Cut From the Same Cloth

Compact Cargo Bike

Let’s list some of the characteristics that define a good touring bicycle:

  • It should be comfortable
  • It should be reliable and tough
  • It should be able to carry heavy loads
  • It should have sufficiently wide range gearing
  • It should have sufficient clearance for robust tires and fenders
  • It should have numerous braze-ons for mounting racks, fenders, water bottles, and lights
  • It should have long chainstays to prevent pedal-to-pannier conflicts
  • It should be made from a frame material that is simultaneously tough and compliant (not fragile and rigid)

Perhaps I’ve left a thing or two off of the list, but any bike that meets the above criteria would make a nice touring bike. And guess what? That’s exactly the same list I’d compile for a good commuting/utility bike.

It’s wonderful that we’re seeing more-and-more commuter-specific bikes coming to the market. It’s an indication that bicycling for transportation is growing and that the bicycle industry has taken notice. Certainly, the more and better commuter/utility bikes we have available, the more likely it is that newcomers will give bike commuting a serious look.

There is also an entire range of bicycles labeled as “touring bikes” that are extremely well-appointed for commuting and utility bicycling. These bikes are the beneficiaries of a long lineage going back to the 1980’s and beyond. In some cases, they represent the most refined cargo hauling bikes on the market.

Following are just a few touring bikes that double quite well as commuting/utility bikes:

Of course, if touring bikes make good commuting/utility bikes, it follows that at least some commuting bikes function well as touring bikes. For example, the new Kingfield and Prospect commuting bikes from Civia should work very well for light touring.

The take away is that touring and commuting bikes are essentially cut from the same cloth. There’s a tremendous amount of crossover among these two categories and, in fact, some of the best commuting/utility bikes on the market don’t have the words “commute” or “cargo” in either their name or their description.

58 Responses to “Cut From the Same Cloth”

  • Adam W says:

    Agreed…but I can’t believe you left the Bianchi Volpe off the list!

    PS…not a fan of the “reCAPTCHA” thing, especialyl since I can’t read them half the time.

  • Alan says:


    The Bianchi Volpe’s a nice bike! There are others as well. It wasn’t really meant to be a comprehensive list, but feel free to add to the list… :-)

    Regarding reCapthca, it’s a necessary evil (sorry). Prior to installing it, I was getting upwards of 3,000 comments per day from spambots…


  • Alistair says:

    As for touring even further, on road and gravel for example, something like the Rawland Drakker hits all your marks. Just look at at that huge head tube, for upright positioning, all those brazeons, and that classy fork crown.

    Cheers, Alistair

  • Alan says:


    Yup, the Rawland Drakkar looks like a sweet bike. I’d love to ride one sometime…


  • Janice in GA says:

    I know you didn’t intend to have a comprehensive list. But when I bought my Novara Randonee, I got it with the intent of using it for my utility cycling and (hopfully!) for some longer sport rides. It’s doing well for utility so far. Hopefully longer rides will come next spring.

    It’s not as neat and trendy as the bikes on your list (it’s REI’s “house” brand), but it’s very comfy for me, and I’m very happy with it to date. :)

  • Alan says:


    I really like the Novara Randonee. I always thought it was one of their best bikes. There are some other cool bikes in the Novara line-up – REI does a great job.


  • Fergie348 says:

    Trek gets a lot of heat from this site for offering a stock $7k carbon fiber road bike, but they have had the same model of touring bike for 35 years and it’s a good one:

    Let’s not forget that Trek started out as a touring bike company..

  • Alan says:


    Thanks for reminding us about the Trek 520. Trek made some beautiful touring bikes back in the 1980’s (I lusted after the 720). The more recent incarnations of those classics don’t have the detailing and build quality of the originals, but they’re certainly worth a look.


  • Alan says:

    PS – For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Trek has the seat on the 520 raised so high in the product photo on their website.

  • Daniel M says:

    I came to this realization when I returned from a summer of bike touring. After I had found the right saddle, the right grips, and a bar/stem combo that put me in a position that was comfortable for hours at a time, why would I not want to then ride this bike around town, especially when the bike had proven itself durable all summer long?

