10 important things to pack for a successful bike tour


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4. Bike clothing & helmet

Again, I am grouping multiple items under one header, and I hope you will forgive me for misleading you. If I wouldn’t have done that, this list would have been something like “23 items to bring on a cycling trip”. Nobody wants to remember 23 items, don’t they?

For a long tour you want clothes that have been designed with cycling in mind.

Top: A cycle top will allow both for your skin to breath and for perspiration to evaporate, while long sleeved ones will allow a degree of protection against sun burn or cold days. Some of these  jerseys come with a series of one, two or even three or four back pockets, which can be very useful for storing within reach any small items you might need,  such as a phone or an energy bar.

Bottom: Padded Lycra cycling shorts are another must if you plan to spend a long time in the saddle. As the name implies, they should be padded, which provides some degree of comfort especially if you are not accustomed to long hours of pedaling. They generally don’t have pockets which makes the tops with back pockets mentioned above so useful.

Depending on the time of the year when you are planning to tour, I recommend bringing  either short or long sleeved pants and shirts. Bringing both types would just mean wasted space, so do a bit of research and decide which you are packing.

Hands: gloves, gloves, gloves. It drives me crazy when I see someone riding a bike without gloves. If you fall, there is a high chance you will want to arrest your fall using your hands. Now, imagine you did that and you had no gloves. What do you think it will happen? You’d guessed it, it would suck. I once had a motorcycle accident and as I was wearing summer clothes, I have made a mess of myself. But I had gloves and they took the larger part of the scrapes on my hands. When I was stuck in bed, contemplating the ceiling and cursing my stupidity, I had the satisfaction that at least I can use my hands to change TV channels.

I’d suggest the type with extra padding in the palm, and if you are riding in summer, get finger-less ones. A good pair of these should be around 20$. That being said: gloves, gloves, gloves!

Shoes: if you are planning a long tour, especially if it involves lots of climbing, then a pair of cycling shoes and clip-in pedals might be in order. Personally I have never used such a system and so I can’t speak from experience, but they seem to be a good investment, as they allow pulling on the pedal, not only pushing down on it. This should give you better performance and I bet it comes really handy when going up-hill.

Helmet: This one is a staple. I admit to hate wearing one, but I do it anyway and so should you. Nowadays they are quite cheap and light and you should be able to find a good one for around 30$.

I wouldn’t recommend a closed style of helmet, even if they look cool, simply because they don’t allow for the same breathability as the ones with plenty of openings, which will be vital on those hot summer days.

The most important aspect to consider when getting a helmet is that it has a good fit. If you buy one from a store, better just ask the clerk how to pick one, but if you are looking to buy online, take a moment to read a couple of articles about how to determine the right size.

Tip: bring long sleeved garments for spring and autumn and short sleeved ones for summer.

 

Cycling in the Carpathians

 

5. Sun cream

I know this one is one of those advises you’d get from your mom, but she would be very right to give it to you.

Imagine a sunny summer day, you pedaling courageously yet cream-less through the merciless blaze. At the end of the day, unless you are already (very) tanned or wore long sleeves (really, on a hot day?) you will feel your skin in a way you’d wish you didn’t. The last thing you want on the following day is to suffer unnecessary from sun-burn, so do yourself a favor and bring sun cream, as this classic song instructs.

 

Tips: 

  • Even if you are not prone to burning I’d recommend getting a cream with a high Sun Protection Factor. Personally I go for 50. Why risk it?
  • Look for a creme that is highly water resistant. You won’t be swimming in the pool but you will sweat so it’s better to have a cream that can handle a bit of moisture.
  • Reapply during the day as indicated on the label.

 

6. Bungee cords

This simple accessory can be a life saver when you are in the middle of nowhere and for some reason something gives away. During my first bike tour the unexpected happened and both my pannier bags started tearing. I managed to finish the tour without having to buy new panniers only with the help of the bungee cords that kept the bags attached to the bike until I got home.

That being said, they can be used for plenty of other purposes like fastening your tent or sleeping mat to the bike. The best would be to buy a set of 3 to 6, of different lengths. You will find one such set for 2-3 $ on Amazon.

Remember to handle them cords with a bit of consideration as they are a major source of eye injury.

 

7. Waterproof jacket and pants

As much as you love rain, it can be a bit depressing to be rained on while on a ride. If you hate being wet, then you will be miserable.

No way to escape behind an umbrella, no shelter on that open field where you happened to be when the rain started. If only there was something that could prevent you from getting soaked!

Enter stage right waterproof fabrics. A good jacket will be enough in a drizzle, but should you face a downpour, then adding a pair of waterproof trousers might save the day. Bike jackets are generally good windbreakers too so read the labels and pick one that suits your fancy.

