Top 10 Most Important Items On A Bike Tour

There’s a long list of items one might consider when packing for a bicycle tour. But what items are most important?

I’ve been asked numerous times over the years what items I think are most important and worth spending extra money on. So today, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 most important items for any bicycle traveler.

This list, consists of the items I believe to be the most important for successfully pulling off a self-supported bike tour and for remaining both comfortable and safe while out on the road.

1. Bicycle

No bicycle tour would be complete without a bicycle of some kind. And I’ll be the first to tell you that conducting a long distance bike tour on a Walmart junker or a $5 garage sale find is entirely possible. But I’ll also be the first to tell you that having a quality bicycle will make a huge difference on the overall pleasure you get out of your travels. You can use an old bike that is ill equipped and certainly get by. But having a touring bike made to fit the kind of conditions you are sure to encounter on your cycling adventure will make your experiences on the road that much more enjoyable.

2. Camera

For me, taking photos while on my travels is extremely important. So important, in fact, that I’ve listed the camera as the second most important item for bicycle touring. I use my camera not only to snap photos of people I meet and places I’ve been, but I use the photos I take on the road to share my bicycle touring experiences with other people. People like you! And on occasion, I actually use my camera as a sort of digital atlas – snapping photos of road signs and maps I see along my route, and then referring to them later on my digital camera, using the photos I’ve snapped to navigate and find my way as I ride. After years of traveling by bike, my camera is one of the few items I have a hard time imaginging life without.

3. Shoes

As a bicycle tourist, you are going to be spending a lot of time riding in the saddle. But you are also bound to spend a good bit of time off the bike and walking around on foot. Because of this, shoe selection is key! You either need to find a pair of shoes that works well both on and off the bike, or you need to bring a pair of shoes that works well for cycling and another pair of shoes or sandals, which you can then use once you step off the bike in the evenings.

4. Cell Phone

It’s hard to imagine, but just a few years ago, cell phones were complete science fiction. If you wanted to call home while on tour, you needed to carry a calling card and find a pay phone or a helpful stranger with a land line. Nowadays, you can call practically anyone from practically anywhere in the world – and at an affordable rate! The cell phone has not only enabled the bicycle traveler to stay in touch with friends, family and co-workers back home, but it gives us a safety net, so in case an accident does occur we can quickly dial for help and send medical officials to our location in a matter of minutes.

5. Riding Shorts

When you spend hours and hours riding a bike, day after day, there’s a lot of friction that occurs between the place where you butt and saddle meet. Because of this, picking the right set of riding shorts is extremely important. Traditional bicycle tourists often times opt for the black Lycra spandex shorts that are so often associated with the stereotypical cyclist. But more modern bicycle travelers (and those wishing to blend in a bit more with regular society) often times choose to wear cycling shorts under a pair of lightweight athletic shorts… or they simply ride in mountain bike style shorts instead. Whatever pair of shorts you choose to wear, just know that selecting the wrong pair of shorts could give you a chafeing problem that leaves your nether region itchy and raw. But choose the right pair and you’ll be cycling in style… and enjoying every minute!

6. Panniers/Trailer

How you decide to carry your gear is also extremely important. Most long distance bicycle tourists choose to ride with a set pf panniers, but many cyclists are still opting to ride with a trailer of some kind. This choice is extremely important as it determines where you can go, what kind of roads you can travel on, what modes of transport you can take, and how you navigate your way through traffic and other such roadside obstacles. Whatever mode of “luggage” you ultimately choose, you want something that is water restistant (or water proof), keeps your items cool, and won’t easily break or tear.

7. Mirror

Many experienced cyclists frown on the use of a mirror. They say it isn’t necessary or that it gives them a headache. But I disagree. I’ve been cycling with a mirror since my first bike tour in 2001 and I can’t imagine leaving on tour without such a device. Granted, I don’t always ride with my mirror. There are times when I too feel a mirror is unnecessary. But then, when I find myself on a narrow, winding road filled with cars, the mirror goes back on and I’m grateful to have eyes in the back of my head, watching to ensure that the vehicles approaching from behind can see me and are making the necessary actions to move around me on the road.

