Essential Gear for Bicycle Touring and Bikepacking
The best touring bike accessories and essential bicycle touring gear. A basic kit of equipment for a cycle touring trip
This article aims to be the ultimate guide to bike touring gear and touring bike accessories – of course, we’ll list the essentials and what is for us the best/most-affordable cycle touring equipment, but I want to start this blog post with a note.
Too many people worry about the gear they should bring on a bicycle trip, and somehow think that if they don’t have the best bicycle touring equipment then their tour is going to be a failure. Let me say this straight, you don’t need any of these fancy expensive cycle touring accessories to have the bike trip of your life!
So don’t let budget be an obstacle between you and your dream, set off with what you have and welcome the issues and misadventures, they are the real memory-makers!
So, if you don’t plan some extreme expedition our advice is not to worry too much about the gear. If you’re on a budget, don’t invest too much money in equipment, save it for the trip instead.
That said, having proper gear sure saves you a lot of trouble and ensures some comfort so, if your wallet can afford it, consider the motto “You get what you pay for” – quality gear though is an investment that could last a lifetime or at least several touring years.
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Essential Bicycle Touring Gear and Touring Bike Accessories
First of all, ask yourself these three questions: where am I going? When? and for how long?
The choice of the gear really depends on what kind of trip are you planning: are you going to ride the Tibetan Plateau in winter? Are you going to be traveling through South East Asia? Or is your plan “just” a two weeks cycling holiday in Europe?
So let’s organize this list starting from the bike trip essentials and working our way up towards long-distance cycle touring.
But first, here’s a quick checklist for those of you in a hurry or with a short attention span 😉
I like to say that “every bike is a touring bike, as long as you tour with it”, I’ve seen people touring on folding bikes, cheap mountain bikes, and even grannies. Of course, you need to check your bike properly before going on tour, your safety depends on it.
How to choose the right bike for an expedition is a topic we thoroughly explored here:
As you’ll be spending most of your day on it, getting a good saddle that fits your sit bones size can totally change your bike touring experience. Of course, saddles are the most personal thing and what works for others might not work for you.
Fenders keep you dry and clean on rainy days. Most touring bikes already come equipped with it. If you plan on cycling dirty roads in the rainy season, bear in mind that the mud can stick between the fenders and the tyres, stopping the wheel from rolling.
This can’t be avoided, the best thing to reduce this phenomenon is to have a wide clearance between the mudguard and the tyre.
Most bicycle travelers did not use this but to me is fundamental. Knowing what’s coming behind you improves your safety by numbers. Have a look at these and see what fits your handlebars.
Another one of my favorite items, a loud bell helps you get noticed by cars, trucks, and people on the road. Moreover, it can save you from having to say all those “hello” in countries like The Philippines or Indonesia.
Cycling glasses are a fundamental ally, and not just during sunny days.
Cycling eyewear, in fact, in addition to the fundamental role of protecting our eyes from UV rays, also keeps dust, smog, wind, and insects at a due distance – also, they provide a barrier between your eyes and any flying debris or objects in case of an accident.
But not only this, cycling glasses can improve your vision by reducing glare and enhancing contrast, making it easier to see obstacles on the road ahead. They can also help you see better in low-light conditions, such as when cycling at dawn or dusk (if you do not choose a super-dark lens).
When I used to ride with a trailer, I wouldn’t have survived without a kickstand. Anyway, I still consider it a must for me, I can stop wherever I want to take pictures, take a leak, or whatever, without having to worry about finding a place to lean my bike, and helps a lot when loading.
Some like to lay the bike on the ground, I personally hate that, it ruins the panniers, makes the luggage move in an unwanted way, and may scratch the bike. Elena though doesn’t have one and never wanted one, so it’s completely up to you.
A kickstand for a loaded bike must be sturdy, so double kickstands, like the Velo Orange Copenhagen or the Ursus, definitely work better.
The best friends of the touring cyclist, those are the bags where you put your stuff. The most famous and appreciated brand is Ortlieb, they have a lot of different models. Other brands are Vaude, Thule, Rockbros, etc.
Despite being dominated mostly by Ortlieb, the bike panniers market is very lively, also for bicycle touring, with dozens of brands making very good alternatives to Ortlieb, most of the time for a fraction of the price.
Where your panniers are going to be hanged. Racks must be good quality, they are one of the pieces of equipment most likely to fail.
Tubus is one of the most trusted brands, Tortec makes some really lightweight ones, or you could go for a top-notch Lynskey Titanium Rack, able to carry up to 77kg (!), of course, it is quite expensive.
Most tourers agree that the handlebar bag is the place to keep your most precious belongings – passport, and money. I also love to keep my camera there, always at hand when the surroundings require a portrait.
Here also Ortlieb is the most appreciated although there are many alternatives.
A trailer is a nice companion for touring, the main advantage is taking some weight out of the bicycle frame. I toured for two years with an Extrawheel Trailer and absolutely loved it, the Topeak Journey also looks quite nice.
A bike trailer is also the easiest way to bring your toddler or your pet with you, check these:
Bikepacking is becoming increasingly popular nowadays. Bikepacking is a way of bicycle traveling that reduces or eliminates the use of traditional panniers. Belongings are stored in capacious frame, handlebar, and seat packs.
There are a lot of saddlebags out there, from small to huge. The cool Revelate Spinelock is one of the largest on the market, while Ortlieb also makes some nice ones. We are currently using MSX Mainstream and Zefal.
Another way to get rid of the panniers is using a Frame Bag. Those can contain a fair amount of luggage without depriving your bike of its aerodynamics.
Bear in mind that full-size frame packs must fit your bike’s geometry and size, that’s why many of them are tailor-made.
Dry bags are increasingly popular among travelers. They are basically cylindrical bags made of impermeable material. In bicycle touring, they are often placed on the rear rack or used as handlebar rolls.
An alternative to dry bags is rack-top bags, specifically designed to be held on top of the rack (as the name suggests) – like this one from Topeak.