A Biased Bike Travel Packing List

A gal’s guide to packing panniers for a cycling trip

Cycling Playa La Ventana (south of La Paz) in Baja Mexico

People fuss over bike travelers and how brave, adventurous and fit they are. But really, a bike traveler is just someone who wonders, “What if I rode my bike somewhere else…?” and does.

If you get around by bike at home, why not take it with you the next time you go “somewhere else?” It’s easy: pack your bike, pack some stuff, start pedaling and ta-da! You’re an Adventure Cyclist!

I credit my first foreign bike adventure – a winter getaway to Mexico’s Yucatan – to the fact that I’m too stubborn to break my daily cycling habit; too lazy to haul a heavy knapsack on and off buses; and too curious to just sit on a resort bar stool.

I aim for destinations that are warm, flat and mildly touristy. Why? Lighter gear, fewer hills and more places to enjoy a cheap, chilled, sociable beer at the end of the day.

Novice bike travelers agonize for months over what to bring on a trip, so I’ll share my own highly-biased, female-friendly, low-tech cyclist’s packing list. You may notice the absence of a cell phone, GPS and laptop, and the presence of mini-pads, brassieres and hair ties.

Did I mention the list is biased? Use it as a starting point, and share your comments, questions and travel tips.

Water bladder, light, computer and The Virgin (for security)

The Mitey Miss Bike Travel Packing List

Bike Gear – I travel with a rigid mountain bike equipped with racks, suspension seat-post and dual (flat/clipless) pedals. Add front/rear panniers, handlebar bag, multi-tool, flat repair kit (inner tube, pump, tire levers, patch kit), bike computer, rear light, lubrication kit (oil, rag), cable lock and sometimes – a helmet.

Peanut butter & jam

Camp Gear – I pack either a 1.5-person tent with full fly and vestibules (room to move and storage) or a bivouac tent (really small and light). Add a sleeping bag and Therm-a-Rest under-pad.

Hardware – When I travel overseas, I leave behind the camp stove, pots, soap and scrubbie pad. Why? A stove needs fuel (a pain to locate in a foreign country) and it’s a lonely companion to eat with on a solo ride. I’d rather share a meal in a family-run cantina. Other hardware: bowl, cutlery, lightweight cord (laundry line), head lamp and Swiss army-style knife, two bungee cords and cable ties (“zap straps”).

Food – I shop en route, but pack home-bought powdered 3-in-1 tea and sports drinks, bagels, cream cheese, peanut-butter-and-jam-in-one-jar, energy bars, trail mix, ramen soups, beef jerky and dried fruit.

Clothing – I organize clothing into categories:

  • BIKE: worn only while cycling, a typical outfit is padded shorts, short-sleeve blouse, stretchy bra.
  • NON-BIKE: civilian-looking, knee-length shorts to go over padded shorts, modest dress, non-wrinkle light long pants and tops (suitable for nice restaurants or temples), cardigan/fleece, underwear, regular bra, bathing suit.
  • SLEEP: tank top and loose briefs.
  • SUN: soft hat, sunglasses.
  • RAIN: light shell with hood.
  • FEET: bike shoes, walking shoes, flip-flops. Socks for biking and non-biking.
  • COLD: toque, gloves, neck warmer. A “deal breaker” is what I call a puffy compact jacket, vest or mid-layer that not only warms you instantly, but doubles as a comfortable pillow.

Chamois-saving liners, bandanna, sun block.

Bathroom – Everyone likes a non-stinky cyclist at the end of the day, including your sleeping bag. I organize personal items by body part: teeth (toothbrush, paste), eyes (glasses, contacts, case), skin (soap, bug spray, sweat-proof sunblock lotion, towel) and hair (shampoo, comb, elastics).

Resources – The useful little items that are so easy to forget. Maps, guidebooks, schedules, large clear Ziploc bags. Pen and notepad. Wristwatch with alarm. Camera and batteries. First aid kit. Phone card.

Guilty Pleasures – Additional useful but less necessary items: ear plugs, safety pins, bulldog clips, needle and thread. A convertible stuff sack/pillow case. Sarong/ pashmina. Menstrual cup, panty liners. Silk pajamas. Loofah (scrubs off salt, sand and sweat). Soft-sided cooler bag, candles/lantern, bread bags (for feet), collapsible water bladder. Booze. Books. And my new favorite: the Alite Monarch ultra-light camp chair.

Published in the May/June 2010 issue of Momentum: the magazine for self-propelled people.