8. Journal

It might come as a surprise to many that a journal would be listed as one of the most important items for bicycle touring. After all, a journal isn’t really a necessity for bicycle travel. But for me at least, leaving on a tour without a journal of some kind would be incredibly difficult. At night, after a long day’s ride, I use my journal to document the day and recall my thoughts and ideas on the various people and places I saw during my ride. Some cyclists use their journal to document their daily miles, top speed, and other cycling statistics. And I use my journal to keep track of the people I meet on the road by writing down their names, email addresses, and phone numbers as I go. Most importantly, I use my journal to write down my goals and plans for the future, so that once I return home from my tour, I have a long list of things I want to see, do, experience and accomplish.

9. Sleeping Mat

If you’re going to be spending multiple nights on the ground, sleeping in a tent, then picking the right sleeping mat is one important decision you need to make. It’s so important, in fact, I’ve listed it here in lieu of a tent or sleeping bag. I’ve done this because the sleeping mat is, in my opinion at least, more important than either of these two items! There are, in fact, a few different types of mats to choose from. Some cyclists opt to go without a mat, which I have tried and do not recommend. Others opt for a lightweight and inexpensive foam mat, which younger riders might think sufficient, but older riders will grumble and complain about. And then there are thin blow up mats, like the kind ThermaRest makes, which are great, but they too, are relatively thin. And then there are the inflatable mats, which are several inches thick and much more expensive, but they lift you high up off the ground, providing you with thick insulation from the cold earth underneath and give you a great night’s sleep. In the end, the mat you chose is ultimately up to you and may depend largely on the length of your tour and the number of nights you plan to  spend in a tent. Choose the right mat and you’ll be sleeping like a baby and waking each day totally refreshed. But choose the wrong mat and you won’t sleep a wink and you’ll wake each day feeling as though you’ve been beat with a baseball bat.

10. Pump

Finally, the pump you chose for your trip is the last item I recommend you spend considerable time picking out. I’ve used inferior pumps in the past which have broken while packed inside my panniers or busted when in use. For the traveling cyclist, this is the last thing you want when out on the road. Getting a flat tire is bad enough! But when you go to use your pump and it breaks on you and you’re out in the middle of no where, this is a million times worse! This is why selecting the right pump is so important. You’ve got to pick a pump that is lightweight, but you also need one that works well and is so durable it can handle just about anything you throw at it.

So, there it is! My top 10 list of the most important items you can bring on your bicycle tour.

What do you think of the list? Do you agree with my selections? Do you disagree entirely? Let me know by leaving a comment below. What items would you place in your top 10?

14 thoughts on “Top 10 Most Important Items On A Bike Tour

  1. Rich says:

    What good is the pump if you don’t have an extra tube or repair kit? 🙂
    I would put an extra tube or flat kit in place of the journal. You can catch up with an online journal at e-cafes and such places.

  2. Owen Moore says:

    Any portable pump device needs to be checked out before the flat. My own personal rule is to try the selected pump at the shop before purchase. I have to be able to fully inflate two tires and not be exhausted. I happen to like the Topeak with gauge, hose, and foot pad so it works like a regular pump.

    Always like the rubber disks that allow one to fill a sink with water to wash out the clothes rather than trying to stuff a sock in the sink outlet.

  3. Dieter Hof says:

    Journal is okay. I use, actually need it, to recap my trip. After a month or more on the road, it’s impossible to remember when you were where.
    Pump also is okay, but when do you need it? When you have a flat tire, of course. Without a repair kit (to mend your tube at night) and a spare tire (to get going quickly when it happens) you don’t need a pump. So you need all of that!

