Cycle Touring Tips

10 minute read

After starting longer distance touring, across multiple countries I've already started to learn a lot. Here's a quick brain dump of the sort of things I have learnt so far.


Luggage



  • Bags - I take 4 bags (2 panniers, 1 rack bag, 1 bar bag). No extras like a saddle bag etc... If I could, I'd drop the rack bag, but for long tours I find it is needed. I can just carry all 4 at once (off the bike), which I think is an important thing to consider. The rack bag acts as my carry-on bag for flights while the other bags all go into a large 45L holdall I have as part of my luggage.

  • Packing Panniers - My Ortlieb Backroller Plus panniers provide me with two large holes to fill. Given I don't want bits kicking around inside and getting misplaced I pack up my stuff into bags and containers. I use AlpKit dry bags and light microwave containers. It means I can quickly unpack and repack everything and also find what I want in very little time rather than things kicking around loose. Also when possible, try to pack vertically. It makes accessing items much easier. If packed horizontally in layers, you have to remove items to get at things underneath.

  • Pump - I did originally attach the pump to the bike to put a little more weight towards the front of the bike. Given I don't need it all the time and on the frame it is one more item that can be easily stolen, or that I have to carry separately. So it now sits inside my rack bag.

  • Saddle Bag - The same applies for my saddle bag as with my pump. If I got a puncture I'd need to take everything off the bike anyway so instead have a spare tube and tools at the top of one of my panniers. This means fewer bags to manage and less weight as the pump attachment and saddle bag weigh around 200g.

  • Food - Allow space for food when packing. If you're wild camping you will need to carry additional food and water, even if you aren't cooking. I carry an additional 1.5 litres of water when wild camping and food for the evening, and breakfast the next morning. It can easily add 2-3kg of weight to my luggage.

The Bicycle



  • Paintwork - Given I have a steel framed bike I've added rubber washers to any metal-to-frame mounts, like my lights, to stop the paint being rubbed off. I also carry a 10ml bottle of clear nail varnish for doing touch-ups to the paintwork to stop it rusting.

  • Saddle - For my Brooks B17 saddle I have a rain cover to protect it and hopefully pre-long its life. I use it even when riding if the rain is heavy as I sometimes stand when climbing which leaves it exposed to the rain. I also use the cover at night when camping to stop condensation forming on the saddle.

  • Water Bottles - if you can find the sort that fit, 2x 1L bottles offer more storage and are lighter than your conventional bicycle water bottle.

  • Additional Bottle - this may not work for everyone, but I've found a 1.5L water bottle will fit perfectly between the rack arms, and click in place in my rear triangle. It's a great way to carry additional water, meaning I can carry 3L of water, enough for a fairly long day.

  • Mirror - It's definitely worthwhile having a mirror. Having to take your eyes off what is in front of you and look over your shoulder (without swerving) is dangerous, especially when going fast, or the wind is stopping you from hearing properly. A mirror gives you warning when a large lorry, or car, or another cyclist is about to overtake you. Taking away the element of surprise can make touring much safer.

  • Kick Stand - damn I wish I had one. Having to find a place to prop the bike every time I stop is a pain. And leaning it up against buildings causes the panniers to get scuffed. A kick stand makes life a lot easier.

Clothing



  • Washing - When hand washing clothes it can be difficult to get them clean, and dry in time for the next day. Here's where staying in a hotel once in a while is really handy. Take your clothes with you in the shower, and stomp on them as you wash yourself. After leave them to soak in a sink with some shampoo added in. For drying them firstly ring them out. Then using your full quota of towels, place the clothing in a ball into a towel and wrap it up. Stomp on the clothes once again, this will transfer excess water into the towel. Repeat two or three times.

  • Buff - at £10 these are great value. Light, versatile and they dry quickly. I currently have one, but I'd be tempted to take two. I currently use one over my forehead and covering my ears. Amazingly I often feel cooler when wearing it as it shields me from the sun, and wicks sweat off my skin. It would be handy to have a second one for around the neck which I could pull up over my nose and mouth to protect me from the sun, wind and dust getting kicked up.

  • Long Sleeve SPF30 Cycle Top - I've got a lightweight North Face top and it's great. It's fairly loose which allows air to flow through it keeping me cool. It protects my arms from the sun and stops me getting a farmer's tan. It shields my skin from the sun, so I find I sweat less on the arms.

  • Merino Underwear - despite costing me £15 a pair (and that's a cheap price) has been great. It doesn't rub, dries quickly, and can last days without smelling. I'll definitely be buying more in future, they've been one of my favourite bits of kit so far.

  • Dark Cycle Clothing - my advice would be to stick with darker, or more plain colours. So far I've found my bright yellow cycle top attracts all manor of insects be it stopping for a break, or when wild camping. My white top is getting that grubby yellow/brown look to it around the cuffs and collar. Both show up oil and grease easily, so I look like a bit scruffy when going into shops or meeting people which can have a negative impact sometimes.

