Optimizing gear for your bike touring trip

Optimizing gear for your bike touring trip

Nov 16, 2017 | 32 comments

Beginners and even experienced bicycle tourers alike either start out with too much gear or in part with the wrong stuff. Most often they realize after a few weeks or months or even years that they wished they had packed something else instead.

Over a period of time on the road, learning about the essentials of bike touring, being exposed to different climates, countries and terrain cyclists learn what’s really important for them and swap gear and optimize what they carry. Everyone to their own and of course there is no right or wrong.

Let’s see what 4 long-distance cycle tourers have to say to the 4 questions I asked them about their gear. And I will add my two cents to it as well.

So, let’s start with introducing you to the cyclists I asked.

 

Aitor Galdos (43) Catalan/Basque &  Evelin Heuschreck (41) Italy
cyclotherapy.blogspot.com 

The couple cycled 85.000 km through 47 countries in 8 years

 

Max Peer (44) Austria X-Sound.at 

Max cycled 220.000 KM within the last 11 years in 63 countries.


Christian Pries
(36) Germany priesi.com

Christian cycled about 4 years in 35 countries so far and doesn’t count kilometers.


Ewa Świderska – Poland  Ewcyna.com

It’s all about “4” now – appx. 4 years on the road, appx. 40 countries and appx. 40 000 km in the current trip (she doesn’t like counting). Also, her age is around 40!

By the way – Ewa gave me an interview 2 years ago.

And myself 🙂 Heike Pirngruber (45) Germany

I cycled in total about 70.000 KM in 52 countries within 6 years.


1.
What are the 3 items you tossed away pretty early after you left home for the very first time? (because they were useless or too heavy or you simply didn’t like them)

 

Aitor & Evelin:

1. Some “waterproof” socks because they were very uncomfortable to wear.

2. A device that was supposed to scare off dogs by pressing a button that released some kind of magnetic waves. It did not work when it was windy, which means always.

3. A thermos that we were supposed to use to make a coffee break during the day. We were too lazy to boil extra water in the morning.


Max:

1. 2nd pair of bike shoes – the benefit of having dry feet didn’t balance out the extra loading weight / size

2. gear for rock-climbing – I could not use it as much as I thought I could

3. water purification pump – the reliability and weight ratio got much better with a UV-Light systems


Christian:

1. Gloves: I never used my gloves. My travel mates gave me the nickname „iceman” 😉 One-day I gave the gloves away. Now I’m getting older and more sensitive to cold. However, I still do not use gloves, but arm warmers (very long sleeves) instead.

2. Second? Tough question because it’s so long ago 😉 Let’s try to answer which items I would probably toss away now?
Water bag. In the past I used the Ortlieb water bag very often. (mostly in the deserts of course: Bolivia, Australian Outback for example) but for most parts of the world you just do not need it. I have not used it for the last 5 months.

3. Spare tire. Same here. I had situations in the past when I was happy to carry a spare tire. I remember one situation in Iceland. However, fatal damage to a tire is very rare, in most cases it’s even possible to sew the tire (which I did in Tibet for example) But I still carry a spare tire. Probably it’s time to get rid of it.


Ewa:

Haha, I tend to get more things that I throw. can you imagine! 🙂
I don’t think I actually threw something away apart from really used clothes, but there were things I left at home when I went to visit.

1. An expensive waterproof jacket – I found same if not better, especially in hot climate is simple raincoat bought for one USD at a by-road stand..

2. Cycling shoes replaced with standard ones to be able to walk in them too.

3.  I remember on my very first tour to Greece I took… hairdryer. No comments, right 🙂 ?

 

Heike:

1. Bike shorts – I prefer long pants as a protection from the sun, for cultural respect and to discourage harassment as a solo woman

2. 2nd pair of pants

3.  A foldable washing sink from Ortlieb – takes away too much space

 


Aitor & Eveline in Africa


Christian in Swedish Lapland

2. What are the 3 items you didn’t have on board when you started but realized that they would make life much easier and more enjoyable on the road? 

 

Aitor & Evelin:

1. A lid for our old and crappy pots, so water would boil much quicker, before we froze to death.

2. An e-reader, much smarter idea rather than filling up a pannier with books.

3. Thermal mugs, so we could keep coffee/tea/soups warm for a fair bit of time, instead of burning our lips with our previous aluminum mugs which didn’t keep liquids warm for more than a minute.