  4. Darren Alff says:

    Rich and Dieter, I understand what you are saying about the pump not being useful unless you are carrying a spare tube and repair kit. That is obvious. But I listed the pump as an important item because it is an item I believe is worth spending extra money on to get a good one. You don’t necessarily need to spend extra money on a good patch kit or tubes however. So I included only the pump in this list simply because spending that extra money on a pump will pay off in the long run. Obviously having a spare tube and patch kit is important as well. But whatever kind of tubes or patch kit you use are not really that important.

  5. Carl Crume says:

    I like your list Darren. Although, I was under the impression that the list is of what you can’t leave home without, irregardless of the quality or price. If I had never gone on a bike tour and relied soley on this list, I might not think to pack a patch kit. ( I don’t carry a tube or tire, just the kit and a pump. ) I would also add to the list – in fact as number 2 – a tent. I have to have a bike, tent, minor repair – patch kit & pump, water bottles, mirror, and even though I tell myself that I won’t be riding at night – I always somehow do, a headlight and tail-light. These are the things that are a must for me.

    Hope that dosen’t sound too critical. I just think it needs a little tweeking. But then again I’m new to bike touring.

    When are you going to be back in the states – Park City?

    Take care of yourself over there, Carl Crume

  6. ron kor says:

    top 10 items for bike tour

    saddle. your rear end is the first thing to go on a tour….way before legs, arms, back, feet. #1 is a good saddle as this is THE “limiting factor” for how long one can cycle.

    a good pump. nice of you to identify this, and I agree. But what pump is a good pump? Why not name it?

    by the way, watch out fopr LUFTHANSA charges for bikes. last year 0, this year $200 each way. Clearly they do not want you to fly with a bike.

  7. Darren Alff says:

    The saddle is important. I guess I just think of that as part of the overall “bike”. But your right. If you have the wrong saddle, or you simply have it set incorrectly, things can go bad really quick. I personally have never had any sort of “rear end” problems on my bike tours. Maybe it’s my anatomy or something, but I can sit on that thing all day long and it doesn’t bother me a bit.

    As far as the pump goes, I use a Topeak Harpoon Master S2 Master Blaster bike pump. It’s a bit bogger and heavier than other bike pumps, but it’s more durable/reliable than any other bike pump I’ve ever owned.

    I didn’t list it in this article simply because I believe there are other pumps that are likely just as good. This article was not intended to list the best bike, the best camera, the best shoes, etc. Instead, it was simply meant to point out which items are most important and worth spending the extra money on if you have the extra money to spend.

    But I do recommend the Topeak Harpoon if you are looking for a good pump.

  8. Colleen Welch says:

    I think the journal is great, but if you have internet capability on your phone, you can blog your journey so everyone can keep track of your ride. I did this on a 17 day ride with my son and we only had 2 days of no service. Everyone at home enjoyed following our trip almost in real time.
    I would add sunscreen (especially lipbalm) to the list of essentials. I know it’s not expensive, but good sunscreen is important.
    Let’s face it, it’s tough to limit a list to 10!

  9. azmi says:

    I’d like to add the Duct Tape, Bungeee Cord, Zip Tie, Spare Spokes &Tubes, Mini Tools, Compass & Road Map OR a handheld GPS, Patch Kit, Sandal, Chain Lube and the MOST IMPORTANT (in my opinion)…FENDERS.

    My favourite pump is the plastic floor pump like’s cheap & light. Easy to pump your tires using the floor pump compare to that expensive mini pump.

    And fly Malaysia Airlines, they don’t charge any extra to carry your bike but it will be part of the 20kg luggage limit. Futhermore, you dont have to box your bike, simply take off the pedal and push it to the check-in counter. I think they are th most bike-friendly airlines.

  10. Alastair Humphreys says:

    Great list!
    Definitely agree with the Thermarest.
    I would add a Leatherman. Great for fixing the bike, and the pliers are invaluable for grinding peppercorns when cooking at night!
    Also – gaffa/duct tape, zip ties, superglue…

  11. azmi says:

    Funny that you mention it. I have bought the Micro Floor Drive too! Yes, it’s small, light & can inflate up to 160psi… good buy!

    I love my Big Apple tires.

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