Thursday, August 4, 2016

Touring Light: Some Initial Thoughts



I used to assume that the bicycle tourists I saw hauling fully loaded setups were going the full monty. That is to say - not only touring, but camping. Sleeping outdoors, preparing their own food. I expected their many pieces of luggage to contain sleeping bags, tents, cookware. It's no small task to haul around a mobile home, after all.

Then one time, I got chatting with a touring couple who had their bikes fully loaded. They were cycling along the west coast of Ireland, staying at hostels and B&Bs. Considering the enormous amount of luggage strapped to their bicycles (2 sets of panniers and a handlebar bag, each), I was surprised to hear they weren't camping, but I did not have the nerve to ask what they were carrying in all those bags. However, from that point on I began to chat more with passing cyclotourists about their setups - and was surprised to learn that, regardless of load size, only a very small portion of them were camping or preparing their own food. In fact, the way we get talking in the first place, is that usually I am asked if I know of a good hostel, or restaurant, nearby. Emboldened, I eventually asked a young couple from Belgium what was in all their bags. They showed me, and it was basically loads of clothes for different weather conditions, bulky hiking boots, cameras, extra food, electronics, a couple of books.



I do not like riding a needlessly heavy bike. And in my head I had already worked out, that everything I would need for a bicycle tour, in a region with easy access to civilization, could easily fit into a single saddlebag. But did these cyclists know something I didn't? Seeing their fully loaded setups made me question my own judgment. But considering I have no interest in loaded touring, finally I just had to do it my way and see how it went.

Luckily, my husband feels the same way. And we agreed to try our longest mini-tour to date (5 days/ 4 nights, around County Kerry) on lightweight bicycles, using rackless setups. For a short tour at least it would hopefully be enough. And it would inform us as to what we would need to do differently on longer trips.


So this is the husband's setup: his lightweight road race bike, loaded with an Apidura 14L saddlepack, and Small road frame bag. The Apidura bags I have on loan for review, but he is mostly the one testing them as even the small framebag is a tad too large for my own bikes (it fits, but renders the water bottles unusable). Setups of this type are becoming increasingly popular, for their lightweight and aerodynamic properties. A saddlebag designed in this manner keeps drag to a minimum, by virtue of retaining its narrow profile no matter how much it expands. Likewise, the frame bag integrates with the bike, creating storage space without adding bulk to the bicycle's silhouette. The drawback to both, of course, is that they are quite narrow - making carrying items such as laptops and other wide objects out of the question. But if that is not an issue, as far as volume in of itself, they can fit quite a lot.


My own setup, while equally lightweight and contemporary, was a bit more traditional: a saddlebag and handlebar bag from Dill Pickle, on a project bike I am riding this summer. The handlebar bag is one I've used for brevets and camera-carry over the past 3 years. It is exceptionally lightweight, compact, and does not require a front rack for support. The saddlebag is actually an extra-wide commuter bag (designed to fit a 13" laptop in a padded case) that is not as light, compact, or aerodynamic as it would have been, were it made for "spirited cycling" specifically. But it is roomy, and likewise does not require a rack for support (and contrary to what the angle of this image suggests, it does clear my rear tyre!).

Although I think the photos and the bags' dark colours make my setup look more compact, in fact of the two of us I was carrying more stuff. Aside from a change of cycling clothes, full rain gear, an extra-warm layer, a week's supply of drink-mix powder, sunscreen, insect repellant, chamois cream, toiletries, various other small miscellaneous items, and my camera, I was carrying two sets of street clothes (wool dresses and tights) and a pair of very bulky, weatherproof, walking/ going out boots. My husband was carrying similar, but with somewhat more compact footwear and minus the second streetwear outfit (I should note that his saddlebag, as shown here, was filled to maybe 75% capacity).


We intended to walk and do non-cycling stuff quite a lot on this trip.  It was nice to arrive at our destinations, leave the bikes in the hostel/ B&B, and go out on the town looking more or less "normal."


 A bloated, red-faced, sweaty-haired version of normal, but nonetheless!

On our last attempt at a mini-tour I thought I was being clever and packed a flimsy little pair of collapsible ballet-flats. But the "summer" weather made mince-meat of them immediately, and I vowed then to always pack sturdy off-the-bike footwear, even if it meant sacrificing space for other stuff. Luckily, what my saddlebag lacked in aero properties, it compensated for in space - swallowing the boots and all my other stuff whole, with room to spare.


So what do two people need for five days, on (and off) the bike, in a region with temperamental weather but relatively easy access to amenities? As it turns out, not much. Even allowing for bulky items, such as our footwear and our cameras, as well as for changes of street clothing, a rackless setup consisting of one large rear bag, and a supplementary smaller one, was sufficient for each of us. In fact, for the length of this little tour we really could have packed less.

