As I research other blogs, I find that many people don’t go into detail about the process and challenges of planning, nor in-depth breakdowns of their gear setup. My blog will not omit this extremely useful information. However, if you are not interested in going down a technical rabbithole, don’t bother reading this post, because it is all about GEAR. The next post will detail the planning process. Here we go!
Bike: The obvious starting point is my faithful steed, the much lauded Surly Longhaul Trucker. This bike is a steel, double-butted weld frame. It is heavy, sturdy, and repairable. For touring, steel is ideal. Titanium is also a good choice, but aluminum or carbon fiber are too delicate for a “working bike.” The Surly has 26″ wheels, smaller than your average road or mountain bike. You coast faster with a smaller wheel (science), it is sturdier, and happens to be the international standard size, making it easy to find parts for or replace. The wheels also boast more spokes than usual, making for a strong set to sit on with confidence. The bike came stock with drop bars and bar-end shifters. I extended the stem on the handlebars for a more upright position, making for a goofy dad-bike look; Super comfortable. I also have a carbon fiber seat post and Brooks leather saddle, model B-17, which came with the bike when I bought it second-hand. There is no better saddle than the Brooks. It form fits after the first 500 miles or so, and is as easy on the eyes as the butt. Shimano derailleur, which I don’t know much about it, aside from that it works! I put some 1.5 inch Schwalbe Marathon tires on, the heaviest duty, puncture resistant tire around, and added some Axiom fenders, which are inexpensive, lightweight, snap on and off, but stay put. I highly recommend them. You can see a mini bike pump strapped to the back of my seat tube there. Mine is an older model, doesn’t matter the brand, just make sure you have one. The bike came with two water bottle cages, and those are the Goodwill water bottles I’m bringing, to be painfully thorough.
Pannier Setup: I have a Surly front rack that is pretty wide and bulky, as you can see above. I would recommend a much lower profile front rack, like this one:
We’ll see how my Surly rack fits in a bike box here in a couple weeks… The back rack on my bike is a standard Tubus bike rack, which came with the bike:
As you can see up top, the front panniers are Ortlieb Sport Roller Classics. Good bags. On the back are two large Blackburn panniers, which I am fairly indifferent about. They are giant waterproof bags that attach gear to the bike, and in that respect they are perfect. They are tall enough that my tent fits inside, which is ideal! However, had I not purchased them right before I bought the bike, slapped them on and rode away, I would have made some bucket panniers. They are light, waterproof, difficult to steal, and make you look poor, which is great camouflage. This is a picture of my friend’s:
My point is, you don’t need a bunch of fancy gear to do this. My friend’s bike cost a tenth of what mine did. The main thing to look for in a tour bike is a steel frame with the right geometry for bearing weight. On the other hand, having the right tool for the job- the most efficient, the most comfortable- is ideal. For any endeavor you are new to, I recommend starting small: work with what you have that will work, what is cheap enough to replace if/until you realize that you want something different, or selective, well researched investments. As you gain experience and see what other like-minded people are using, you will figure out what needs improving and the right piece of equipment to fill the need. Research thrice and buy once! Anyhoo, I added a Giant (brand) Scout bikepacking handlebar bag. I was looking for something a little different- this bag sags pretty good with any significant weight in it, and is not all that easily accessible. It holds a waterproof bag wrapped up like a bedroll, which appealed to me initially because you can put your sleeping bag or sleeping pad in it on shorter trips, but I was really looking for something to hold maps, snacks and camera. An advantage to the bag I have is that it is quickly and easily detachable. I plan to keep valuables in it for short forays away from my bike for groceries and what-have-you. At this point, it is what I have, so I’ll make it work.
Parts: Tires and tubes, chains, gears, and cables. These are fundamental parts of the bicycle and also basic sources of problems for a person who lives out of and travels by bike. In 15,000 miles, anything can happen, and most of it will happen. I intend to be somewhat prepared. I will have to learn as I go, as I am no bike mechanic, but I want to ensure that I at least have the opportunity to fix most problems and avoid being stranded in the middle of a desert in East China with a broken chain or in the Pyrenees mountains with no breaks, for example. Here is a picture of the parts and tools I am bringing:
First off, I am not bringing that whole roll of tape in the top left corner. That is a roll of Gorilla tape, durable, sticky stuff. A little trick I learned backpacking is to wrap miniature rolls of tape around your trekking poles for any necessary repairs. My panniers are already sporting some stylish patches. I plan to wrap some reserve around my seat and handlebar stems for safekeeping. I suspect some of my gear will be more tape than not in six months…
I have a bottle of chain lube, which will need to be replaced a few times I suspect. Keeping my chain clean is important for reducing the wear and tear on my rings and cassettes, and I’ll run through that stuff pretty quick. I’m starting out with a bottle of the formula for wet weather, for the lovely showers I’ll be slugging through for the first month at least. It’s thicker so it doesn’t wash off in the rain.
