10 Things I Take on a Cycling Tour

There are plenty of items that you should bring on a bike camping excursion and later on I will create a full packing list. In my experience when you have to carry everything you need on your bike, the less you can get away with the better. So for now here is a list of 10 items that are either specific to this type of holiday or require a little more consideration than on a normal holiday.

1. Bike Lock
Kind of obvious really. After you make camp and cycle into town for supplies, you are going to have to leave your bike unattended while you go into the supermarket. The same is true when you go to bed (unless your bike is so awesome you want to bring it into your tent and cuddle it while you sleep).

The best lock to buy depends on how probable it is that someone will try to steal your bike. If for example you are cycling around largely populated areas like cities, where crime levels are high, you may want to get a pretty beefy lock. The obvious drawback of this is the weight.

When cycling off the beaten track you may as well take something lighter, as people don’t often take a stroll in the mountains equipped with the tools or the intention to cut through even a cheap, lightweight lock. For this reason, I have two locks that I take depending on the tour. For more info on these have a look at the lock reviews here.

2. Tool kit
You’ve spent all day cycling along a quiet track somewhere in the mountains. It’s miles to the nearest bike shop. That brake cable you replaced last week has stretched and needs to be adjusted so that tomorrow you can stop properly. That’s okay, you have a tool kit and it’s a simple fix.

The first thing to consider with a tool kit is separate tools or multi tool. Find out exactly what tools your bike requires. If you are lucky enough to own a fairly modern bike, chances are that almost everything on your bike requires only a small range of allen keys. If this is the case, you will need relatively few tools and a good quality multi tool is probably going to make up most of your kit. This is good news for space and weight savings!

If you have an older bike, you will probably need a variety of spanners and a socket wrench for the crank arm. It’s usually best to forget about multi tools as you’ll end up carrying around lots of attachments you don’t need

I am fortunate enough that I have a bike that is pretty much all allen keys. My tool kit consists of a topeak mini 18+ multi tool, some tire leavers, some miniature folding pliers, a spoke key and a standard puncture repair kit. With this I can fix just about anything I need to, at least well enough to get to the nearest bit of civilisation! If anything goes wrong that is not repairable (or at least bodgable) with what I have, chances are that I wouldn’t be able to fix it no matter what tools I had.

3. Duct Tape.
Yep. If you can’t fix it with duct tape, you haven’t used enough. It can fix ripped tents, snapped tent poles, clothing, bike parts, tyres, bags, the list goes on.

I think the best example of a time when this stuff has saved me was when I toured Holland last year. Not long after leaving the ferry, I rode over a bit of a pothole and heard a nasty cracking sound. On inspection I found that the welds on the side of my cheap-arse saddle post pannier rack had all snapped. Not the best start to a tour. Luckily with the aid of a heap of duct tape and a little rope (oh yeah, bringing a length of rope can come in very handy too!), I was able to make it secure enough not just to reach civilisation, but to actually complete the entire tour!

4. Camera
This will of course depend on your budget and how much photography means to you. Remember to bear in mind that it is a pain to keep stopping to take photos while riding so you will probably take less than on a normal holiday.

There are 4 real choices here. The first is to consider just using your phone’s camera. This will save you a lot of weight and is easy to store in your pocket or a handlebar bag. This is a particularly good option if you own a decent smartphone as they all have great cameras built in nowadays.

The second option is the tried and tested, compact point and click. You can get fantastic shots from modern compacts and they are small, light and robust. Probably the most sensible option for touring with, especially if you can get one that takes disposable batteries so you can avoid having to charge it.

Then comes the DSLR. These cameras are expensive, bulky, heavy and unless you are really into photography (like shooting for a magazine), probably overkill for this type of holiday.

If you really want something more professional than a compact, there is a third option, although unless you buy second hand the cost may make your eyes water. These are called compact system cameras or mirrorless DSLR. They are not much bigger than a compact, but can take photos with the same quality as a DSLR and have interchangeable lenses.The only drawback here is that like a DSLR, they do encourage more faffing with settings and therefore irritation to anyone you are travelling with! Anyway I enjoy a good bit of photography and so recently bought one of these (Samsung NX200). So far I’m very impressed and will be taking it on my next tour. I’ll let you know how it works out.

5. Tent
This needs to be small enough to fit on your pannier rack and as light as possible. Don’t bother with pop-up tents, they are way too bulky when packed and the flying saucer shape will turn you into a giant air brake. Finding the right balance between weight and robustness can be a pain, especially on a budget. The best thing to do is look for something simple, without too large a “porch area”, that is quick to put up and down.

As a personal preference i usually get a tent that’s meant for the number of people I want to fit in it plus one. In other words if it’s just me on my own, I take a two man tent. This is especially important when you consider the extra cycling gear you’ll need to fit in.

