When planning a long-distance bike ride, you might find packing for a bike tour a little challenging, especially when it comes down to trying to pack light.
Before going on our actual bike tour, we didn't have any clue what were the essentials we needed to bring with us. We did a lot of research upfront, watched various YouTube videos, and created a list of items for our first cycling adventure.
After going on the bike tour, we learned a lot. We found out we brought equipment we didn't really use, and we had to buy a few other items along the way.
We should point out that the gear you would usually carry for a short bike ride doesn't really match what you would need on a much longer trip.
When you are on a cycling tour you should be concerned about the weight of the things and tools you carry with you and try to avoid carrying unnecessary items.
After actually cycling through six countries in Europe, we came up with our definitive list of gears we used and needed the most on our bike tour.
What Bicycle for a Bike Tour?
It is obvious that a good quality bicycle is the main thing you should have on a bike tour. I would recommend you to choose a hybrid bike since over long distances you might need to cycle off-road as well as on roads.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to buy a good bike. Our bicycles are The Carrera Subway 1 Mens and Womens. We spent less than £300 each on our bikes and we rode more than 1000 miles without any issue.
Buy a Good Helmet
I have seen quite a few cyclists that don’t even bother to have one, but we take our safety seriously. You should know that an accident could happen anytime, so I would recommend wearing a helmet even when you are going for a very short bike ride.
Choosing a Pannier Rack
The other thing you definitely need is a pannier rack, where you can instal your panniers and/or other bags. We had only rear racks for our bike since we were away less than two weeks, but if you plan to go for a long bicycle tour or you need more space, you can get both rear racks and front racks. You should get light ones to avoid making your bike too heavy but at the same time pretty solid ones if you are going on a tough ride.
Panniers and bags
When you are planning a long-distance bike tour, you need to buy panniers. You can't just go with backpacks. I already talked about the advantages and disadvantages of carrying panniers instead of backpacks for a cycling tour in another post.
You need to buy good quality and waterproof panniers and bags since they are the main thing protecting all of your belongings. We are very happy with our Ortlieb panniers and the bags we had. There are inexpensive bags but I wouldn't recommend them. During our ride around Europe, we not only had rain but we also had to cycle while it was hailing. We had to carry electronic devices and our panniers kept them safe for the whole trip. You can find them below. I also used a small bike bag to keep my wallet and phone.
Gel Bike Seat Cover or Padded Shorts
Riding a bicycle for a whole day is not very comfortable for most people, it doesn't matter how soft your bike saddle feels. We went on quite a few short trips before our actual bike tour and we knew we had to solve one of our biggest issues, which was our sore butt. You can use padded shorts or gel saddle covers. We used both and the combinations of the two helped us ease the pain and enjoy our bike tour.
Repair Kit, Spare Tubes and Pumps
You should always be ready for things to go wrong, your bike could break down at any moment during a bike tour if you are unlucky. You could be alone in the middle of nowhere trying to get to your next destination before it gets dark and you might get a flat tire. There will probably be no one there to help you and your phone might not have signal to call for help, so a repair kit is a must-have. Our kits came with a small pump, which was easy to carry and didn't take up much space. I recommend having a couple of spare tubes as well in case your puncture is unfixable. We also had a small First Aid Kit, a Chain Tool and a Chain Lube. Another thing to consider if you don't know much about bicycles is actually spending some time learning how to fix the basic things that can go wrong with a bike before going on a tour, we used YouTube.
Rechargeable Bike Lights
We cycled mostly during the day, but we had rechargeable bike lights with us. We could use them as a torch and since they were rechargeable, we weren't worried about having to carry extra batteries. You should also keep in your mind that you never know, you might end up cycling when there is no light. Cycling during the nights without lights is illegal in most European countries. For your safety and to avoid receiving a fine on the way just buy some good lights and take them with you.
We didn't have cycling gloves when we started our trip. We cycled through the UK and France, and when we arrived in Belgium our fingers were freezing, even though it was mid-April. We had to stop and buy some gloves. We lost some time since searching for a sports shop wasn't really in our original plan. After the purchase, we also noticed that the gloves not only helped us by keeping our fingers warm, but they also made the ride much more comfortable and because of that, much more enjoyable. Since then I always wear cycling gloves, especially when I am going to cycle off-road. If you are going to cycle during cold seasons you need to buy thermal gloves, but if you think it is too hot to wear them you can also opt for fingerless ones.
I can't emphasise enough how important it is having a good lock. My bike was stolen twice, the first time was during a day trip out of London and we had to abort the ride since one of us was without a bike. You should invest in your lock and you should make sure your bike is secured when it is out of your sight. Otherwise, your bike can leave you stranded and your trip will probably be ruined. I learned my lesson and I now use a good U-lock to always lock my bike somewhere safe. I would also recommend having a lock that can be mounted onto your bicycle to make it easy to carry around and gives you no excuses to leave it at home.
Waist Bag & Smartphone Holder
We had a waist bag to keep our money and passports with us at all times. The waist bag is light and doesn't take any space. It helps you to keep your important documents safe. We also had a Bike Mount Handlebar Holder for Smartphone which allowed us to use to follow directions without having to stop and check where we were going every 2 minutes because your phone is in your pocket.