I also have four spare tubes, three tube patch kits and two super patch kits for the same purpose. They aren’t heavy or bulky, may as well load up! I also have two TIRE patch kits, which are a bit of a last resort. I hope my Marathons can withstand the perils of the road shoulders as well as my other tires have. I have two sets of brake pads! While disc brakes are delightfully heavy duty and efficient, they are more difficult to fix or replace parts on, relative to the quick and easy swap of the conventional rubber pads. In the middle is a heavy and long pedal wrench, one of the smaller ones they make, which I will need to reattach my pedals upon arrival in Lisbon. I should only need it to disassemble the bike in Singapore… training weight. Next to it is a can of proofide for my leather saddle, to keep it conditioned and waterproof. I am also bringing extra cables for the brakes and derailleur. At the bottom of the picture there is a whole chain as well! Initially, I bought a replacement chain link, but figured that it would be worthwhile just to bring another one. You can carry plenty on a bike, and it seemed prudent. What else? Ah, a roll of electrical tape to patch up my handlebar tape, TIRE LEVERS- you’ll want to remember these- and my multitool, complete with a chainbreaker! (This is a great tool for removing a jammed chainlink).
Short of a derailleur, I am carrying replacements for everything. I am writing this a few weeks before my departure, so I am not entirely sure how I will be packed or how heavy all of this is going to be, so I am torn as to whether I should also carry a spare tire, but I am seriously considering it.
Lights: My main set of lights is usb rechargable. My headlight is an Urban 500 by Lights & Motion. As you may have guessed, it is a 500 lumen light; strong. My tail light is an LED 35 lumen tail light, the Serfas Thunderbolt. Super bright, easy to put on and remove so it doesn’t get stolen. This other light is my spare, a very bright little battery powered light that I’ve had for 5 years now, solid little thing.
Tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek Ultralight 2. A little advice on tents: A 2 person is a 1 person and a 1 person is a half person. I’ve squeezed two in during a heavy rain and all was well, but our gear was crammed in the vestibule, which I’m glad is a feature, as you can see in the upper right picture. I put my bag inside so you can see. Plenty of room for a person and one person’s gear. This is a great tent, coming in at 2 pounds. Not bad. Some things are worth their weight in comfort; another piece of wisdom I have earned from experience in the backcountry.
Sleeping bag: my sleeping bag is a Mountain Hardware Q-treated Phantom 15 degree (Fahrenheit) down bag. A strange temperature rating. It is too hot for summer, not warm enough for winter. It packs down small, but not as small as you want for a summer backpacking bag. This and the sleeping pad were an unresearched purchase, and a spendy one! I bitterly regretted it, but I have since adjusted. I have a separate bag for summer, but I have found this bag to be perfect for Fall and Spring, and with my sleeping bag liner, a toasty winter bag. So I have a great three season. It is a down filled bag, which is warmer, lighter, and packs down smaller than synthetic bags. Historically, their “downfall” has been their susceptibility to water- a good drenching can ruin a bag. From the rainy Northwest, I gave down bags and coats a wide berth. This bag, however, is filled with water-treated down, meaning that the down is treated with a hydrophobic coating. Lovely bit of technology.
Sleeping Pad: My sleeping pad is a Big Agnes Q-core Insulated SL. At the shop where I bought my bag and pad, this was the lightest full length sleeping pad in the building. It is light, that’s for sure. And warm, without a doubt, the thing is 3.5 inches thick! But it takes an immense amount of time and energy to inflate. I dread it every time. The resolve of my will has been strengthened by this sleeping pad. I have matured as a person thanks to the trial, frustration, and hallucinations brought on by lightheadedness this bag provided me. Also, my sleeping bag on this sleeping pad is loud- not as loud as it was initially, but every time I adjust my position you will hear these two fabrics swishing and swiping. They are what I have. The moral of the story is, do your research, especially when spending hundreds of dollars. Ultimately, after the pain of failed expectations wore off and I opened my mind to them, it has been just fine. Now you know some of my deepest, darkest secrets. On the upside, if I get stuck in the wilderness, I will be warm.
