I get a lot of questions from prospective bicycle tourists who ask how to go about packing their bike for a tour. This seems like a simple question, but there is actually a lot that goes into packing your bike.
The answer to this question also depends on whether or not you are going to be riding with a trailer or with panniers. I have always toured with panniers and I would recommend panniers to anyone who plans to spend 90% or more of their tour on paved roads (If you are planning an off-road tour, then I would recommend getting a trailer, but in most cases, I truly believe that panniers are the best way to go).
That being said, I can’t cover everything in just one post. So I’ve decided to break down this question of how to go about packing your bike, by breaking the question into three different sections.
In this article I am going to be concentrating on the gear that you might carry inside of your handlebar bag.
My strategy for packing my handlebar bag is to put all of my most important belongings in this one bag. My reason for this is that I always have my handlebar bag on me. It never leaves my body. When I go into a grocery store or run to the restroom to take a shower, the handlebar bag goes with me. The reason for this is that if my bike and the rest of my belongings were to be stolen, I would at least have my handlebar bag and the valuable contents inside (wallet, cell phone, camera, journal, etc). As long as I have these belongings in my possession I can buy myself a new bike, get a ride to the airport, call the police, or do whatever needs to be done to rescue the tour.
Your handlebar bag should also contain most of the things that you want to get to when you are riding your bike (your map or camera for example). I don’t like to get off my bike every time I need to look at the map or eat a snack, so having these items within reach is extremely important.
I’ve put together a little video where I show you exactly what I carry inside my handlebar bag. Below the video, I have listed the contents of my handlebar bag and given details for why I use these particular items.
As usual, if you have any questions about how to plan a bicycle tour of your own, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
This Is The Handlebar Bag That I Am Currently Using:
Lone Peak Alta 100 Handlebar Bag – I like this bag because it is extremely durable, has a place for a map at the top of the bag, has enough room to carry all my most important belongings, and can also be used as a shoulder bag when you go into a spermarket… or anytime you might leave your bike.
Here Is A List of Everything I Carry Inside My Handlebar Bag:
Maps – I use basic road maps that can be obtained for free from AAA (if you are a member). If you are not a member, you can buy maps from AAA quite inexpensively. I have also used the maps sold through Adventure Cycling on some of my adventures. These (US bicycle touring ) maps are for specific routes and if you plan to ride off the route, they won’t do you much good. If you do plan to stick to the routes they suggest, these maps are your best bet! (Some bicycle touring books also contain great maps that you can use.)
Digital Camera – I have a Sony Cybershot DSC-W7 It has 7.2 Mega Pixels and records photos on a Sony Memory Stick. The reason I bought this camera is because of it’s batteries! It uses normal AA batteries and not the lithium batteries that you find in video cameras and most new digital cameras. The reason I don’t like lithium batteries for use on a bike tour is that once the batteries run out, you have to charge the battery, and most of the time, when the battery runs out, you are in the middle of nowhere and you certainly don’t have 4 hours to sit around while your lithium battery recharges. In my case, when my batteries run out, I just simply pull the two spare AA batteries from my pack and stick them in my camera and I’m ready to go. I use rechargeable batteries so I don’t have to constantly be buying new batteries while I ride and this strategy has worked wonderfully for me over the years. (If you get rechargeable batteries, you’ll also need to bring a lightweight battery charger with you.)
Lip Balm – I used to not know what lip balm was actually for. After suffering from some really bad sunburns and living for a few years in the dry air of the Rocky Mountains, I finally figured out that I needed to spend the money and actually use this stuff.
Wallet – What items you carry in your wallet is up to you. I recommend not bringing a big leather wallet. Instead, just get all your credit cards, ID cards, etc and bundle them together, put a rubber band around them, and throw the bundle in a plastic Ziploc bag. It will weigh much less than your regular wallet and will be waterproof inside that plastic bag. Or do what I did and make your own wallet! Watch the video above to see what I mean!
GPS – This is definitely not a necessity for a bike trip, but on my past trips overseas, my GPS has been a lifesaver. I would never bring it on a tour of the United States unless I simply wanted to have it as a toy. The GPS I use is a Garmin eTrex Legend and I would recommend it highly. There are much more sophisticated models, but I’ve found this GPS to be more than enough technology for my uses. (Make sure you know how to work the GPS before you leave on your tour)
Cell Phone – This is something you certainly don’t need to bring with you, but I’m sure that modern bicycle tourists are carrying a phone with them. Bring it for safety or simply bring it to keep in touch with your friends and family.
