Travel bike : how to choose it?

After carefully considering your itinerary, the place where you will ride, you will have to choose a frame adapted to the conditions which await you. Indeed, the choice of the type of bike should vary depending on whether you are going to ride mainly in steep terrain, muddy or snowy (fat bike), or on asphalt (road bike, hiker). If your main use will be to ride the weekend in the forest to let off steam, a light and flexible mountain bike will do the trick ; on the other hand for a bicycle trip, some prerequisites are necessary in order to leave serenely on your mount. And even if you don't have the budget for the ideal gear, most bikes will be able to take you to the end of the world even if they are not intended for it : don't have to shatter your savings because you've been told you need a titanium frame and the latest Shimano drivetrain at all costs.

In this article, we will tell you about the specifics of the travel bike you need to leave for more than a year.

The frame of the bike

Cette image est un schéma décrivant les différents composants d'un vélo.

A good travel bike, what's this ?

To be able to travel more serenely, your bike should be :


Since it will carry a significant load over the long term


So that it can be easily repaired and maintained anywhere


To allow you to ride for a long time without problems

Adapted to the effort

In order to be able to go uphill without having to push your bike

These criteria are of course to be adapted to each person., according to his sporting goals, comfort and budget (we will come back to it right after). Now that we know what we need, we can look at the different components of the bike to find out which parts may be preferred over others. And if you want to know your frame perfectly and master each of its components, nothing better than to do the assembly yourself, or in an associative workshop surrounded by experienced people.

The framework : matter for debate

Choice of material

We could have started by talking about the wheels, since the size of the wheels will depend on the size of the frame (and vice versa). But the debate in the choice of the frame, from its geometry to the materials used, is so ubiquitous that we felt compelled to start there !

The frame is the backbone of your bike, often sold as a kit with the fork. There are aluminum frames, in steel, in carbon and titanium (by increasing price depending on the material). the carbone and the titanium are two excellent quality materials, lighter than steel and with good durability. However, their downside is that in the event of a problem, it will be much more difficult for you to repair them abroad, in addition to being quite expensive.

The debate therefore mainly revolves around the’aluminium and from’steel. On the one hand, aluminum, light and stiff, which allows a weight gain compared to its competitor. On the other side of the steel ring, heavy and flexible, real mule that will support the load without breaking. On paper, steel therefore seems to be winning the battle because it is more resistant, more flexible, and will be easy to re-solder in case of a problem. But on paper only, because of the frames that break there are really not many, even in aluminum! Purists choose steel out of prudence and that can be understood, but we can trust the robustness of the best aluminum frames on the market. For our part, we made the wise choice with a steel frame.

Choice of geometry

You would have understood it, according to your priorities, you will rather choose aluminum or steel. Unless you prefer a prestigious material like titanium, which has a remarkable mass-stiffness-strength-elasticity ratio. However, the composition of the framework is not the only criterion to take into account to justify your choice. To geometry will also participate in the resistance of the frame (a trapezoidal frame reduces its rigidity for example). Besides the geometric aspect, you should know that the size of the frame will define your position on the bike and your commitment when you pedal.

This bicycle frame illustrates the so-called "classic" geometry"
Classic geometry frame
Geometry frame "trapeze"

The framework of cyclo-touring bikes (Farrahdmanufacturing TX400 ou Intec M01), very short, make them comfortable bikes that are still sportier than city bikes. On the contrary, the framework of hikers (Farrahdmanufaktur Hiker, Genesis Iron Tour) or some gravel bikes (Genesis Iron Cross, Intec F10) are more slender and therefore more aerodynamic, but they lose comfort of use if you are not used to spending your time on a bike.

This image shows a bike with a short frame oriented "comfort"
Short oriented frame "comfort"
This image shows a bike with a long frame oriented "sport"
Long oriented frame "sport"
The Genesis Iron Tour, a good compromise in geometry for travel
The Genesis Iron Tour, a good compromise in geometry for travel

We can also play on the style of our position by modulating several parameters independent of the structure of the frame itself.. The height and angle of the gallows and some very the cell, or the position of the hanger, will allow you to adjust your position without changing your frame! Remember to allow room for maneuver regarding the size of each component.

