Category Archives: Tips for Bike Touring
As someone who has recently cycled fully loaded over the Cascade Mountains I can easily say without hesitation, lighter is better when you’re pulling a mountain (…and when you have 4,000 miles to go after said mountain is pulled).
That said, with two weeks under my belt and 3.5 more months on the road to go, I can also just as easily say I am happy every day that I have the following 10 lightweight luxury/creature comfort items with me. If you’re planning a bike tour and thinking about what to bring, maybe consider some of these gems…
10 Luxury Items I’m Glad I Have On Tour
I consider these items “luxury items” because you could easiliy tour without them and nearly none of them pass the “does it serve more than one use” ultra-light pack test. (They do, on the other hand, pass the “this shit makes my life better all the time” test with flying colors, though.)
These items are listed in no particular order, but if they made this list I use them regularly and I would not trade them for 14 Clif bars.
1) Zip-Front Fleece Hooded Sweatshirt
What it is: A zip-front fleece Patagonia hoodie intended for climbing, so it’s lightweight, wind and water resistant, warm and packable.
Why it’s luxury: It’s luxury because I could easily wear my yellow windbreaker jacket or a baselayer + windbreaker (etc.) combination when I’m cold; I don’t need a fleece zip-up jacket to keep my warm.
Why I love it: But..man do I love it. There’s something really excellent about being able to get off your bike and not be wearing bike clothes anymore. This jacket keeps me warm, it allows me to look like a civilian when I’m mingling at a farmer’s market, I can sleep in it without smelling like an 8-hour sweat fest, and it has nice warm, comfort-lined fleece pockets. This jacket is like a nice big fat plate of mashed potatoes after a rainy ride. And it only weights apx. 9 ounces — or about 4 Clif bars. Totally worth it in my book.
2) “The Stick” Mini IT Band Roller Stick
What it is: It’s a stick — aptly named “The Stick” — used to roll out sore muscles (and in my case, IT bands) and break up lactic acid after strenuous exercise. It comes in three different sizes; The Stick, The Travel Stick, and The Mini Stick. I have The Mini Stick and it’s more than big enough for me to roll out my legs, my neck, and my own back.
Why I love it: If it wasn’t for this stick, I’m not sure I would be able to walk. When I rode my bike from SF to LA in 2012 (545 miles in 7 days) I had a TON of trouble with my IT bands; first my right, then my left. It was awful. I cried and felt like I had robot legs for days. I was that guy who had to go see the medic to get taped every morning, and then I still had to straight-leg stick-man waddle my way to the bike and take off at about 5-minutes till close with all the other broken, sunburned, messed up ALC folks. Thanks to this stick and lots and lots of stretching I’ve ridden nearly 700 miles on this tour with no problems! I even rode over the Cascade mountains with 40+ pounds of crap strapped to my bike. If you have IT band problems, buy this stick. It weighs about 5 ounces — or 2 Clif bars — as the crow flies (eg: according to my totally not scientific close my eyes and estimate weight on-road methodology).
3) Prana Active Jeans
What it is: Special “jeans” made by Prana for active wear. They’re super light weight (7-9 ounces I’d guess. Equal to 3-4 Clif bars), they’re stretchy (I’ve seen pictures of people rock climbing in these pants, and I’ve definitely worn mine on bike rides), and they look and feel like real jeans (they’re not “jeggings” or those North Face zip-off pants that you see people wearing to SurfRider meet ups) without the weight.
The Why2 of these jeans is basically the same as the zip-up sweater: I love these things because they allow me to wear not bike clothes when I am taking a day off; they allow me to look like a civilian when I am in Seattle (or anywhere where I don’t want to look like bike guy Joe); and they’re super light and easy to pack. Also, a fancy hair dresser complimented me on my jeans in a really nice hair salon in Southern California before I left on this tour. So, there’s that.
4) Sharkk Bluetooth Keyboard
What it is: An ultra-thin bluetooth keyboard that will connect with any Bluetooth-enabled device, like an iPad and/or an iPhone. It probably weighs 3-4 ounces (less than 2 Clif bars). It charges using a Mini USB (no batteries makes it super light) and it’s flat which makes it very easy to pack (before this keyboard I bought a Bluetooth keyboard just like the Apple model and that keyboard had a big fat brick across the top; the brick is nice because it give the keyboard a slant, but otherwise, awful because it adds weight and makes packing the brick/keyboard combo in a pannier much harder).
Why it’s a luxury: I could update my blog using the on-screen keyboard on my iPad and it serves me no purpose other than blog updating.
Why I love it: ….but updating the blog would suck.so.much.more without this keyboard. Seriously. I am a blogger; I have lots of words to say. If I had to two-finger touchscreen tap every blog post I would never do it. With this keyboard I can prop the iPad up, turn the keyboard on (by flicking a switch) and I have type with both hands and all my fingers like a big girl. If you hate my long, detailed blog posts you have Sharkk to thank/resent. If you want to blog on the road via iPad (or even iPhone!) I highly recommend this keyboard.
