Bike Gear Tips for the Long-Haul Traveler
Before you set out traveling by bike, you have to make sure you have the right gear—but the good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get the right stuff. You don’t need a $5,000 touring bike to be able to enjoy even a very long trip. If you plan to join a pack of expert speed cyclists, then you’ll need a bike that can keep up, but for most people, whether you are on a solo quest to see America or spend a month taking in the local culture in Europe, a much more basic road bike will do.
Likewise, you don’t need to spend a fortune on high-tech gear and gadgets, but there are a few “musts” to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Here are some of the most important, with a bit of advice from the pros.
Cycling is very physical, and nothing ruins the fun like getting dehydrated. A flat tire or lose chain is a relatively quick fix, but it takes a while to recover once the dizziness and headache of dehydration have set in—not to mention the potential for accidents and injuries from becoming dizzy or faint while riding. A hydration pack holds a lot more liquid than a water bottle and can be accessed easily, without even making you change position on the bike.
Panniers are the largest storage compartments used for cycling, and they are available for the front or rear of the bike. Unless your trip will include a lot of steep climbs or dirt roads, you are likely to be best off with rear-mounted panniers. There are also under-seat and handlebar storage pouches available, but keep in mind that you want to minimize weight, so don’t max out storage space, since it will lead to carrying more than necessary. If you opt to use a seat sack, make sure it is designed so that it attaches firmly and doesn’t rub on your legs.
Cell phone holder
Even if the idea of heading out on a bike is to get away from it all, chances are you’ll want to use your phone for navigation and quick-shot photography, or maybe even taking video. There is a wide variety of phone mounts available for bikes. Some are specifically for Android or iPhone, while others are more universal. Additional things to consider include whether you need a mount that includes a waterproof case and if you prefer a handlebar or stem mount. Totalwomenscycling.com put together a good overview of available models that will give you more of an idea of what to look for.
If your routes are simple and cell coverage is good, you may be okay with just a cell phone, but if you want better navigation, emergency contact, and map storage—or if you just love data—get a cycling computer. Naturally, there’s a wide range of features and price tags, so you can go pretty basic or for about $400 you can get the king of the road, Garmin Edge 820. The better models provide GPS plus Glonass navigation to give you 2-meter accuracy. (If you aren’t familiar with Glonass, here’s a useful explanation.)
Here’s where you can really indulge in some fashionable high-speed, low-drag attire if you wish, but there really are only a few things you must have. Wicking fabric for your shirt and shorts/pants will carry sweat away from your skin, so that’s well worth getting. Padded shorts are really important for your comfort, especially for day-after-day riding.
You may or may not actually want to get clip-in bike cleats. If you are going to be pushing hard through challenging terrain, they may be worth it, but if you aren’t used to them, and will be having a leisurely ride, they aren’t necessary, and you may be safer without them. If you opt for clipping in, be sure to practice with them a lot before your trip. Chances are very high that you will do some falling over until you get used to them, and it’s way better to do that at home or in a park than when you are on the road!
Arm and leg warmers
If you will be riding where it is consistently hot or cold, you wont’ need warmers, but they can be a real asset for spring and fall riding when the day starts out cold and gets warm in the afternoon. Instead of being too hot or needing a change of clothes, you can simply stat the day with arm and leg warmers on with your short=sleeved top and shorts, and slip them off when you break for lunch.
Chamois cream or chafing lotion
Even with padded shorts, chafing is common. Chamois cream can be put on your skin or the pads and chafing lotion goes right on your skin to reduce friction throughout the day.
This list isn’t all-inclusive, but should get you started, and hopefully, give you a few tips you might not have been aware of. Regardless of what you choose to go with, the most important aspect of having the right gear is knowing how to use it. Bike touring is becoming increasingly popular and there are a lot of great products on the market, produced by many different brands. Quite a few of them are excellent quality, so as long as you get something that is well made and the right tool for the job, it doesn’t matter exactly which make or model you have. The key is knowing how to use it.
There’s nothing like a local overnight campout to test out your new gear. Don’t wait until you are out on the road, far from any kind of bike shop to figure out how to use your tools. An overnighter also gives you some good practice at packing and making sure you have everything you need—as well as seeing what you could do without. A light load is a packing goal, and you’ll find that there’s a lot you don’t need.
Happy cycling! What’s your biggest must-have for bike travel? Share your tips in the comments below.