Max:

1. Camping-chair

2. Foldable Canoe

3. Girl-friend


Christian:

1. Thermal jug – I got one by coincidence and now it is one of the items I use almost every day. In the morning for coffee, in hot/humid climates I can store ice/cold water and in cold areas hot tea/water. So, it’s absolutely not necessary but makes “life” on the road more enjoyable for me

2. Rearview mirror! Actually, it was a recommendation from my bike dealer and then I got one. At first, I thought I did not need it but now I love it. The mirror gives me a much better and safer feeling because I can watch the traffic behind me and I would assume that it prevented at least one accident in the past. If you ride one time with a mirror you will not want to ride without it again!

3. Music. Mp3 player/smartphone and earphone. When I started cycling touring it was not so easy to “carry” music. Anyone remember the times before mp3, etc.? 😉 This has changed dramatically and for me it makes travelling more livable, especially if you cycle alone. Hearing “my” music on the bike and sometimes an audio book in the tent is just great. Fore me that was a big improvement.

4. Once I found a small part of a camping mat on the road. I used it in the camp (as a layer while cooking, etc.) and now I do not want to do without it anymore.

 

Ewa:

1. Smartphone! I started my journey without it but soon after I realized it just makes a wanderer’s life so much easier. (maps!)

2. Small mirror that I put on my bike’s handlebar. Silly of me, I bought it a long time ago but just started using a few months ago… I find it soooo useful

3. Inflatable pillow

4. Very thin cotton sheet I just got. The places you sleep are not always that clean.


Heike:

1. A laptop – Internet Cafes are hard to find nowadays

2. A mini portable Bluetooth speaker – music really helps me to keep the motivation going

3. A good self-standing tent – I love my Hilleberg Soulo

 

Max’s tour around the USA to raise awareness for free education. (Carrying his foldable canoe)

Aitor & Evelin in Peru

Ewa in China – Tianshan mountains pass at 3430 meters

3. What are the 3 items you would like to have on board, but they are too expensive, too bulky and heavy or not available in the way you would like to have them?

 

Aitor & Evelin:

1. Foldable chairs. Now we are somehow scared to buy them…our journey is nearly finished and it would be terrible to realize how much more comfortable these 8 years on the road could have been!

2. One of those technical ultra-light, small and super warm sleeping bags.

3. An engine…just kidding!  A dynamo hub charging system.


Max:

1. Full frame camera & light-sensitive lenses

2. camera drone

3. belt-drive for my Rohloff hub


Christian:

1. Energy generation: I would love to have something which would make me completely independent from external power sources. Something that could charge my laptop, smartphone, camera batteries – with solar power or with the energy from the wheels or something like that. I have a dynamo hub and a E-werk for charging a power bank. But that is only charging a little bit.

2. Full frame DSLR with good lens and heavy tripod: Sometimes I like to make pictures. Especially in low light situations, for example when I took pics of the aurora borealis it would have been nice to have a better camera. But it’s too heavy, too bulky and also too expensive 😉

3. Dutch Oven. On the winter trips, when we had a trailer with us, we also carried a Dutch oven with us and made fantastic meals in it over the open campfire. However, for a normal trip it’s of course way too heavy/bulky.


Ewa:

Oh… all goes to electronics I guess

1. Good camera and good lenses! My absolute dream for a long time… regret not having bought at the beginning of my trip and now always find them too expensive

2. GoPro to record videos from cycling

3. Good, light computer, capable of working on videos too

4. Even though I truly love my tent I’d do with a lighter one

 

Heike:

1. A smaller, lighter and more powerful laptop

2. Sometimes I wish I had a partner

3. A solar charger to be able to charge all my devices and batteries for my camera

 

Christian in India

Heike at 4000m in China – Sichuan

Cyclotherapy in Egypt

4. What are the 3 little things you would never go without?

 

Aitor & Evelin:

1. E-reader

2. Smartphone (for navigation, music and stay in touch with the world during those rare days when we have free Wi-Fi)

3. Water filter


Max:

1. Smartphone (for Navigation, Communication, pictures….)

2. Tool & patch kit

3. Stove (the outlook of a hot meal / drink after a long day or a cold night is precious)


Christian:

1. Helmet! I know many touring cyclists go without a helmet. However, I think traffic is the biggest danger for us and the head is that part that really deserves protection. In Windhoek I met a cyclist and we decided to travel together for some time. Somehow, I convinced him to buy a helmet. After only 50km he had an accident. His collarbone was broken twice and the helmet was broken completely. Such an accident is luckily very rare but if it happens……………

2. Laptop – Shame on me! However, if you travel a long-time money is an issue of course. I sometimes work from the road – I “only” need internet and my laptop for that. If I could not do that it would be most likely financially not possible for me to travel so long/much. So, in the end the laptop makes it possible for me to travel. Let say: Better to travel with a laptop than not to travel at all. On shorter trips I go without.