Above we’ve got… you guessed it, more gear! We have, in the order you might read, say, a blog we have a heavy duty bike lock, heavy and awkward to carry. I can lock through both wheels and the frame, however, and it is nice and thick. I can lock to big trees and stout posts too, if need be. Next we have my camera, charger, and shockproof case. The camera is a Nikon Coolpix A300, the cheapest, lightest camera I found, something I won’t cry over if it ge ts lost or stolen. The camera only weighs 4 ounces! Then we have my Snow Peak UL camp stove (The pen is for reference). I have had this stove for ten years still works great! It only weighs 11 ounces. I’m not counting ounces like I would for a backpacking trip, but I appreciate the technology. The lighter my bike, the better, but there’s only so much you can do, what with the tools and spare parts!
Katadyn Backcountry water filter. Bulky, laborious, and the best filter. Essential survival item.
The small black pouch is an ultralight daypack! I intend to hike around a bit, and I’m not hauling a pannier around. The larger scarlet pouch is a sleeping bag liner. It increases the rating of my sleeping bag by twenty degrees Fahrenheit. The orange package is an emergency blanket. Reflective, extra warmth, waterproof, but primarily a footprint for my tent if I need.
Sidenote: I am being bored by my own blog here. I am not the documentation specialist others are; I am not a techy, gear fetishist, nor an engineer (they’re methodical, right?), nor particularly organized. I’m more the artsy type. I had to unpack a lot of this to document it, as well as inflate my sleeping pad, which you now know was quite a sacrifice, and set up my tent. It has been laborious. Yet, this is the kind of monotonous detail I wish I had been able to find as I planned my trip. So here I am, slogging through this mind-numbing, ponderous breakdown of my gear list. There is much more to cover as well, I might add.
Alright, I am back after two weeks of procrastinating. There are basically two more categories, clothing and toiletries.
Not my best photography work, but you get the idea; it’s a pile of clothes. What we have here are:
7 pairs of socks: Keep my feet nice and fresh-ish. I have one pair of liners and a thicker pair of woolies, the rest are thin wool Darn Tuff socks, which are fantastic, I highly recommend them.
Mountain bike shorts: This is a point of modesty for me- I would rather wear shorts than spandex. I have always worn a pair over my shammies, and these ones are great. They’re a pair of Specialized shorts that came with a low profile shammy built in. I cut them out, they were only attached by four sections of webbing, and now I have a great pair of normal looking shorts.
Lightweight hiking pants: Pants, are great, they’re like shorts, but longer! Highly recommended, particularly in cooler weather. If you have not tried wearing pants, you are missing out. I bring a pair everywhere I go in the northernly latitudes and the colder seasons. Pants!
Pearl-Izumi Amphibeous tights: One concession to spandex I will gladly make every time. I bought these and tried them out on a brisk January training ride in Oregon. Self-conscious about wearing them and willfully deceived by the unusual 60 degree Fahrenheit weather, I rode all the first day in shorts and a t-shirt. This was fine until we dropped down along a river, shaded by trees. After a couple of hours, I had knee problems on both legs. Turns out your joints don’t like working when they are stiff and tense with cold! Incidentally, I put my tights on and didn’t take them off for the rest of the trip. These tights are windproof and waterproof, with breathable panels on the back. I love them and I don’t care what anyone thinks. When it is cold, everyone I pass will get a dose of my toasty booty-liciousness. Tights are a must for cold weather.
(I actually developed onset quadrecep tendonitis in one knee, which is bad bad bad. Ironically, my training trip has laid me up for five weeks before this huge trip, gulping arnica, glucosamine, strange joint healing concoctions and stretching three times a day. I feel really good right now, a week before the trip, but wish me luck, I hope I’m healthy…)
Beanie and balaclava: The balaclava may be overkill. I may not bring it, ultimately. I won’t know what I wish I had and what I should not have packed for another month or two, ultimately. Better safe than sorry, for now.
