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.
1). How to pack your handlebar bag
2). How to pack your panniers
3). How to pack your bicycle
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.
13 thoughts on “How To Pack Your Handlebar Bag”
I just watched the handlebar bag video. Very good ideas – especially keeping the tiny things like your key attached to it. My only disagreement is waterproofing. I find if it starts to rain and you haven’t put electronics into waterproof bags you tend to keep riding hoping the rain will stop and hoping that your bag will be enough to keep everything dry. This is especially true when you are tired and close to camp. I always keep anything that can’t get wet protected from the beginning of the day. BTW, I wish we had a GPS on our Germany/Denmark trip last summer – we were almost always lost. Cheers.
Since you use the same handlebar bag I do I thought I would share a couple modifications I made to mine.
Since I get my maps from different sources they are often too large for the Lone Peak map case, so I made this modification: Sew on two D rings to the front of the bag using some nylon strapping material. I use these D rings to attach a larger size map case with Velcro that comes with the map case. It just sits on top of the bag. When I want access to my bag I just flip the map case over. It has worked great.
The second thing I’ve done is added a piece of chloroplast board to the bottom of the bag to make it stiffer. This is the board that political signs are made from. You can usually find one lying along the road. It really helps to support the bottom.
I think you are right in trying to keep your electronics protected at all times. My handlebar bag does such a good job of keeping water out that I usually don’t worry about any sort of damage unless it is absolutely dumping. I think this is the reason I don’t take such extra precautions against rain. But I agree with you in that you should try and keep your gear protected at all times. In my case, I feel that my handlebar bag does a pretty good job of that, so I’m not worried about such things most of the time.
Two other important items I always put in my handlebar bag are sunscreen and sunglasses. I don’t do as much with electronics but I usually shove a very compact rain jacket in there. That way I don’t have to get off the bike if it starts sprinkling a bit. Lastly a stupid freebie shower cap is tiny and it is great for keeping your bike seat dry when off the bike. This sounds foolish but on a long trip it is great not to have a cold wet crotch and the accompanying rashes that often appear as a result.
We always double bag our passport to make sure it stays dry no matter what as we once had a bad experience and it got some what wet on a trip. Always carry a bottle of sun screen and a small bottle of bug stuff planning not to use it but having it keeps away the bugs. Also have started carrying dish washing gloves to use on cold rainy days over pile gloves.
Any suggestions for a handlebar bag that mounts low enough so that it doesn’t obstruct a handlebar-mounted headlight that I use for commuting?
I don’t really have a good recommendation for you. Every handlebar bag is a little different, as are the type of handlebars that people have on their bikes. I have, however, never found a handlebar bag that mounts at such a level that allows you to also easily mount a light on your handlebars.
If I were you, I would try mounting your light somewhere else on your bicycle, instead of trying to find a special handlebar bag. Try mounting the light to your head tube, for example.
I love your site and find most things you speak about to be interesting, informational, useful, and often entertaining. I would like to make a comment regarding the knife you carry for protection…I assume you either have not taken a flight or purchased it once in whatever country you arrive in…. Regardless of how you obtain it, I encourage you to reconsider the use and advocacy of carrying/using a knife for self defense. The average person really does not know how to use a knife for this purpose and no doubt has any experience in doing so. A knife can be taken from you and used against you before you realize what is going on, this is especially true for women. It would be foolish to assume you can overpower an assailant…they have most likely scoped you out prior to approaching you and feel confident in their ability to cause you harm if needed/desired. I suggest carrying a whistle (plastic with no ball inside), and blow it hard and continuously if you feel threatened by someone. You can also carry bear spray (be sure you aim it down wind) and aim toward the eyes/face. Be prepared to give up whatever the attacker demands without trying to fight for stuff…nothing in any of your bags is worth your life. Also, I carry a quickly accessible “dummy” wallet with minimal cash so that I have something to give and hope they will be satisfied and move on. Safe and happy bike travels, Parro
I am not sure if this site is very active but I happened across it while doing a search for a lockable handlebar bag to purchase and decided to read it a bit.
