After more than a decade of blogging about adventurous journeys by bike I’ve a thing to two to share about the what constitutes a reliable cycle touring kit list. I’ll be the first to admit that while I have a spartan attitude to what’s needed to complete a successful bike tour, there are a few essential items that can make a long term bike adventure more comfortable by orders of magnitude. In this adventure cycling kit list I’ll share some of those discretionary purchases alongside the absolutely must-haves that cost little but are everyday life savers.
In the past I’ve bootstrapped my equipment from scratch to pull together a ramshackle set up that gets one from A to B. Second-hand bikes, borrowed panniers, gifted vintage cycling shirts. It’s been a motley collection of things that have graced the early endeavours. Over time though, like all serious enthusiasts, I got hooked. The desire for longer journeys, more exotic locations and higher mountains took hold and the perceived need for better kit quickly followed.
Buy cheap, buy twice
When Adrian and I put together the plans for our charity challenge to cycle 20 countries in 100 days we were persuaded by friends to request support and funding from businesses and manufacturers. We agreed and consequently reached out to a great many of the big names to add essential items to our stash. In the end that worked out well for us, it was the heady days of 2011 and applications from would be adventurers were few. We essentially took receipt of heavily discounted equipment from a handful of generous sponsors. This kit has lasted A VERY LONG TIME. It’s the same kit that I used for my solo journey from Vietnam to the UK. I guess the lesson is that the expensive kit is expensive for a reason – it’s well made and lasts many years even under heavy use.
This list reflects my current kit list for bike journeys in any location. There are particular quirks for certain terrain and climate (I don’t have much experience of extreme cold for example) but the basic set up is one that I use on my annual adventures around the world. I’m a seasonal cyclist so tend to follow the weather and choose destinations to cycle in hotter climates. It’s more enjoyable for a shorter two – three month trip.
Take this as a guideline for what you could use for your cycle tour. You’ll likely have specific requirements and no doubt original ideas about what is needed. This is merely an example of how it could be. Be your own guru!
The really big cycle touring kit list for a long distance bike ride
When we bought our bikes in 2011 there were fewer choices than there are today. Our tour was to take place in Europe which meant that spare tubes and wheel size was less of an issue regarding spares. We opted for a classic British bike – Dawes Ultra Galaxy (discontinued). It was a toss up between that and the Surly Long Haul Trucker*. We got a chunky pre order discount from John at Spa Cycles. It’s a steel frame with hand built wheels, the two main considerations when buying a decent touring bike.
I’ve loved this bike. It’s done everything I’ve asked of it and survived many years across varied terrain. It’s still my main touring bike.
That said, if I were to go in for a replacement, there’s a good chance I’d go for the Surly Troll*. I rode a friends custom build recently and it felt very comfortable and had the benefit of a flexible frame / wheel / tyre size and stays options. Either that or Toms Expedition Bike.
Ortlieb Roller Plus* front and rear. Ortlieb Messenger bag*.
Call us old fashioned but we like to keep things simple in the luggage department. We often throw a 30l Ortlieb Messenger bag across the top of the rear rack with the tent, Therm-a-rest and sleeping bag in (they fit super neat and frees up valuable space in the panniers for better weight distribution). Tubus Racks front and rear are our preferred spec.
We wouldn’t be without a bar bag. Snacks, phone, wallet – in that order! All the daily essentials reside in the bar bag. The Ortlieb* is a fine choice for its capacity and waterproofing.
Camping kit list for long term cycle touring
For both our longer journeys we traveled with a Hilleberg Nallo GT2. In preparation for our charity bike ride we sought sponsorship and Hilleberg were generous in giving us 1/3rd off the retail price. Even with this discount the tent still cost more than most other leading brands. That said, it has been fantastic. We still use it today for all our adventures and the tent shows only small signs of wear and tear.
