Keep your load down; cycling will be more enjoyable and your bike will have fewer mechanical problems. You probably need less than you think you do. Even if you’re strong enough to haul a heavy load for extended periods, your bike will thank you for judicious packing. Rims, bearings and drive train will last longer.
We weigh each item we’re considering on a kitchen scale. A packing list for any trip is highly personal; it depends on expected weather, proximity of bike shops, your needs, and more.
If chances of a cold snap are small, and if warm clothing can be bought along your route, consider leaving bulky “just in case” items at home. Instead, buy a few things if a cold snap hits.
You can start with other travellers’ packing lists, but blindly copying someone else’s list doesn’t work. Refine your personal list by annotating it soon after returning a trip when practical thoughts are still in your mind.
For a starting point only, here are some of our lists:
- Cuba – January. Casas particulares, campismos , bivouac. Tropical climate.
- Spain – May. Pilgrim hostels, hostales, hotels, prepared to bivouac.
- Eastern Europe – September-October. Camping, hostels, hotels.
- Bangkok to Paris – An eleven month journey across a wide range of climates and cultures. This list was prepared before the journey and annotated upon returning.
Front panniers –something we didn’t have in the 1970s– have greatly improve bike handling compared to having nearly all the weight at the rear. Some suggest 50/50 weight distribution front/rear, about what we do. Put denser items (tools, guidebooks, cooking kit) in the smaller front panniers, and bulkier lighter ones (clothing, sleeping bags) in the rear.
Weight in your front panniers should be roughly even from side to side, or steering is affected. Side-to-side balance isn’t critical for rear panniers.
Keep passports, cameras, sunglasses, some local currency easy to take when you leave your bike. Chris takes his rack trunk when he moves away from his bike; Margo takes a handlebar bag. To minimize loss in case of petty theft, keep key travel documents, larger amounts of money, and bank cards, distributed in separate tucked-away locations.
We’ve tucked copies of our passport pages inside our seat posts. Wads of bills can be concealed in seat tube, handlebars, or behind pannier stiffeners. Note: This is for countries that are off the normal banking grid (Iran etc.) or where crisp new bills are needed for visas.
Margo has put small pieces of different coloured tape on each bag, and corresponding coloured tape on racks. This makes it quicker to mount panniers on racks, and helps us remember where key items are. The colours become mnemonics: “British Passport is red, so red tape.” or “Visa card is gold, so yellow tape.”
You’ll naturally develop a packing system that works for you.
Make a periodic critical inventory:
Have I been using it? Will I need it? Could I manage without it?
Use mail or courier to send home what you don’t need; give things away, especially if mail costs are high and someone local can make good use of them. Offer relevant maps and guidebooks to a traveller going the other way. Be grateful for any maps you are offered!