For me, bike riding has long been an opportunity to escape day to day life and get out into the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and forests. Lately, as bike categories have splintered to give consumers of all interests bikes specific for their needs, we've been presented with many new genres of mountain bikes. One of those newer categories is the adventure bike.
What Makes an Adventure Bike?
Adventure bikes are designed to be more utilitarian than a traditional mountain bike while also offering more versatility for both dirt road and singletrack touring. Many feature more traditional frame materials like steel and chromoly and are built around a pivot-free, hardtail frame design that allows for greater carrying capacity and less concern for extra bolts. After bikepacking a few times on a full suspension bike, there are some obvious advantages in your ability to ride technical singletrack. But more often than not, the benefits of a fully loaded rigid, hardtail vastly outweigh the few miles an hour slower I travel over technical trails. Setting the hardtail bike with big volume tires, a modern geometry and solid brakes can be enjoyed on some of the most technical terrain I'd be traveling over with a loaded bike
Why Buy an Adventure Bike?
Mountain biking has always provided with the feeling of true and utter freedom. Whether I'm out on an after work mountain bike ride or touring through the Peruvian Andes I love the pace the bicycle travels. Getting out on new styles of bike rides only builds more of an appreciation for what an amazing tool the bicycle actually is. Adventure bikes offer a new channel, a new way of experiencing the landscape. Whether you choose long, mellow day rides or month long wanders in a foreign land, owning an adventure bike creates a new pace at which to enjoy the ride. Load it up with a picnic lunch and a few beers or weigh every ounce and strategically fill every void on your rig with lighweight camping gear. Adventure bikes are an important addition to the fleet and can fill the void in many situations as townie, impromtu bike for a visiting friend, or.... Sure, buying an adventure bike adds to your maintenance needs, but once you own one you'll have no trouble justifying that evening jaunt up to the local high point to watch the sunset.
Which Adventure Bike is for You?
Determining your needs for an adventure bike can be simple or extremely difficult depending on what bikes you own or have ridden recently. As a tech editor, I've been fortunate to have ridden a number of modern bikes and also have done a variety of touring some on the proper bike for the trip and some not. What I'd recommend to someone just getting into an adventure bike, is to think about what type of riding you'll be seeking out with your adventure bike. Are you looking for something that can handle fully loaded touring over technical terrain or are you looking to tour the local rail-to-trail routes staying at B&B's? Sure, you could ride the same bike on both of these adventures but there is a better tool available for each. This will help you determine whether you're looking for a drop bar adventure bike with narrower tires or one with a more upright cockpit setup and wider tires, two major distinctions you'll notice in the list below.
Next, you'll want to come up with a budget. There are any options and levels at which to get into an adventure bike, so have a number in mind. You'll also want to consider any accessories you may want right away, like frame bags, lights, heavier duty tires, etc.
So what's out there?
We'll break this into two categories to offer a clear distinction. Flat bar bikes are mostly geared toward more technical touring; jeep roads, singletrack, goat paths.... They can roll over boulders, keep you afloat in sand, and will allow for the most versatility when things get gnarly. Drop bar bikes trend more toward the roads and well defined paths. You'll have less versatility off road, but you'll have more efficiency while you're ticking off miles. Here are some of our favorites.
Flat Bar Adventure Bikes
Surly has long been known for their touring and adventure bikes. They are clean, simple, affordable, and damn near bombproof. The ECR is the latest bikepacking MTB from Surly sporting 27.5+ (XS-M) or 29+ (M-XL) wheel sizes depending on frame size. It's 4130 chromoly steel frame offers supple touring with significant strength. Surly has the ECR specced with every possible accessory mount you could think of and at $1900, it's also damn afforable.
- Versatility to lots of terrain
- Plus sized wheels for comfort
Coop Cycles ADV 4.2
- Great component spec
- Racks are included
- Not the sexiest frame
Some unique design features help to set the Trek 1120 apart from other 29+ options out there. First, a unique rack system is included with the 1120 making a trip fresh out of the shop as easy as buying a few straps and strapping everything to the sleek looking bike. Next, the 1120 uses a geometry influenced by the Stache 29+ bike with short chainstays and a slacker front end, likely making it an easy to pilot, ripper out on the trail. Lastly, the 1120 comes stock with a dropper post, another oddity of the touring world but cumbersome if you're using a saddle mounted bag system. Many creative and functional design features help to make the 1120 a great value for a 29+ adventure bike.
- Thoughtful designs
- Racks included
- Dropper post included
- 1x12 Shimano drivetrain
- Aluminum frame
- Not the cheapest in the round up
Cargo bikes are a super head turning bicycle, the long frame, massive carrying capacity and fat tires make it a great way to carry lots of stuff on a bicycle. If you're looking to get the family into adventure touring, buying a bike that can carry all of your gear plus some is the best way to ensure comfort and enjoyment out on the road and the Blackborow can carry all that and a few bags of chips. Sure, you're not going to be touring quickly on the Blackborow, but that's exactly the point. As Salsa's "dream big" cargo fat bike, they recommend it's best paired with an unlimited imagination. It's decked out with a huge carrying capacity via abundant frame and fork braze-ons, and room for four full-sized panniers on the beautifully engineered rear rack. This bike is open to going wherever your imagination can take it.
- Massive carrying capacity
- Fat tires for stability when loaded
- Low gearing for slow speed touring
- Not the best option if time and pace are important
- Not easy to maneuver once you have to push it.
Drop Bar Adventure Bikes
Salsa Marrakesh Drop Bar Deore
- Full Shimano drivetrain and Brooks Saddle
- Bomber build ready to take you anywhere
- Six frame sizes
- On the heavier side
- Triple chainring
Trek 520 Disc
Treks' 520 disc is a classic steel touring bike made for long rides through the country. As the longest-running model in the Trek lineup it has remained relatively unchanged despite componentry and downgraded frame tubing. Built to carry you and your gear on your longest journeys it comes prepped and ready for touring with rack and fender mounts, a wide range of gearing for climbing, and a stable touring geometry.
- Good Value
- Comfortable Chromoly Frame with full rack mounts
- Built to be durable
- Shimano Alivio components
- Dated styling won't suit everyone
Rocky Mountain Solo 30
Rocky took a little different approach than other brands in our round up choosing to build around a 6061 series aluminum frame making for lighter bike. Rocky built the Solo as a do it all adventure road/gravel bike. With the ability to add a full length dropper post and up to 700x40c & 650bx2.2 tires, the Solo is ready to open up your mind to what a "road" bike can be and do when the road turns technical.
- Aluminum frame is much lighter
- A road adventure bike for mountain bikers (dropper post compatible)
- Aluminum likely a harsher ride
- 1x drivetrain not the greatest for steep touring
Bombtrack Beyond 2
German based Bombtrack bikes has been building creative two wheeled bikes since 2011. With a full lineup of MTB, Adventure, Road/Gravel, CX, and Urban bikes their Beyond 2 fits into the Adventure touring category. Complimented by thoughtful design features like a wide WTB rims and Panaracer tires, an integrated light system and dynamo hub and many luggage mounting options. Versatile and fast-rolling 29-inch wheels (27.5" on XS and small) give the Beyond 2 plenty of off road capabilites and wide handlebars make give you the leverage needed when things get dicey. Sweet included items like a Supernova dynamo lighting system and front demi-porteur rack make the Beyond 2 tour ready right out of the box.
- Thoughtful design features
- Dynamo hub and front rack included
- Versatile drop bar design
- 1x touring capabilities
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