Thinking of biking cross-country? Or maybe just a long weekend tour of wine country? In any case, for multi-day rides, a touring bike is the ideal setup.
A touring bike offers eyelets for racks and panniers, multiple water bottle cages, and more relaxed geometry.
The bad news for women is that there really aren’t many “women’s specific” touring bikes. While nobody needs a “women’s specific” touring bike, unisex bikes work just fine, it can make finding a smaller-size bike more challenging.
In fact, if you’re a little bit adventurous, you might want to try building up your own touring bike. That gives you the opportunity to pick out your own components including a women’s specific saddle, smaller brake levers, etc. If that sounds interesting, check out the Velo Orange Campeur below. It provides a great starting point for a custom build.
If you’re looking for a complete build, we’ve listed some of our favorite options here. All are true touring bikes and come in a wide variety of sizes so no matter how short (or tall) you may be, you should be able to find a good fit.
Need help choosing? Scroll all the way to the bottom of the article to find our tips on what you should look for when buying a touring bike.
Headed out on an around-the-world trip? Take the Salsa Marrakesh. It’s durable, sturdy under a heavy load, and can handle just about anything.
The bike has space to strap on all sorts of gear. It comes with a rear rack, has space for three water bottle cages on the frame, and mounts on the fork legs.
Unfortunately, all of its durability and storage space comes at a price: the Marrakesh is pretty hefty. It weighs 32 pounds unloaded but does have a mount for a kickstand, so that helps some.
The smallest size frame is 50 cm. It also comes as a frame only, if you prefer to build it up on your own.
Surly Long Haul Trucker
The Surly Long Haul Trucker is a great bike for smaller riders (and bigger riders for that matter). It comes in a super-tiny 42 cm version with 26″ wheels which means even the most petite riders can find a good fit.
The bike can handle just about any adventure (as long as it’s paved). The steel frame is bomb-proof, their are eyelets for every sort of cargo and device you could want to mount, and the Tektro v-brakes are pretty much maintenance-free.
It comes in a complete build, or as the frame-set only depending on your preferences.
The Masi Giramondo comes ready to rock and roll right off the bat. This touring bike comes with both a rear rack and front rack pre-installed.
The bike comes with tubeless-ready 700cc wheels but has tire clearance up to 29×2.0 which gives you plenty of options on where this thing can go. It also has high-quality components including a Shimano Deore drivetrain and TRP Spyre-C Dual
The smallest size fits riders as small as 5’1″.
The Specialized Diverge is marketed primarily as a gravel bike, but works well also a “light” touring bike. What does that mean?
This isn’t the touring bike you want to use for cross-country or world tours. What it does work well for is a quick weekend overnighter or a semi-supported tour.
The really nice thing about this bike is that it’s light (about 22 pounds) which means you can ride further, faster, and more comfortably. It has front and rear rack capability as well as mounting points for full fenders.
Velo Orange Polyvalent
If you’re looking for a complete build, skip this option. That said, if you’re willing to spend a little time building your perfect bike, this is a great place to start. Velo Orange makes spectacular bike frames, and the Polyvalent is a perfect one for women who want to jump into bike touring.
The smallest frame size fits women as short as 5’0″ and the swooped downtube makes it easier to get on and off. There are fender bosses, 3 water bottle cage mounts, and front and rear rack eyelets.
Tips on Choosing a Women’s Touring Bike
Traditionally, most touring bikes have been made of steel. Why? Because steel is durable, can be repaired reasonably easily in all corners of the world, and it’s affordable. Unlike a road racing bike, you aren’t going to be riding that fast and you’ll be loaded down with gear, so frame weight becomes less of an issue.
That said, more and more touring bikes are being made of aluminum. Aluminum frames will save you a bit of weight (which can be
You’ll find three types of brakes on touring bikes: v-brakes, mechanical disc brakes, and hydraulic disc brakes. These are in order from cheapest to most expensive.