Cette image montre les réglages d'une potence de guidon
Adjustments of a handlebar stem

The wheels : to adapt to the terrain

The wheel of a bicycle, it is a hub connected by spokes to a rim, with a tire around.

The rims

If you are not going to restrict yourself to the road, you will need to take rims wide enough to be able to equip them with wide MTB-type tires. In order to support your own weight and the weight of the load, they must also be robust (double-walled rather than single-walled). There are several sizes frequently used for cyclo touring, which will be more or less adapted depending on the type of practice (26″, 28″, 29″, …). Generally, the smaller a rim, the more resistant it will be. This is why the wheels in 26″ are still commonly used by cycle tourists, although we find many travelers pedaling with larger wheels. It should be noted, however, that contrary to what we think, the 26″ so easy to obtain depending on the region of the world where you are traveling. If this is perhaps true for Africa, we noticed that the Asian countries we crossed had much more choice and quality equipment in 28 Where 29 inches rather than 26.

Hub and spoke

The spokes pass through the hub

Connected to the rim, we find the spokes which are also likely to bend under the load and stresses. This is why it is advisable to opt for reinforced spokes (double ou triple-butted), and in sufficient number (wheel in 36 departments often recommended and easily found anywhere in the world, but we chose to stay with 32 spokes for a little more lightness and it does the job very well).

The number of spokes is an essential component for choosing the suitable hub and vice versa., because you need the number of spoke passages adapted to your model ! Regarding the hub itself, a trekking hub solid like Shimano hubs (Deore or the range above with XT) will do perfectly. There are of course others, we only talk to you here about the most common and most accessible. And what about dynamo hubs?, we tell you about it in another article on equipment for prepare your travel bike.

The tires

Marathon Plus, the most widely used range for travel

The tire is the last essential component of the wheel that should not be neglected on a travel bike.. There is a wide range of possibilities, ranging from narrow section tires (23mm) suitable for road racing for their aerodynamics, with very wide section tires (70mm) for muddy or snowy paths. If you plan, like us, to ride on varied terrains ranging from asphalt to sandy tracks, you can choose a MTB-style intermediate section around 50mm.

There are different ranges of tires, some of which are widely recognized on the market such as Schwalbe brand tires. Their model “Marathon”, is famous for its resistance to any test, to punctures and weather (lifespan of 10 000 To 15 000km !).

Once again, the choice of your tires will depend on your type of practice, your load and your personal tastes, in order to choose the right compromise between resistance, adhesion, width, etc.

The transmission : the real puzzle

The transmission, this is what will allow the pedals to induce the rotation of the rear wheel hub, and therefore for the cyclist to move forward. There are two major types of transmission, systems with gears integrated into the hub (Rohloff) and systems with conventional derailleurs.

Integrated gear hub

Rohloff Speedhub internal gear hub

the gear system integrated into the hub, very expensive, has several undeniable advantages, as a lower maintenance than on conventional derailleurs and an incomparable lifespan. On the other hand, their price is not accessible to everyone since it costs around €1000. If you are afraid for your equipment and you think there is a chance of damaging it due to your future travel conditions, this may not be the best choice of transmission, because even if the Rohloff after-sales service seems to have proved its worth, it will take longer for you to obtain the damaged part than for a conventional derailleur.

Classic transmission

Shimano XT complete drivetrain group

The derailleur transmission classic, as for her, is very economical compared to the Rohloff system ! It is also the most widely used system around the world : not complicated to find a spare part on the other side of the planet. From 3 giants in the field, we find SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo, who offer all 3 transmission groups adapted to different practices in mono, double- or triple trays.

Choose your development

The important thing about your transmission group, is to define the Number of teeth that you will need on the trays and the cassette of the rear wheel to reel uphill or have a strong resistance under the pedal during a sprint. These data will define your braquet and your development (i.g. the distance covered after one pedal turn) at different speeds and on your different plates. In summary, the fewer teeth your small chainring has, the more teeth your large rear cassette has, the lower the distance traveled after a pedal stroke : this is one of the goals on a travel bike, in order to have a low minimum development that allows pedaling with the weight of the load, even uphill. To fully understand these concepts, we invite you to take a look this way as we could do, that should clear your mind.

