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So, you’ve been biking for a while. You have even done occasional day-long trip and you would like to try bike overnight travel. Besides being fit and able to ride a loaded bike for few days, you need some equipment.
While you could go bike touring with almost any bicycle, certain ones are more suitable. I have seen many tourers on bikes, looking like road bikes, with dropped handlebars.
I have seen people touring on hybrid bikes.
And even people, on mountain bikes.
In early days of my touring, I rode a mountain bike.
And actually, if you plan on going bike packing, which is riding on a lot of dirt/unimproved roads and trails while touring – mountain bike would be a bicycle of choice!
(Read a detailed article discussing the difference between bike touring and bikepacking: http://www.worldbiking.info/wordpress/2017/03/difference-bikepacking-bicycle-touring/)
The important part is, that since you need to bring some clothing and equipment, you need to be able to attach the rack to the bicycle.
One caveat with mountain bike is that your position on the bike is more aggressive, leaning forward and therefore putting more pressure on your arms. Some people have no problem with that. Others complain of their arms getting too tired or numb on long rides.
Another thing to remember with mountain bikes, is that you want to have a front fork, that you can lock, if you are planning on carrying front panniers.
As far as tires are concerned, for road touring, you probably don’t want the resistance of the regular 2.1-inch mountain biking tire with aggressive tread. When I used my mountain bike for touring, I would switch to 1.5-inch tires with some tread, which still was great for dirt roads and some sand.
Now, I have 37mm Continental Travel Contact tires on my touring bike, so still about 1.5 inch, but with very smooth tread. They are good on hard surface, but in loose gravel or sand, it is hard to move and maintain balance.
There are different forms of bike touring. The simplest kind, when you stay at hotels, motels, WarmShowers locations, hostels, does not require much more than some basic bike tools and clothing. You still need to pack those somewhere.
You think, that you could carry a backpack with all that stuff in it. It is possible, but not the most comfortable option. One – you back will sweat a lot more. Two – if the backpack is heavy, your center of gravity will be a lot higher, which will require you to work harder when starting and stopping to maintain your balance. This is why you almost never see a touring cyclist with a heavy backpack on his/her back.
It is a lot easier to install a rack (at least the rear one) over your rear wheel, and either leash a bag to it, or attach panniers.
When you go touring and you choose a tent for your shelter, you definitely need to bring a lot more gear with you. Besides the tent, you need sleeping pad and sleeping bag.
If you plan on cooking, at least some of your food, you need to bring a stove and, at least, a pot.
To carry all this equipment, you need panniers.
I like to have my gear organized, so initially, I got a set of panniers with few external pockets.
They were not waterproof, but came with rain covers. Let me tell you, if you tour in all kinds of weather, including heavy rain, then they don’t work. The rain cover protects the entire bag except the part facing the wheel. During long ride in a heavy rain, the water splashes from the spinning wheel, runs down the backside of the bag and collects at the bottom of the rain cover, soaking the bottom of the pannier.
The best panniers are the simplest. Like Ortlieb waterproof panniers.
They are, essentially, heavy duty dry bags with mounting hardware. If you, like me, need to organize your gear – get Ziploc bags, or any other lightweight bags to organize your stuff. With waterproof bags, all your gear is protected from the elements. No worries!
The Ortlieb panniers are very popular with long distance tourers. They are probably the most expensive panniers on the market. But they are worth every penny! Believe me! I’m talking from experience… (There are other kinds of waterproof panniers out there, that might be cheaper, and might work for you.)
So, if you go with one set of panniers, they should be the rear ones. Usually, for weekend or week long touring you can get away with only rear ones and maybe some gear leashed on top of the rack. For long term touring, you most likely would need a full set of front and rear panniers.
There are few other accessories, that maybe are not necessary, but very helpful, when bike touring. One of them is rear view mirror. Some people like one mounted on the handlebar.
Others, like myself, prefer one mounted to the helmet.
If you get one mounted to the helmet, get it some time before your trip to practice using it. Since the mirror is small, it takes a little bit of time, to get your neck to learn how to move your head to see what’s behind you.
