Ultralight Bike Touring Tips

Proof we really did get the bikes up here!!Andrew and I are as far as you can get from the ultralight bike touring crowd.

At times, our panniers have been known to contain up to 6 books, a rock collection, 2kg of not-yet-ripe avocados (they were on sale!) and a whole wardrobe of clothes that we weren’t wearing but couldn’t bear to throw out because you just never know when you might need them down the road…

And despite this tendency to bike with far more than we probably need, somewhere in the back of our brains is a fascination with ultralight touring, so I spent a happy few moments perusing this ultralight cycling setup, after spotting a link to it on the excellent Bike Touring Tips website.

I know I’ll never be hardcore enough to adopt his idea of bubble wrap as a sleeping pad or abandon my cooking gear and a hot cup of coffee in the morning in favour of saving a few grams by leaving the pots and stove behind, but I still gleaned some good tips from these ultralight touring pages.

My favourite 3 from the ultralight cycling site are:

  • If you want to cut weight, cut the big things first.
    “A common mistake that we all make as newcomers to ultralight cycling is to start with cutting the handle of a tooth brush. The prospective ultralighter, on the contrary, should start with thinking big. There are 6 big ones (in terms of weight or volume) which you should consider first: bicycle, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, cooking equipment and carriers.”
  • Consider alternatives to panniers.
    “A backpack (stripped of unnecessary straps and belts), together with a bungee cord or two, is lighter than any pannier(s) of the same capacity. For example, my 40 l backpack was 1120g, and is now 820g after I cut off the waist belt and removed few other appendicies. For comparison, if you take 2 Ortlieb ‘Back Roller’ panniers, the capacity is the same, 40 l, the weight is almost twice as much, 1630g.”
  • Tape Things On Your Bike Frame
    “I usually tape less frequently used items to the frame: spare tubes, spare tyre, spare spokes, canisters with oil and sun screen, duct tape, pump, light, lock. This reduces the stress on the racks a bit and more importantly reduces the volume of your stuff bags, so you may end up by using smaller stuff bags in the end.”

The page includes dozens of tips for reducing weight and volume on a bike tour so take a moment to check them out. You might not go ultra-light on your next trip but even a few grams saved might help you up that mountain a little bit faster.


  1. Sebastian Wevers
    2nd March 2010 at 8:08 am #

    I used to decorate my panniers with horse shoes and travel with a guitar but that changed completely. Now cyclists I meet on the road ask if I camp because my panniers look so small and tidy. I can lift my fully loaded bike and walk up to the fifth floor of a hotel in one go. I like luggage to be luggable.

    A down jacket is a wonderful piece of clothing with a wide temperature range. You don’t need a series of fleece anymore, one will do. It packs down small, too.

    My set up while going through Tibet in 1997: http://www.old.osmosno.com/A_LIFE_ON_THE_ROAD.html#6

  2. David Piper
    2nd March 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    Ha. My pet subject! I usually travel with less than 3kg (unless its really cold)


    Another tip, unless you are riding solo, that seems obvious, is to check you are not doubling up. I once met a couple who refused to take me seriously as a cycle tourist because I didnt carry enough gear. They seemed to have two of everything and hadn’t even considered cross checking their kit lists!

  3. Lukanga
    26th July 2010 at 2:22 pm #

    I once carried a fire extinguisher when I cycled in Australia. I had found it on the road, strapped it to the rack and soon found out its tremendous usefulness as a conversation piece. Whenever I stopped (and even at other times), people would approach me and ask, why I was carrying it. This was the beginning of many great conversations, invitations and other adventures. Very well spent weight!

    Otherwise, my stuff is quite luggageable.

    Lukanga (now consdering, whether not carrying something would also work as a conversation piece, e.g. cycling with bare feet).

    • friedel
      26th July 2010 at 2:25 pm #

      We find our rear view mirrors work very well as conversation pieces. Much lighter than a fire extinguisher too 🙂

    • Cyclodelic
      8th August 2012 at 4:59 am #

      I agree with Lukunga.

      Having a pair of bare feet hanging from your handle-bars would be an excellent conversation starter.

      Not very tasteful, but certainly a conversation piece.

  4. James
    5th March 2014 at 4:33 am #

    Spot on with that link. I’m always on that site lately. There are a few really stellar resources on ultralight touring about. In the past I’ve read books on ultralight hiking to see how many of their ideas cross over to cycling. There were quite a few – but nothing on tools and spares for the bike obviously!

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