Knife – Bring a lightweight knife like the Gerber 06050 Ultralight LST Folding Knife (or something similar) that is big enough and strong enough to cut rope, wood and cloth… and be prepared to use your knife for defensive purposes if necessary.
Bike Lock Key – I attach my bike lock key to my handlebar bag with a lanyard so that I don’t accidentally lose the key as I ride. I recommend you do the same! If you lock up your bike and then you can’t find your lock key, you’ll be having a really bad day!
Hat – I carry a baseball hat in my handlebar bag so that when I get off my bike and take off my helmet, I can immediately throw on my hat to hide my helmet hair. I don’t like to walk around the supermarket or post office and have funny looking helmet hair, so I use this lightweight hat to cover up my bad hair. You’ll also get a lot more respect from the locals if you don’t look like a crazy person with helmet head, so wear a hat!
Snacks for the Road – I like to carry a little something in my handlebar bag that I can munch on as I ride. I will often times have a Clif Bar or something similar in my bag so that when my energy gets low I can quickly grab a bite without having to stop and waste a whole lot of time.
Headlamp – This is another item that doesn’t necessarily need to be in your handlebar bag, but I like to keep it in my handlebar bag just because when I am in my tent at night, I know exactly where my light is and I can find it in a matter of seconds. I have a Petzl Tikkina Headlamp, which runs on three AAA batteries and is probably not the best headlamp in the entire world, but it’s inexpensive and is gives off more than enough light to read at night, set up camp, cook in the dark, or signal for help.
USB Stick – Before I leave on my trip, I put all my important computer files on this USB stick so that if I need to access the files while I am out on the road, I can go to a library and get to the files in a matter of minutes. I have a PNY 8 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive. I recommend that you get the largest USB stick you can get as you can store your photos from your digital camera on the device and thus, save you from purchasing multiple Memory Sticks for your camera.
Palm Pilot – Once again, this is another thing that you certainly don’t need to bring on your tour. I have a Palm LifeDrive Mobile Manager and I like to bring it though because this one device gives me access to the Internet, email, and instant messaging. It also comes with 4 GB of storage, so I can have hours and hours of music stored on the on device… and I can even watch movies and listen to music while out on the road.
Earphones – If you do bring an MP3 player (like an iPod) or Palm Pilot with audio playback capabilities, you are going to need a good set of earphones. I recommend not buying the best earphones you can get though, as I have ruined numerous pairs of earphones when I accidentally turned my head the wrong way (forgetting the earphones were still in my ears), the earphones fell out and down into the spokes of my wheels, where they were instantly destroyed by the momentum of my own spinning wheels.
Passport – You won’t need this if you are traveling within your own country, but if you are traveling overseas or into another country, you will most definitely need your passport… and you are going to want to be sure you don’t lose it! Keep it close! Keep it in your handlebar bag!
Journal – I recommend that everyone journal about their bicycle tours. I have filled dozens of journals over the years and I plan to fill hundreds more in the future. There are a number of reasons to keep a journal while on a bike trip, and I plan to talk more about this in an upcoming post, but for now, I recommend you get a journal that is small enough to fit inside your handlebar bag, but ridged enough to withstand the demands of a long distance bicycle tour.
A Book To Read – I read more than anyone else I know and I couldn’t imagine going on a bike tour without at least one book. On my last tour I read through four books and I could have read a lot more if I had wanted to. I recommend Ted Schredd’s “The Cycling Adventures of Coconut Head” if you are looking to get motivated for your upcoming tour. The name of the book is a bit silly, but the book is hilarious and insightful! I read this book before every bike tour I go on as it totally gets me excited about all that I have in store. I fully recommend it! (Click here to listen to my interview with Ted Schredd)
Other Important Paperwork – You are going to want to carry your maps, tickets, itinerary for the trip, and the contact information for the places you are going to be staying in your handlebar bag as well. You will likely meet people on the road and pick up their contact information as well, so I recommend keeping this information in your handlebar bag as well. I put all of my paper materials (maps, journal, book to read, contact information, tickets, itinerary, etc) in a Sea To Summit waterproof bag so as to protect it all from the weather while I’m riding. The bag also works to keep my paperwork organized while out on the road.