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You Are Viewing Bike Touring Basics

Appendix: Simple Packing List

Posted February 6th, 2012

This is a basic packing list, with notes and links to product reviews.

You can vary this list to suit the destination and season. Remember that less is more.

Unless you’re planning a trip to somewhere very remote, you should be able to pick up most things en route. Most cyclists end up packing too much and then shipping a box back home to lighten their load.

cargo net

Bicycle Equipment

Tools & Spare Parts

Pump

Camping Gear

Clothes*

socks merino wool

  • Bandana (soak it in water to keep your head cool in hot weather)
  • Cycling shoes
  • Cycling shorts (1-2 pairs)
  • Hat with a wide brim
  • Long-sleeved shirts (one lightweight to protect from sun and one warmer for cool temperatures)
  • Long-johns (to sleep in and as an extra cycling layer on cold days)
  • Padded cycling gloves
  • Rain jacket and pants
  • Socks (3-5 pairs)
  • Sunglasses
  • T-shirts (2-3 pairs)
  • Underwear (3-5 pairs)

*We love Merino wool clothing. It’s warm, breathable and odour free. You can wear Merino wool clothing for several days in a row and it still won’t stink. In general, pick clothing that is versatile (zip-off cargo pants, for example, instead of a pair of pants and a separate pair of shorts) and lightweight.

Kitchen

Stove

  • Cleaning supplies (dish soap, scrubber)
  • Cookware (MSR Alpine)
  • Kitchen sink (folding bowl)
  • Screw-top bottles (for oil, honey, etc.)
  • Spices (our top 3: italian seasoning, curry and cinnamon)
  • Stove
  • Thermos (ideal for quick coffee and tea stops, or to make ‘instant soup’ at lunch – especially in cooler weather)
  • Utensils (spork, cup, bowl…)

Toiletries

  • Basic kit (shampoo, toothbrush, sun screen…)
  • Baby wipes (an ‘ instant’ shower)
  • Laundry powder for hand washing
  • Menstruation cup
  • Toilet paper (or use water to wash yourself so there’s no dirty litter to dispose of!)
  • Travel towel

First-Aid Kit

  • Bandaids
  • Emergency blanket
  • Gauze
  • Medicines (for colds, diarrhoea, head aches, dehydration)
  • Scissors
  • Tiger balm (for mosquito bites)
  • Tweezers

Chapter 14: The Story Of Louise Sutherland

Posted February 6th, 2012

I was never lonely while I was cycling. I had my bicycle to talk to. - Louise Sutherland

You’re coming to the end of our mini book on bike touring but before you go, we’d like to share a story with you.

It’s written by Hilary Searle of the CycleSeven website. She tells the story of Louise Sutherland – an adventurous bike tourist who went around the world in the 1950s.

Louise Sutherland

***

Louise Sutherland was a nurse from New Zealand who was working in London in 1949, when she set off cycling around the world. She bought a bike in a church jumble sale in Soho for £2.10s and a ‘grateful patient’ in the hospital where she was nursing made her a small trailer ‘to trundle merrily behind it.’ She seems to have set off round the world almost on a whim. She had initially only intended to go to Land’s End!

After that first trip, Louise returned to London to collect her passport and her £50 savings and set off, first for Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. She only returned to London in 1956.

“During my first day in Italy I felt most dubious about my chances of survival. I had been offered dire warnings about what happened to small girls travelling alone in that country. I did not wish to forego the camping, but equally, I did not relish the thought of being attacked in the dead of night. Of course no one did attack me.”

The warnings grew even more dire as she approached Yugoslavia: ‘They shoot on sight’, ‘They’re communists remember. If you’re arrested you might never be heard of again.’ and ‘They’re so poor they’ll attack you just to steal the valve rubbers out of your inner tubes’.

The people, however, treated her with great kindness.

From Yugoslavia she went to Greece and then took a ferry to Israel. She had an amazingly resilient spirit and refused to be daunted by the fact that having paid the boat fare she had only 13/6d left in the world. In Haifa she took a job in a mission hospital for 3 months, then cycled onto Jordan where she worked as a nanny. From there she cycled to Beirut and spent 6 months working in a sanatorium.

She had hoped to cycle across the desert to Baghdad but was refused a visa so had to travel by train to catch a boat across the Persian Gulf to India. She was refused a third class ticket, with the line:

We do not sell third class tickets to white men and certainly never to a white girl. Anyway no girl is permitted to travel third class alone.

She had, of course, received many warnings against going to India. In Bombay, she was inundated with offers of hospitality but later found herself in a famine region where she went for 3 days without food.

“I knew that only by keeping the pedals turning could I ever get to the dense green jungle that would indicate a rain soaked district, and only by reaching such a district would I again get food.”

Unfortunately all the warnings she had received almost came true when she was attacked by 2 men but they ran away when a bus appeared.

“The memories of the attack by the few have now blunted and are fading, but the kindness of the many will always remain clear.”

