Alexa Travels > Planning Your Adventure > Packing Smart for Long Distance Cycling
Packing Smart for Long Distance Cycling
“When packing for long distance the goal is to take the “lug” out of luggage.”
When planning a long distance cycling trip there is a lot to take into consideration. Lucky for you, you’ve stumbled upon this comprehensive article for packing smart. Being strategic in your planning will save you time, money and a few dehydration induced headaches. When my partner in crime Jess Hoffman and I cycled across the United States in 2010 we planned some aspects well, scrambled to get others together last minute and neglected some altogether. Below is a comprehensive packing list created from our experience cycling from Portland, OR to Portland, ME.
When cycling long distances the goal is to take the “lug” out of luggage. Bring on the panniers. Panniers are essentially saddle bags for bicycles which offer a lightweight, durable, balanced luggage option.
I suggest investing in paired front and rear panniers. Purchasing large rear panniers and loading everything over your back tire is an option. However, after comparing notes with other touring cyclists I believe having front and rear bags makes for a more balanced and maneuverable bike. If you are in the market for the best of the best you can’t go wrong with Ortleib panniers. I’ve heard them described as bags you could fling into a nearby river and fish out to find your belongings perfectly dry. If you are shopping for the most cost effective panniers I recommend Axiom brand bags. These bags are light weight, waterproof and durable.
To go with your new panniers also pick up a handlebar bag. The idea being this bag contains all those items you want to grab quickly (camera, sunglasses, chapstick) and easily snaps off your bike to carry your valuables into stores (phone, credit card, cash).
By all means stay away from bicycle trailers until you absolutely need them. They make maneuvering through busy city streets tedious and drastically diminish your turning radious.
Tools and Maintenance
Bicycle pump that attaches to your bike
Spare tubes – Repeat after me: “I will never cycle with fewer than two usable tubes in my pannier” Preferable three
2 easy-to-use tire levers
A bottle of slime – it’s a bit of a cheat but just in case
An all-purpose tool – with flathead and phillips head screwdrivers, spoke wrench, and all the allen wrenches you may need for minor adjustments
A keyless bike lock
Needle nose pliers – optional but this came in VERY handy on our trip
A helmet of course – your brain is the most valuable piece of equipment you have!
Front headlight – that can be removed and used as a flashlight
Tire reflectors – some US states require them
Headlamp – great for use at night if you are camping and doubles as a headlight while riding if your headlight goes out
Cyclometer – mounted on your handlebars to keep track of your miles and speed
Rearview mirror – I got by without one the entire trip but my cycling partner had one fixed to her handlebar
Camelback-style hydration pack – This is another personal preference thing. For a hot summer trip like ours was it was invaluable. That being said, by the end of the trip I was so regimented to stopping and taking hydration breaks that I rarely used mine anymore. Jess, on the other hand, used hers faithfully until the end. The name of the game is having enough water on you so that you don’t get yourself into a dangerous situation. I’ve heard it suggested that a touring cyclist should always have 2 gallons of water on their person. I usually had about a gallon, and that served me well.
First Aid Kit – keep it simple: ointment, bandaids to cover minor abrasions and gauze and tape to stop active bleeds
1 light travel towel
An ultra lightweight tent (if camping)
Simple campfire cooking set (if camping)
A small pocket knife
2 pairs biking shorts
2 biking shirts
4 pairs underwear
3 pairs socks – wool socks are excellent for keeping you warm while whisking away sweat
One additional upper layer – sweatshirt that’s warm but not too bulky
One pair long pants – sweatpants also warm but not too bulky
Something to sleep in that let’s your skin breath – also that you can wear while you are washing every other article of clothing
Reflective wear for night riding
Things to Keep Within Reach
Cash, credit cards, i.d., etc.
Emergency contact info
Electrolyte powder for water
Power bars or other nutrient dense snacks
Toothbrush & paste
A Word on Maps
There are countless considerations when mapping out a cycling route. Attributes such as distance, elevation and climate all effect how many miles one can cycle in a day. Placement of lodging, bicycle reapir shops and access to drinking water affect daily stopping points and overnight destinations.
If you are cycling North America the Adventure Cycling Association adventurecycling.org designed a series of comprehensive cycling maps that outline elevation profiles, bike shop locations, food and water sources and listings for overnight accomodations. All this plus the maps are waterproof and sized to fit in your handlebar bag or jacket pocket. They can only be ordered online and mailed to you, however, so a little advanced planning is in store.
Planning your journey outside of North America? The Cyclists’ Touring Club www.ctc.org.uk offers cycling routes for over 90 countries across the globe! Once a member of CTC you can search their database by location to find routes to aid you in planning your trek.
These sites will get you started. I also recommend doing a quick online search for routes pertaining to your specific region of travel and having a conversation with a your local bike shop crew. There are new routes and maps popping up all the time!
Also Worth Bringing
Gallon size plastic ziploc bags – These are great for added protection against moisture and to keep things sorted in your panniers. I kept all of my clothing sorted in these bags. No water ever got into our Axioms, but it’s a good backup.
Zip Ties – you’ll thank me later
Water filtration device – these range from pumps to water bottles to straws. If you are going through desolate areas this is a must have. In a pinch filtered water from an algae riddled pond is preferable to extreme dehydration.
What Not To Bring
A pillow – just ball up unused clothing
Playing cards – trust me you’ll make up your own games after hours in the saddle
GPS – most people who we surveyed did not end up using them even when they brought them
A big heavy clunky bike lock with a key you will lose
Relax, It’s Just a Guideline
This packing list is merely a guideline to get you started. The duration, season, country and scope of your journey will impact how closely you follow the above suggestions. If you are camping you will want to invest in a lightweight tent and sleeping bags. If you will have a support vehicle following you you will have the luxury of packing more creature comforts. Wherever your journey may take you enjoy every mile of it and best of luck on your upcoming cycling adventure!