Camping Gear for Bike Touring
You can plan ahead and probably book your accommodations in advance, but when you are on a bike you never know how or where your day will end unless you plan to cycle very short distances each day. It can be difficult to plan everything, so I highly recommend you to have a plan but not to book everything in advance. For example, you might plan to stay in a hotel or hostel on the way, but sometimes it might not be an option or you might not reach the town you planned to reach on time. For these reasons, it's better to have all the camping gear with you if you can. It makes your trip a lot more flexible and much more affordable as well.
A small Waterproof Tent
We have a very small and lightweight tent for two people. It is waterproof and windproof. You will need your tent only to get some sleep so don't opt for a big heavy tent as it would take up way too much space. We slept in our Coleman Tent under the rain and the hail. It kept us and our belongings dry and warm. It is easy to pitch and it is also quite small. The weight is only 2.05 kg and the pack size is 48 x 18 x 15 cm. We carried our tent on the rear back of one the bikes securing it with some elastic hooks. If you are cycling alone, go for a smaller tent as it will be lighter. You can see our tent below and a newer model too.
Sleeping Bags, Inflatable Mat and Pillows
When it comes to choosing sleeping bags, it is important to be able to estimate the temperature when you are going to cycle. If you are going to cycle during the winter or autumn, you will need to buy a winter one, but for the summer you can opt for lighter sleeping bags. You might also want to consider carrying an inflatable compact mat with you. When you cycle in Europe, you might have rain and cold evenings even during warm seasons. The mat can help to keep you warm and it gives your sleep some extra comfort. Some mats come with pillows, but if yours doesn't have one you can buy an inflatable pillow to add even more luxury to your adventure. You are going to cycle the whole day, so you deserve to get good sleep, you really don't want to cycle long distances after a rough sleepless night.
Microfiber Towels & Flip Flops
Cycling makes you sweaty at least, if not quite dirty. You might want to take a shower whenever you get a chance. Most of the campsites in Europe provide showers and toilets. You just need to have a light towel that dries quickly like a microfiber towel. It is also a good idea to have flip flops with you to let your feet breath and they make taking showers a little easier.
Plug Adaptor & Power Bank
At some campsites, you might only find a big power socket for caravans or cars. When you hike or go by bike they usually give you a small patch of grass to pitch your tent. You might be happy that you found a home for the night but you need to think about how you can charge your phone or other devices if you need them. We had to purchase an electric hook-up conversion adaptor to a UK plug. We also had with us a multi-USB charger with interchangeable UK/EU/US plugs. We bought the charger for our bike tour but we now pack it for all types of travels.
During the day you will probably your phone for directions, so it is also good to carry a power bank. We had a normal power bank which we could only be charged with electricity but there are some models with solar panels which might allow you to recharge them under sunlight. They are usually heavier than the normal ones though. I would also recommend keeping your phone on power saving mode at all times if you can't afford to have it switched off.
Products to Keep Yourself Clean
Staying clean when you are on a bike tour is not an easy task, but we used some products that helped us to stay fresh as much as possible. We carry an antibacterial hand gel everywhere. Sometimes you have to eat your food on the way but you can't wash your hands, that's when you need a sanitiser to kill all of the germs you accumulated.
You should also keep in mind that while on a cycling tour, taking a shower daily might not be possible, but you can use dry wash gel to keep your body fresh.
You should also be wearing sunscreen, even when it is not sunny. We got a tan by cycling on cloudy days in Europe.
Bike Tour Filming and Photography
Your bike will take you to a lot of unique and beautiful places. If you are like us and enjoy documenting your trips by taking photos or filming, I would recommend taking your camera with you. Of course, you can also just use your phone, but why not investing in action cameras? We had two GoPros with us on our bike tour, at the time the DJI Osmo Action didn't exist yet, but it could also be another good candidate. We also carried our Mavic Pro with us and we took some epic aerial footage of us cycling around. If I have to choose a drone now to pack on my bike, I would probably for a lighter one, like the DJI Mavic Air.
Bike Tour Clothing
Your clothing requirements will vary based on the season. You should always be prepared for rain and temperature drops. You need a waterproof jacket and a few tops you can stack up if it gets really cold. When you cycle you will probably still feel warm even if it is a cold day. Wearing different layers of clothing will keep you warm and also it will also make it easy for you to remove a layer if you feel hot rather than swapping between clothes all the time.
Apart from cycling clothes, I would recommend you to carry a light spare outfit for when you are in a town or a city and you want to walk around.
Portable Water Filter
When you are cycling you need to drink water regularly to stay hydrated and healthy. At the time when we did our bike tour, we had to carry a few bottles of water, but later we got the Water-to-Go bottle which has a built-in filter.
Nowadays when we go on a cycling or hiking trip we only carry this bottle, since we can refill it with almost any freshwater. The filter removes more than 99.9% of all microbiological contaminants and reduces bad taste and odour. You can go for a 50cl bottle or 75cl bottle.
We also had one laptop, a hard drive, a kindle and a notebook to write our diary with us. We used our laptop and hard drive to back up our footage, and we read e-books during the nights when we had nothing better to do or we were too tired to do anything else. I hope this list helps you pack for your upcoming adventure, and I am sure you will love it.
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