    I have toured on a Gary Fisher MTB with a Bob trailer, a Bianchi Volpe, and a Sam Hillborne. I like 26″ wheels with upright bars for long trips with a lot of unpaved roads, but I got sick of the cumbersome nature of the trailer when stopped.

    For a shorter trip that was primarily paved, the Volpe was surprisingly durable, but I outgrew it because of the terrible short-arm canti brakes, the way-too-low bar position, and the horrendous toe overlap, especially with fenders.

    The Hillborne is wonderful for short or long trips, solved all of the above problems, and was truly in its element touring, but for heavier loads and bad unpaved roads, I want a tougher bike that can also be my foul-weather/heavy load bike at home.

    That bike will be the Thorn Raven Tour. I already have a Rohloff hub/wheel combo, just waiting for the right application.

  • Daniel M says:

    @ Alan: I just clicked through to the same Trek photo; my response was: I can’t believe they show a TOURING bike with the fork cut so short that the bars are barely above the head tube! I’m willing to give up a lot of aerodynamic advantage in the name of all-day comfort. Numb hands are not fun.

    Also: I don’t mind the reCapthca thing at all; you certainly shouldn’t have to wade through 3000 cyber-spam “comments” each day, but I do miss the “preview” of the comments in the actual font/format. For some reason I find it easier to proofread my comments in their final form; I think I catch more of my mistakes that way. It just kills me to see my typos or grammatical errors permanently on display when I slip up.

    BTW, compared to other comment forums I peruse, this is a rather literate group!

  • Alan says:

    @Daniel M

    I think the set-up of the 520 on the Trek website is an indication that touring is no longer an important aspect of their business (we knew that already).

    I may add back the preview. It was looking awfully busy with the reCAPTCHA form plus the preview window. From a user standpoint, it looked a little confusing.

    As for wading through the spam comments, no worries – it was impossible. The unfortunate side effect was that any legit comments pulled out as spam were deleted with the massive pile. It’s down to a manageable level now, so that should be less of a problem going forward.


  • Ryan says:

    Trek is selling bicycling as sport, that is why that steer tube is cut so short and the saddle is raised so high. I’m waiting for the 2012 Trek line of beach cruiser models to be made out of carbon fiber and sportin’ 700×25 tires.

    I kid, I kid.

    I have an older Jamis Aurora that works well as a touring bike, not sure of the new model but the one I have can take 28s and fenders or 32s without fenders. I wish the chain and seat stays were wider, but it makes for a good commuter.

    Don’t forget about all those independent bike builders out there. They can make an awesome touring bike or commuter for a customer.

  • Andy says:

    I had to chuckle at your bullet points, since I do about the opposite on all of them. Truly, YMMV. I use a K2 Enemy, which is a cyclocross/touring/commuter bike. It’s aluminum which is light and plenty sturdy. I don’t need a “tough” or “robust” bike, that simply adds weight. I don’t carry heavy loads, because I pack reasonably and can fit full touring gear in small rear pannier, a small trunk bag, and a drybag up front on a short rack. Years of reading about ultralight backpacking have really paid off!

    My tires are 28mm wide; perfect for cutting through slush in the winter, and still fast for touring without feeling like my tires are always flat. I don’t need long chainstays, because my bags are mounted towards the back of the rack and are sufficiently out of the way.

    My bike fully loaded for touring is under 50 pounds, which while still a bit of weight that could be improved upon further, is a feather compared to other fully loaded bikes I’ve seen while touring. Maybe I’m a weight weenie, but I like to tour long day and cover a lot of miles, and my gear and bike allow that without issue. I also commute on the same bike throughout the year in upstate NY. I also play bike polo with it. I even do a few cyclocross races with it.

    YMMV, but I just find most “touring” or “commuting” specific bikes to be way too much – both in terms of weight and cost. I’m not saying anyone should sacrifice, just that there’s great options out there. I’m sure someone will just call me out as a weight-weenie and a good-time ruiner, but oh well.

  • Alan says:


    Your approach is very interesting, and it’s clearly working for you, which is super. We all have different priorities, and you’ve laid yours out and chosen your equipment accordingly – there’s certainly nothing wrong with that! Thanks for sharing your ideas…


  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    I’ve been a big advocate of using touring bikes for commuting for quite a while. Many of your points are spot on. However, I’ve found one area where I think they conflict.