But what about for a longer trip? The more I think about it, anticipating various scenarios, the more I come to the conclusion that we really would not need to pack a whole lot more than what we did. A change of clothing means that one set can be washed and dried while the other is worn, and this rotation works just as well on long trips as it does on short ones. The amount of tools and spare parts  we would take wouldn't change. For myself, I would bring my laptop if going away for a week or longer. And for a certain someone who likes his stubble to look just so, a beard trimmer, and charger for it, would join us as well. Assuming that we wouldn't be camping, or preparing our own meals, I really don't see why we would need much more than this.


When I brought this up with experienced tourist Pamela Blalock (carrying conspicuously little at mile 2,000 of her Irish coastal tour!), she readily agreed. It used to be that she and her husband carried panniers and multiple bags on their tours, she said, despite staying at hostels and B&Bs. But this was largely due to two factors. First, electronic maps were not yet available. "One entire pannier used to be filled with paper maps!" she recalls. And second, in remote areas food would often be hard to come by through the day. So another bag would be filled with picnic meals and extra fluids, on which they would stock up every morning before setting off.

Today, a tiny GPS computer or phone, takes the place of maps for most cycle tourists. And Ireland, despite its swathes of bogland and low population density, is so conveniently peppered with amenities these days, it is nearly impossible to find yourself stranded without food or water within reasonable cycling distance. These changes alone eliminate the need for extra pieces of luggage that were once essential.


Bag design has also come a long way. The contemporary fabrics and styles may not be as attractive as the canvas, leather, buckles, and lacing of traditional touring setups. But they are lightweight, easy to use, compact, waterproof, and - perhaps, most importantly - do not require supporting racks. This latter point is significant, as it means being able to use a lightweight performance bike for this type of touring, without having to modify it in any way.

It's important to recognise that everyone is different. There are cyclists who like a sturdier, heavier bike for touring, as well as those who prefer a traditional setup with racks. For me, traveling light makes it easier, as well as more enjoyable, to cover long distances and tackle challenging terrain. For a bicycle tour that did not require camping gear or cookware, we each found the setups we used extremely convenient, and will go with something similar on longer trips in future.

For anyone who hesitates to venture out on their first light tour, I hope it is useful to know that, whichever bags you use to achieve it, it is possible to get by without an elaborate setup. The idea of a bicycle tour can seem daunting, but it is really no different from any other trip: Grab what you need, set off, and go - you will figure out the rest along the way, and make adjustments for next time.


58 comments:

  1. Ah, but you're underdoing it a bit by forgoing fenders. I would definitely want fenders in Ireland.

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    1. We use Crud Roadracer fenders, and often have them on our bikes. But not this time. Kind of a long story worthy of a separate post, but my husband (who is into meteorology) wanted to experimented with some weather predictive methods, and on this trip it worked out pretty well. It rained at some point of nearly every day, but we stayed miraculously dry.

      But yeah, normally we'd have fenders. In fact we can take the Cruds with us, as they're modular and pack up small.

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  2. I always want to try out some minimal touring/camping trips, but as someone who sweats profusely (and to be frank, gets quite rank), I am nothing but nervous about trying to get away with only a pair or two of clothes. Also, even if considering lightweight footwear, dealing with size 46-ish, it seems my entire bag is full immediately! (same issue when flying for work travel - I want comfortable shoes for the plane and presentable ones for work, but BAM, there goes all my space!)

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    1. FWIW my husband wears size 46 EU shoes. The bag shown would fit several pairs with plenty of room to spare.

      I sweat a lot in my upper body when I cycle. But luckily it is a watery, scentless kind of sweat that gets "aired out" if I wear wool jerseys, so I rarely have to wash them. Even if you do wash your jerseys every day though, you can still get away with 2, assuming that one is drying while you're wearing the other, no?

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    2. UNSCENTED BABY WIPES! A quick wipedown 4 or 5 times a day with 2 or 3 wipes and you might find you are no worse than your fellow travelers. I, a smallish Silver-backed Sasquatch, have been using this approach for years to great effect. I get a pack of 80 for about $1.75 and that keeps me going for at least a week anywhere short of living rough in Haiti(there I figure 25 wipes a day).

      Spindizzy

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    3. I have found that 30 mg. of zinc daily virtually eliminates body odor, and boosts the immune system, too.

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  3. Always very interesting to read about your choices and why. The bikes have gotten lighter, the tires narrower, fenders optional, no racks, modern fabrics, and minimum lighting.