The plus for this tent is that it’s very well made, robust in all conditions and for the weight (circa 2kg) offers spacious accommodation. Room enough for two t share and to stow luggage inside the porch. A great choice for proper wild camping in big nature. A true mountaineering tent.
Hot hot heat
The downer is that it’s not well suited to hot climates. The ventilation just isn’t there. Once its hot, its hot! The Nallo GT2 is not a freestanding tent. This can make pitching in more unusual settings challenging. I did find a work around for this; I used two heavy panniers at one end and fastened the bike to the other. In calm conditions this worked well when using the tent on hardstanding
Given the chance I prefer to sleep in a hammock. I’ve used the Hennessy Hammock* with great success on shorter trips. So long as there’s trees this has been a great alternative to the confinements of a canvas tent.
We used the Therm-a-rest ProLite Plus*. It’s compact, lightweight and comfortable. Combined with the chair adapter*, this is one of our must have luxuries for a tour of any length. I love that the seating position puts you at ground level with all the cooking things. Makes meal times a joy. Stretching the legs out after a long day in the saddle is a major win.
We secured a Rab Neutrino 200 for our trip. It’s a super light weight duck down bag that shrinks into a neat and compact size. Pros: light weight, compact, well made. Cons: it’s not machine washable and needs dry cleaning, the material rips if it gets caught ion a zip.
We used a silk sleeping bag liner* to mitigate against dry cleaning. The liner was often enough on it’s own in hot countries and made for an easy way to keep the sleeping bag as clean as possible during the long months without washing.
Clothing kit list for a long distance cycle tour
You don’t really need any special clothing for cycle touring. That said, I do like to use certain combinations of things for maximum utility, comfort and simplicity. In good weather I’l wear, from top to bottom, a soft fabric, wide brimmed hat customised with a string and spring stay to hold it in place, an XXXL long sleeved shirt with velcro or button pockets on both sides, an old pair of lycra cycling shorts (not padded) with a pair of baggy casual shorts over the top (if it’s really hot I’ll leave the lycra, SPD sandals (my favourite LOOK ones are discontinued – I adored them
Short shorts, long sleeves
I usually get through a shirt / shorts combination after three – four months of daily use. I hand wash kit, usually every three to four days so the material gets a pretty rough ride. Cotton shirts tend to disintegrate with heavy use, the sleeves likely will rip apart and holes will appear in the back where the most sweat concentrates. The shorts fare a little better since they can be more modern fabrics that are more durable and stretchy. Top tip: take it easy when ringing out the wet clothes and hang them up to dry as soon as you’re off the bike. These items reflect my cycle touring kit list for a long or short trip. Packing for all eventualities in the lightest possible way ends up with a core of reliable items.
At times I wore everything I owned at once. In the foothills of the Himalaya of the north east of India in January it’s quite chilly and so I ended up having to combine my whole bike touring wardrobe which included:
A wooly hat
A scarf ( which doubled as picnic blanket / towel – but mainly used as a scarf)
Natureshop Merino wool base layer 260
Long-sleeved XXXL cotton shirt
iQ cycyling jacket (gited – thanks Fabian)
Natureshop Merino wool leggings 200*
Light weight hiking trousers with lots of pockets and belt loops
Thick walking socks
Merrell barefoot vibram trainers*
Cooking – an optional extra for the cycle touring kit list
I take a fairly rustic approach to cooking. If I’ve learned anything on my long journeys its that the best snacks are salami and chocolate and there’s always a local treat that’s readily available. With that in mind I’ve designed this cycle touring kit list to reflect that.
Fruit is the obvious choice where there’s people and trees. Sandwiches can be prepared anytime, anyplace with a minimum of fuss and the time, effort and energy to cook, clean and pack away the kitchen takes hours from the days. However, there’s nothing quite like a hot brew in the morning. So, when I’m feeling luxurious, which is mostly in the deep wilderness and the whole thing is slow and tranquil and rather stunning, I’ll kick back with the full culinary camp experience to prepare a delicious feast.
Can’t cook, won’t cook – is it worth it?
