountain and hybrid bike fall short. The mountain bike is simply too tiring to ride, with the small wheels, low pressure tires, and single hand position bars (though one can add aero bars). The cross bike is close, but in the end the upright posture is a killer. Even a mild headwind is very frustrating, and the riding position is inefficient.

    A serious touring bike is made to go across the continent with few complaints. It must be very reliable, very strong, comfortable and efficient. The touring bike is lighter than a cross or mountain bike, but wider tires and strong wheels make it heavier than a racing bike. Here are the things I look for in a serious commuting/touring bike:

    • reliability
    • performance
    • relaxed diamond frame geometry
    • drop (rams horn) bars
    • down tube or bar end shifters that can switch from index to friction shifting
      (fancy brake/shifter combos seem to complex, potentially finicky and unreliable)
    • sealed bearings.
    • 21 speeds or more
    • fender mounts and clearance
    • built-in rack mounts
    • strong wheels. Some use tandem wheels, others use larger numbers of heavy duty spokes (Beckman uses 40 in the front and 48 in the rear)
    • comfortably handles 700x38c tires, cyclocross tire capacity would be nice.
      (I prefer Presta valves, but Schraeder is more common.)

    There's a downside to a serious touring bike. Prices for a quality touring bike start at $700.00 and range to over $3000.00 -- and that's without all the racks, lights, and cold weather clothing. (As the boomers age touring bikes are getting more deluxe, and more costlly.) Hybrids are often available for $400 to $600. In bicycles, as in computing, you pretty much get what you pay for. I think it's hard to turn a hybrid into a true touring bike (though this is debated). Even if you replace the bars and change the brake levers, shifters, cables, etc. -- you may still be stuck with an inapprorpriate hybrid frame geometry. Lastly, bike thieves tend to be less interested in bikes with drop or upswept handle bars; they like their bars flat.

    Cyclocross bikes are an alternative for the performance rider, but they are too harsh for most of us. Many won't fit fenders, which rules them out for most climates.

    For further reading, How to Commute by Bicycle is a League of American Bicyclists article of interest and Paul Dorn's Commuting Tips site is so good that you should read there first (he's kind of a professional commuter). On the other hand, for pure touring, how could one do better than Ken Kifer's Bicycle Camping and Touring?

    Touring Bicycle Manufacturers and Comments on Bicycles


    Bianchi has two touring bikes, the Volpe (est. $670, check out the ShB Volpe page) and the San Remo (est. $1100 with Campy components). . Note that the San Remo has only a single eyelet front form mount. (TC)

    Bilenky Single Bicycles

    A maker of prestige tandem and single bicycle frames including some high end touring bikes. Don't know much more about them!

    Bruce Gordon

    Bruce Gordon makes the Rock 'n Road. "Like Rivendell, these are hand built beauties that cost a lot and have an excellent reputation" (TC). BG sells a "Quick Switch System" option which allows switching from drop bars to flat hybrid bars in 3 minutes. These are expensive bicycles ($2100 and up). TC reports that there are BLT bikes designed by Bruce Gordon with BG wheels that are less expensive. See the BG web site.


    Cannondale is serious about touring, and always has been. High quality hand built aluminum frame bikes, made in the US. All three touring bikes have the same frame (CAAD 2 Touring). This means that you can potentially upgrade a lower end bike to the higher end bike over time.

    Their bikes come standard with 35-38c tires -- serious tires for serious commuters (unlike the wimpy 28 tires on the Trek). However, I think 38c are the biggest tires that will fit these bikes, which rules out some cyclocross winter commuting tires.

    Cannondale is primarily an aluminum frame company, with the standard Shimano component line. Here are the pros and cons on aluminum frames:

    pros cons my comments
    lightweight "stiff frame", doesn't flex and absorb shocks as readily as steel These bikes have cro-mo forks, which is more shock absorbent. I have had elbow pain with my Cannondale, but it's hard to say whether that's the frame, the geometry, or middle-age. The stiff frame does transmit power efficiently.
    corrosion resistant "noisy?" I don't find them noisy
      may be more prone to cracking? CAAD 2 frames have a lifetime warrantee. I've gotten varying reports on this, but no email thus far from anyone who actually had a cracked CAAD 2 frame. (CAAD 3 mountain biking frames have only a 5 year warrantee in contrast.)

