Types of touring.
The word "touring" is used to describe some very different bike riding scenarios. The biggest bike races in Europe are called "grand tours". In everyday discussion people sometimes refer, where there is an element of competition, to "sports touring". As soon competition is involved, weight takes precedence over other things which, for most of us, are quite important.
Bike racing in Europe spawned other types of riding. An early one was the "randonnee" or the "brevet", or "audax" ride. These events, initially in late nineteenth century Italy but popular in several countries today, are not races. No completion order is published. Riders are expected to be fully self-sufficient between controls and must carry food, water, spare clothing and tools to meet their requirements.
Cyclotouring arose in France in the same circles. It's earliest advocate was Paul de Vivie born in 1853. De Vivie invented the rear derailleur.
In the early 1980s we adopted the term "World Randonneur" in an effort to combine the non-competitive and self-sufficient notions of the Randonnee event and the priorities of pleasure, adventure and autonomy of a round-the-world bike tour. The rider is both a "randonneur" and a "wanderer". A world randonneur.
That is the origin of our name but it is a bit academic. If you are thinking about buying a bike, you may want to isolate out some styles of touring as a way of determining what your new bike will have in terms of design.
Supported and unsupported tours. You might be contemplating what are known as supported tours where someone carries your gear and you ride ride without luggage. If you are borrowing or hiring a bike for this tour and if it is on sealed roads, you are likely to be fine for a few days on any bike that fits. It may not be perfect but it will work.
However, if you are buying a bike for the ride there is a case for opting for a proper touring bike. You need to be comfortable as you are likely to spend several hours a day on the bike. You want to carry a purse/wallet, camera, suncream, personal items, and perhaps a few items of extra clothing. More than you can put in your pocket. If you are thinking of getting a new bike then the difference represented by you or someone else carrying most of your luggage is not big. You still want a rear rack. You don't want punctures so should avoid the thin tyres such on bikes presented as "sporty and light". You might go out at night and so your bike should have lights.
After doing such a supported ride you will get stronger and keener and might want to take on more independent trips, perhaps with people you meet on the supported ride. If you are buying a new bike then getting a touring bike will allow you to develop this new activity, to any extent, now or in coming years.
On-road and off-road touring generally. Some tyres are more suited to off-road conditions. Basically these are wider which makes them heavier and gives them more rolling resistance. On good roads they unnecessarily slow you down. On shocking roads they come into their own.
Many life-long bike tourers stick to the sealed roads. But some people deliberately seek out unsealed "back roads". Unsealed roads are ok to ride with 700x35C tyres providing it is not the wet season and the roads are firm. If 95% of your riding is on decent surfaces you do not want to be held back by tyres that only come into their own on the 5% of bad surfaces. If you want to be on decent surfaces 100% of the time that is also not hard to achieve.
An on-road touring bike still needs to be able to cope with rough patches, road repairs, unmade edges and so on. And it needs the same set of other features such as frame design, luggage capacity and gear ratios as an off-road or expedition touring bike needs.
A solution is to have the frame and forks designed with enough room to fit wider tyres (42C wide) should you choose a dirt road, such as the Gibb River Road in Western Australia, for one of your tours. You buy a long distance touring bike that has these wider clearances and run mid-sized tyres on on-road trips but wider tyres on any off-road trip. Some people tour with two pairs of tyres. They post the second set ahead to where they will swap over. But the frame and fork need the right clearances
Off-road, sometimes sandy, muddy and rocky surfaces. Here you are camping and cooking so carrying more. Central Africa and parts of South America (eg Bolivia) come to mind. You need a frame and fork that have room for fatter tyres. How fat? Some people go very fat eg 2.1". You might also choose internal hub gearing if sticks threaten to harm your rear derailleur. Vivente is currently working on a bike in this area but it will not accommodate 2.1" tyres. In line with our interest in making a single bike for your range of commuting and touring uses, it will accommodate from 28C to 42C tyres, wider mudguards, and have internal gearing. But it is a 2014 model.
This style of cycling is as much a variant of mountain bike riding as it is of long distance touring. So it may be best done on a MTB unless it is to go on endlessly. You'd likely end up on roads then though.
Camping versus finding lodging as you go. Camping requires more luggage and consequentially, you get racks and panniers fitted to the front forks. Sleeping out in the wilderness is beautiful. But having a shower and a bed is very nice after a day on the bike. Staying in the town and enjoying the local cuisine is nice. With airlines now charging for excess weight there are added reasons to try to avoid camping.
Some people call staying in hotels on bike trips "credit card touring". But we don't like that term. These days, in most countries, bike tourers get cash from efpos machines and in much of the world small hotels only accept cash. And they don't cost much. In India, an annual test-ride location for Vivente, hotels are currently costing $5-15 a double a night. Tourers that are set up for camping still stay in hotels in most of Asia and much of South America.
But sometimes camping is not something bike tourers are trying to avoid. If our trip IS to the wilderness then we want to camp out. If we are riding across the Stans, the Nullabor or the Western Sahara we have to camp out.
However, the tour that does not entail camping does not mean you are best off on a carbon road bike with a credit card as luggage. In that case, you are best off with a touring bike but without front panniers.
Longer and shorter trips. The longer the trip the more likely it is that we will do some camping and carry more clothing. The longer the trip the more seasons you ride in. And there are other items you tend to need or collect...gifts you were given, souvenirs, reading material, maps and so on.. These don't change the bike you need but they fill your bags and push you towards also running front bags. This needs a touring bike.
But lets look at the case of a short trip. Take the example of a rail-trail like Murray to the Mountains in Victoria (116km). If you have a bike already or can borrow or hire one, it is likely to be ok for such a short trip. But if you are buying a new bike and that ride is your immediate objective and what you are focused on, you'd be wise to remember that after the you will still have whatever bike you now buy.
If you buy a hybrid or flat-bar-road bike it would not be suited to some rides you are may to want to do later on. People typically do not dispose of a bike they find is a bit limiting. They keep it and just accept that they have a limitation and don't progress to more diverse and independent touring. Get a versatile bike in the beginning. It is money well spent.