Cycling, Kit Guide, Mountain Biking

What to pack for a cycle touring holiday

2 Oct , 2012  

Cycle touring is a great way to travel. By bike you can go at a speed that allows you to experience the country at first-hand. Travelling on two wheels is also cost-effective and environmentally friendly. But all these plus-points can so easily be spoiled by panniers that are TOO HEAVY!

Fortunately, Macs Adventure organises cycle tours that include baggage transfer each day to your chosen style of accommodation. However, you still need to be self-sufficient for the entire day of cycling and in most countries this requires a range of kit to cope with changing weather and temperatures.

Why use bike panniers on a cycle tour?

A rucksack is portable and fairly easy to carry but when you spend many hours on a bike this form of luggage can become uncomfortable. Large rucksacks do not allow you to easily see behind you when required and they can cause rubs if the rucksack is too heavy or doesn’t fit correctly. Rucksacks can also cause you to feel unbalanced when cycling.

Instead, panniers take the load away from the cyclist and allow for even distribution of luggage weight on your bike. Panniers can be in the form of a pack each side of a pannier rack or a single pannier that attaches to your bike’s seat post.

A pannier that can be easily taken off the bike – and has a strap for ease of carrying – makes a lot of sense if you will be stopping and walking around attractions and destinations on you tour.

The basic cycle touring kit

All the fun of cycle touring

All the fun of cycle touring

Remember that we are advising you on tours that have the huge benefit of daily baggage transfer. This means you are left to carry the essentials for your day of cycling.

Helmet: You’ll be wearing this so you don’t need to worry about fitting this into your pannier!

Cycling jacket: Depending on where you are cycling, the jacket should be as lightweight as possible. Waterproof jackets made from breathable fabrics are sensible because cycling can make you hot and sweaty and a breathable fabric will allow the sweat to evaporate away from your body. If rain is unlikely, take a windproof cycling jacket.

A cycling-specific jacket should be designed to suit your position on the bike. Most will have a longer back and arms so that your arms and back are still covered when stretching forward to reach the handlebars.

Reflective detailing and bright colours are a bonus if you are keen to be seen by other traffic (which we presume you will be!). A jacket with a back pocket is useful if you want to stow valuables, but remember to wrap items like mobile phones in a waterproof bag to prevent them from being damaged by rain or sweat. (We’re sorry to go on about the sweat, but cycling can make you warm!)

Cycling jersey: While a t-shirt or baselayer will be sufficient for cycling, a cycling jersey has a few advantages. Cycling jerseys are designed with a longer back to accommodate your bent-over position on the bike. Most jerseys have a full zip or half-zip to allow for extra ventilation when the riding becomes warmer. Most cycling jerseys will also have back pockets for stowing important items such as spare layers, arm warmers and valuables. Again, it’s vital that you wrap mobile phones in a waterproof bag to prevent damage.

T-shirt or baselayer: Make sure these items are made from breathable or wickable fabrics so that you do not end up hot, sweaty and damp. Cotton tends to hold on to any moisture that evaporates from you body or comes in the form of rain, so you will wind up feeling cold and clammy whenever you stop for a breather or a bite to eat. Instead, a top made from a breathable fabric will allow the moisture to evaporate and keep your skin and body dry.

Cycling shorts: Some people believe in a well-padded bike seat, while others swear by padded shorts. Padded shorts can be fitted and made from Lycra-type fabrics or padded and looser fit (often called mountain bike-fit). A top tip is to always buy padded shorts made to suit your gender because men’s and women’s padded cycling shorts have padding in different places!

Leg and arm warmers: These are a peculiar speciality of cyclists but they are very lightweight and extremely useful. Basically these items are tubes of fabric that fit on your arms or legs. Arm warmers reach from just under the short sleeves of cycle jerseys to your wrists while leg warmers cover the middle section of your leg, from where your shorts end to your calf. When not being worn the warmers compress to a very small bundle, which can be stowed in your pannier or back jersey pocket.

Waterproof leggings: If the weather is going to be truly wet, a pair of waterproof leggings could be a good idea but it’s vital that these are highly breathable. If not, you’ll end up wet on the inside of the leggings because of sweat. Most cyclists prefer to wear Lycra cycle leggings or leg warmers even if it’s wet. Most fabrics are quick dry.

Extra layer: Cycling is warm but as soon as you stop or ride to a higher level it can become chilly. Carrying a light layer, such as a microfleece or a lightweight down layer can be the difference between warm and comfortable and miserable and shivery.

Accessories: Gloves (fingerless and full finger), beanie hats to go beneath your helmet, neck warmers and over-shoes to keep your bike shoes dry are all very useful. Again, most of this kit is weather dependent.

Vital extra bits and pieces: Two spare inner tubes, puncture repair kit, tyre levers, pump, emergency patches and a small bike tool kit. There is little point in carrying these items if you don’t know how to fix a puncture so make sure you have a lesson or two in basic bike maintenance before heading off for a cycle tour.

Other extra bits and pieces: This includes your cycling programme, map, compass (if you’re off the beaten track), GPS gadget, camera, sunglasses, sun lotion, mobile phone, snacks, money and passport. Have we forgotten anything?!

Don’t forget your water: Carry a couple of water bottles and stow them in useful water bottle cages attached to your bike.

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A journalist, web copywriter blogger and social media chatterbox, Fiona combines her love of the outdoors – especially Scotland – with a diverse freelance work life. If she's not at her desk writing about the outdoors, she'll be outside cycling, running, kayaking, snowboarding and walking Munros. She shares her outdoors passion with partner, the G-Force. Sometimes her teenage daughter Little Miss Outdoors tags along, too.