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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?