Another consideration is double or single skin. Now the problem with single skin is condensation.  Some people don’t mind it, some say they don’t have a problem with it. It depends a lot on what country you’re in. England is humid most of the time so you get a lot of condensation. In warmer countries it’s not such a problem. Personally I can’t stand waking up in a damp tent so I always buy double walled.

There are also bivvy bags, which are basically just a waterproof outer to put your sleeping bag in. Very light weight but about as un-luxurious as your average tramp. Can’t say I’ve tried one, but until I get the chance to (hopefully in a warmer climate somewhere!) I can’t really comment further on them.

6. Sleeping Equipment
For a sleeping bag there are two choices; Synthetic or down. Down is the lightest and compactest (yes I said that) and will keep you warmer. Unless you get it wet, in which case you will freeze your nads off.  But then if you get a soggy sleeping bag you’re doing something wrong or your tent broke. Synthetic on the other hand, will keep you fairly warm even if you stand under a waterfall in it.

Personally I prefer the smaller, lighter, down bags. I have waterproof panniers anyway so I don’t worry about it getting wet when it’s not in the tent.

Moving on to the mattress; Air beds are far too heavy for this kind of travel. The best thing to take is a roll mat. These come in foam or self-inflating. Foam ones only cost about a fiver, and there’s a good reason for that; it’s quite possibly the worst thing I have ever slept on after hard earth. They insulate you well but if it’s for more than one or two nights you need something more comfortable. I used one on my first bike camping excursion in wales for 10 nights and woke up every morning feeling stiff, with bigger and bigger bruises on my hips and knees, not what you want before a day of cycling.

Self-inflating roll mats are a fair bit comfier and still weigh very little. They used to be quite expensive but now you can get a fairly ok one for about 20 quid. The more expensive ones offer better comfort at less weight.

The other thing to consider is whether to  get full length or 3/4. The shorter ones weigh less and are cheaper but if you suffer cold feet a lot then the lack of insulation from the ground will see you miserable.

7.  Cooking equipment.
Two lightweight mess tins that stack inside each other are ideal. Add a frying pan and you could cook for a king. Copper bottomed pans are ideal if slightly heavier, as this will transfer heat more efficiently, which is important when cooking in a windy field.

Unfortunately in the UK there are very few places you can have a campfire but if you get chance, this is by far the most rustic and satisfying way to cook! Although do bear in mind that this is not always practical if you don’t have time to collect firewood and wait for the fire to be ready to cook on.

The alternative then is a fuelled camping stove. There are several types and which one is best will depend on budget, where you’re going and personal preference. Keep it light and compact and consider taking a small folding windshield, or in windy conditions your watched pot may run out of fuel before it boils. See more information about types of stoves here.

8. Phone.
A mobile phone is always useful, and if you’re going anywhere remote, it could save your life.
Mobile phones have come a long way very quickly. Any phone will do but if your budget allows, then consider taking a smartphone. The benefits are great, GPS/satnav, internet browsing, MP3 player, camera etc. All in one small lightweight device. The trade-off with this kind of phone is of course battery life, and it can be a real pain in the backside trying to get power to your gadgetry while on the road. This is much less of a problem with a basic phone which might last a week or so after a single charge. There are solutions however, such as emergency chargers and dynamo hubs. Hopefully more info on mobile power coming soon!

9. Maps
Take a good map (or know where to buy one when you get there). Finding maps with detailed info for cyclists can be hard. In the UK, OS maps are probably the best for this as they detail all the footpaths and bridleways as well as things like camp sites and altitude. You can also get detailed maps of the cycle network routes from sustrans at: http://www.sustransshop.co.uk/by/category/1-maps–books

In the netherlands, where cycling is strongly embraced by the culture, there are great maps available such as the ANWB Fietsatlas. These detail all of the cycle routes, of which there are thousands, as well as having all sorts of very useful information on them.

10. Panniers
The last thing you want to do is carry a large rucksack so put as much of your gear as you can into panniers. Pannier bags require a pannier rack. Which one to get depends on your bike. If you have a road bike chances are it has very standard fixings for a pannier rack, but anything built with more than on-road riding in mind will probably be lacking rack mountings, or have them in an awkward position. If this is the case, do not despair, there are options.

Saddle post mounted racks are cheapest and easy to come by in the uk but won’t take much weight and tend to slide from side to side when loaded. Sturdier options like the Freeload Tour Rack from new zealand are excellent and fit almost any bike. A USA based company called Old Man Mountain also make great racks for just about any kind of bike.

Check out the pannier reviews section here.

Pannier bags attach to the rack and hopefully keep your gear safe. There are a few different types of fixing, which basically boil down to quick release clips or buckles/straps. Clip on is great if you need to take off your panniers a lot but off road they tend to come undone too easily. Another thing to consider is what you will be carrying and whether its worth buying waterproof or not. The pannier reviews section has more information.