    A dedicated commuter is optimized for a load (minus rider) of maybe 50 lbs, tops. Often this is to save weight, but you can also build thinner diameter tubing for a more comfortable, compliant ride. A dedicated loaded tourer just gets started at 50 lbs. Many of them don’t ride worth a damn until you get real weight on there.

    For clydesdales, this is a non-issue. But for me (150lbs on a good day) riding a loaded touring frame every day is like commuting on a half ton truck. You can do it, but it’s gonna beat you up. Consequently I built up the Rawland (which I love, and has a wonderful ride, but probably couldn’t handle more than, say, 80 lbs) and am building the Kona Sutra into an Xtracycle kid/touring rig.

    FWIW, my first tour was on a Gunnar Crosshairs. Great bike, but it can’t handle any real weight without becoming damn scary to ride.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:


    Don’t you always tour in the drops? I mean, what kind of crazy person would actually want to be *comfortable* when they ride? Cool before comfort I always say ;)

  • townmouse says:

    One big difference (and this would depend on your situation) is that a commuter/utility bike may need to be locked up unguarded somewhere not-so-nice for long periods of time, and you may not want to do that to your nice tourer… my commute used to entail locking my bike at an inner London train station all day. Not something you’d do with a Brooks saddle, or indeed any bike that you’d be weeping bitter tears if you lost it. Which would include my current touring (and indeed only) bike. Fortunately I no longer have to do the commute.

  • Alan says:

    Hey Dolan,

    For straight commuting, I’m totally with you. I was thinking “utility” as well though, which implies sometimes carrying much heavier loads, up to the point of what might be considered “cargo” (read more about my thoughts on compact cargo bikes here: ).

    For those of us who are fortunate enough to have a cargo bike and a lighter commuter bike, this is moot, but for folks who have one bike to serve both of these needs, a stout frame like those found on heavier touring bikes may be apropos.

    All the best…

    PS – In the drops with a flat back always – what other way is there? ;-)

  • 300 Pound Gorilla says:

    So, what’s anybody’s opinion about what constitutes “sufficiently wide range gearing”? And why? 300%? 400%? 500%?

  • Alan says:


    That’s a good point. A lack of secure parking changes the entire equation.


  • Alan says:


    I don’t believe there’s one answer to that question. In other words, it’s location specific. Not to be facetious at all (and not to dodge the question), but the gearing required for commuting in a small town in Kansas, for example, is totally different than what is required for San Francisco or Seattle. Also, physical issues such as old knees (like mine) may require lower and more closely spaced gears.


  • Dolan Halbrook says:


    Agreed — if you can only have one bike, a touring bike is about as flexible as it gets.

    BTW, you jest about the 520 picture but another trend I’ve noticed on “touring” bikes (Jamis Aurora, for example) is a gradual shortening of the chainstays. I always thought 450mm was about the minimum you’d want but I see plenty of frames advertising themselves as tourers with 440 and shorter.

  • Alan says:


    Yup, I’ve noticed that too. And it’s too bad — shortening the chainstays reduces wheel clearance (which limits tire and fender choices); reduces heel clearance (which limits pannier choices and crank length); makes a bike less stable with a load; and, makes it more difficult to mount a kickstand.


  • Andy says:

    Measured from the center of the BB to the center of the quick release, my chainstay is 406mm. Is that how it’s supposed to be measured? Like I said, I put the panniers towards the rear of the rack. They were high up when I got them, and I remounted the brackets to make them lower, and my feet still cleared thankfully. I put the link in to my CGOAB page, where you can see what I mean (it’s the blue bags.)

  • Pete says:

    I hear you. I have to leave my commuter locked at the train station all day, and I’m endlessley frustrated by all the “upgrades” I can’t make to it as a result!

  • Janice in GA says:

    @Dolan: I didn’t know it was POSSIBLE to be comfortable in the drops till I got my Randonee. That was one of the things that sold me on it — that it felt good right away, EVEN IN THE DROPS.

    I was amazed.

  • dominic says:

    The long commute seems to be the focus here and I agree these are all fine bikes that would accomplish this and still offer up good rides for touring. I believe that everyone of these bikes trump the so called “fast” hybrid or fast commuter. You know the bikes that have mountain style bars and static hand positioning. The utility of a bike should be greater than its sum total of it’s bits and pieces. In the debate of commute vs bike culture there are many bikes from the 70’s and 80’s that seem to be popping up everywhere in centers of bike culture. I would like to see an article or two on the short commute and readers choice.

