There are two demons to avoid while setting up for a bike trip: assuming it’s possible just to hoist a backpack, and go. You may think that spending thousands of dollars on a state of the art bike, and months of planning. Neither is the case. Below is a complete list of everything needed to turn a rider and an ordinary bike into a real symbiotic touring partnership (be aware that many items come in different forms for road and mountain bikes).
Gear for the Bike
Good panniers and front and rear pannier racks are the foundations of any tour. Ortlieb produces the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of pannier bags, but Topeka’s waterproof line is also reliable, and slightly cheaper. Be sure that the racks are fitted to your bike’s brake types. Matching the brand of the bags to the brand of the racks is advised.
Next, lights – you should have these already! At least two water bottle holders, and a hand pump. Beware of small, basic hand pumps: they are all but useless for anything except emergencies. Look for longer ones, which have unfolding panels for your foot to hold the pump in place while you press down.
Get a touring saddle – as comfortable as possible. Seriously. ‘Clipless’ pedals, the ironically named tools that will allow you to attach your shoes to them, will significantly decrease energy wasted while pedaling. Lastly, multi-position handlebars are important as they allow for multiple hand position. Check out ‘butterfly’ bars, which are popular in Europe.
Gear for You
If there’s one thing not to skimp on expense, it’s with cycling shorts. Ensure a good amount of inner padding, and look out for such features as elastic rims that stop the shorts from riding up, while avoiding circulation inhibition. With gloves, make sure they are well padded, and that the padding isn’t too hard.
When buying match-able shoes to go with the clip-less pedals, hybrid walking-cycling shoes exist for mountain bikes, where the clips are high enough in the sole so that they are not striking the ground while you walk. Excellent idea!
Lastly, buy some sweat-wicking t-shirts. Cheap, basic running t-shirts on Amazon.com, with good moisture wicking capabilities, are perfect. Oh, and also, don’t forget a helmet.
Gear to go in the Bags
Pack a good multi tool, some inner tubes, a patch kit, a chain link, duct tape, and some WD40. Oil, tighten, and inflate regularly. When packing extra clothes, a long-sleeved, collared shirt should be included, in case you need to set up your tent in the sun. Insect repellent and sunscreen are a must, wherever you go.
For food, compact bread loaves take up little space and don’t need boiling. Canned meals are economical, and can be eaten cold. Clif Bars are the best energy bars on the market. Avoid caffeine gels or Gu gels. Honey is perfect for when your blood sugar dips.
Pack extra water bottles, books, a first aid kit, and toothbrush and toothpaste. Multi-purpose travel soap is cheap and effective. Travel towels made of thin, light micro fibers can be purchased that take up practically no space at all (a shower takes on a whole new level of pleasure while you’re on the road).
Bring a smartphone! A phone with 4G internet access can do the following: provide the phone numbers for every motel; list all the places to eat, with reviews; provide a map; provide YouTube and the news during breaks. It will also save you carrying a camera!
To avoid draining a smartphone’s battery too quickly, bring an MP3 player. Developing lasting ‘road’ love affairs with certain albums should be anticipated.
For camping equipment, some ultralight tents can be attached straight to the frame, and hence don’t require pannier space. A mat and sleeping back can be strapped over the panniers with flexible cables.
Finally, cyclist-specific maps. For North American cyclists, most bike shops offer a comprehensive list of route maps (as well as many other things), that provide every piece of information you could want, from a list of all hostels and campsites to topographical information, traffic conditions, and historical background.
With this setup, anyone is equipped to travel the world on their bike. REI is a good place to shop, but a local bike store could be even better, and almost definitely cheaper. Just don’t forget to send everyone a postcard.