3. One more for fun: Derailleur hanger: It happened in the jungle of Bolivia. The road was extremely muddy and somehow, I managed to break the hanger while trying to keep the bike running. It’s really a customized part, difficult to get for your frame, especially in Bolivia. Luckily my bike dealer who is really a great guy and I can highly recommend him, raederwerk.net sent me a spare hanger via express post. Back home he gave me another one. Telling me, with a big wink of course, that he never wants to ship it all around the world. Since then I always carry a spare hanger 😉 It’s very small and light.

 

Ewa:

1. Earplugs – you can find them useful not only at a hostel dorm, but even in a forest when animals are too noisy at night!

2. Flip flops – after having been forced to use different kinds of bathrooms.

3. Water heater – is an absolute must! Saves your fuel like gas, you can boil water at either your room or just any public place with access to plug

4. Sponge – you can wash (in a way… 🙂 with it having just half a cup of water

5. Kindle e-book reader – to enjoy reading books without having to carry them

6. Small padlock – to lock your tent when you’re away, bag when I fly or anything.

 

Heike:

1. A sturdy kickstand

2. Proper paper maps additionally to anything digital

3. My Buff

 

Optimizing gear is probably a never ending process. There is new gear available all the time and choices grow bigger each year. Long-term cyclists get older and may ask for more comfort. In general the needs of a traveler are changing the longer they are on the road.
Bicycle tourers tend to become more and more adventurous and use their gear out to the limit.

I hope these answers will help you to get an idea of what to or not to take for your next adventure.

Happy riding.

32 Comments

  1. lars fasth

    Love to go travelling with you anywhere in the World if you would like company at any time . Quite a challenge though being used to being self sufficient but sure would be fun meeting and getting to know you.. Now off to Ecuador and Colombia three months till Feb 27. Maybe you pass through. Lars

    Reply
  2. Detlef Ulherr

    Things we pack always:

    Our Helinox chairs and the table makes life on the road really comfortable. and the Forumslader outpaces an e-wer by orders of magnitude.

    Reply
    • Heike Pirngruber

      This is interesting Detlef…..I am still feeling most comfortable to sit on the ground – no matter where. I heard it now from so many cyclists that they would love to have a chair on board….

      Reply
      • Richard Roussy

        I love my chair and will not tour without it. Someone would please me immensely by designing a less bulky one!

      • Colleen Welch

        For Richard, the new-ish Helinox Zero is pretty good. Weighs just 1 lb and is a relatively small package. I also find chairs to be useful for other things, like putting it under the vestibule at night to set things in it when it’s raining. It also works pretty good to hang clothes on to dry.

      • Heike Pirngruber

        Thanks Colleen – did you use it along the Baja?

      • Glen Adams

        Hi love the article.
        I only do short three month or shorter tours (Europe and at home). Last year I added a small folding stool 300gms. Must be age but its a now must have piece of equipment. Not as relaxing as a helox chair but lighter. But for me the perfect height for cooking. In NZ its rare to find a place you can light a fire. So a gas cooker or similar is a must. Though commercial camp grounds have kitchens. Also use in vestibule of tent for keeping stuff of ground or holding edge tent further away etc. These days to help push me upright in the morning and putting my shoes on.

      • Heike Pirngruber

        Hi Glen, glad you loved the article. To be of help to others, what is the brand of your 300g folding chair? Thanks Glen keep rolling….. Cheers Heike

      • Colleen Welch

        I did not take a chair on Baja, but I did take one on the Great Divide, and on my latest tour in the US. I used my chair almost everyday on the Great Divide.

      • Glen Adams

        My small four legged stool was from Kathmandu. Unfortunately they’ve returned to the heavier three legged stool.

