7 Tips for Lightweight Bicycle Touring and Bikepacking

With my 'Big Ride' of 2018 now announced - the #RoadsFromRome tour - it seems timely to give some insight into planning and executing a lightweight unsupported bikepacking or bicycle touring trip. How should you plan? What kit do you take? Where do you camp? What are the pitfalls to avoid?

These are my '7 Tips' for Bikepacking and Bicycle Touring...

1 - Use Modern Mapping Technology

I love maps. The contour lines, roads, paths and rivers paint a picture on paper. When it comes to route planning for a bicycle tour though, make use of the incredible resources from online mapping tools.

Strava and Komoot are my two preferred services, as both use crowd-sourced data of the most ridden roads and trails to optimise a route between two pin points. It makes route planning a doddle because you know that the roads the software is taking you on are the best of the bunch in the area.

Online software will also tell you the elevation profile, and Komoot will even give you a breakdown of the road surfaces that you will encounter on a route. This information is incredibly helpful to estimate ride times and required effort.

2 - Think Twice. Pack Once.

The key to effective packing for a cycling tour, is effective planning. You need to plan for possible scenarios, but weigh up the possibility of the scenario occurring against the downside of the weight and bulk of the additional kit you require to deal with it.

For example, consider riding through the mountains: cold or inclement weather are a distinct possibility, and being ill prepared could be potentially life threatening. The added bulk of waterproof arm and leg warmers, an insulated gilet, and a proper GoreTex jacket are notable, but they are well worth carrying.

In contrast, question whether you really need to take a full cutlery set to eat your dinner, or could you get away with just a spoon? Do you need to take a mug, or could you just drink from your stove pot?

It is about stripping back the unnecessary, but not compromising on the kit that will keep you safe and comfortable.

View my full bikepacking kit list from the #7Countries7Passes tour here

3 - Carry Spares and Emergency Equipment

Every bit of additional weight that you carry will make your riding a bit more laboured, but there is merit in carrying spares for potentially difficult situations.

Things like a spare tyre, spare tubes, spare cleat bolts, spare tube patches, cable ties and spare brake pads are worth their weight in gold when that unfortunate mechanical happens.

Similarly, a basic first aid kit, space blanket, a back-up phone battery, and freeze dried rations are potentially life saving additions to your kit.

4 - Test Ride Your Kit

This might seem obvious, but it surprises me how many people will attempt a long weekend trip or century ride in a pair of cycling shorts they have never worn before. Equally, it is no good finding the lighting mechanism on your stove doesn't work when you are in the middle of nowhere.

Testing kit doesn't mean you need to do lots of fully-loaded test runs, rather you can just build it into your normal weekend rides. Do one ride with your panniers fitted, to check that they don't bounce or rattle. Do half a dozen rides in those fancy new shoes, to ensure they don't rub or feel sloppy. Test each and every piece of kit before the big ride, then there will be no unwelcome surprises en-route.

5 - Organised Seperation

Panniers and seatpacks are surprisingly cavernous things; it is amazing how hard it is to find your waterproof gloves when they have slipped down to the bottom of what seems like a bottomless bag. The solution here is strategic seperation.

I use lightweight roll-top waterproof bags from Overboard Bags to separate everything: riding kit from casual kit; suncream from snacks; and tools from toothpaste. Keeping everything in colour-coded waterproof bags means kit is easier to find, and you avoid contamination caused by leaks and spills.

6 - Camp Smart

If you are wild camping on your bike tour, then be smart about it. Wild camping isn't difficult or scary if you follow some basic rules and adopt the right attitude.

You read my 'Top Tips for Wild Camping' to get more insight into the best ways to wild camp.

7 - Stay Flexible

My final tip is to stay flexible: expect the unexpected, and embrace the challenges.

There are certain things you can do to reduce the stress caused by possible pitfalls. Have contingency plans and shorter paths in the back of your mind, in case the going is slower than expected. Have escape routes planned, in case you cannot continue. Keep a bank of phone numbers handy that you can call on if you need emergency assistance. Remember to always tell people where you are heading, and to check-in when you get there.

Unforeseen problems and hiccups will always occur when you are away on a bike trip; enjoyment can be taken from overcoming the adversity, and coming out stronger the other side. Adopt the Scouts approach of 'Be Prepared' - both physically and mentally, and you will be able to enjoy the unexpected developments along the journey.

Read more helpful Tips and Advice for bikepacking and bike touring here


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