    (These are 1997 models, but I'll leave them here for comparison. Prices were from a local shop.)

    T500 ($700, some 1996 T400s available for $600)
    I ended up buying the 1996 T400, primarily because I already owned the wheels and components found on the T2000 (I did spend $5.00 or so to upgrade the crummy front derailleur to a Deore LX, my existing front derailleur is not compatible with this bike's tubing.). I like the old-fashioned stone simple mounting of the shifters on the down tube and the older 7 speed Hyperglide cassette (freewheel).
    T900 ($1000, some 1996 T700 for $900)
    This is a very reasonable compromise. It has very decent components that are likely to be durable and reliable. It has the older 7 speed cassettte (freewheel) -- I prefer those. Schraeder rims (too bad). This bike has the expensive and ultra convenient integrated brake/shifters. Most people love these -- I think they're too finicky and complex.
    No compromises. Nice Presta rims. Traditional bar end shifters to satisfy folks like me. Newer 8 speed cassette (SB tells me he likes having the 24 speeds). Clipless pedals standard. Titanium saddle rails may help aborb some saddle vibration. Allegedly a much better bottom bracket than the T500 and T900. Very spiff.

    Co-motion Americano

    An American touring bike built along tandem principles. They look lovely. Co-motion specializes in Tandems and folding bicycles, the touring bikes a relatively new addition.

    Fuji World and Fuji Touring (2005)

    Fuji has always had an interest in touring, but in 2005 they introduced a great touring bike for the non-custom buyer -- The Fuji World. They also tend to have a wide range of frame sizes, and may be the only solution for smaller women. (GF)

    Heron Bicycles

    Heron frames are designed by the Rivendell folks, made by Waterford and meant as budget Rivendells. I've heard positive reviews about them, but the frames cost $700 and Rivendell recommends planning on spending $1600-$2000 for the built up bike. (AA, rev 6/25/99)

    Independent Fabrication - The Independence (2006)

    As of 2006 there's a definite trend towards high end small shop touring bikes. These shops may not be around forever, but the bikes should be. (LE)

    Jamis Aurora (1999)

    "I bought this bike recently ($600) and it suits my purposes quite well. The bike is a sports bike more so than a serious tourer. It is pretty similar to the Bianchi Volpe, but a little lighter. The 1997 model is different and perhaps less suitable for touring.

    I bought it for commuting, day trips, light touring, and the odd triathalon. The saddle on the Jamis is crappy and I will probably replace it fairly soon. I really like the STI shifters, although I would worry about them on a long trip because Iunderstand that repairing them is not usually an option if they break." (AB)

    Klein Navigator

    The Navigator is a 1998 bike from Klein, a reputable road bike manufacturer. Nice geometry and built for fenders and racks.

    Litespeed Applalachian

    This is a Titanium cyclo-cross bike designed for all-round use in the classic sense: touring, commuting, light racing. I can only imagine the cost. Galen Evans has one: "The Appalachian is just about perfect for commuting and would be good for touring, especially if one pulled a Bob trailer (as I do), rather than panniers. Besides the long chain stays (42.5cm), it has suitable eyelets for fenders, racks and 3 bottles; canti brakes, STI 8 speed, and ample clearance for 38mm tires plus fenders. I think you could likely mount 42 or 45 tires. I have mounted 38mm wide knobbies for cycle cross and they clear the fenders." GF reports that the Litespeed Blue Ridge and Appalachia use the same frame, but RA noted some distinctions: Wheelbase is 100.7 vs. 101.6 respectively. Stand over height is 80.5 vs. 79.7. Yeah, I know this is splitting hairs! The key angles and lengths are the same. And the weight of both is 3.59 pounds.

    Marinoni Turismo (2004)

    A Quebec manufacturer of custom frames, with a touring frame.

    Norco Alteres (2002)

    A Canadian bike distributor's higher-end touring bike. I remember Norco from my childhood as a manufacturer of very low-end bikes, but this one's a bit more upscale and set up for touring. Relatively cheap @ $650 US. (RS, rev 6/16/02)


    This Canadian/Quebec based company does not have a web site. SV found the D'lberville to be a very credible touring bike. No specifications available, but worth keeping an eye out. It does seem that they may be expanding into the US market.


