Function or form? Freakish or fast? Thrift it, stitch it, borrow it, or charge it, regardless of how you choose to roll remember this: less is more.
We’re into taking just what we need, then over-packing for fun. The less you need the more luxury you can carry. Learning what feels best for you on the road comes with your own experience. But we’ve put together some handy generals on what to bring, how to pack and ride your bike safely to help you get started. It’s easy to overestimate your needs when you’re getting started touring. Take an overnight ride with a fully loaded bike, then challenge yourself to do with less. In the end, your body will thank you.
What should I wear?
Think versatility: pack light by bringing clothes you can wear both on and off the bicycle. Layer up when it gets cold (or once you step off the bike) and peel away as needed to keep your thermometer balanced.
Wool is awesome, cotton is not. Lycra is weightless, overalls aren’t. Loose fits are as important as rain gear- make sure you have both. Those funky looking cycling shorts become soo hip after you’ve been on a bike seat all day. If you don’t like how they look, wear your Carhartts over ‘em.
Cycling shoes are really good in the climbs, but then so are cages (or toe-clips). Some ride in sandals ( great in rain and they suck on hills), feet get sweaty on bike tours so sandals are great ventilation- but this can also lead to sunburns between the toes. To maximize your stroke, stay away from squishy-soled running shoes. Hey! Do your toes go numb? Here’s why.
Panniers, 5-gallon jugs, or a backpack?
I once met a woman traveling on a knobby-tired mountain bike carrying a bulky tent, 2-liter soda bottle of water and garbage bag of her stuff. She was en route from Washing state to Panama. There are as many touring styles as there are people.
But we’ve got some suggestions to optimize your comfort and your tour experience. With your panniers, think between 10 and 40 pounds. Some folks keep up to 60% of their weight up front, others pack it all tight on the back. Whatever you do, your ride will be smoother if you balance your weight before you take off. Keep bulky items close to the bike’s center of balance. If you take a few rides before setting out on tour, you can and feel out what’s working and what’s wobbly and make adjustments.
Darren Aiff over at Bicycle Touring Pro puts a lot of love and thought into his set up. Check out his style. Keep your gear dry inside your bags; soggy surprises make for solemn nights. Don’t trust a “waterproof” pannier unless it’s these. Bag your load with extra plastic garbage sacks and dry bags.
Gear for you!
Getting your gear sorted makes your bicycle tour comfortable, and is also an ever-evolving process–the more you cycle tour, the more you find your style and the gear that fits you best. We’ve put together a basic gear list to help you get started, but encourage you to expand on it as you find your own touring style.
Gear for your bike!
Someone once told us: If you can’t use it, don’t bring it. Depending on your bicycle and familiarity with bicycle repair and maintenance, your kit may contain different tools. If you already know how to do a lot of your own maintenance, you might want to bring a lot of items for your tool kit… Our mechanics will dig you. If you’re less familiar with your bike, maybe all you carry are the tools to fix a flat.
Out on the route, SAG mechanics will move through the pack and also be coming up from the back. If you have a major mechanical problem, don’t worry someone is on their way.
Things you should be prepared to diagnose and fix:
- Flat tires (patch kit, spare tubes, tire levers, tire pump)
- Loose bolts (water bottle cages, racks, etc.) (various wrenches, varies by bike- most common 4 ,5, and 6mm allen wrench. Older bikes commonly use 8, 9, and 10mm standard wrenches or a screwdriver)
Things that earn you bonus points:
- Adjusting brakes and shifting (Allen wrenches for modern bikes, standard wrenches for older bikes, screwdriver)
- Being able to properly break and reconnect a chain (Chain tool)
- Being able to true and/or repair a wheel (Spoke wrench- sizes vary. If you break a spoke on the rear wheel drive side, you will also need a tool to remove your cassette on a modern bike or freewheel on an older bike)
Things you don’t want to carry a tool for on a tour- check them before you leave!
- Headset adjustment
- Cone adjustment on front and rear hubs
- Bottom bracket adjustment
- Pedal looseness
For most people, a good mini tool will be all the tool one needs. The WM mechanics pack a roll of the following:
- 8, 9, and 10 mm box end/open end wrenches
- 6” crescent wrench
- Allen wrench set: 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, and 6mm
- 3 way spoke Wrench
- Combination Slot head/Phillips head screwdriver
- Needle nose pliers with wire cutter
- Chain tool
- Cassette removal tool
In addition to just tools, you may want to carry some equipment.
You should definitely these:
- Spare tube(s!)
