Packing your possessions into panniers and pedalling away is a great old cycling tradition; touring bikes have developed to make it easy to get away from the 9-5 on your bike.
The obvious defining features of a touring bike are pannier racks to carry your luggage, or at the very least a rear rack, and mudguards to keep you dry if it rains. Accommodating those, and fatter tyres (at least 32mm wide) to help carry the weight, means the frame will be longer and gappier.
That in turns means the caliper brakes on road racing and sportive bikes won’t reach the rims, so touring bikes have traditionally used cantilever brakes. Modern touring bikes often have disc brakes, which solve the same problems and improve braking.
With a shorter top tube and longer head tube, touring bikes have a more upright riding position.
Touring is one area of cycling where steel is still a common frame material. Tourists value its springy feel and durability. For those with dreams of long-distance expeditions, it has the advantage of being easily repaired; you can’t get a heat-treated aluminium frame welded by a garage mechanic in eastern Kyrgyzstan.
So that you can keep riding with a full load however steep the road gets, touring bikes have the lowest gears of any category of road bike. Ratios below 1:1 aren’t unusual, and tourists often modify their bikes to get even lower.
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