  • Garth says:

    I like my Heron Wayfarer a LOT. I have a sprung brooks saddle and porteur h’bars with road levers mounted as though they were moustache bars. downtube shifters so I don’t knock them around on the bars, carradice saddlebag, nitto fenders, etc. the only thing left is the hub generator. the vittoria randonneur tires have only gotten one flat in three years of Chicago riding.

  • charles says:

    My definition of sufficiently wide gearing is:……..gearing that allows me to ride up any hill when I am sick, tired, old , fat or injured. for me that is a 44x32x22 and 12-32 seven speed cassette. This is with 700×38 tires. Lower gearing would even be better. A top gear of around 100 inches is plenty. Several ratios around 50,55, 60,65 ,70 and 75 inches are good for most riding. A bicycler should know his correct spinning gear on flat ground (65 inches for me) and should try to incorporate it into his multiple geared bicycles range with good chain alignment.

  • Brian says:

    Why don’t more people use Cyclocross bikes? I’ve been searching for the best commuter and finally bought a robin’s egg blue Surly Cross Check. It has all the eyelets needed for putting racks and fenders and such on it. Tough steel, uncut steering tube so handlebars can get higher than the seat for comfort. I love it for commuting.

  • Eddie says:

    All good utilitarian characteristics, Alan, but I would add:

    • It should bring delight to the eye and a flutter to the heart

    After all, I’ve never seen a butt-ugly bike on your blog.

  • Mateu says:

    I’m looking for a front rack like this one, where you can put luggage besides and also above, the thing is that it’s hard to find here in Barcelona, can someone suggest a brand or site to browse it? thanks!

  • Alan says:


    Of course! Thanks for the reminder… :-)

    Happy holidays!

  • Alan says:


    Cyclocross bikes can work fine as commuters, but they sometimes have limitations. They tend to have short chainstays, so pannier clearance can be an issue; they usually have high bottom brackets which places the center of gravity higher, again not ideal for carrying stuff; and some don’t have the necessary braze-ons for a full complement of racks and fenders. Of the production ‘cross bikes I’m familiar with, the Cross Check is one of the most adaptable to commuting/utility use.


  • Alan says:


    The rack pictured above is a Pass & Stow:

    You might also want to check with Velo Orange:


  • John says:

    Very nice article! This is a nice list (including the comments) of some commuting bikes. Great starting place.

  • Mateu says:

    thanks Allan.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Without seeing this post first, I wrote about a similar topic today.

    I think the idea that “touring and commuting bikes are essentially cut from the same cloth” works for men more so than for women. It also depends on what features you are looking for in both bikes. For me, the only thing the two concepts have in common is maybe frame angles, wide-ish tires, racks and dynamo lighting, but otherwise there is not much overlap.

    In a commuter bike, I must have a step-through frame and a completely upright sitting position. These features are essential for me, as I usually ride to work in skirts, dresses, skirt-suits and long coats.

    In a touring bike, I prefer a diamond frame and drop-bars – it makes traveling long distances in hilly terrain more comfortable in the long haul.

    Those sets of features cannot be combined in the same bike.

  • Pete says:

    Cyclocross bikes were the inspiration for some of the first “hybrids” as people sought bikes that were not limited to fast road or technical dirt riding, but could work pretty well for both. Current cross bikes have evolved into specialized tools in their own right, so not all of them lend themselves to transportation cycling. The Surley is one of the better ones. Meanwhle, transport and commuting bikes have evolved in their own ways. As Alan points out, a lot of people look for a bike that can do as many things as possible, reasonably well.

  • Andy says:

    @Pete – “Current cross bikes have evolved into specialized tools in their own right”

    I think of cross bikes at the LEAST specialized of all bike types. I ride on pavement or dirt, in rain and snow, tour and commute, use it all day on hilly centuries, even play polo with my cross bike. I can’t think of anything more non-specialized than that. My road racer can’t do half of those, and my mountain bike could do those but at a huge time/effort cost. Short of riding on really bumpy rooted dirt trails (where front suspension would be a necessity), I have yet to find something my cross bike can’t do.

