When Alee Denham set about preparing a comprehensive bicycle touring checklist after biking through 80+ countries, he couldn’t resist weighing all of the stuff he had collected over time.
His breakdown was daunting. He had toted around 135 pounds of belongings, 45 pounds of which were composed of gear alone, and that summation didn’t include the bike itself! Impressive? That depends upon your style.
We don’t have to tell you that every cyclist is different nor that every person has his or her own idea of what they refuse to leave at home, even when the room is at a premium. Some cyclists don’t mind being Sherpas, though a couple of burdensome experiences can do wonders for the average packrat.
That stated this basic bicycle touring checklist should get you from point A to point B and back in good stead – even if you are doing your best imitation of a Sherpa on a cycling tour.
Bike Touring Essentials
- Water, water everywhere; you need a water bottle or hydration pack at the very least.
- Bug repellent, sunscreen, and sunglasses: yes, glare coming off snow and ice can make you susceptible to skin cancer.
- Smartphone, GPS, route maps, or feel free to bring all three as insurance.
- Emergency contact information and travel insurance card. Write it down. Keep these in a pocket for obvious reasons.
- Credentials: Passport, driver’s license, cash, debit/credit cards, or photocopies of items you don’t want to tote.
- Basic first aid kit for emergencies and a visibility vest makes sense if you cycle at night when touring.
- Survival items like storm matches, whistle, compass, mylar emergency blanket, and personal locator beacon.
- Flashlight and Swiss Army knife? Yes, please. If you’ve got a fancier tool, by all means, bring it along.
Sustenance and Comfort
- High energy foods: electrolyte powder, energy bars, nuts, fruit ( bananas are the best ), snacks, meals (think military products), Gatorade powder, and other drink powders ready to be reconstituted.
- Prescribed medications and vitamins plus first aid items you’ll need that are not in your kit.
- Clean up items: travel towel, washcloth, soap, shampoo, toothbrush, paste, and floss sticks if you’re fastidious.
- Toilet paper and water wipes. Don’t skimp. These are light and irreplaceable.
- Grooming stuff. Disposable razor and comb if you’re worried about appearances. Hairbands, women’s feminine hygiene products as appropriate, and hand sanitizer can all make you feel like a human being.
- Small tubes of creams to treat chafing, itching, and muscle soreness.
- Earplugs if you’re a light sleeper; condoms if you’re not and hope to get lucky.
Fashion? Why not?
- If it’s lightweight, folds, rolls, and addresses an assortment of weather issues consider packing it when touring.
- Include your cycling duds: jerseys, garments designed to be layered, swimsuit, bike shorts, non-chafe underwear.
- Don’t leave home without a change of cycling shoes and your choice of wool or synthetic socks.
- Prepare for Mother Nature’s worst: windbreaker, rain jacket, poncho, waterproof gaiters, and rain-repelling hats.
- Consider bringing anything that is marked waterproof, windproof or is made with pit-zips.
- Foul-weather togs like insulated wind pants, helmet liner, balaclava/neoprene face mask, arm and leg warmers (look for Coolmax, Sealskinz or Gore-Tex logos).
- Pack appropriate seasonal travel coverings that include cycling caps, hats, gloves, and earmuffs.
- If you intend to indulge in post-ride socializing, you’ll need clean clothing and non-cycling shoes.
- No, we didn’t forget your helmet. It goes without saying that it’s the first item on your list at all times!
Camping gear (if it doesn’t fit into a stuff sack, rethink your choices)
- Go big with a ½-man tent, back to basics with a tarp, or snooze like royalty in a hammock.
- The lightest self-inflating sleeping bag you can find and a liner, both made to withstand frigid temps.
- Air mattress and camping pillow – or just stuff a sack with clothes and make your own pillow.
- Cooking gear: cook pot or stove; fuel bottle, utensil set; insulated travel mug, biodegradable dishwashing liquid, and brush plus small plastic bottles of cooking oil, salt, and your favorite spice.
- Mosquito netting to keep out creepy, crawly things during the night touring.
- All-things-water-related: filter/purifier/tank for drinking and showers plus a PVC dry bag.
- Portable camp chair plus clothesline and clothespins for laundry-on-the go.
Bike accessories designed to enhance your touring experience
- Front and rear bicycle rack and front and rear panniers, or a handlebar bag; front and rear fenders or a trailer if you plan to haul everything but the kitchen sink.