- Patch kit
- Tire lever(s!)
- Frame pump
To be extra safe, carry:
- Spare spokes (proper sizes of course)
- Spare derailer cable
- Spare brake cable
- A few extra links of chain (also proper size)
And bonus points for things that fix all kinds of stuff:
- A few feet of duct tape
- A few feet of baling wire
- Paracord or a light rope
- A few extra bolts and nuts
By and large, the main fix on the road is a flat tire. But when you need to do more, it’s indispensable to have the tools and equipment to handle the problem.
Maybe even more important than carrying the tools to fix problems on the road is make sure your bike is in good working order before you leave. Check the tires for cracks or cuts, make sure your brake pads have enough life left in them, check moving parts for excess play (head set, bottom bracket, wheel hubs).
And don’t forget to load your bike up for some rides across town before you leave. This is gonna do two things: You will become more familiar with the different handling characteristics of a loaded bicycle and it will help you diagnose potential problems before you get out on the road.
Here we’re going to cover riding in groups, riding in traffic, the open road, and descending safely, and bonking. Be sure to study up the wisdom embedded in our chat.
When riding in a group, it’s important to communicate with your fellow riders. When slowing or turning you should signal the riders near you let them know what you intend to do. When slowing, put your hand out behind you, palm flat, and say “slowing”, or “stopping”.
When making a turn, point to the direction you plan on turning, and tell the riders around you “right”, or “left”. The riders in the front of a group have a much better view of the obstacles in the road than those in back.
Here’s what the bikers are saying:
If you are riding in the front and see something you don’t want to run over, like a pothole, gravel, or road debris, point to the area to avoid and tell the riders around you what the obstacle is so they can avoid it as well. This is most effective when you give everyone a lot of time to react.
Sudden swerves and braking can be dangerous in a group. It’s wise to keep roughly a bike and a half worth of distance between your front wheel and the rider ahead of you. Especially if you don’t know them or how they know their bike. New roads and new riders need space and time. Take some.
Just as cars are required to signal, bikes are as well. Indicating your intentions to the cars around you whether you’re turning, stopping, or merging is important for your safety. Not all cars signal turns, but you can give yourself an edge if you watch a car’s “body language.” Cars turning right will usually edge to the right and brake as they approach the turn, whether or not they signal.
Another thing to watch for is parked cars opening doors. You can avoid being doored by giving parked cars a healthy amount of space, if its available. If not, watch for cars that have just parked, and be aware of the passengers inside the vehicle. If you get caught by a door and can’t avoid it, its safest for the rider to aim for the flat side of the door rather than the edge… Roll, dust yourself off, then politely ask for their lawyer’s name.
On the open road, there are some techniques you can use to help you ride safely. When turning to look behind you, it can be hard to keep a straight line while riding. A good way to minimize the tendency to drift as you look behind is to tuck your chin into your shoulder, rather than turning your whole upper body. Crossing train tracks should be done as perpendicular to the track as practical to avoid having your wheel slip into the trough along the track.
Similarly, when crossing from a lower level of paving to a higher one (this happens often at the shoulder of a repaved road) you should approach the level change as obliquely as possible to avoid having your wheels wash out at the paving lip. Also, take a safe amount of road. if you ride too close to the shoulder, you’re in danger of drifting off the road, which can cause you to wipe out (see above).
Descending safely means not exceeding your ability to control the bike. When you carry extra weight, your brakes won’t be as effective, so brake earlier than usual. Brake before you enter a turn. Look up the road instead of directly in front of your wheels. Pick a line ahead of time and ride it while you continue to scan ahead. Watch for blind turns- (when you can’t see the end of the turn) if you can’t see what’s coming, you can’t react to it.
There is real science when it comes to descending, in the end there is nothing more important than time on the hill. Ride with confidence.
Bonking is as awful as it is easy to avoid. Brad bonked for his first time when he was eight, and as he says, “it’s been terrible ever since.”
In endurance sports such as cycle touring, depleting your body of glycogen leads to astounding fatigue and memorable foul moods.
According to the Wiki article, “exhaustion can reach the point where the cyclist is unable to stand without the support provided by the bicycle. Symptoms of depletion include general weakness, fatigue, and manifestations of hypoglycemia, such as dizziness and even hallucinations.”
Typically in a mild bonk, rest, food, and drinks with carbohydrates will perk you back up. Bonking can be avoided by keeping your glycogen levels high from the start of your day, and by listening to your body, feeding it, and drinking carbohydrates. Or just by take it easy and float back to the SAG party coming up behind you.