3 pairs of Exofficio briefs: These are excellent briefs. Gotta keep clean, and these are very easy to wash in a sink or a river, if need be. Quick drying, breathable, designed for precisely this kind of thing: dirtbagging it!
A pair of low profile shammies: These are the ones that came with my shorts. There is hardly any padding to them, basically an extra pair of underwear. They have compression value too, which is nice. Now that my Brooks saddle is broken in, I am not in need of extra padding. As my friend Josiah wisely observed, your butt hurts with or without a shammy, and it is more comfortable not to ride in a diaper.
Long sleeve, short sleeve, tank top synthetic shirts, sleeveless jersey: Shirts, gotta have em! All synthetic, easy to rinse, at least. Long sleeves and tank tops and everything inbetween- I will be living day to day in a variety of weather conditions. I will also be salty all the time. The more the merrier.
Riding jerseys are pretty nifty. They are designed for the job, and they perform. I like that they are comfortable in quite a range of weather- zip all the way up in the morning and your core is toasty, zip all the way down and you’re only wearing half a shirt. Those pockets in the back come in handy as well. However, like with the spandex, they make you look like a total dweeb or an elitist most of the time. Ultimately, you don’t need them. I have one though, so I’ll use it.
Sunglasses, Small tech towel, Handkerchief: “Don’t forget to bring a towel!” Also essential for hitchhiking through space. You want these things.
Down jacket, Midlayer, Raincoat: I am really not sure whether I’ll need the down jacket or not. I was going to bring it instead of my Arcteryx Atom SL midlayer, but I can’t ride in my down jacket, I’ll sweat out. I live in that Arcteryx, it’s the dark green jacket. I never want to be without it, honestly. So I’m bringing both. My down jacket is cozy and warm, I hate being cold, and I have the room. I may mail it back once I get to China, or I may brave the cold without it. I should have the space though, and there are a lot of mountains inbetween Portugal and Singapore… I’ll keep you posted on last minute changes.
Giro Pivot gloves
These gloves get their own special. They are toasty and comfortable and I also fell in love with these on that cold January ride. A must-have for braving the weather.
La Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX: My handy dandy riding boots. They’re ugly and expensive, despite being heavily discounted! Windproof, waterproof, actually quite light, rugged outsole, and quickdraw laces that tuck in. Something warm to ride in that I can also hike around in. The laces won’t get caught in my chain either. A great boot, I have been pleasantly surprised.
I don’t want to have to ride in waterproof boots through the desert climes. More people ride in these than you would think, despite the flagrant risk of toe flensing. I have much lighter, smaller flips, but I cannot ride in them. So, my dirty old Chacos get to travel the world.
Camp cup, trash bags, charger: charger is for my tablet, below.
This Samsung Galaxy Tab-e is what I will be blogging on. In fact, it’s what I’m writing on right now. It is heavy and blocky with the case. I went for the 9.5 inch because the display was too small on their 7 inch. I have an iPad mini, which I love, but Apple purposely rendered all their tablets obsolete with their operating system updates. Scum company. I can’t download any new apps without updating my iOS, and if I do that, the iPad will be too slow to do ANYTHING on; I’m talking opening browsers and apps, loading Google photos, anything. I need an app to upload pictures from my camera. Anyhow, that really pissed me off. This Samsung is great though, I am converted. Pretty cheap too, nothing to cry over if I destroy it or it gets swiped.
Floss, sewing kit: I love fixing gear and clothing, which is good, cause I do it a lot. Floss is super strong too, an excellent material for strong repairs. Minty and delicious to boot!
Sports tape, super glue, med kit: Sports tape is the best for preventing blisters. I probably won’t need it, but I like to keep some around. I may need to actually apply some sports medicine wraps or something… I am a backpacker by experience though, and if you feel something rubbing, slap some of this stuff on and you will avoid blisters! Makes your trip a lot more fun without open sores on your feet. Far better than duct tape. Any other tape is too thick and will cause blisters itself. Superglue will come in handy for patching gear or myself, if need be. General array of bandaids and antiseptic are good to have around as well.
Kitchen knife, comb, spork, fork, scissors: yep.
Vaseline: If I start rubbing in the saddle area.
Toothbrush, toothpaste: Brush your teeth. I thought about visiting the dentist before I leave, but then I realized that literally every other place in the world will be cheaper. I don’t anticipate any trouble.