    The Raleigh R-300 is an aluminum touring bike with mid-range to lower end (Alivio hubs) components. (GE, DA)

    REI Novarra Randonee

    REI has a Novarra Randonee touring bike in some of its stores and it sometimes appears on their web site. Regular prices are closer to $700-800, but several persons have mentioned that one should haunt REI stores for end-of-season Randonee sales. One cyclist picked up a closed-out '98 Randonee for $299! Several persons have written enthusiastically about the powerful brakes and Avocet tires. Check with your local REI to see if they can special order this bike for you. (SS, AE, LD, 6/02)

    Rivendell Bicycle Works

    Rivendell is a west coast custom frame builder who builds what sounds like beautiful bikes. This web site has a wonder discussion of what goes into a very classy frame with touring features. Check out the road frame and and the "all arounder". These bikes are suitable for touring, but also for some light racing. They remind me of my 1976 Raleigh International. (This URL is for their newer and much enlarged web site.)

    Robert Beckman Designs (2000) - Sakkit Touring Bikes

    A contributor writes: "It's the most fully-outfitted touring cycle that I have ever seen. There are braze-ons for everything imaginable, including an integrated lighting system, and the racks are specifically designed to work with Beckman's panniers. Until I got Beckman's brochure, I thought that Bilenky and Gordon made nice touring cycles. Those bikes are not even in the same league. You can order a brochure (541) 388-5146."

    KT notes Beckman uses 40 spokes in the front wheel and 48 in the rear for extra durability.

    Surly Long Haul Trucker (2006)

    As of 1/06 Surly sells a custom frame designed for comfortable long haul bicycling. (LE)


    Trek has an extensive line of cross bikes, and CG reports that they now sell both a 520 and 540 touring bike. Trek's 99 bikes come with Continental Top Touring 2000 tyres, which are highly regarded.

    The Treck 520, which I've looked over, is a fairly classic steel frame touring bike, somewhat comparable to the Cannondale T500. I thought the 700 x 28.25 tires were a bit narrow, but others strongly disagree. It does have a fork with front rack mounts.

    AW reports apparent clearance for tires up to 38-622 with fenders in place, he uses 32-622. Gearing in the 1988 model was odd (52/42/30, 11-30 in the rear); AW suggests swapping the 30 with a 26 at the dealers. More AW info on these bikes at his site. (2/24/99)

    Waterford Bikes

    They make a true touring frame for the standard price. I've seen one up close and it looks like it uses the same lugs as the Herons. (AA, rev 6/25/99)

    Other Tips

    The Mongoose (of BMX fame!) as true touring bikes, but I've no further information. Galen Evans mentioned the Diamondback Expert as an entry level touring bikes (< $650).

    Tips on Buying Your Bike

    Information on Components

    Performance Bike and Nashbar

    Good places to browse. I think PB owns Nashbar.

    Peter White Cycles

    An extreme bicycle touring store.


    Shimano has a near-complete monopoly on bicycle components.

    Accessories and Clothing

    Gloves. I use std bike gloves. In the cold I add a pair of silk liners (~$5 from Campmor). For cold wet weather (I just wear the regular glove in warm wet weather), I use the rubber gloves that you can buy in any supermarket over the bike glothes.

    Panniers. The arkels are great (I have GT54 and T22). The GT54s have many little comparments for stuff .

    Mounting Things

    A fully dressed touring bike has fenders and racks and lights. In practice it's hard to get all the pieces to play nicely together. Plastic cable ties, or plastic automotive parts ties, can help. They're cheap, tough, and very easy to use -- insert, pull and trim the end. They will abrade paint though, so if you use them on paint protect the undersurface with plastic tape.


    Lights are very annoying.

    Manufacturer components are not interchangeable. Batteries are expensive and use proprietary connections. When a battery dies after 1-3 years of use you discover you can't get a replacement -- and so your entire investment can vanish.

    Cold weather performance is poor with some batteries; the super-fancy 1999 NiteRider Digital Pro-12 Extreme dual-beam monster has a NiMH (nickel metal-hydride) battery who's performance starts to degrate at 50F! (This was a 40th birthday present, I could never justify buying such an extravagant beast. Later I bought NiteRider's rear blinker, which is blindingly bright. The model I bought mounts an a rear rack, main disadvantage is you can't easily remove it. The standard rear blinker mounts beneath your seatpost. Careful -- they have two models, one for the 'traditional' water bottle NiMH battery, the other for their newer lightweight battery. They are not interchangeable.)