Small tray + big cassette = small development

Mono or Multi-trays?

Now that we know how many teeth we need, there remains the question of the number of trays. the mono-plateau has resurfaced for several years in the world of cyclo-touring, with many defendants of this system widely marketed by SRAM. The main qualities of the single deck are comfort in the cockpit since you do not have to change decks to reach the entire range., and the absence of a front derailleur (which simplifies things in terms of mechanics).

Here is the additional information we were able to collect :

  • The amplitude is necessarily lower than double- or in triple-tray where, for the same tape, we will have a wider range of gears.
  • The cassette is bigger, less tiered, which makes the total weight of a single plate group similar to that of a double- or a triple tray.
  • Part prices for single platens are generally higher. Mono wear would be greater, even if to date we have personally not found any proof of this received idea.

As far as we are concerned, since we are not looking for driving comfort, that the presence of a front derailleur does not bother us and that we do not want to fuel the debate any longer, our choice turns rather on multi-tray. But then, double or triple? Concretely, everything is working. The main thing as said above, it is to establish a thoughtful beach knowing that we will spend more time milling than peaking at 80km / h downhill on a travel bike. And in this sense, not necessarily necessary to have a small tray when you plan to be heavy and slow… the double tray therefore seems to be an ideal compromise, but the choice is yours (finally we, we chose triple) !

If you want to easily calculate your developments and your speed according to your transmission, there are free calculators online to help you 😉

Brakes : difficult choice

Before leaving on a trip, we thought that the hydraulic brakes were not even to be considered : no need for such powerful and precise braking on a travel bike, and good luck in the event of a problem repairing these fairly complex systems on the other side of the world… And yet, we encountered some reckless people with hydraulics all the way to Asia ! However, as this is not the most common choice, we will only talk to you here about mechanical type brakes : rim brakes (Cantilever ou V-brake) and disc brakes.

On the one hand we find an ancestral system, simple and really inexpensive with the V-brake, on the other side we have a more complex system and a little more difficult to maintain/repair but which will have no wear effect on the rim unlike the V-brake.

As far as we are concerned, we wanted to find the right balance between the budget, the service life and repairability of parts : We therefore preferred to opt for rim braking. But if it had to be done again, know that we would rather choose disc braking : V-brake rubbers wear out very quickly with the load of a travel bike, and if you choose them too hard or don’t clean your rims regularly, wear is clearly visible after a few thousand kilometers…

V-Brake rim brakes
Disc brakes

We had to change one of our rims afterwards. 15 000km because it had a wear notch that had become dangerous. It is therefore up to you to decide according to your budget and your preferences, the choice remains very personal for the brakes as you will understand since everything in itself works ! Above all, be careful, the frame and wheel models must be adapted to the type of braking chosen.

Peripherals : almost half the budget

When we talk about peripherals, we mean all the almost essential components of the bike such as the saddle and its stem, the bottom bracket, the handlebar stem, the headset, the hanger, luggage racks, the saddlebags, the dynamo hub, lamps, the USB connector, and we forget ! We describe all these elements in the article “Prepare your bike well for the trip“.

2 thoughts on “Travel bike : how to choose it?”

  1. Based on your post I’m thinking that you know quite well Intec M01 and VSF TX-400 bikes. I’m thinking to buy a daily commuter/weekend touring bike and both are on my radar. My question is related to riding position. Is Intec comfortable (“upright” riding position)?
    Do you reccomend any other bike like TX800 or other?
    Thanks and compliments for your nice and informative internet page

    1. Hey !

      Sorry for the delay.

      Unfortunatly we don’t really know other bikes than our owns (we never rented other bikes or had any other bikes before). But we think that I you choose the right size for you, and adjust correclty your position, both of theses bikes should be good =)

      Enjoy your new bike and every tour you’ll do with it !

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