Tent tape, tent pole splint: Tenacious tape to fix tent tears, pole splint in case I break a pole- It’s that dark grey tube next to the blue tape canister.
Can-opener, fire-starter, two lighters: Basic survival stuff. You never know. I like to be prepared.
NAIL CLIPPERS: Never, ever leave home without em. There is nothing that bothers me more than long nails. I would bring two pair, but these are an easily replaceable item on this trip. Another backpacker instinct. It sucks to forget these.
Journals and pens: This here blog will likely satiate my writer’s itch, but I simply do not go anywhere without pen and paper. I like real writing, you know, the stuff with the hands and the ink.
Scary knife: This puppy is sharp and good sized. I feel better having it.
Bones: Another item I am torn over. These are a musical instrument, usually carved out of bone, but this is a wooden pair my friend James Mills handcarved. I have never learned how to play them, and they are portable, so I figured, what the heck? They are displayed next to the Scary knife.
Headlamp and batteries: I decided to bring another light. Another of my insatiable backpacker instincts: I want my headlamp. That way I can read at night without having to rig some light up, and it may end up as a reserve front light for the bike, just in case.
Passport, debit card, passport card, copies of passport, itinerary:
All this good stuff. Passport, passport card, which is really only good for travelling to Canada or Mexico, but will be good to have if something happens to my passport. I’ll also have photocopies of my passport, which I will need for visa applications, and I have memorized my passport number. I do not plan to be stuck without identification. I will also have maps, obviously, which I will trade out as needed.
Blue storage bag for toiletries: I’m just going to segwey into the next picture below: I have a gnarly rafting grade stuffsack in case I want to store anything on top of a rack, a big yellow stuff sack for food, and that black bag goes to my handlebar bag. Should be enough to keep me organized, I may use more. They are good for compartmentalizing. Unlike my backpack, my panniers are waterproof.
My friend Garrison gave me a Sun Stone to carry on my journey. This is an old navigation tool used by the vikings to find the direction of the sun. It is a strange tool, mostly because no one has any idea how they used it. They keep finding them in old shipwrecks though. They aren’t sure when they were used, either aside from when the sun wasn’t out- dusk, or on overcast days, nor what to look for in the stone, how to hold it, etc. We’re pretty much in the dark. The point is, it’s cool, and is supposed to bring me good luck, which I will certainly need at some point! Thanks, Garrison! I’ll do my best not to lose it. That would be a bad omen.
Gosh, Gunnar, you sure are taking a lot of crap. Isn’t that going to be heavy? Are you sure you can fit all that on your bike? Do you need all that?
To anticipate a few questions. Yes, it is a lot of crap. More than I would take on a backpacking trip. But I will be on the road for nine months. Also, a few pounds doesn’t make that much of a difference on a bike. I want to be pared down as much as I can, I don’t want any dead weight. Cycle Touring is different than backpacking, and very different from assisted tours, or roadbiking. You go slow. You are not a speed freak or an adrenaline junky. You are a fat, poorly balanced turtle. You inch peacefully up hills. You casually drift down out of the mountains- really fast, because you are heavy, and you have a better wheel ratio. You stop to take pictures, eat breakfast, take a nap. You check out every interesting roadside attraction. You live in the moment, man. At least, that is how I want it to be for me. I don’t want to charge through this trip. I don’t intend to prove myself racing up hills. I want to relish in the adventure and the vacation aspect of this, I want to be in tune with myself, estranged from stress and worry. We’ll see how that goes. Also, I am going to be freakishly strong six weeks from now, if all goes well.
It will all fit too. I bought the two front panniers for that reason. My first two tours were out of the back panniers only. Do I need it all? Time will tell. There is something I don’t need to be carrying and something I need that I dokn’t have, of that I can be somewhat confident. It will be interesting to see what gets confiscated as well!
A few things I need to buy: A bar of Dr. Bronner’s soap, some more arnica Montana, which reduces swelling, and probably some other stuff I haven’t yet remembered I forgot. I’ll keep you posted.
Items up for consideration: Spare tire. I should probably bring one. Book. I have a hard time living without books, but I think I’ll be plenty busy. Do I take a huge book? One I am wont to read over again? An extremely dense one? Something cheap that I can swap? At some point I think it will be difficult to find good english language literature. No, I do not read books on screens.
There it is, there’s my Gear List! Glad that is over with. I hope it helps someone somewhere.