8. Isotonic drinks

Isotonic drinks are beverages whose purpose is to help you over a long, sustained effort like a full day of cycling is. They do this by replacing the water and electrolytes that you lose naturally as you exercise. A word of warning, they usually contain a high degree of sugar. It’s either that or sweetener, so it’s worth reading the label.

Isotonics come in multiple forms:

  • as ready to drink, in the form of sport & energy drinks. These work as you’d expect. Buy, open, drink, pedal. Nothing fancy. Takes space, so you can probably take only one or two bottles to go.
  • powder, usually stored in a plastic jar which can be anywhere from 500g to 2 kilos or more. I’d save these for when you are doing just a one day trip as they are good value but obviously bulky. For a day outing just pour the specified amount in your water bottle. It should last you through a day of  moderate effort without the need for refills.
  • powder also comes in packets. Convenient but should you bring 10-15 for a long tour, they will take precious space, although less than gel packs.
  • energy gels, stored in neat packs that can transported easily. The packets are designed to be opened and consumed while pedaling, which makes them convenient. Just keep two or three at hand, in your shirt back pocket. The only drawback is that they do take some space in your panniers. If space is an issue (and it usually is), you can go for the option described below.
  • Effervescent tablets. Personal favorite, as they occupy the least space possible. A tube of twenty tablets will last you through 10 days of intense pedaling, and it takes about the same space as two gel packs. They also happen to be one of the cheapest alternatives; a tube of 20 is around 5-7$ compared to the gels which are 1-2$ a packet.

I have discovered these drinks by chance, some years ago and kept experimenting with the various forms. Noticing how improved my performance was, I kept using them and now I consider them a staple on long rides.

 

9. Power bank

We’re all familiar with that anxiety inducing moment when you have to switch to low battery mode, dim the screen all the way down and pray for a miracle to have enough juice until the first power socket springs in your way. While you are on the road, such a scenario could be made even worse by the fact that suddenly you can’t use the maps or the Google search. Say goodbye to that hotel booking you planned to do on the go.

Should this scenario be oddly familiar to you, then a power bank would probably be a good investment. As with anything these days, there are endless possibilities out there, from pocket sized, one charge power banks to behemoths able to carry up to ten phone battery charges.

The number of charges a power bank holds can be calculated by knowing the charger and the phone’s capacity. These are measured in miliampers per hour or mAh.

My Samsung S8 holds 3000 mAh, while the Anker battery pack I have can hold up to 20100 mAh, which means it could charge my phone almost 7 times. You have to take into consideration no charger is perfect so these values can be a bit approximate.

I would definitely recommend a pack that holds at least 20000 mAh; you can find plenty out there for around 20-30$.

Don’t forget to bring a cable for your phone and the power bank’s charger for when you reach civilization.

 

10. Headlamp

It goes without saying that your trusted bike should be equipped with lights, both front and back plus a couple of reflectors. There is no way you can go wrong if you make yourself as visible as you can for drivers. And speaking of bike lights, for the front one make sure you choose a model that can be taken off easily, to be used as a flashlight.

Even with such a handy front light, if you are planning a ride that involves camping outdoors, I’d highly recommend getting a head lamp. They are very cheap, an ordinary, “nothing fancy” model costing around 5 bucks. Don’t forget to bring a spare set of batteries.

Such a lamp’s biggest advantage is freeing your hands for other more important operations.

Last year on our cycling tour, me and my friend managed to get lost and stuck in thorny, and I mean thorny forest of stunted trees and mean bushes, with the night fast closing in. I was already resigned to the fact we’re going to have to plant our tent on a bramble somehow; no grass patches, you see. Pulling, pushing, cursing and cajoling the laden bikes through the malicious backwoods, we made it to a blessed, God sent asphalt road, just as the last light was fading into pitch black. Who could have used a flashlight in those conditions?

Bring a headlamp. It can be a light saver.

 

Recap
  1. Flat kit: spare tube, puncture repair kit and hand pump
  2. Allen keys
  3. Chain
  4. Bike clothing, gloves and helmet
  5. Sun cream
  6. Bungee cords
  7. Waterproof jacket and trousers
  8. Isotonic drinks
  9. Power bank
  10. Headlamp

If you found this article useful, there are at least another 5 important articles that would make your life easier on a bike tour. Let me know in a comment if you’d like me to write that article .

Have a great time cycling and don’t stop wandering!

 

 

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Thank you Unsplash, Patrick Hendry  and Derek Thomson for allowing free use of your image.

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