This is an awesome site and there is very good information featured all over the site. I agree with so much of it but wanted to caution about having everything of importance in your front handlebar bag.
I have been touring in South America for a year now and have kept everything my handlebar bag and have not let it out of my sight as you suggest. A week ago in Chimbote, Peru I was riding with two other cyclists I had met and all three of us were robbed by three (or more it happened so fast) guys who just ran up on us and grabbed at our stuff. At least seven people in the neighborhood watched the entire time and did nothing and later would not help the police identify who did it. The typical case of “I didn’t see anything.”
I fought (which I guess you should never do but it was instinct and the assailants never tried to strike me physically) with the guy who “attacked” me. While I straddled my bike and it was knocked down my entire handlebar bag was taken. I never thought it would release so easily with just pulling hard. I managed to rip off the top map case with the map in it while I was struggling so I salvaged only that. My passport and everything else important like my camera, credit cards, phone, journal, headlamp and even pepper spray (I realized too late and was too slow to get it out) was lost in one swoop. I managed to save my front panniers and GPS (which was hidden under a stuffed animal mascot on my handlebar mount but he grabbed at it anyway ). My Vaude front panniers had the handles tucked up under the rain covers so they were not easy to quick release and I was able to fight to keep them from being removed. I have now figured out a way to use a cable lock to lock the front panniers to my pannier rack to at least protect against this type of theft again. Fortunately I had backed up my photos the night before and fortunately I had some money hidden elsewhere for back up as well.
One of the two cyclists I was with lost her Ortlieb handlebar bag and both Ortlieb front panniers! They said that the handlebar bag because of a glitch gave them trouble to take off normally and in seconds it was taken. The other cyclist had an attempt made on his handlebar bag but fought and managed to keep it but not the camera that fell out in the shuffle.
Neither of the other two cyclists lost their passports because they were hidden in a pannier more difficult in which to “grab and go.” I am not sure that another place on the bike is necessarily the answer but possibly on your body for at least the passport and some money and an extra credit or debit card. I know it is friggin’ hot to wear but think of the alternative…
I suggest scanning or photographing your passport (and all of your pages if those are good memory/souvenir stamps for you) and attaching it to an email to yourself and possibly another person close to you. Any documents or information of importance can be handled the same way. If your journal is important to you then that can be done for that as well.
There is no perfect way to be completely safe but I just wanted to pass this info on to anyone coming across the site. The police fortunately recovered my passport, journal, some personal papers and most of the other cyclists stuff (except that of value to a Peruvian), so all was not lost after all but I was lucky.
On another note, I purchase and carry 2 extra rechargeable batteries specific to my camera. The after market brands are very inexpensive and having those does not limit me to what kind of camera I have to buy based on it taking AA batteries since so many of them are proprietary batteries now (I hate it but it is a fact). My camera choice is important to me and worth the extra grams in battery weight.
I’m so sorry to hear about this recent robbery in South America.
This article about carrying your important belongings is not necessary a full-proof means of protecting your belongings. If people are going to rob from you, they are going to rob from you and you can’t do much about that. You said you were able to retain some of your belongings, so I would consider you very lucky. Most people get EVERYTHING taken from them. In which case, it doesn’t matter where your belongings are stored (unless they are on your body, perhaps).
This article is more about protecting your belongings when going inside a store and leaving your bicycle outside. That way your important items are with you and your less important stuff is left on the bike. It’s not really about protecting yourself in the event of an assault/robbery.
Again, I’m so sorry to hear that that happened to you. Glad to hear you are okay though.
I wanted to ask what kind of lamp you’d suggest to get when I have a large handle bar bag. I tend not to ride at night but on my next tour it may happen. thanks!
I just use a Petzl headlamp. I’m not sure exactly which model I have. The one I have is pretty old. I should probably get a new one myself soon: http://bicycletouringpro.com/petzl-headlamp-light
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