    Dual beam is preferred over single beam. Use the low-power  beam most of the time, and the high beam when needed; this conserves battery life. Buy a light you can get parts and batteries for. Look for a sturdy, reliable, water-resistant connector between light and battery, the NiteRider connections are excellent.

    Battery technology is a trade-off. The lead-acid batteries handle cold weather reasonably well, and don't have much of a memory effect -- they can be plugged in between uses. However, if they are drained they don't recharge well. The computerized batteries handle charging/discharging much better, but they are far more expensive. The NiMH have the highest power/weight ratio, but are expensive ($190 for NiteRider replacement) and don't handle cold well. Lithium batteries were introduced in 2005, I don't know much about them. Contrary to what manufacturers say, NiMH batteries do suffer from a memory effect, but it's much less severe than with older technologies. It's still a good idea to cycle NiMH batteries almost all the way to empty on the first 1-3 uses. LiOn batteries should be fully discharged every few months, but they like to operate in the 30-100% range. Best practice is to run them down to 30% then recharge. This is a very good fit for most commuting patterns, better than NiMH. I don't know the operating temperature range, that's a big deal

    Be sure to hink about how you'll mount your light, and what options the manufacturer provides ....

    Traditional generator systems don't put out much light -- typically 2 Watts compared to 10-32 for battery powered devices. BP uses a DToplight Senso Multi, which is dynamo or battery powered and has a montion and light sensor control. Some ultra-cold weather bikers (super extremists) like the Schmidt Nabendynamo.

    I'd also suggest looking again at a bright AA battery powered light, preferably one that uses 4 AA batteries. This old solution is new again thanks to digital cameras and their need for rechargeable high capacity AA form factor NiMH and LiOn batteries. These 2000 mAh batteries provide power for quite a bit of commuting, and can readily charge over 500 times. With this solution you don't need to worry about proprietary and very expensive batteries  that may be hard to locate.

    Mounting lights with a front bag

    Most lights expect to be mounted on the front handlebars near the stem. This is not compatible with most front bags. There are a few options:

    1. New in 2005: Minoura (and probably others) are selling devices designed to mount lights above a front bag. They call them "space makers". As of 1/06 the Minoura Swing Grip from Nashbar costs $10.

    2. Any touring bike has a hole through the frame near the front brakes for fender attachments. You can find cheap reflectors designed to attach to the fender-retention bolt that runs through this hole. I took one of these heavy metal reflector mounts and, after much drilling and some silent cursing I was able to attach a portion of the NiteRider mount to it. My NiteRider light is now mounted below the bike bag. I expect road vibration will make it shift position. (NiteRider should really provide these things! Write them and complain!)

    3. Old-style tandem stoker bars(?). These stubby bars can be attached to the drops of your handlebars -- they stick out about 1.5", with some work you may be able to get the light on them. Hard to find. I'm told DiaCompe (sp?) used to make these.

    4. The clamps used to attach bike computers to aero-bars. These tend to be somewhat lightweight.

    5. Mount the lights on your front forks. This may be hard to set up with the right orientation, and it exposes the light to road grime.

    6. Mount the light vertically on the drops below your brake. This usually produces an odd beam orientation and it eliminates a hand position.

    7. Mount the light to your bike bag. This was hard to do with the bag I use, but it may work better with some other models. May involve some drilling and patching. A lightweight bulb can also be velcro-attached to the clear plastic map area that's atop most front bags.

    8. Put front racks on your touring bike. This gives you more places to try to bolt things on.


    GORE-TEX gear that comes with the "GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRYŽ" claim makes the clothing for cold rain -- their value is as much from the GORE-TEX mandated construction techniques as from the material. ($$). However, see also A Contrarian Opinion (on GORE-TEX).

    Extreme Cold (< 15 F)

    See IceBike: Winter Commuting/Clothing for the ultimate discussion of harsh weather clothing! Note that riding on icy snow-narrowed car clogged city streets in winter is, IMHO, a very dangerous activity. (I've done it.)

    Head: GORE-TEX helmet cover, Lycra-like balaclava and (very hard to find) headband plus fleece/neoprene face mask take care of all conditions.

    Thorax: Not a problem. Any old parka will do, or even the GORE-TEX jacket with fleece underlayers, turtleneck, t-shirt, silk underwear.

