Here’s my run down of essential equipment for a touring cyclist embarking on a long distance bicycle trip.
A good bike, or even a shit one will do. Some people like to punish themselves by increasing the difficulty of the ride by taking an old crappy bike. If your wondering whether to go for steel or alloy in my personal opinion it doesn’t really matter, they say the the alloy bends and stays bent so it’s not as suitable as a flexible steel frame but I’ve done two extensive rides now with approximately 20kg of baggage and never had a problem. If money is short I would say most modern bikes would suit. My Cube Cross 2018 is technically a hybrid city bike and not sufficient enough for more than your daily commute to and from work but I’ve certainly been putting it to the test without any problems so far. But now I’ve said it I’m sure the old girl will decide to fall apart on me…
A pannier rack, get a good one is all I will say. Rack problems were constant and annoying all my way to China where I finally found one that was strong enough to take a battering from “Mr break everything he touches” over here. I think it was my fourth of the trip. I’m blaming the bumpy roads but the roads may have another opinion on the matter?!
I am currently using a Tubus rack which has proven very sturdy so far and I’ve been bumping around quite a bit.
Pannier bags – I went for the relatively new 70ltr (pair) Ortleib rear pannier bags, fully waterproof (definitely essential) and they are now 2.5 yrs old and still working fine. Ok so I have had to do a stitch here and there and add a new bolt or two but they have been great.
Bar ends, changing your hand position is very important and my current ones are excellent as they can be swivelled 360 degrees on two axis for maximum versatility. Having your hands in the sam eposition can lead to the dreaded tingle finger otherwise known as pins and needles. Having lots of positions for your hands while riding will help stave off the numbness that inevitably arrives at some point everyday.
Decent pedals – this may not be essential but I had some horrible squeaky pedals that I had to suffer for days and weeks before I could replace them and it drove me crazy. I went through 4 sets, SPD’s included.
GPS – depending on where you are going? I’m up for adventure but I don’t like getting lost. I always liked an actual paper foldable map but in some countries finding a map is near to impossible and certainly cycling through China from west to east my Garmin (read my Garmin GPS review) was 100% necessary. No maps and crazy writing = a very lost cyclist!
Get one that can stand a pummelling from a storm and something that won’t take a long time to put up, sometimes you need to erect your tent quickly due to a pending storm or perhaps the night is drawing in fast? My tent is a Vango Mirage Pro which is self-standing and certainly makes things easier as you will definitely be camping in non-peg friendly landscapes but that being said my last tent was a Vango Banshe 200 which isn’t self standing and what I used to cycle around the world. I loved that tent and it was amazing, but as it wasn’t self standing I was regularly required to either tie it to stuff or use rocks as anchors. Also get a groundsheet or something waterproof to lay underneath, for one it will protect your tent bottom and secondly and more importantly you won’t get wet.
Get a decent sleeping bag – again this depends on where you are going but I chose a duck down extreme sleeping bag from mountain warehouse that cost £125 supposedly reduced from £250 but it was amazing and I am never cold even on the nights where I was sleeping at an altitude of 5000 metres in snow.
For me this was initially optional but now I consider it essential. I didn’t have one for the first few months and didn’t really think much of it but when I did finally buy one in Kyrgistan the 1cm of extra padding was like luxury and my nights were lovely for ever more!
Mud flaps/giards – full mud flaps especially for the rear wheel no matter how silly they look, I really would recommend this. Since riding through Africa none of the problems caused by my useless, but cool looking, mud flaps from my previous adventure have reared their annoying heads. Both me and my gear are much drier now and not caked in mud either.
Decent lights – on my last trip I didn’t have a rear light and my front light was pants and the amount of fear an unlit tunnel can hold is no joke. I actually love tunnels but I had some very close calls and if the tunnels bend, which they often do, you don’t know if your about to hit the wall or are pedalling on the wrong side of the road. Chance of death increased by 1 million!! Get some bloodily lights you muppet!
I suppose any tyre could technically get you there eventually but I wouldn’t really like to be going over a mountain with racing slicks?! I use the Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour and they are amazing! The rolling resistance is low enough not to slow you down too much on a nice asphalt road and the tread design is great for maximum traction on rougher roads. They also have a reinforced band inside to protect from punctures. My first set lasted over 14,000 miles and I didn’t get a puncture until I had ridden over 5,000 miles. Very happy with these babies and will buy them time after time with confidence that they will perform.
A torch is always needed especially if you’re setting up camp after dark. I did many night missions and couldn’t have put my up my tent without a torch. A head torch is preferable because it will free up your hands for maximum tent putting up skills and they are great for reading.
I like a big knife, Crocodile Dundee style. Similar to something you might find in the kitchen but this I suppose depends on you. I had a watermelon fetish at one point and my large blade made it much easier to cut it up into edible chunks.
I had the basic multi-tool including chain-link-fixer and didn’t ever need more than that. I don’t know how to do more than fix a broken link anyway so having other tools would only serve to impress other riders after revealing my extensive tool kit. I don’t take spare parts though so I only ever need the odd Allen key and a screw-driver nothing more.
Spare Inner Tube
I took two and that kept me pretty well. I only ever had to make emergency repairs in the side of the road a few times (due to the spares having holes in them at the time), most of the time I could repair my punctures in the evening or I would even wait until I arrived at a hotel or hostel.
Puncture Repair Kit
Puncture repair kit – I had around 60 – 70 punctures on my last trip so this is an absolute essential item. Unless you don’t mind taking a bus or waving down a vehicle of some sort you could be stranded out in the middle of nowhere very easily wondering if perhaps a leaf and some bubblegum would do the trick?!
A Bicycle Pump
Obvious really. It’s no good repairing your tubes if you can’t pump them up again.
Silicone or Duct Tape
Silicone or duct tape or both? – great from fixing a variety of weird and wonderful problems that you could never guess you would encounter. I’ve fixed pedals, my tent, inner tubes, my pump, all sorts with these items buy some you won’t be sorry!
Spare Nuts and Bolts
Spare nuts, bolts, and washers – on many occasions a bolt has worked its way out of my rack, or out of my pannier bags and without nuts and bolts I would have been (excuse the pun) absolutely screwed!
Spare brake pads – perhaps I lied earlier when I said I don’t bring parts along, I do take brake pads and although in a modern place you could probably buy these en-route I’ve been in many places where you really can’t so it’s best to err on the side of caution.
Oh and how could I forget, “Wear sunscreen” as good old Baz Luhrmann says and it’s very true. I’ve had many nights burnt up and painful laying in my tent wishing I had included this song in my playlist do as to remind me how important it is!
I’m sure there are some more essentials but my brain is struggling to think of them at this point, I will keep adding to this list as and when I remember.