Friday, July 6, 2012

Packing for a bicycle tour

Tonight we're flying to France to begin a long trip that, for me, is mostly a bicycle tour of the alps. I suppose now is a good time to review my checklist for the trip.

As with the preparation for so many rides, this one started with the wisdom of Jobst Brandt on the topic. My list ended up somewhat different, and I'll describe the differences in more detail below.

To start with, I'm working with a Topeak MTX bag. It's a rigid bag with a volume of about a six pack of soda cans in its smallest configuration. The top, however, can expand on one end to form a sort of wedge like those old VW vans. Also, two side pockets contain fold-out panniers, which provide a lot of extra room but mean that the side pockets are otherwise not very useful. Fully expanded, the bag can carry a ton. In fact, my strength limit would certainly be reached before the bag was full, as I found on my recent trip up Mount Hamilton.

The other constraint I should mention is that I'm planning to stay in hotels, and would like to be able to eat out. So I don't need to pack a tent, but I should be able to dress presentably.

With those goals in mind, here's the full list:


  • Two pairs of bicycle shorts
  • Two jerseys, one of them long-sleeved
  • One base layer/undershirt
  • One jacket; mine is pretty flexible, with removable sleeves, but not especially warm.
  • One rain poncho
  • Two pairs of socks
  • One pair of SPD bicycle shoes. They work pretty well as normal shoes, so I'm not carrying another. If the cleats are a problem, I'll just remove them as necessary.
  • A skull cap, for sun/sweat protection on my bald head.
  • A cap, for sun protection when not on the bike
  • A helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • One pair of pants
  • One non-bike shirt
  • Two pairs of underwear
  • Swim trunks
  • One pair of bicycle gloves

Bike Stuff

  • One bike
  • The Topeak MTX bag, and corresponding rack
  • Frame pump
  • Two water bottles
  • The lightest, thinnest lock I could find. My bike will be safe as long as no one has nail clippers.
  • 4, 5 and 6 mm Allen wrenches. I need these to reassemble the bike, in addition to random adjustments on the road.
  • Patch kit, tire levers and an extra tube. These, of course, I always have.
  • Lights, front and back


  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Sunscreen


  • iPhone
    • Charging cable
    • Ear buds
  • Laptop
    • Charger
  • Camera
    • Battery charger
    • Camera cable. I have a Sony camera, with its proprietary memory format, so I need the cable to sync.
  • Garmin Forerunner 500 cycling computer
    • USB cable
    • Heart rate monitor
  • Outlet adapter


  • Wallet
  • Passport

That's a lot of stuff, but while I'm riding I'll be wearing a lot of it.

One difference between my list and that of Jobst is that he has a lot more cold-weather gear than I do. I'm visiting France in July, whereas he was visiting Switzerland in May, so I think he was more likely to experience serious cold. But this is my first time; I could be completely wrong. If it's too cold, then Plan A is to put on every piece of clothing I have. Plan B would be to buy whatever extra clothes I need, if possible.

Another difference is that he has a much more complete tool set than I'm bringing. For example, he has spare spokes and the tools with which to install them. I'm riding a traditional 32-spoke bike, so if I break a single spoke I should still be able to ride. Also, I'm never too far away from cycling-friendly towns, so I (perhaps naively) think I could get a broken spoke fixed along the way. That may take hours of waiting, but fixing it myself it would probably take me hours of fumbling, to be honest. Omitting that capability brings the weight down considerably.

Obviously I'm carrying a lot more gadgetry than Jobst did. The laptop, in particular, is a luxury. Ideally it would be an 11-inch MacBook Air, but I decided that spending $1000 on a gadget with a 50/50 chance of making it back in working order wasn't wise. So instead I bought a netbook, an 11-inch Acer Aspire One 722. I'm typing on it now, and quite happy with it. It's only slightly heavier than the Air, although quite a bit thicker. And it was only about $300, which helps.

Based on my Mount Hamilton trial, all this stuff fits in the bag. It all fits in the main bag if I allow the top to expand. If I'm riding, it's preferable to use the panniers to get the weight lower on the bike, and in that case the main bag can remain compact.

So that's the plan. We'll see how it works out.

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