Weight and bulk, versatility, and suitability for anticipated conditions are the primary considerations when deciding what to take along on your bicycle tour. If this is your first tour, you may find yourself sending home surplus clothing/gear once you’ve been on the bicycle a few days and discover how much—or, rather, how little—you really need for a comfortable tour.
Joyce says: It’s surprising how little clothing you need to bring if you pack smart. Wool is warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and if you choose primarily dark colors the dirt doesn’t show and everything matches.
Cycling shorts with synthetic chamois lining, cycling shoes, a helmet, raingear, tights, and cycling gloves are the best items to purchase specifically for bicycling.
When it gets chilly, it’s best to layer clothing for warmth. Avoid cotton undergarments (they trap moisture, chafe your skin and are poor insulators when wet); instead, it is best to choose synthetic fibers that wick moisture away from your skin. Next comes a wool sweater or synthetic pile jacket; both are good insulators, even when wet. Your rain/wind jacket serves as the outer layer. A breathable waterproof fabric, such as Gore-Tex, will keep you dry, and is an effective windbreak. Coated, waterproof raingear will dampen your clothing from the inside.
Also carry a light, loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirt to protect your skin from the sun. Clothes should do double duty: For example, will your off-bike outfit double as a warmth layer or sun protection?
Shoes need stiff soles to increase pedaling efficiency and to protect your feet from the sustained pressure of pedaling. Touring shoes can double as riding and walking shoes. Feet often swell slightly when riding, so choose shoes that allow free movement of your toes.
For self-contained touring, try to keep your load as light as is practical. You can carry all of your gear in a trailer, or divide your gear between front and rear panniers. If using panniers, carry about 40% of your gear over the rear wheel and 60% over the front wheel. Your body adds weight over the rear wheel. Five pounds or so is the maximum you should pack in a handlebar bag. Experiment with weight distribution to find the best results for your particular bike.
Wally says: To make this 60-40 thing easy, I try to put all the heavy stuff — tools, stove, extra food — in my front panniers. The bulky, lighter stuff — sleeping bag, clothes — fit in the larger rear panniers.
Before packing, line your panniers and sleeping bag stuff sack with heavy-duty plastic garbage bags. Despite sometimes being labeled “waterproof”, most panniers seem to leak when it’s raining. Roll your clothing and pack it vertically (in individual ziplock bags, if you are extremely organized!). This way you can see the end of each roll for easy identification, and it helps avoid wrinkling.
Start your trip with extra room in your panniers or trailer for items picked up along the way (and for your share of the group cooking gear and food, if you’re on a self-contained camping tour). The extra room will also make it easier to pack quickly.
Keep your wallet, camera and often-used items in a detachable handlebar bag or fanny pack and always take it with you when you leave the bike. Tools for fixing flats can go in your handlebar bag or a small seat bag, for easy access.