Some bikes you can truly use for just about anything. Still, there’s some lines that shouldn’t be crossed. When you’re considering touring bike vs road bike, you’re thinking about speed vs comfort and handling vs practicality.
But where’s the point when the latest carbon fibre race-bred calorie-counter becomes too tiring to enjoy?
And when should you leave it behind, trusting instead your miles and your backside to a more forgiving, more laid-back ride?
Well, I’m riding a Carrera Virago to Paris for charity and will find out on the way!
The bike’s already proved itself as an excellent climber and surprised me with it’s comfort – ok, some of this has been me adapting to its shape, but overall it’s been surprisingly sure-footed and comfortable for such a light bike.
But first up: What’s the difference between a road bike and a touring bike anyway?
Road bike is not a very helpful title – most bikes are ‘road bikes’. Typically when a bike is categorised in this way it’s more what you’d previously referred to as a racer. I think it’s a title just inherited from ‘Road Cycling’.
So touring bike vs road bike: here’s 5 differences
A road bike will have thinner tyres, favouring speed over comfort. It’s gearing will tend to be higher, to deal with the higher speeds sought by riders and features stripped to a minimum to keep weight down – look for mudguards and carriers (racks) set up to take panniers, it’s rare you’ll spot these on a dedicated road bike (but some can take them).
The geometry on a touring bike will be more relaxed (quick, non technical way of spotting this is to look at the angle of the top tube – it’s likely to be sloped rather than flat; a little shorter; and the head tube – from the top of the forks up – a bit taller).
Really, bike geometry (the shapes and angles between the tubes) creates either a low and aerodynamic riding position (road bikes) or a more upright and comfortable one for longer rides (touring bikes).
Touring bikes are more likely to be made from steel, whereas road bikes – in their narcissistic quest to drop weight – tend to prefer aluminium, titanium and carbon fibre. There’s some notable exceptions here, with some stunning road bikes still built from top quality steel (Roberts, Surly etc).
They say steel is more forgiving and less brittle than the composite materials. I’m sure this is technically true – but does it make a huge difference on everyday rides? And on longer rides would it prove more comfortable to take a steel steed?
Ultra-tourers always go for steel because you can weld it back together if it breaks. Touring more remote regions you’re unlikely to carry spare carbon fibre forks or seat posts, and even on a European tour, steel might prove easier to get back on the road.
But back to the question at hand: If road bikes are not made to tour, just how far can you take one before it becomes a hindrance not a help?
Well, it’s up to your own preference and tolerance. But some things are for sure: Longer rides with skinny tyres on varying road surfaces get tiring. Thin rims, low profile tyres and rigid front forks are fine on sticky tarmac, and even manage well enough up to a point on average quality roads, but longer rides will take their toll.
On road bikes fatter tyres are your suspension. Road bikes usually roll on 23’s or 25’s. Touring bikes will tend to come in with 28’s – nice and fat, filled with air, at a lower pressure, and capable of absorbing and evening out the knocks before they get transferred up through forks to your wrists and up the frame to your arse.
So, just how far can you take a road bike?
Well, come Friday I’ll be riding the Carrera Virago – Halfords’ top-end carbon road bike – on its longest journey yet, from Brighton to Paris. Let’s see the limitations of such a light bike; after all, when you’re spending just less than £1,000, ideally you’ll want a bike that can do it all.
(The ride is for an excellent charity that raises money to send British students to Kenya where they can put their carpentry skills to good use.)
Further information – donations warmly welcomed!
For more cycling blogs and guides, check out: Cycling Essentials: Bike gear you actually need / Buying a road bike and living with it / 5 cycle safety tips for commuters /Carrera Virago Reviewed: Tech Specs/ Mountain Bike Nutrition: How to choose an energy bar
- Carrera Virago Reviewed: Tech Specs
- Buying a road bike and living with it
- Hybrid to road bike: Riding a Carrera Virago
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