Packing for bike touring – lightening the load

OldSkool? - Touring Iceland on a Surly Troll with 30kg of kit across four panniersa dn a drybag
OldSkool? – Touring Iceland on a Surly Troll with 30kg+ of kit across four panniers and a drybag

I’ve been experimenting with packing for my trip to Scotland later this month. Given I’ll be riding off road as much as weather conditions allow the traditional pannier set up has been ditched and I’ve been forced to re-evaluate my packing routine.

Adios panniers

A traditional cycle touring set up where the load is split across four panniers, bar bag and, maybe, a drybag on the rear rack offers the rider the chance to bring the kitchen sink – literally. For me, this results in luxuries such as books, a (relatively) large tent, hipflasks of whisky and bottles of ale, numerous electronic gizmos, extended camera kit, at least one full change of clothes including ‘evening wear’ for nights in the pub… you get the picture. Continue reading

A kit list for cycle touring

A person on a bicycle can carry more in comfort than a person with a backpack and inherent in that statement is the temptation to carry too much on your bike when on the road.

As with lightweight backpacking, though, your legs and back will thank you for shedding the pounds. A balance needs to be struck by the individual, although the basic mantra of laying out all your kit and leaving half behind generally applies.

The following list is by no means a definitive view of what kit to carry on the road. It has been refined with the benefit of experience, but I do acknowledge that more weight could be shed. Still, I would happily tour for a month or so with the kit listed here in a wide variety of conditions. Continue reading

If it ‘aint broke…

Cycling is synonymous with technology. Advances in components allow the moderately fit to ride a mountain bike up the side of a house while cycle tourers can tumble down a mountain pass with four week’s supplies on board and be confident that they’ll be able to stop.

Frame materials have moved from mainstay steel to aluminum and carbon in a bid to shed weight. Wheels have lost spokes, saddles have shrunk and handlebars have morphed in accordance with ergonomic study.
Manufacturers’ devotion to product development is mainly geared to the racing community, where weight and energy transfer are paramount, and to those ‘normal’ cyclists with deep pockets who seek to emulate their heroes in the peleton.

I don’t fit that mould (I’m far too ungainly and ugly) and, consequently, my tastes are a little more prosaic.

I prefer my bikes to be steel and I like my wheels to be handmade and have 36 spokes. I want my components to be reliable, tough and easy to maintain.

This ethos extends to all kit choice, but this pragmatism does not displace genuine affection for one or two items.

The first has to be my Brooks saddles. I have two B17s, a black standard issue on my audax and a Champion Special in rather natty green on my tourer.

Both are now well broken in and sublimely comfortable. I am lucky in that my backside fits an out-of-the-box Brooks pretty well so I don’t suffer during the break-in period. I know it’s agony for some folk, though.

In the two years I’ve had them, they’ve required no maintenance save for a bit of proof hide, mainly on the underside. I’ve also dabbed a bit of 3-in-1 oil on the front bolt to stop the well-known squeak.

I can’t imagine cycling distance on anything else and the only reason I don’t replace the perch on my hack Kona is that I fear someone would steal it when it’s locked up.

Other products that rank highly are my Caradice panniers, bar bag and junior saddlebag. The fact they are not waterproof means little to me – rucksacks are not watertight so using drybags is second nature.

The cotton duck is incredibly strong, the mounting system on the panniers is simple but rock-solid effective while the saddlebag on my Audax will swallow cake, repair kit, wallet and waterproofs without need for a rear rack.

More than all that, what makes my heart swell about both Brooks and Caradice products is that they are made in the UK. Brooks saddles are still manufactured in the West Midlands – Smethwick – while a very nice lady in Nelson, Lancashire, made my bags. I know this because there’s a little label inside them that tells me so.

I also know that if either of them let me down, these companies will deal with any issues swiftly with the minimum of fuss.

Not a scrap of carbon or titanium in sight, just simple stuff that works really well.

Windy, loaded miles

Managed to get out over the weekend and get some miles in on the Club Tour with a full camping load.

The bike handled it all very well. 50kmh descents with no wobble and, although I could have packed the panniers a little better, everything felt assured.

The only slight glitch is chain line. I am going to purchase a shorter bottom bracket to remedy this.