    Hands: Not a problem. Lobster gloves for colder weather, for very cold I use Outdoor Research gauntlets (huge, effective at temperatures where bike will malfunction).

    Legs: Not a problem. GORE-TEX windpants over work pants. In severe conditions fleece pants of silk long underwear.

    Feet: Problem. In very cold conditions (< 10 F) the feet are the weakest point -- for many cyclists only heavy insulated boots will do (forget toe clips, etc -- big, broad pedals). Note from Jerry H: Don't put the small air activated hand warmers in your shoes for winter riding. If your feet sweat, the warmers will absorb the moisture and freeze!

    Moderate Cold/Cold Wet (15 - 35 F)

    Head: Helmet cover, I like Lycra headbands beneath a covered helmet -- very hard to get nowadays (fleece is too bulky). Pearl Izumi makes a one-size (medium) Lycra-like headband for some outrageous price (in the pre-fleece era similar headbands cost $1-2). I had to stretch mine on some milk bottles to get it to fit me. It is easier to find Lycra-like balaclavas, they are excellent for harsh conditions.

    Body: GORE-TEX jacket and pants. Performance Bicycling has some nice ones fitted for bikes ($$). Fleece jacket over a t-shirt.

    Hands: Bicycling gloves with GORE-TEX covers for cold rain. BP uses an interesting combination: inexpensive Campmor silk liners, bicycle gloves, and rubber kitchen gloves over these in cold/wet weather. I like the visibility and alerting impact of wearing bright yellow kitchen gloves.

    Feet: GORE-TEX hiking boots are best, but most of the ones I've seen are wider and heavier than I'd like. GORE-TEX shoe covers will fit over most lightweight hiking shoes.

    A Contrarian Opinion (esp. on GORE-TEX) - From Lev

    I used a good GORE-TEX (GT) jacket on a year-long tour, but after it got stolen in China, I bought a $15 nylon replacement jacket ... and you know what, it worked just as well for one simple reason.

    GT is perfectly suited for trekking or mountain climbing. but with cycling, you get completely wet within 30 mins of pedalling, especially in mountains. You're just working too hard for the fabric to breathe efficiently. So buy two good quality waterproof nylon jackets; use one during the day while keeping the other dry for evenings, then don the wet one again the next morning.

    In cold weather, invest in top of the line underlayers like Mountain Hardware ... keeps the inside warm & moisture somewhat away from the skin.

    The Rest

    Touring/commuting cyclists need fenders and racks. Getting fenders, racks, and, say, a Burley trailer hitch to all "play nice" together can be very challenging. I went through several fender/rack combinations with my Cannondale frame until I could get enverything to fit. The Blackburn MTN-1+ rack, ESGE 50 mm x 700 c fenders, and a standard Burley trailer hitch all work together -- just.

    Web References on Bicycling

    Dorn's Commuting Tips Adventure Cycling Assoc Peter White Cycles
    Bicycling FAQ Sheldon Brown's Bicycle Glossary and Encyclopedia IceBike: Winter Commuting/Clothing
    Ken Kifer on Touring Alex Wetmore's Touring Bikes Warm Showers List
    David M's commuter bike page Minneapolis Saint Paul Grand Rounds
    (Map, 10MB PDF)


    Thom B (TB), Bob B (BB), Gordon F (GF), Bill Page (BP), Laura E (LE), Keith T (KT), Lance D, Lev B, Bret S, Rick B (RB), Martin Cooperman (MC), SV, Keven Liang (KL), Andrew Eichmann (AA), Bob Blaisdell (BB), Bruce Fairbairn (BF), Conal G (CG), Steve S (SS), David Adams (DA), Andrew Berry (AB), Alan Ernst (AE), George Ferguson (GF), Paul Schimek (PS), Nick, Jessica, Galen Evans (GE), Terrence Chay (TC), Scott Burke (SB), Sheldon Brown (ShB), Richard Risemberg (RR), Howard Lubow (HL, John Moore (JM), Kurt Wolfmeyer (KW), Roger Gravel, Doug Steinbaum (DS), and Alex Wetmore (AW). Thanks!


    Author: John G. Faughnan.  The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. Pages are updated on an irregular schedule; suggestions/fixes are welcome but they may take weeks to years to be incorporated. Anyone may freely link to anything on this site and print any page; no permission is needed for citing, linking,  printing, or distributing printed copies.