When a daily activity like cycling is part of your travel plan, determining how to pack for a bike tour and what goes in your suitcase and carry-on may get a little more complicated. On the other hand, it may also be easier, since you will spend all day in activity-specific clothing, plus such a trip is usually quite casual.
Here, we have put together some information that we hope will make your packing easier, tapping into our own experience on bike tours plus general adventure travel, as well as talking to seasoned bike tour participants,
Packing light is, as always, the end-all, be-all of keeping things easier on a bike tour. For more details on that, take a look at our story, “Packing light: smart, load-trimming tips.” You can also read a story on “less is more” from one of our travel partners Experience Plus bike tours.
Checked bag or all carry-on?
Some frequent travelers, bike or otherwise, swear by carry-on only. But many say it’s just not worth the hassle of cramming into a tiny bag for two to four weeks. Plus, as one said about European-based tours, getting to the start of a tour often means a second intra-Europe flight where even a carry-on will often need to be gate-checked. So pack light but don’t fret if you don’t fit into a carry-on bag. However,…
Pack your bike tour necessities in your carry-on
We learned the hard way years ago on our way to a bike trip in Greece. Our luggage took three more days to make it to Athens, just hours prior to our trip departure to small villages and the islands. We had packed all our gear, including helmets and shoes, in our checked bag. Yeah, yeah, silly at best. Savvy tour participants make sure to pack the bare minimum in a carry-on bag “just in case,” i.e. helmet, bike shoes, one bike outfit, basic toiletries, and whatever else you simply cannot do without or is such a specialty item you may not be able to find it easily. General-purpose shoes and clothes can be had anywhere, as can an expanded selection of toiletries.
Clothing to pack for a bike tour
Bike-specific: Plan to do laundry every night (or nearly) so make sure any clothing you wear is made of fast-drying fabric, like technical fibers or thin merino wools. For fair weather or warm-weather trips, we like to “pack skinny,” including just two pairs of bike bottoms, and two bike tops. Experienced tour participants we consulted with – bike or other active travel – agree. In addition, for women, two sports bras and, for everyone, 2-3 pairs of socks should be fine for any adventure up to about 14 days (and perhaps longer).
Optional items to include when you pack for a bike tour are sweatbands or seamless microfiber tubes, like those from Buff, that can be worn as hats, neck gaiters or sweatbands, or used as a face wipe or rag. Rinse, and hang on a pack strap and they’ll dry in seconds practically.
Non-bike clothing: For clothing that you will be wearing off the bike (out to dinner or for sightseeing on non-bike days) think lightweight, wrinkle-resistant, hand washable and multifunctional. No more than two or three each tops and bottoms. One savvy bike tour participant we spoke with loves merino wool since he can wear it over and over. We swear by super fast-drying underwear and sticking to two sets. For shoes, choose a pair that can go with everything and that you can walk in comfortably. Consider adding a lightweight pair of sandals for warmer tours if you like. Do not feel obligated to bring detergent; in fact, you can use the soap or shampoo in the room for daily hand wash.
Protective gear for rain, clouds or cool days
Even if you ordered sunny days with perfect temperatures, Mother Nature may not comply, so a few items are needed for those less-than-perfect weather outings or simply a cool morning start. A waterproof rain jacket is a must for most tours. Although you won’t likely wear a hood on the bike, if you are traveling light (yes, please) and the jacket is performing off-the-bike duty as well, a hood may be handy. Usually a set of arm warmers and leg or knee warmers will suit you fine for emergency warmth unless your destination is a wet and cold one like in Northern climes. Depending on your cold sensitivity, you may also want a set of full-finger or wind-blocking gloves to go with your lighter-weight gloves.
Extra safety gear you might consider
Although most bike tour companies, including ExperiencePlus!, outfit their bikes for visibility and safety, a little extra never hurts. Consider powerful and rechargeable front lights and perhaps even additional rechargeable rear lights or clip-on helmet lights – we use ones from NiteRider. Some participants opt for a rear-view mirror that attaches to a helmet or bars, depending on the bikes your company has. Make sure your gear and apparel has reflectivity too. Consider bringing removable stick-on reflective strips or tape you can attach to a frame or bag, or even pop-on/pop-off spoke reflectors. If “less is more” in packing, “more is better” for safety.
Other gear or goodies you may want
You can acquire a few small necessities or goodies on-site, but other items to consider as you pack for a bike tour, particularly if you have favorites, include: compact handlebar bag (especially if you want quick access to a camera), handlebar smartphone mount, multi-tool, preferred gels or energy snacks, hand sanitizer, duct tape (for quick repairs of anything or attaching something that broke), wet wipes or pocket tissue for bathrooms, lip balm, sunscreen, eyeglass keepers (to remove glasses for quick photos and not drop them), spork (spoon/fork/knife combo), and zippered plastic bags for protecting clothing or electronics from moisture. Although basic throwaway plastic baggies will work, we like to use something called LokSak dry bags, which weigh about the same, come in a wide variety of sizes, are sturdier so they can be used over and over, and can keep out water much more securely. In addition, for women (even for men), you can put mini-pads in your shorts to protect them to avoid daily washing!
Aids for bike measurements and markings
One of our bike tour regulars suggested you go beyond the basic “stand-over height” most bike tour companies ask for, but also bring measurements for seat height and handlebar height as well as handlebar “reach,” i.e. your distance from seat to bars). He even suggests bringing your own lightweight tape measure (think freebies you get at some large housewares and building supply stores). With that, you can more quickly get your bike fit on the first day and head out for a test ride. Also, bring a little brightly colored tape to mark the seat height. He has found the seats slide down a little, but you can quickly reset them if you place a piece of tape a certain distance (e.g. half inch) on the seat post above the seat tube.
For some great tips on how to manage the daily packing and repacking required on tours — on bike, foot or even in a bus – take a look at our story, “Expert tips for packing and unpacking on tours.”
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