Having the right gear with you makes all the difference in the world when it comes to having a successful adventure travel holiday. This bike touring packing list sums up hours and hours on the saddle and on the road. But it’s not all hardcore. This packing list aims to help you enjoy your holiday as well. This is for active, adventurous bike touring. Not the Tour de France.
You don’t have to wear lycra. But you do need to have something that is going to be forgiving while you ride. The reason lycra cycling shorts are so popular is because they suit the cycling part of a bike tour so well.
But a lot of people feel uncomfortable walking around a museum or sipping a latte in a cafe wearing cycling shorts.
If you’re new to the sport, you may not realise that most cyclists also wear padded shorts to protect from, ahem, saddle sore.
So, here are your clothing options:
a) Full on padded lycra cycling shorts
b) Looser “bermuda shorts” with a hidden padded section underneath. Not desperately stylish but a good compromise between comfort on the bike and off.
c) Normal shorts without padding. Looks better and feels more comfortable while strolling around town. Bottom unprotected on the bike.
You are likely to get bitten if you stop for a picnic in long and wild grass.
My advice? Go for long trousers with a hint of stretch (lycra embedded.)
Avoid jeans, or anything that really, er, bunches on your saddle. And for the same reason, wear comfortable pants. (Actual pants.)
This one sounds like a con, I know. Why not wear an ordinary jacket? Well, if you’re cycling in summertime in a sunny place then it doesn’t matter, you won’t need either. But when you cycle in the wet, the wheels throw a lot of water up at your backside. Cycling jackets have an extended, er, section to protect you from this (and if you’re cycling in wet weather where you need to leave your bike outside, a saddle cover may be a sensible investment for similar reasons.)
Plus, good cycling jackets have air vents and waterproof zips for carrying keys, phones and the like to prevent you needing to wear a rucksack (these progress from OK to annoying to rip-this-misery-from-my-back faster than you might imagine.)
Again, a wet weather option. You can get special cycling gloves with padding on the palms and fingerless options to let you access your map/phone/keys/hidden chocolate supply.
One for the girls, obviously. But if you’re going at all off road, this will save you.
Ah, yes, flip flops and summer sandals look so cute, so easy! They will become annoying in less time than it will take you to get from nought to sixty on a downhill mountain sprint. Wear flat heeled shoes that attach to your feet.
Sunglasses if it’s sunny. Clear cycling glasses if not. You’ll be flying fast and catching bugs, just like the windscreen of a car. And if you wear contact lenses without protective glasses, there’s a chance for them to shrivel up and scoot off faster than a puncture can ruin your day.
Sneaky secret here. You can buy padded cycling shorts (lycra, all tight and exposed) with removable inner padding to be placed beneath normal sports clothes. Hurrah and huzzah.
Plus instructions on what to do with it if it’s been a while…
Back in the day, I worked in A&E (ER.) Then in scientific writing. I have spent weeks of my life studying the evidence on this. Wear the xxxxxxxx helmet. Yes, “we all have to die of something” but who says we have to spend the last ten years of our life being fed through a tube on a neuro rehab ward?
W.E.A.R T.H.E C.Y.C.L.I.N.G H.E.L.M.E.T!
Obvious. But…take two if you can. They don’t need to be high tech, as long as they don’t leak.
This one’s kind of optional. If you’re cycling on the road, it helps if motorists can see you, what with them being bigger than you and able to crush you in the blink of an eye if they’re not paying attention. Take your pick from fluorescent jackets, vests, sashes, the lot. Tailor to your weather and comfort.
Not one for the girls, one for everyone. Do you need sunscreen? Insect repellent? Remember that ears and the back of your neck get more attention from the sun when you’re cycling than they usually do.
Depends where you’re going and how easy it’s going to be to forage for supplies. If you’re going off road, you’ll need something that can survive being squashed and shaken around. If you’re somewhere hot and sunny, you’ll need something that won’t melt (and in my experience, chocolate does.)
Plus key and some way of carrying the lock.
On the budget (last minute) end of the scale, you can simply use a sandwich bag. On the other hand, I fell in love with this device that came with my Headwater bike:
Always a good idea to have some, just in case you get lost and end up cycling around in the dark. I love these Lezyne ones because you can add them to any bike in less than two minutes and remove them again at the end (bicycle lights have a tendency to go missing otherwise.)
Again, this depends on how wild you’ll be going. But if you’ll be away from civilisation for hours on end, remember to pack some toilet paper, hand sanitiser and plastic bags. There, that’s said and over and done with.
These life savers clip on to your bike, freeing your back from lugging all this gear around “yourself” and tiring out your shoulders. Ideally, they should be quick release so that you can take them off at the end of each day, but not so quick release that they bounce off every time you ride over a bump. Waterproof is handy but not essential, the same goes for fluorescent marking.
What?! Have I lost my mind? Well, I only mention it here because I learned something new when I went cycling in Austria this year: bicycles in countries that drive on the right have the brakes swapped around (so that you can use the rear brake while signalling to cross traffic: different in left vs right hand drive countries.)
Plus, there’s also something I’ve always known: bikes are big and heavy and difficult to fly with. So, it’s worth just adding to your list as, let’s call it, an aide memoire.
Drive or train and bring your own or fly and hire one there.
Bonus tip! The inspiring adventurers at the Family Adventure Project gave me this tip: take tea towels with you. If it’s scorchingly hot, soak them in water and put them over your head to cool down. Note, they also fit beneath a cycling helmet… A chic look? At certain temperatures, you just won’t care…
Disclosures, disclaimers and all that jazz
Yes, I am a doctor, but no, you shouldn’t be taking medical advice from a travel blog. So please use common sense and don’t.
I travelled with Headwater Holidays as part of the #30ActiveDays project. Headwater arrange independent guided cycling holidays (and walking holidays) where they provide you with a map, notes, bike, flights, transfers and accommodation and then leave you to your own devices. I’ve worked with them many times, now, and would definitely recommend them. However, I always keep the right to write what I like, otherwise there’s just no point
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Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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