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Cycle Touring Kit

01 October 2013

On the Road

Predictably, I'm a disciple of the post-modern, neo-classical school of minimalist cycle touring. Take good quality, lightweight gear and leave behind all but the essentials - you can always buy an emergency toothbrush en route. This may seem a little masochistic but the common image of foreign cycle tourists struggling to pedal their over-laden juggernauts around New Zealand roads should reassure you of the inherent wisdom in this ascetic approach. Some take the lightweight thing to its indulgent extreme... linking up the classic Tour de France cols with just a single change of clothes and credit card for hotels and restaurant meals. Nice if you've got the coin. For the more fiscally constrained, we need to bolt our trip together using camping equipment.

Shelter from the Storm
  • Cheap tents weigh a 'ton', aren't particularly waterproof and risk collapsing when the big bad wolf huffs and puffs. Amble into a specialist outdoor shop to suss out what's on offer. Assuming you're after a two-person tent, don't even consider anything over 3kg. Unless you have friends at NASA, 2kg is about as light as you can expect. Freestanding designs are handy - especially in Europe where campsites are often too hard to drive pegs into the turf. 
  • If you are actually a couple, then consider kipping under a single sleeping bag. You can unzip a semi-rectangular model and use it like a duvet. Down is light and compressible. 550-700g of fill is about right for most conditions. A 200g down liner on its own is sufficient in warmer climes. 
  • A 'Thermarest' self-inflating mattress is an essential luxury. A little cushioning between you and the firm ground after a hard day in the saddle helps you greet the morning with enthusiasm.
Panniers vs Trailer
  • A set of racks with front and rear panniers is the standard configuration. Don't skimp on the racks - they take a hammering and are prone to breaking. Kiwi innovators Freeload have set the standard for off-road designs. Their rack is now rebadged under the Thule stable. 
  • Good panniers are a must. Stay clear of any made from lightweight nylon with dodgy attachment systems. Panniers made from pack canvas or welded PVC are generally preferable.Ortlieb is the accepted benchmark for top quality bike luggage. 
  • Trailers are brilliant in their place: you can use cargo bags or a pack instead of panniers; they allow you to carry big loads with more control; are robust off-road; and if you're hoping to discover some singletrack you can quickly 'unhitch' to unleash your mountain bike. On the down side you incur a weight penalty of 2-3kg over a set of front and rear racks, and it's an additional piece of bulky luggage to negotiate through the airline check-in.
Dressing Yourself
  • If you're pragmatic and head to a warm, dry climate you'll need remarkably few clothes. 
  • Pack a single pair of baggies - Juggernauts, Supertankers or the women's Tantrums. Throw on over your Underdogs or Dovetail liner to ensure a clean, dry short each day - essential for keeping your nether regions healthy. Free of its liner, the outer short doubles as casual wear off the bike. Some women prefer standard cycle shorts with a wrap-around skirt when you hit town. 
  • Choose a couple of cycle shirts - the right style will work off the bike too. Perhaps one should be Lightwave Merino to cover a cold snap. 
  • A down jacket or mid-weight top like the Frosty Boy or Ice Queen covers the evenings, along with a light pair of long pants or Half Pipe leg warmers - also a useful barrier to biting bugs. A down jacket doubles as a luxurious pillow. 
  • And don't forget a lightweight rain jacket like the Storm Trooper or She Shell and the Helter Skelters rain pants. 
  • Restrict yourself to a single pair of shoes, perhaps supplemented with a pair of 'Crocs' or jandals. Street-smart SPD shoes have a decent sole for walking and look 'normal' - so you fit in at restaurants and feel confident fronting up for a Business Class upgrade.
Dressing Your Bike
  • With a few modifications the humble mountain bike converts to a suitable touring stead. 
  • Swap your knobblies for slicks. Supplement your racks with a crud-catcher to minimise rain and road-filth flying at you on the inevitable wet day or two. 
  • A more upright position is comfortable for long days on the road. Bar ends let you chop and change your position to avoid boredom and numb hands. 
  • A cycle computer is an invaluable navigational aid. In the absence of a GPS or iPhone, counting off the k's to the next critical intersection helps avoid too much time spent playing lost and found. 
  • LED lights are useful insurance against getting caught out at night. 
  • Bundle it all into a Tardis or Dogsbody from Ground Effect to cart it around. Once on tour they make a useful ground sheet for picnics and 101 other useful things.