- Handlebar extensions with padded grip tape and a handlebar bag with its own mounting bracket.
- A comfortable bicycle saddle that’s been road-tested and doesn’t leave your bum numb by the end of your journey.
- LED flashing tail light and LED headlight (substitute a camping headlight in a pinch).
- Cages for water bottles and hydration packs. Alternately, tote dog/bear pepper spray in these cages.
- Reflectors if you don’t intend to wear a reflective vest during your tour.
- Rain covers for any and all of your cycle’s parts and surfaces.
- A mirror that’s either a helmet or handlebar-mounted plus an air horn that’s handy if you run into goat herds.
- Don’t leave home without a respectable gaggle of bungee cords, webbing straps, and a bike lock.
- If you’re spoiled, feel free to brag about your GPS bike computer, and you’ll look even smarter if you bring an extra battery for it.
Repair essentials for a worry-free tour
- Bring spares of everything you worry about failing: tube; disk brakes; brake pads; brake/shift cable. That’s not all! Add spare cleats, nuts, bolts, and washers plus an additional chain to the lot.
- How many extra spokes should you bring along? That depends upon who you believe. Some bike pros only bring two, while others recommend a minimum of 6. Your call, but since they weigh so little, you can afford to go big.
- Patch kits take up so little room; you can afford to double down. The same can be said about a pressure gauge, brake and derailleur cables.
- Your basic tool kit should include a mini air pump, CO2 inflator with cartridges, tire levers, a multi-tool capable of everything but doing the labor, bike cleaning wipes, repair/duct tape, shop rags, chain tool, and lube.
- Opt for the full monte by adding a valve adapter to the stash plus tire pressure gage, degreaser, chain lube, brake pads, hose clamps, and carriage bolts.
- Your screwdriver basics: 2- to 10-mm Allen; spoke, pedal, crescent, and a 6-inch adjustable wrench. A freewheel removal tool is handy, too.
- You are packing your bike repair manual and the glasses you need to read the instructions, right?
Gadgets and extras you might not have thought about
- You’d be surprised how helpful and practical packing plastic zip ties and shoelaces in varying sizes can be when you’re in the middle of nowhere.
- Ditto all-purpose glue like Crazy or Gorilla or Loctite. One tiny tube could come to your rescue.
- Bring replacement batteries for every item powered by these little gems. That includes battery-driven camping gear, bike headlights, cameras, smartphones, and while you’re at it, an extra memory card couldn’t hurt.
- Don’t make the tire patching repair kit the only one you bring along if you can’t also use it for your mattress.
- Even short trips will cause you to manifest garbage. Bring zip lock and other bags along to keep things neat until you can make it to a garbage receptacle.
- Bringing a hydration bladder? You could find yourself in need of a bit/flow valve, and a stash of rubber bands has come to the rescue of many a biker who tossed a bunch in at the last minute on a hunch.
- No Singer sewing machines required for your tour, but if your clothing rips and you’ve brought only one pair of bike shorts, a basic sewing kit that includes a folding scissors, safety pins, needle, thread, zipper pulls, and liquid seam sealer could make sure your derriere isn’t on display for motorists and fellow cyclists to see.
A tour like a Rockefeller, DuPont or Jeff Bezos
- If you can’t leave reality behind and intend to bring your smartphone for more than just emergency calls, it’s incumbent upon you to remember to bring your charger, so you don’t wind up staring at a dead device.
- Don’t rely upon that cell phone to be your camera? Add these items to your gear, so you wind up with National Geographic-worthy images: memory cards, charger, card reader, mini-tripod, screen shield, extra lenses and a dedicated, waterproof camera bag that’s big enough to hold everything.
- Raid your supply of USB-powered cords and cables required to undertake uploads and run your iPod, MP3 player, radio, recorder, earphones, and a flash drive loaded with maps, coordinates, and bookmarks.
- Show off your PQ (preparedness quotient) by being the only cyclist on tour in possession of a laptop computer, NOAA weather radio, 2-way radio, or all of them. You’ll be worshiped by men and women carrying guidebooks and maps!
- Don’t dismiss the small things that make your tour idyllic. Bring some Sharpies, highlighters, pens, a journal or voice recording device, binoculars, and a Kindle. There really is nothing better than reading a classic like Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” which remains as relevant today as it did in 1957 when most of our grandparents believed that filling a backpack and going off on an adventure was the single most daring adventure imaginable. You probably agree!