Day Items



  • Platypus Water Sack - Very handy as it can hold 1 litre of water, yet fold down to virtually nothing when not being used and weighs very little. Perfect for carrying around town, and saves you some money as you can fill it via the tap (given it's drinkable).

  • Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack - At 68g this is a very light day bag. It packs up into something no larger than two golf balls. Yet when in use, it can easily carry my Kindle, camera, water and jacket for days around town.

 Camping



  • Pillow - I had originally intended on taking my Thermarest compressible pillow. During a training run I tried out an inflatable pillow but didn't like it at all. I found the air would move slightly and my neck muscles would keep having to re-adjust which mad nodding off difficult. In the end I decided against taking my Thermarest pillow and it's worked out quite well. Instead of a pillow I use a 13 Litre AlpKit dry bag, with some of my off-bike clothing rolled up inside. I place it under the hood of my sleeping bag and find it comfortable enough that I can sleep. It's also saved me 200g, and meant less bulk to carry.

  • Tent - I packed a one man tent which had worked very well for me. It only weighs 900g, although I wish I had opted for either a 2 man tent (weighing 1.3kg) or brought my 200g tarp. Purely to give me a little more space and easily store my gear. The tarp would allow me to build an entrance area to sit under when raining. It can also be used to cover the bike.

  • Stove - I normally wild camp without one, but have lately found them to be really handy and quite a cost saver. Nothing beats a warm meal, or coffee when camping. So if you can afford the space, I would recommend taking one.

Your Body



  • Sun Cream - make sure you carry plenty for protecting your skin. I take SPF30 as a general cream, and SPF50 for my face. I get the cream, not the clear spray type, as the cream also works as a moisturiser. Also you make think you don't need sun block, but the UV will be breaking down your skin and ageing you faster than you think!

  • Vaseline - can be used simply to protect your lips, or as a lubricant should you be getting any saddle rub.

  • General Hygiene - if you smell bad, some people often have the view, it's not my problem it's theirs. I disagree, it is your problem. I find people are far less likely to help, socialise or even hang around me when I start to smell bad. If you want to enjoy your travels and meet many interesting people you need to try and stay as clean as possible.

Smelly Shoes


Given you'll be wearing the same shoes almost every day, for hours and hours at a time, often in very hot conditions, it means they're bound to start smelling bad at some point. Some people don't seem to care, but in my opinion, it's unhygienic (look after your feet!) and not very sociable (when staying at hostels, which can end up being your problem!). My brother for example had his stinky climbing shoes in the hostel room and someone threw them out because of the smell. It meant buying a new pair which in Vietnam wasn't easy. Here's what I do to combat the smell:


  • Odour Eaters - These work a treat and are light enough that you could easily carry a back up pair. My first pair have lasted over a month so far and are still effective.

  • UV - sun light kills bacteria, so at the end of a long day I open the shoes up and sit them in the sun. Be careful not to leave them in the sun too long as pre-longed UV exposure will damage the material.

  • Bicarbonate Of Soda - I carry a zip lock bag, around 50g worth. Every couple of weeks I sprinkle some around the shoes and rub it into the material. It will kill off the bacteria and hence the smell.

  • Monthly Wash - Every month I give my shoes a proper scrub using washing powder in warm water. This cleans out the old sweat and freshens them up.

Routing



  • Rivers - Following a river is generally a good way (especially if following it out to sea) of finding a nice flat route (in most cases!). You'll find it easier, more enjoyable and be able to churn out a lot of mileage.

  • Main Roads - They may be fast and sometimes busy, but main roads often take the flattest route compared to country lanes. They aren't very enjoyable though, and sometimes not safe, so you have to judge when to use them.

  • Total Accent - As a rule I try to avoid anything near or over 1,000m in a day when loaded up. Anything below 400m generally equates to a pleasant and easy day's cycling.

  • Duration - do long days after a night of camping, short days after a hotel. When camping you're more likely to go to bed earlier, and wake up early giving you plenty of time to complete a long route. In hotels I often find I go to bed late (having gone out for beers, or stay up using the Internet), and wake up late due to being in a comfy bed.

Electricity


I have a B&M Son28 dynamo hub on my bike which is very handy, although I can't help but feel I could have got away with a charge battery. On Amazon for around £50 you can get a battery that has 11,000mha. That's enough to charge my GPS around 7-8 times over. It weighs around 250g too, so isn't very heavy for what it is. That would have saved me around £250, meant less wiring around my forks and headset, and reduced the resistance when cycling (although only slightly).

Having said that, there is something satisfying about creating my own power. And I know I can generate charge at any time. The battery requires a mains to be charged. Both provide good options, it's a personal (and probably money-based) decision that you go with.

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