  • Fergie348 says:

    I’ve been wondering about the possibility of going the other direction – take my commuter and load it up for occasional self-supported touring. After all, I commute way more than I tour (much to my chagrin..) so why not satisfy the more important requirements first.

    My ideal commuter when I build my next one will look an awful lot like this one, which readers of this site are no doubt familiar with:

    What’s compelling to me about this bike is the possibility of a fully self-contained drivetrain and belt drive in concert with disc brakes and road bars. Put a dyno front hub on it and nice lights and it’s darn near perfect..

    I wonder if anyone has taken the Bryant Alfine Belt for a loaded tour and if they would be willing to share their thoughts. The braze ons are certainly there to mount front and rear racks, and although the chainstays may be a little short at 44 cm with the right bags and setup this could work as a loaded tourer. Thoughts?

  • Jorge says:

    To the above list, I’d add the following production steel bikes/frames:

    Bruce Gordon BLT
    Gunnar Grand Tour
    Salsa Vaya
    Kona Sutra

    Given the kind of touring I do is light, my personal favorite is the 2011 Salsa Casseroll. If money were no object, and if I wanted a fully-loaded, stunning, lugged steel touring bike, then Rivendell Atlantis.

    There are many fine custom touring/utility frames available in the market as well. E.g. those made by Bilenky, Vanilla, Independent Fab, Pereira, Bob Jackson, Bruce Gordon, ANT, Waterford, etc…

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    @Andy — most cross bikes can’t do loaded touring. Trust me, I’ve tried. The tubeset just isn’t stout enough to handle any significant weight. You can always use a trailer though.

    @Ferge – same concern for the Bryant. I’m not sure how it would handle with any significant weight on it. Just because the braze-ons are there doesn’t mean the frame can deal with being loaded.

  • Fergie348 says:

    @Dolan – that’s why I’m asking if anyone’s toured with the Bryant. I haven’t heard any tales of being on tour with Bryant, but I seek advice from someone who’s tried.

  • randomray says:

    LOL Alan , I tour the same way Anndy does with my Axis cyclo-cross and I got the idea from ultralight backbacking too . This doesn’t mean depriving myself of anything just taking what I need and no extra stuff ” to me ” . I’ve seen cyclists with 150 lbs of stuff . If that’s how they enjoy cycling great , I’m just too lazy for that . Don’t think I’m going fast either , if you do that you miss the pictures .

  • doug in seattle. says:

    I guess I’m in the minority, but I have generally found touring bikes to be a bit to turgid for general commuting work. My main commuter is currently a 1984 Schwinn Voyageur (built by Panasonic) and is a very nice tourer, very well designed (better than my actual camper bike, a Jamis Aurora), but I can’t help but want a bit more zest. The MTB I used before was awful; it got to the point where I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to ride it more than a few blocks.

    For me, the perfect commuter would have 42mm tires with fenders, zippier tubing (8.5.8), and a front load bias with a big porteur rack. Carry a saddlebag for the daily commuting load and run some nice zero-rise porteur style bars set at saddle height. Maybe even throw on a tiny rear rack for some small panniers. Design it overall more along go-fast lines (as much as the fat tires and fenders allow, I mean). This is the bike I dream about.

  • Alan says:


    For straight commuting, I’m with you. But, when we add in the “utility” part of the equation, which in my mind means occasionally hauling cargo up to 100 lbs. or more, I think we have to sacrifice zest for robustness. As always, it comes down to how we’ll each individually use our bikes…


  • Inca says:

    I’m so glad you posted this!

    I’m driving myself insane trying to choose between a Surlty LHT and a Rivendell Sam Hillborne. Whichever bicycle I choose will be used for long distance touring (which won’t be too heavy apart from the fact that I’ll ocasionally have to haul a trailer) and as a city / utility bike.

    I’d also love it to be able to take a wide front rack, portuer style, as I need cake-carry capacity :D

    Any thoughts?

  • Paul says:


    I’ve put 2000 commuting miles on my Civia Bryant since taking delivery June 25, 2010. When I get a break in the action, I inted to use it for some touring. While I’ve made some modifications and have a number of suggestions for the folks at Civia, I see no reason why this bike isn’t adequate for heavy touring. There have been days when I’ve hauled more weight back and forth to work than I would on any tour.