MSR Whisperlite Multi fuel stove* – recommended for long journeys in any terrain. Many fuels can be used, making it a practical choice. Cleaning of the the device is a dirty chore. The things is compact and efficient (provided its well maintained)
Beer can stove – I used this for the first three months of my long trip across Europe. The fuel is easily available from pharmacy’s, there’s zero maintenance and it’s the lightest most compact stove there is. Take a look at Tom’s video to learn how to make your own.
I carried a selection of utensils: Opinel No.8*, half wooden spoon, knife, fork, spoon (Alpkit titanium – superb), small Tupperware of salt, pepper and any local spice or herb that came my way – like a cyclists side mix. I had a sponge / scourer, a tiny washing up liquid, a lighter and a medium sized pot to cook in and a large Alpkit titanium mug for quaffing enormous cups of tea.
Sawyer Squeeze* hand pump water filter was very handy in the hugh mountains where decent water could be found in the rivers and in big cities such as Delhi where tap water could be filtered.
Tools, Spares and Accessories you could include on your cycle touring kit list
I have a very lassaiz-faire approach to bicycle maintenance. If it ain’t broke, keep it rolling. This cycle touring kit list takes my ‘reluctant mechanic’ into consideration. However, I did carry enough tools and had knowledge and experience to make necessary repairs should the need arise.
There are some things that you simply cannot fix yourself for lack of tools – I sheared off a braze-on that secures the rack to the frame by bunny hopping a fully loaded bike over some really sweet speed bumps in Meghalaya – the next day the rack fell off on one side. Happily, the village I happened to be staying in turned out to be the gate fabrication capital of north India. I got a replacement nut and bolt welded through the rack onto the frame before the sun came up for less than 50p. This is why a steel frame is recommended for long term bike travel.
This full list of tools and spares is for a long term trip where you’re likely to require the replacement of major components using specialist tools. For a shorter journey this list can be trimmed to a leaner toolkit as required. i.e. a spare tube, patches, tyre levers, pump and a multitool. For a long term journey the following kit list for cycle touring are considered essential.
Hex / Allen keys for the sizes you need usually 5mm, 8mm, 10mm
Small spanners for nut/bolts usually 5mm, 8mm 10mm
Multitool with pliers, sharp knife, bottle opener, screwdriver etc I carried a Leatherman* like this one
Topeak Alien II is handy – though I carried loose tools
Bottom bracket tool
Two spare tubes
Puncture repair kit including tyre levers, lots of glue and decent patches
Replacement screws; a couple in each size on the bike
Replacement cables; brakes and gears
Replacement cassette and chain (I changed the chain every 5,000km then alternated the two until I needed the new cassette which was 10 -12,000km then added a new chain with the cassette)
Spokes x3 (rear both sides and front)
Hub, headset and bottom bracket bearings
Bungee cables – two loose, one spider (two joined together)
Leather cream for my Brooks saddle*
Wet oil – small bottle
Zip ties (selection of sizes)
Small roll of duck tape
Rear bike light
Three clothes pegs – clipped underneath the saddle
When I got my yellow fever vaccination the nurse and I got to talking about my trip. As the conversation unfolded the nurse decided I needed a bunch of sterilised medical supplies and kitted my out with a hefty package that included sharps, scalpel, stitches, saline solution, bandages, wipes and scissors. I managed to stuff all this emergency gear into a 3l Tupperware. The only ting I needed to use was the saline solution to wash my eyes after a particularly dusty week in Cambodia. It’s stuff you take but hope you never need.
God bless the NHS!
I took along a couple boxes of malaria medication, a very common antibiotic called Doxycycline. This can be used to treat other ailments however, it does make you sun sensitive while taking it. I did a weeks self prescribed course to help clear a savage bout of dysentery in Myanmar and got very sunburnt. While not strictly essentials to the cycle touring kit list these items were pretty handy to have on board.
Don’t forget your toothbrush!
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