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Friday 31 March 2023

Cycle Touring: Top Tips & What To Pack!

I’ve done a few multi-day long bike trips from very well organised events like London Revolution to self-supported cycling from Birmingham to Portland or Kidderminster to Bangor and back. While I’ve enjoyed the organised trips a lot, the self-supported trips can be the most rewarding. You do have to carry a lot more kit for these and you have to be self-sufficient in the event of a problem.
It’s a lot to remember. But luckily, I am a lover of lists. And I thought I’d share one of my bike touring lists in case it’s helpful for you too.

Backpacks. Try not to carry a backpack but if you do take a light one. A bad back from carrying too much weight on a bike is miserable. Load up your bike rather than yourself if possible. I liked having a large bentos box on the top tube. Easy access to phone and navigation and to snacks, rather than having to root around in the other bags, it’s all right in front of me.

Sun Cream. Don’t underestimate 16 hours outdoors even on cloudy days.

Don't know about sunburn ... nearly drowned in the rain!

Get The Food In. When things seem really miserable … you’re probably hungry or thirsty. Try a bit of fuel before jacking it in!

Check Your Forecasts. Seems obvious but check weather forecasts before packing kit. It might mean you don’t have to carry a chunky baselayer or waterproof but can leave it at home!

Warm & Dry. Changing a damp base layer can make a world of difference! I didn’t have a clean spare so used my PJ top on the last leg of a 3-day trip … wonderful to be dry for a bit.

Ah ... the Welsh sunshine ...

Distances. Write aid station distances on your hand. It helps mentally if it’s a long distance. If it’s a self-supported trip, write the towns down. It breaks the distance up and makes it more manageable.

Bungee Cords were a game changer. Saved me tying things on with a phone lead as per first trip!

The views (and cake) make it all worth it!

Hydration Tablets or Hydration Concentrate. It’s surprising how much I sweat when I’m cycling, even when I’m going long and at a leisurely pace. Don’t underestimate how much salt you’ll lose. And if you run out of your preferred hydration mix, sugary coca cola is like rocket fuel!

Bike Lock. Take a bike lock even if you don’t plan on stopping. Handy for loo stops, lunch breaks, any time your bike is out of sight!

Was able to charge lights on the go thanks to the battery packs on this trip!

Battery Packs are fantastic. Can charge lights while you’re moving and Garmin etc. Also, a single plug with multiple USB sockets for when you can get to mains to charge everything up.

Charging Wires. Don’t forget your charging wires! Phone, headphone, navigation aid, light chargers … for obvious reasons!

Headphones. I don’t recommend cycling with headphones. I find I want to have an ear on the road noises and everything else around me to make informed decisions, particularly when as a cyclist I’m a vulnerable road user. That being said, when I’m having a particularly tough day out, one earphone in (on the verge side) and some bouncy music tends to make things a bit better when I’m struggling. It’s definitely a personal choice though. I also find headphones good for night times to block out noisy neighbours, whether that’s snoring, road noise or parties. 

Prior Preparation ... I also set everything thing out the evening before. Quite often on the morning of an event, I don’t want to have to think. Or I’m incapable of it so I do everything I can the night before. Tyres pumped up, hydration powder in bottles, snacks packed in Bentos box, even breakfast laid out. I do this on the evening on a bike tour too … lights & devices charging up while I’m eating, breakfast planned and bottles refilled, next day’s kit laid out ready. I’ll even write ‘plait hair’ on my list.

Toolkit. I also carry a basic toolkit that fits in a bottle cage on the bike with the usual kit and spare tubes and kit to change a tyre but also electrical tape and cable ties and rubber bands. It’s amazing how many times a rubber band has helped me out of a pinch!

Mini Lube. If you go to sportives or shows, they often give away samples of chamois cream. Ask if you’re ok to grab a few. The packs are sealed and single size – perfect for touring and it means you don’t have to take a giant tub for a short trip. If not, you can always put a dollop of cream in a sandwich bag, enough for the start of each day of your trip.

Plasters & Tape. I always take plasters and a little roll of micropore tape. Blisters and hotspots can make a trip miserable, but it’s an easy fix if you can get to them early and tape the spot before it turns into a bigger problem.

Brave the ford? Yeah ... of course!

Buffs are AMAZING. Quick under helmet hat if it’s chilly, neck warmer, band for keeping sweat out of your eyes … can even tie things on with them. Don’t underestimate the humble buff!

Toiletries. I always try and cut down on toiletries but find I need toothbrush, toothpaste, baby wipes (a few in a bag), deodorant, comb, hairbands, shower gel and a stash of loo roll as a minimum.

Sleeping Bag Liner. When I camp, I always take my liner as well as my sleeping bag. If it’s hot I can ditch the bag and sleep in liner or cold, sleep in the whole lot! For Spring, Autumn, Winter I also take a pair of Heat Holder socks – these are super fluffy and are amazing and cheap. I get mine for about a fiver off the local market!

Towel. I’ve got a couple of Tesselate towels which are very lightweight and quite small, but which are the perfect size for camping or touring when you’re short on space. They also dry out pretty quickly which is a bonus!

I thought this was top of the 2nd mountain ... when I checked map wasn't even on first mountain ...!

Evening Kit. I always take evening clothes which are warm but light. (I try to avoid taking a jacket as I can always use my cycling one in a pinch) But I’ve got a super comfy pair of yoga pants, vest top and a slimline fleecy ASICS hoody which cover most eventualities.

Light Footwear. Shoes take up a lot of space and can be quite heavy, so I tend to go with flip-flops when possible and ballet flats when not.

Gloves. I try to avoid gloves when possible, but there’s a time for them and cycle touring is one of those times. I’ve had some good blisters on the balls of my thumbs and hands from not wearing them when cycling long distances. 100 milers … fine. But put me on a bike for 3 days in a row and my hands sulk. And you don’t have the time to heals up if you're cycling day after day rubbing the same sore spots raw.

Didn't bother with gloves ... wished I had!

DryRobe or Similar. If camping and someone else is carrying your kit, not much beats my DryRobe for moving around in the evening. Warm, waterproof, cosy … bliss.

Dry Kit. If I’m staying in a hotel a lot of the above can be left at home, including shower gel, towels, heat holder socks etc. Plus, you can switch the radiators on to dry off damp kit. And put it back on warm - bliss! Even if you're not wearing wet kit again, dry kit is lighter than wet kit if you're carrying it!

Ibuprofen & Paracetamol. It’s amazing what relief a painkiller can bring on tired legs after a few days of cycle touring, fully loaded up! Also hay fever tablets, if you’re prone to it!

Sandwich Bags. Another thing I now do is pack kit into separate dry bags. I use ziplock sandwich bags. It’s awful having to put on wet kit or worse – wet PJs and electricals won’t be useful if they’re soaked. Also, snacks are better if they’re not sodden.
You can certainly pack lighter than this, but this is what works for me. You'll probably find a few things on my kist that you'll want to consider, but other things won't float your boat (or ride your bike?!) Hopefully this will give you some useful pointers. Happy miles!

p.s. And any tips back from you would be gratefully received! Every day is for learning!

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