Sunday 20 February 2011

Circuit Rider’s packing list

It’s a much-discussed topic among touring cyclists - what (and perhaps more importantly, what not) to take with you. There’s a trade-off between comfort on the bike and comfort off it. On the one hand, low weight makes the bike easier to propel and easier to handle. On the other hand, every traveller has things they can’t bear to be without, even if they don’t absolutely need them.

Me, my bike and my luggage in the Izera Mountains, Poland

There are three specific aspects of my tour of the Czech border that allow me to travel lighter than many touring cyclists.

First, I stay exclusively at hotels and guesthouses, so I don’t need camping equipment. There are other, less obvious, benefits as well. For example, hotels provide towels and toiletries. Likewise, I usually have access to a radio and/or TV, and sometimes even a computer. And I can wash clothes in my room on arrival and have them clean, dry and ready to wear the next day. All this means less luggage. On the other hand, I do like to have a change of clothes for the evening, as wet and dirty cycling gear is not a good look for a hotel dining room or a night out on the town.

Second, I’m usually away for just four days at a time. This has two weight-saving advantages: (1) I can get a reasonably accurate weather forecast for the entire period, so I can pack the right clothes and only the right clothes, and (2) I only need one change of clothes for the evening.

Third, I’m not travelling through extremely remote, exotic or unfamiliar territory. A little local knowledge goes a long way towards saving weight. I know where to find bike shops, restaurants, petrol stations, supermarkets and so on, and I know when they are likely to be open and what they are likely to stock. This, in turn, means I can reduce the amount of stuff I need to have in reserve.

Honey, I shrunk the wash bag

I’m a bit obsessive about downsizing every item I carry. A good example is my wash bag - I decant things into smaller bottles, I buy travel-sized packages (e.g. miniature tubes of toothpaste), I collect samples from magazines, and (confession time) I steal stuff from hotel bathrooms. I even buy lightweight clothes and shoes.

My off-the-bike Camper shoes - smart, comfy and, yes, lightweight

So here, for the record, is my checklist for my circuit ride of the Czech Republic. The asterisked items go in my handlebar bag for easy access and/or security. Almost everything else is packed in my rear panniers (wrapped in plastic bags to keep the rain out).

1 set of summer cycling clothes (top, shorts, socks, shoes, mitts)
1 change of clothes (including shoes) for the evening
plus (depending on the weather forecast)
1 thermal layer (long/short-sleeved base layer, long-sleeved top, arm warmers, leg warmers, long-finger gloves)
1 rainproof layer (waterproof jacket, rainlegs, overshoes)

Tools, spares and accessories
Small bottle of oil
Spare inner tubes, cable, chain link
Puncture repair kit
Hand pump
Multi tool
Short length of duct tape
Small cleaning rag
2 water bottles plus cages
Bike lock
1 pair disposable plastic gloves

Other gear
Mini travel towel
Pack of tissues*
Travel wash for clothes
Travel first-aid kit*
Sun cream*
Cash and cards*
Mobile phone* + charger
Compact camera*
Pen and notepad*

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