5) Eno Twinkly Tent Lights
What it is: These are tiny christmas lights with a tiny battery pack. Eno sells hammocks and I think these lights are largely intented to decorate/light your hammock, but they’re working just dandy in our Marmot tent. Ours are multi-colored, but I think they sell sets that are all a single color as well. We ditched the bag they came in and keep them strung up in our tent’s gear hammock all the time (we just roll them up in the tent, so we don”t have to take them down and put them back up again; that would make them a hassle). They add probably 6-8 ounces (or less) to our tent weight (apx. 2-3 Clif bars).
Why it’s a Luxury: They’re battery operated Christmas lights. You could easily use a headlamp for less weight, or for even less weight you could just use your bike’s head light(s).
Why I love it: ….but bike head lights are so much less fun!! We use these lights for in-tent lighting at night. We just get in the tent and turn on “the disco lights” so that we can see in the tent. They make our tent feel a little like a homestead, and they also add function since using them means we never have to fiddle with a lantern that’s never in the right place, or aheadlamp that keeps shining someone right in the retna.
I’ve rolled them up in the tent 11 times now, and strapped said tent to the back of my bike using three bungee cords 11 times and every single light — and the battery box — is still in tip-top condition. Love these things.
6) Aligator Handlebar Feed Bag
What it is: A bag shaped like an aligator that I use to hold my dog/bear spray and my road snacks. I bought this at Target for $14 and it’s intended to be something like a handlebar bag for a little kid’s Razor scooter. It has eyes and feet and the zipper is a mouth. It’s awesome and it weighs about 4 ounces (less than 2 Clif bars). Real cycle retailors, like Adventure Cycling Association, sell “feed bags” similar to this one in an adult model (RE: no eyes. No teeth zippers. no feet. no strpes. All black.) for about $30.
Why I love it: The handlebar bag makes things accessible, but this thing makes things really accessible. I’m eating a riding all day! It’s nice to be able to just reach in the gator mouth and grab the other half of my Clif bar (weight: apx. .5 Clif bars) without having to reach around my camera and my buff and my click-stand and my toilet paper and any other need-for-today crap that’s placed precariously in my handlebar bag.
This aligator also keeps my pepper spray easily accessible so I can spray a rabid dog (or a huge bear) in the face in seconds (without having to move any crap out of the way, which is what I would have to do if it were in the handlebar bag).
7) REI Backpacking Chair with Back Support and Four Legs
What it is: A fold-up backpacking chair that has four legs and back support (some backpacking chairs like the “butterfly” only have two legs and you use your own two legs as the other legs to support the chair). This chair seriously takes a minute or less to put together and break down.
Why I love it: Two words – Back. Support. After a long day of riding it’s really effing pleasant to kick your heels up and lay back around the fire. Sure, a picini table or a rock will due just fine if you’re a single Jansport kind of tourer, but if you’re touring for four months like we are and you’ve got some room in your pannier, choose back support. It’s awesome.
8) Hair Genie Turban Towel
What it is and why I love it: A turban-ey towel that is made just to hold your hair when you get out of the shower. They sell these at Bed Bath & Beyond. I think I bought mine at Target. I have long hair and I use this towel every day at home; it’s an excellent way to keep your long wet hair out of your face and off of your clothing after you get out of the shower (or after you’re done hobo bathing in a bathroom sink).
My towel isn’t quick dry so I usually strap it to the back of my bike on top of the tent to dry it while I ride. It weighs about 4 ounces and it’s totally worth 2 Clif bars.
9) Portable Grocery Bag
What it is and why I love it: You get it. It’s a portable grocery bag made of nyon that folds up into it’s own tiny portable bag. It weighs about 2 ounces, it’s smaller than a tennis ball and we use ours all the time. We use it for grocery shopping, for laundry, to carry things around town when we’re exploring, and, basically, any other time we need to carry things without having to/wanting to lug a waterproof Ortileb.
These things cost like $2 and they weigh nothing. The bag is a luxery because you could get along just fine without it in the states using plastic bags or a sweatshirt hobo bindle, but I find having a real sack to be infinitly useful on the road.
10) Space Pen
What it is and why I love it: A pen that writes upside down! This pen is awesome for writing out daily turn-by-turn directions or postcards in your tent. It’s kind of pricey and not as light as that plastic pen you picked up from the Best Western, but in my book it’s infinitly worth the money and the weight to have a pen that writes on the side of the road in the rain when you frikkin need it to. The pen probably weighs about 2.5 ounces (excatly the weight of one Clif bar [in case you haven’t mathmatically figured that out yet]).