“After the fear had completely left my mind, I could feel nothing but anger for those two men. They had placed me in a position where all the world could say: ‘I told you so!’ but does one swallow make a summer?”

***

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Trailers Or Panniers: Which Is Best?

Posted February 6th, 2012

When deciding between trailers and panniers, remember that it’s not a case of which is ‘best’ but rather which is right for you.

Also, it’s possible to combine a bit of both. For example, you could have two back panniers with a lightly loaded trailer – or even more if you’re two people, cycling through a remote part of the world.

Trailer & Panniers
Here’s how to combine a trailer with a few panniers. Photo by Patrizia & Bro.

To help you figure out which option is the most appropriate, here are some pros and cons to both panniers and trailers.

Pannier Advantages

  • Easily carried one-by-one into your tent or hotel room and over obstacles like fences and streams (no single bag is very heavy)
  • Your luggage can be sorted into different parts and stored per bag, making things easier to find (in theory!)
  • Accessible while riding; you can reach things strapped on top of panniers or stored near the top, without getting off your bike
  • Simply designed, with few moving parts that can get lost or break
  • Versatile. Use all 4 for longer trips or take just one on a short day trip; carry a single pannier as a ‘day bag’ when visiting cities

Pannier Disadvantages

  • Put strain on a bike, particularly the back wheel, possibly causing broken spokes
  • Increase tire wear and wind resistance
  • Need to be reasonably well balanced between the left and right sides or the bike will feel unstable

Panniers
Panniers are perhaps the most common option for bike touring.

Trailer Advantages

  • Ideal for carrying bulky, heavy items such as lots of water across deserts
  • Kids trailers give the children a place to rest, away from strong sun or bad weather
  • Handy for home use as well as touring (carrying groceries, collecting large purchases from shops)
  • Often built with a wide profile that encourages cars to leave more room when passing
  • Easily unhooked so you can ride a ‘naked’ bike without racks
  • Aggressive dogs tend to chase the trailer, keeping them away from your legs

Trailer Disadvantages

  • May be harder to pack for train, plane and bus journeys
  • More mechanical parts that could need repair or replacement (spokes, tire, skewers)
  • Can be tricky if you need to back up, park or navigate through narrow gaps

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Luggage Racks For Bicycle Touring

Posted February 6th, 2012

Tubus RacksOnce you’ve bought panniers, you’ll need racks to hang them on and – like panniers – you get what you pay for when it comes to racks.

If you plan on doing any amount of touring, it’s worth spending a bit of extra money for a decent set that will withstand months of bumping and jostling on the road.

As long as you don’t scrimp on quality, you shouldn’t need to do much to your racks during a tour. Just check occasionally to see if any screws or bolts are coming loose. With a cheap set of racks, pack some hose clamps and zip ties in your repair kit. Less expensive racks are more likely to break under the strain of a heavy load.

What To Look For?
Our favourite racks are made of steel; not because there aren’t good aluminium racks on the market but because steel racks can be easily welded back together, if necessary.

We also look for racks with a high load capacity. The most robust back racks are rated for about 40kg (90lbs) of weight. You won’t likely carry that much but it’s nice to know the racks are more than strong enough for the job.

As a bit of extra insurance, get a rack with a guarantee.

If we had to pick out just one brand of luggage racks to highlight, it would have to be Tubus Racks. They have a well proven track record in terms of strength and durability. Even better, they come with a 30-year guarantee, including shipping of free replacements anywhere in the world for 3 years.

topeak super tourist

A good value alternative is the Topeak Super Tourist DX rack. After buying two of these racks in 2009, we can definitely recommend them for light touring. They’re fairly light (700g), fit almost all bikes and have held up admirably on 10-14 day tours of Denmark and Spain, as well as numerous shorter trips and countless trips to the grocery store.

A Final Word On Racks.
No matter which one you choose, chances are the paint will wear thin with time, especially where the panniers rub up against the racks.

Keep some touch-up paint handy (nail polish will do the trick in a pinch). This helps keep the racks free of rust.

You can also wrap duct tape around your racks at the points where the bags make contact with the metal, to prevent scuffing.

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Picking Out Panniers For Bicycle Touring

Posted February 6th, 2012

Panniers are the most common way for touring cyclists to carry their equipment.

In case you’re not familiar with the lingo, panniers are bags that attach to luggage racks, so you can carry equipment over the front and back wheels of your bike. Most panniers are commercially made out of heavy-duty fabric but you can make your own out of backpacks or even plastic buckets.

A standard touring set-up is 2 large bags on the back and 2 smaller panniers on the front. You can also strap a tent and sleeping mat across the top of the back panniers.

Stephen Lord and his bike
A touring bike loaded with panniers, a handlebar bag and a dry sack. Photo by Stephen Lord

Pannier Advantages
Panniers are popular for several reasons, starting with versatility. A well designed set of panniers will let you clip and unclip the bags from the racks within seconds.

That means it’s easy to get your panniers off the bike and inside your tent in a rainstorm. You can also quickly grab a single pannier (for example, the one with your laptop and other valuables in it) to take along as you go supermarket shopping.