  3. Ishay Yakir

    Dear Touring bikers
    I finishing today my ride in south India waiting for my flight back to Israel . It was fantastic trip highly recommended..
    I cycled in the last few years in Vietnam, Australia, Tasmania and Israel equipped with the best stuff you can immegin including E-Werk scharger but the problem was all the same -how to effectively charge my smart phone and my Ipad when you dont have access to power for few days like it happened in Ws Tasmania.
    Could you please share your experiance with solare chargers / E-Werk …
    Thanks
    Ishay Yakir

    Reply
    • Detlef Ulherr

      The E-werk is crap, it charges only above 15 km/h, how will you do this with a loaded touring bike in a hilly terrain?. I had one and solid because of this. The Forumslader is much more efficient, Laptops demand too much even from the Forumslader ( not sure about iPads). No experience with Solar panes yet.

      Reply
    • Pistil Pete

      I use an Anker lite 15w solar charger,and continue imagine going back to a dynamo system

      Reply
      • Heike Pirngruber

        Good to know – but what are you charging with it? I assume there is no way of charging a laptop with it – right? Only a phone which is still a problem for me because I have no phone 🙂

      • Pistil Pete

        Yeah,I’m pretty minimalist. My friends run the 22w version, which might charge your laptop, just…

    • m@x

      i use a combination of solar panels & dynamo hub, which keeps me independent for days. i can change the setup if i am going slow uphills for several days, if it´s not sunny for several days, or if i am on the canoe….
      + Dynamo hub SP PD-8, E-Werk , Powertank
      powers the Smartphone for navigation, communication, ….
      + Solar Panel 5V/5W on my backbag
      powers a Powertank / speaker or a universal battery-charger (gopro, camera, water filter,…)
      it also powers the GPS if i go for longer hikes
      + Solar Panel 18V/20W on the bike
      powers a big Powertank which can charge my Laptop (adjustable DC-output)

      Reply
      • Heike Pirngruber

        Thanks Max!!!! Sounds interesting! What is the weight and brand of the solar panel and the power pack you can charge your laptop with?

      • m@x

        i use solar panels and powertanks from http://www.sistech.com.
        there are cheaper powertanks on the market, but the gear from sistech works great together. means that the powertanks can supply power to devices & being charged at the same time. the big powertank mega weighs 580g (which is half of the weight of a camping chair) 😉 and has an adjustable DC-output (9V-20V)

  4. Bryan Young

    I have to agree about must have paper maps, because once all your batteries die you have to guess… I have decided to also get a compass!

    Reply
    • Heike Pirngruber

      Yes Bryan, and it is also more fun to have a proper map in my hand …..
      Cheers Heike

      Reply
  5. Paul Fowler

    Great reading. A years planning is better than a regret an hour into your journey. Hearing it from the experts is helpful and encouraging for us less experienced cyclists.

    Reply
  6. Harold Molinari

    Thanking you Heike.

    These experienced advices, right questions with those “no right/no wrong” answers you quote plus your “two cents” are healthy valueble tips.
    In Puerto Rico tips are known as “orejitas” (from oreja = ear/little ear = orejita, like an important key you didn’t know and you needed it.

    I would like read some tips/an “orejita” about cassettes ratios (I changed to 12×34 10sp), crankset combinations (mine is 26-39-48), do you recomend carbon cranks, frames geometry, hard tail or full suspension. You already commented about wheel size.

    Some years ago I read that 26″ wheels are easier or most common to fix around the world.

    Reply
    • Heike Pirngruber

      Glad you liked it, Harold.
      About crankset, you need to ask someone else….I never bothered about it.
      No full suspension – if you do trails a front suspension might be handy to have, but more and more cyclist go on tour without any suspension and opt for wider tires instead. I personally like front suspension in combination with a Schwalbe 2.1 tire.
      Things are changing fast but I am still convinced that 26″ is the best size for a world trip.
      Cheers Heike

      Reply
  7. Ishay

    Ok, so we didn’t find a good alternative for charging the phone / I-Pad unless it plug to the power or to power bank battery.

    What is your best recommendation for mini stove, I brought my gas burner with me to India but the gas balloons are not available.

    Reply
  8. Rino Deschênes

    very nice , was fun to read.

    Reply
  9. Gert

    Good story again, interesting to read how others pack and nice to now that i’m doing not do bad at all…..😀 (Just for a starter)

    Reply
  10. Tim

    What an excellent posting! Thanks Heike. Great photos as well. I loved the whole thing! :0)

    Reply

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