Another important piece of equipment for bike touring is bike lock. When you are touring, there are times when you stop to eat, or visit a place, local attraction, where you need to leave your bike. Often, it is nice to be able to lock it to bike rack, tree, fence or something else, and know that it is secure and it will be there when you return.
There are many bike-locks out there. I will not get into their types and advantages of one over the other. Get one that you like or prefer.
Sometimes, I also bring a ski lock, like the one in the image below. I use it to lock my panniers to the bike frame. I use it only in areas, where I am leaving my bike for extended period of time, or where chances that somebody might snatch a bag is high.
Another important piece of equipment is the saddle. While many cyclists will use the saddle that came with the bike, there are others that will change it to something that they like. One of the saddles that is very popular with touring cyclists is the leather Brooks saddle. I don’t have one, so I cannot provide you with the first-hand experience. However, I have few touring friends, who have Brooks saddles and really like them. I can imagine them being very comfortable, as the whole saddle is a piece of shaped leather, without any structure. Over time, the saddle will conform to your particular anatomy. The only drawback is that it is made of leather, so you want to protect it from water. Many cyclists will wrap a plastic grocery bag around the saddle to protect it from overnight rain or condensation.
While riding, you often sweat, and need to drink to keep yourself hydrated. It’s nice to have water bottles easily accessible. Therefore, it’s good to have bottle cages.
Some cyclists prefer to use hydration backpacks, so they can take small sips of fluid quite often. I do not like to have anything on my back, besides my shirt, especially during hot summer. So, it is a matter of preference. However, you want to have some easy access to your drink.
Another, nice-to-have, but not a must, is a computer. It is nice to know the distance that you have ridden so far, and how much more you’ve got to go. Sometimes, it can be a tool that will help you to realize that you got lost.
Let’s say, you were supposed to get to a major cross road at mile 47. Now, you are at mile 50 with no cross roads in sight. Then you realize that you are most likely lost, and need to start checking your phone GPS, your maps, etc.
There are many different bike computers out there, from simple ones, to ones with a GPS. Some of the GPS ones provide you with a lot more details about the ride than just distance, time and average speed. If you like to analyze your ride, have a map route charts and vertical profiles, etc. than the fancy ones, like the Garmin Edge 1000 below, are your choice.
Another item that is a must for bike tourer is a pump. When you go bike touring eventually you will get a flat. And from time to time, you just need to add air to your tires. Again, there are many different pumps out there. You need to get one that will work for you. The small pump by Pro Bike, shown below, is pretty efficient.
Other items that are often involved when you get a flat are patch kit, tire levers and spare tubes. They are simply a must.
Next item, that you should carry, is a universal bike tool, like the Wotow 16 in 1 Tool Kit below. When you are touring, occasionally things on your bike need adjustment. Something gets loose and need tightening, etc.
Another tool, that should be in your bag, is pedal wrench. Pedals are close enough to pedal arms, and therefore they are difficult to access with anything else like pliers or some other adjustable wrenches. Occasionally, you might need to tighten a loose pedal. But sometimes, you might run into a situation like the one that happened to one of my friends while we were touring in Quebec. She needed to take a day off from touring. To move to our next destination, she had to take a bus. The bus would transport the bike, but only in a box. To put it in a box, we needed to twist the handlebars, lower the saddle, and remove the pedals. Therefore, it is nice to be prepared for unexpected situations like that. That pedal wrench, like the Park Tool one shown below, does not take much space and it does not add much weight.
Yet another tool, that you should always have with you, is a chain tool. The universal bike tool often has one, but I found out, that it’s good to have a quality dedicated chain tool. I have broken chains few times, and without a tool and spare links and pins, I would have been dead in the water. The chain tool like Omers Universal Bike Chain Tool would do.
Finally, the last item on my list is some kind of lubricant. When you are touring, and chain and the gears get dirty pretty quickly. Depending on the situation, but you probably should clean them daily. After you clean them, they should be lubricated. Additionally, when you ride in a rainy, wet weather, your lubrication is gone quickly and you need to re-apply it. So, you should have a bottle of lubricant, like Finish Line Dry Bike Lubricant, with you.
So, this is the list of the minimum bike equipment that you should have for touring. If you plan on camping, there is a whole number of camping gear that you need. However, that is a subject for another article.