While on most bikes, hydraulic disc brakes are the best option, they might not be on your touring bike. Yes, they provide great modulation and stopping power, but they also require time-intensive maintenance. Nobody wants to deal with a brake-bleed in the middle of
On the other side of the spectrum, v-brakes are the cheapest option and are the easiest to maintain. Carry a spare pair of brake pads, and even the most mechanically challenged cyclist should be able to manage swapping them out. The only bummer about v-brakes is that they don’t stop as well as disc brakes which can be an issue when your carrying 30 pounds of gear.
Our favorite pick for a touring bike are mechanical disc brakes. They are affordable, reasonably easy to maintain, and provide good stopping power.
Racks and Cargo Capacity
If you’re touring, chances are you are going to need at least a rear rack and panniers. Some touring bikes come with a rear rack already installed; if not, make sure it has eyelets to accept a rear rack and you can add one yourself.
You may also choose to use a front rack. If you go this route, make sure to get a high one with plenty of clearance over the front wheel. And again, you’ll want to make sure the frame you choose has eyelets for a front rack if it doesn’t come with one pre-installed.
Finally, make sure to pay attention to the max weight capacity of the bike you choose. Some bikes are made for carrying a ton of gear, others have a lower max weight. You don’t want to find out after the fact that your bike can’t handle all the gear you’ve planned to carry.
Water Bottle Cages
Expect that when you’re biking long distances, water is not always going to be readily available. For this reason, we like to make sure that any touring bike we’re considering has plenty of mounts for water bottle cages. In fact, it should have AT LEAST three. More are even better.
Pavement vs Dirt
The type of bike you get will likely be very different based on whether you want to stick to paved roads 100% of the time, or if you’ll be headed onto dirt and gravel roads as well.
If you plan to venture off pavement, you’ll want to make sure your bike accepts wider, higher-volume tires.
Chances are, you’re going to be putting in a lot of miles on this bike. Therefore it’s important to make sure that every part on the bike is perfect for you. For women, this includes things like a women’s-specific saddle, a shorter stem, smaller brake levers, etc.
This is why it might make sense to build up a touring bike yourself!
If you’re carrying a bunch of cargo, your bike is going to be heavy. There’s no way around that.
For that reason, most cyclists don’t end up obsessing over the weight of a touring bike in the same way that they would in a carbon racing bike. Still, it’s worth paying attention to the weight of the bikes you’re considering. A five pound difference can make a big difference for a 120 pound woman.
We’ve got it listed last, but chances are, this is one of the first things you’ll be considering. The good news is that compared to most types of bikes, touring bikes are cheap. You should be able to find a great one for around $1,500.
If that’s still too expensive, I have even more great news. Because touring bikes are generally built to be super durable, they hold up well in the used market. With a little patience and searching, you should be able to find a used touring bike that will get you where you want to go without breaking the bank.
Most touring bikes have drop bars like a road bike, but you don’t HAVE to have drop bars. Some women prefer to have flat bars like those you would find on a mountain bike.
There are also more unusual handlebars you can add after the fact. These include Butterfy bars, H-bars, and mustache handlebars.
Compared to a traditional road bike, you want a larger range of gearing (especially easier gear) on a touring bike. With your bike fully loaded, it’s gonna be way harder to push it up big climbs in a hard gear. That’s why we like a really granny-ish granny gear.
Consider A Gravel Bike Instead
If you are planning on riding off-road as well as on (think dirt roads and rail trails), you might be well served by a gravel bike. If that sounds like you, check out our list of the Best Gravel Bikes For Women.
More Stuff You Might Like
- Podcast: A Bikepacking Adventure Thru Pakistan, India, and Nepal With Eliza Sampey
- 9 Best Women’s Road Bike Helmets
- 9 Best Women’s Bike Shorts
About The Author
Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.
An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.
Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life. Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son. If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.
Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.