Detail of Chinatown Grocery Bag

In a city, an empty pannier can be used as a day bag while sightseeing. When you fly with your bicycle, you can check your panniers as normal luggage. A “Chinese shopping bag” is helpful for this.

Panniers help you stay organised as well. You can sort your equipment into different bags. One for food and cooking gear, one for clothing and yet another for tools and emergency supplies. Most importantly, there is very little that can go wrong with panniers, especially if you get a good set to begin with. They have almost no moving parts. Any problems that do arise are usually small and easily fixed.

In addition to front and back panniers, you might also want to add a:

Vaude Bag

  • Handlebar Bag – Clips to the front handlebars of the bike. It’s ideal for storing your wallet, camera and other valuables and can be easily taken along when you need to leave the bike for a few minutes. This brings peace of mind and makes it much easier to lock your bike up and run a few errands because you know the most important items won’t be lost, should disaster strike. Most bags also come with a map case on top to make navigation easier. We like Vaude’s Road I Handlebar Bag.

dry bags

  • Dry Bag – A waterproof sack, often used for canoeing or kayaking. Cyclists use dry bags too because their tubular shape fits a rolled up tent and poles perfectly. This protects the tent from rain and sun damage, and keeps it in one compact package that can be easily strapped onto the bike with bungee cords or compression straps. Read more on dry bags.

 

Brands to Consider
Everyone wants to know which brand of panniers are best. The better question to ask is “Which panniers are best for you?”

Ortlieb Panniers

Almost any pannier on the market will be fine for occasional tours but don’t expect cheaper brands to perform well over time or in heavy rain. When you spend extra money, you’re paying for durability and ease of use. That means panniers made with more robust fabric, better quality zips and a system that makes them easier to remove from the bike.

For a good set of panniers, you won’t go wrong by investing in a set of Ortlieb panniers. They’re by far the most popular brand and relatively expensive but for your money you get waterproof panniers that are a breeze to get on and off the bike and will last for a lifetime of bike touring. We only recently replaced our Ortliebs after over 60,000km of touring and we only bought another set because someone sold us their nearly-new Ortliebs for a bargain price. The old ones are still working (if a bit sunfaded).

There is one big downside to Ortlieb panniers: most models don’t come with pockets and that annoys people who like lots of compartments to organise their things. However, Ortliebs are so popular that even if you don’t like them, you should have no trouble reselling them to another cyclist.

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Other Options
Other pannier brands to check out include Vaude, Carradice, Jandd, Lone Peak and – at the luxury end of the scale – the exceptionally well designed but expensive Arkel bags.

As you are researching panniers, consider these features:

  • Waterproof or Not – Some panniers, like Ortlieb, are 100% waterproof. When it starts to rain, this means you don’t have to jump off the bike and put on rain covers to keep everything dry. Other bags are more water resistant than waterproof – fine if you’re cycling in a dry climate or are willing to protect sensitive equipment in waterproof bags. If you choose non-waterproof bags, you may also be able to patch them up more easily with a sewing kit.
  • Type of Closure – Zippers. Rolling tops. Clips and buckles. Who knew there were so many ways to close a bag? In general, try to minimise the number of zippers on your bike bags because the dirt from the road and repeated opening and closing motions make zippers prone to failure. We prefer other options such as bags that roll closed like a dry bag. They can be rolled very tight to form a waterproof seal in even the heaviest rainstorm. Equally, you can leave them open when you need room for extra food. Panniers that have a clamshell-type top and buckles aren’t quite as easy to overstuff when you need to carry extra supplies (in our experience) but they are a little easier than roll tops to open and close.
  • Weight and Volume – Like backpacks, panniers come in all different shapes, materials and sizes. There’s no point getting a bigger, heavier bag if you don’t need the extra space.
  • Attachment Systems – Make sure the panniers are easy to put on and take off the bike. You’re going to be doing this at least twice a day, if not more, so it shouldn’t be a long and tedious process. The best panniers unhook automatically when you lift the bag up by its handle.

Pannier Packing Tips
Packing your bike panniers can be confusing, especially when you do it for the first time. Here are some quick tips to get you started:

1. Everything In Its Place – Sort gear into categories. Cooking equipment and food can go in one bag, clothes in another. Bike tools should have their own spot that’s easy to access, so you can quickly find what you need when a tire goes flat.

2. Balance The Weight – Make sure that your bike is balanced. This means that bags on the right and left sides should weigh about the same. Between front and back, most people go for a 60-40 split, though you’ll find differing opinions on whether more weight should be up front or in back. Putting more weight in front takes some pressure off your back wheel, lowering the risk of things like broken spokes, and can also make the bike feel more stable when going up a steep hill. However, because your back panniers are bigger it’s sometimes easier to put more weight in back and often the difference in handling isn’t really noticeable.

3. Leave Extra Space – Don’t fill your panniers to the brim. You’ll want extra room for food and souvenirs as you travel. Ideally, leave home with at least half a pannier’s worth of empty space.

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