Adventure Cycling - Guide on what to pack Part 1
Congratulations! You’ve decided to go on a multi-day bicycle adventure. What a great decision and one which, for many people, can be life-changing!
Now the question becomes - what should you take with you on your bike; and how to carry it? The short answer is that it greatly depends about what type of ride you’re about to go on. And as a general principle - less is best.
- supported touring,
- credit card touring, and
- self-sufficient touring.
You’ll need to carry more as you work your way through this list. It’s a bit like when you buy software subscription upgrades. Each step up includes every item in the previous bundle, plus a list of extra items.
If you’ve never done much cycling, particularly any longer distance or multi day rides, then a supported tour might be the best place to start. Supported tours include the hundreds of companies and charities across the world that organise multi day group bike rides.
We have some great ones listed on the CycleLifeHQ platform, across a wide range of global destinations - just search for the destination you want to ride, then select 'tours' from the filters on the right hand side of the screen.
Your ride might range from a group of friends organising a on-off adventure ride where one volunteers to drive a support van or booked comprehensively through a travel agent who takes care of all the logistics for your unique experience; through to guided tour companies who offer dozens of different tours every year across the globe.
With the professional tour companies, you pay your money, bring your bike (or sometimes even have the bike supplied) and the organiser does all the rest. All you have to do is ride.
They have support vehicles for your luggage. If you have a flat tyre, they’ll fix it. They’ve previewed and planned the route, booked the accommodation, driven ahead to get lunch sorted and pretty much catered for your every need.
This is certainly the easiest type of event to prepare for, which is why it’s a good place to start.
Because your luggage is carried in a support vehicle, you don’t have to worry too much about traveling light and don’t need any bike specific bags or panniers. Just show up with your regular suitcase or backpack.
It also means you can ride a regular bike and don’t need a specific touring bicycle that can carry bags; and that - should you choose to, you can jump in the support vehicle at any time you might need it.
But because the ride might spread out and there might not always be a support vehicle behind you, you should pack a couple of spare tubes, tyre levers, mini pump, your phone, credit card and/or cash. Depending upon the weather, you might also carry a lightweight rain jacket or perhaps arm warmers or another item of warmer clothing.
You can fit all of this into an under-seat bag that does not require any special racks and fastens to your seat post and/or seat rails. Alternatively, a small handlebar bag - not to be confused with hand-bag ;) - will do the job.
Depending upon your age, fitness and the demands of the ride that you’ve entered, the most important thing to prepare is your body. You want to avoid the apprehensive feeling of arriving at the start of a supported ride with precious few miles in your legs and looking round nervously at your fit and acclimatised riding companions. Although they’re rides, not races, you tend to feel the pressure of not wanting to be that person who holds everybody up.
You might be ok for the first hour or so, then the reality of no base fitness kicks in. Your fellow riders are probably more understanding and sympathetic than you imagine, but apart from the social embarrassment, it’s really no fun when you’re in a world of pain and that’s not what recreational riding is about – leave that for the racers!
To state the obvious, the best thing you can do to prepare for a bike tour is to ride your bike! Even as little as a week or two of regular riding beforehand will make a big difference, so it’s never too late to start. As a rule of thumb, if you can do three rides per week, each of about half the daily distance that you’ll be doing on your tour, then your body will thank you when you’re doing your big tour.
Credit Card Touring
A good definition of credit card touring is substituting money for effort. Instead of cooking and camping, you’ll stay in a hotel, cabin, Airbnb or some other form of accommodation each night and you’ll buy all your meals along the way.
This style of touring will define where you can ride. For example, you either need to pre-book all your accommodation or be stopping in areas where there is plenty of tourist accommodation and a low risk of not finding a bed for the night. That would exclude trying this in less densely populated areas where the distance between towns is greater and there are fewer accommodation options.
You’ll need everything listed under supported touring plus the following:
In terms of clothes, think how much you think you need… then halve it! You can wash out your cycling clothes, socks, shirts and underwear at the end of each day’s ride and dry it all overnight in your room, so just two pairs of each will give you back-up. As for evening / travelling clothing, just one set will cover you.
These days you’ll certainly have a range of electronic items that you would like to take ranging from of course a phone, through to laptops, tablets, cameras, GPS devices and so on. There’s no right or wrong answer here. It depends upon your interests and your reasons for your trip. Don’t forget to also pack the appropriate chargers.
But if you really want to travel light, it’s amazing how much you can do solely on a smart phone these days. As an example, an inspiring gentleman named Nick Taylor has undertaken an epic long distance solo journey. He’s produced a compelling blog with great photos and some quite long stories, entirely on his phone. You can see it here.
Another option for this style of bicycle touring is to pre-book your accommodation and send a bag of old clothes ahead of your arrival to each one. The following morning, simply find a nearby charity clothing bin and on-gift your old clothes then ride on to the next.
Two important items are a front and rear light. You never know when you might need to ride after dark. But even if you’re sure that you’ll only be riding during the day, lights are a great safety feature giving you better visibility to approaching motorists. During the day it’s best to have your lights in flashing mode to stand out from motorised traffic.
Although they can be quite heavy, you’ll need at least one bike-lock. Otherwise you won’t be able to go inside any restaurant, historic building or other attraction without putting your bike at risk of theft. You’ll need to decide the level of security that you’re comfortable with, but the highest standard requires a heavy, top quality D lock large enough to go around your seat tube, rear wheel and a bike rack, fence post or other immovable object. To save you having to take your front wheel out, you can secure this with a smaller D lock that just locks the front wheel to the down tube of your frame. A lighter, but less secure single alternative is a cable lock long enough to go around both wheels.
You’ll need a good hand pump that can get your tyres to their correct pressure without killing your arms. The pressure ratings on pumps are always inflated! (pardon the pun). So if you’re riding tyres that need 80 psi get a pump that’s rated to at least 100 psi.
You should take a small, lightweight first aid kit, particularly including bandages and antiseptic. If it’s at all warm and sunny where you’re going, then don’t forget your sunscreen.
At a minimum you should fit two water bottle cages that have clearance to carry the taller, larger capacity bottles. If you prefer, you can wear a CamelBak or equivalent item from another maker.
How to carry it
You should be able to fit all of these items above into two rear panniers, the top of the rear rack and an average sized handlebar bag. Or into three larger bikepacking bags: handlebar, frame and underseat.
Traditional cycle touring bags consist of a medium sized handlebar bag, panniers that mount on either side of the rear wheel, front wheel or both. These panniers should attach securely to purpose designed racks and be waterproof. You can also carry certain items on the top of the rear rack.
Over the past decade, the concept of bikepacking has become the ‘next big thing’. Bikepacking was born through the innovation of competitors in the annual Iditarod ultramarathon race in Alaska.
Three core concepts of bikepacking are:
- minimalist volume,
- keeping bags close to the centreline of your bike and
- suitability for more types of bikes including mountain bikes, especially full suspension mountain bikes that are not suitable for pannier racks.
Instead of panniers you’ll use a larger seat bag, handlebar bag and a frame bag that fits within the main triangle of your bike frame.
In our next blog we’ll add what you need to take for unsupported touring.
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