  • Andy says:

    @Dolan, I just don’t agree. There’s nothing special about my bike and it handles loads just fine. I’ve put much more on the racks than what I use for touring on occasion too. That thinking just perpetuates the concept that you “need” a specialized and heavy touring bike for touring, and it’s just not true.

    I think cycling is just in the infancy of the ultralight concept. Backpacking traditionally meant high-top boots, big 70-90 liter packs that weighed 5-8 pounds on their own, with another 50 pounds of gear in them. But now people realize that with just trail running shoes and a 30 liter / 2 pound pack, they can go much farther and enjoy it even more. Cycling is still in the stage of carrying heavy gear, on a heavy bike. A few people have learned that a <25 pound bike with 25 pounds of the right gear will meet all the same needs and make it easier to ride.

    I'm in no rush to get places, but I'd rather have a 50 pound touring setup and be able to go 80-100 miles in a day than to have a 100 pound setup and only get a fraction of that distance. Plus the hills here are killer when carrying weight. Why get a heavy bike just to carry heavy gear?

  • Dolan Halbrook says:


    That’s great to hear that your Bryant is holding up well, and that it’s handling being loaded well. I too am very curious to hear how it holds up once you take it out on the road, particularly the belt drive and the Alfine hub.

    How much weight do you plan to tour with? How will it be distributed?

  • Dolan Halbrook says:


    I have no issue with ultralight touring. If it works for you, more power to you.

    I agree that lighter is better. However, once you add real food (not freeze dried) and water, clothes, camera, etc things can get heavy in a hurry. If you try to distribute any weight evenly between front and rear (low riders in front and a regular rack on the back) MOST frames I’ve encountered that you’d find in your average bike shop here in the US would not have the torsional rigidity to handle it.

    My wife toured for a while on an el-cheapo closeout Koga Miyata frame we got a while back and that thing could handle it just fine, but that’s a “nothing special” European city bike, not your average mig-welded Aluminum frame you find here. And even if the frame handles it, the wheels generally do not.

    No, you don’t really need a special bike to tour, but like or not your average bike these days I don’t feel is well equipped to do it, at least not for any significant distance.

  • somervillebikes says:

    i haven’t read the slew of comments on this post, but i agree that the central features that make a great touring bike, also make a great all-purpose bike. i found this to be true when i converted my shogun touring bike from a traditional drop-bike tourer with all the touring bells and whistles into an upright city bike with albatross bars, wald basket and double-leg kickstand. it’s just about the perfect city bike.

  • Andy says:

    @Dolan, Things *can* get heavy in a hurry, but need not. My <50lb setup includes full camping gear, large camera, laptop, and supplies as a type 1 diabetic including sufficient extra food. I'm certainly not skimping, just using the right gear for it that weighs little and takes up little space. I also did a terrible job at distributing weight because when the weights are low, it barely matters. I had about 4lbs up front and the rest in back, so I'd say I can easily add more gear and weight on the front end if needed.

    Of course we all find what works for us, and if you're content with what you use than that's great. I'm thankful to have found a light way to accomplish the same goal, and find many benefits in that. Some of my gear may have a higher cost upfront, though that means I don't need to buy and maintain an extra bike since I use this one for most of my commuting as well.

  • Alan says:


    The Sam’s prettier, the LHT is stiffer. They’re both great bikes. I have one of each. :-) Seriously, I don’t think you can go wrong either way.


  • Pete says:

    I’ll defer to Alan, who has a lot of direct experience with both, but the LHT seems to favor the “utility” end of the scale. Both bikes are solidly built, but the LHT will probably handle more ultimate load, whether on long tour or around town. The Sam is livelier and sportier. There are some other differences that may matter to you, maybe not. The LHT is powder coated and will take a beating, the Sam is painted, very nicely but very delicately, in my experience. The threaded vs threadless steerer may make difference to you, depending on your needs.
    As for racks, you could consider a Nitto Marks rack + Platrack combo – it provides the porteur capability when you need it, but it is easy to remove the larger platform when you don’t.

  • Alan says:


    Thanks for filling in the blanks. I went into this in my review of the Hillborne:


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