    A common theme amongst all travelers is that it's a learn as you go thing and most discover that they often carry more than needed.

    Funny thing about bike tourists…Often seem about half are doing b/c they love the outdoor adventure and care very little about bikes/biking and the other half do it because they simply love riding bicycles.

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    1. Regarding lights - one wonderful thing about summer in Ireland, is that it gets dark after 10:30pm. We had powerful battery-operated LED lights in our bags just in case, but never used them.

      Narrow tyres - guilty. I must be an anomaly in this, as the trend is going in reverse. But the more I ride, the more I come to prefer 700Cx25mm for anything but actual dirt/gravel. Even the Irish backroads, which are really a sort of crumply, draggy chipseal with moss down the middle, feel just grand on my skinny tyres.

      Interesting what you say in your last paragraph. I love riding bicycles and I also love simply being outdoors, and when touring it sometimes almost feels like I have to choose.

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    2. I'm the kind who loves bikes and bicycling (it makes me happy) but lack the desire to get away from civilization for extended periods and have toured with the opposite types, the ones who know and love all aspects of camping and cooking and skinny dipping and getting off the beaten path, could care less about tubing or geometry ….We still get along well ;)

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  4. Nicely written and well said. It puzzles me too how much unnecessary junk people can take on a bike tour. I think it comes from the traditional approach "show us all you want to take and we will make a bike strong enough to carry it". The modern approach is quite opposite "here is your lightweight bike, now don't overload it."

    This guy took it to extreme: http://ultralightcycling.blogspot.com/
    To sum up, the main advantages of touring ultralight are:

    1. We take less stuff with us, which means less to carry on and off bike, less to pack/unpack, less items that can break and less to worry about.

    2. Because we take less, we don't need big and heavy panniers to carry all this junk. Small and superlight stuff bags will suffice.

    3. Because we carry less and don't use panniers, we don't need strong touring racks. Pretty much any rack will do the job for those ~20lbs of luggage. Alternatively, go rack-less.

    4. Because we carry so little, we don't need a dedicated, heavy-built touring bike. Nearly any road bike will work.

    5. Simplicity. We don't take whole bunch of stuff regular cyclotourists do, not even a cooking equipment. This means no stove, no pots, no raw food, no cooking water, no fuel and no cleaning tools.

    Unless you plan on traversing Sahara or crossing Australian outback for weeks, you really need just very few basic things on a bike tour.

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    1. That's an interesting website.

      In my former career I used to travel a lot, for conferences and such, and being able to do it with minimal fuss and minimal luggage was essential. So I got pretty good at it quickly, and it was no big deal. I could go off to a 3 day conference in France with everything I needed just stuffed into my handbag; no checked luggage, no problem. It came as a surprise then, how daunted I felt by the idea of bicycle touring and how complicated knowing what to pack for it seemed. I think the real issue is that traveling by bike feels more vulnerable. And the anxiety over how much to pack, or what setup to use, is just an expression of that.

      Though I haven't written about this on the blog, I have done a couple out and back overnight rides this year... on which I brought literally no luggage, just took all I needed in my jersey pockets. It was no mean feat really, but the boost of confidence it gave me was very helpful for any subsequent touring I attempt.

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  5. I like the slow and steady changes your partner is making to his bike, which do not seem to be influenced by you. Will there be a Honey Final 200 Review?

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    1. If you mean the handlebars, good eye!

      The Honey is a Race Day, not a Final 200 model. And yes there will be a review.

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    2. Touring with racing bikes! Well, then, do you race with them, too? I've always owned just a single bike at a time so back in my racing days that bike had to do for week long tours with friends. Problem was that I'd often move along at a different pace, which sometimes created friction. Your bikes are set up for speed, is your pacing similar, too?

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  6. Very inspiring post, thanks. I currently ride french randonneuring style with a Berthoud front bag and the occasional front paniers for longer trips. I like it but it's constraining a lot the bike choice. I couldn't go without a big front bag accessible while riding though. So pleasant to be able to snack, remove layers, grab a camera or pile pastries without having to unclip.

    For traveling with shoes my life changed since I switched to light and thin shoes. I currently wear Vivobarefoot which are great for that purpose.

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  7. With all touring, it depends on where one is and where one is going. Credit card traveling between villages for a week is lovely, one never needs much. A three month tour, crossing thousands of miles and varieties of elevation and terrain may require a bit more thought and planning. Some like to plan, others don't. As you say, things change along the way. I've made two trips across the U.S. One in '79 and the second in '05, both memorable, both different, which is the great thing about bike traveling. Enjoy!

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  8. I've been paring down stuff for my non-camping tours over the past few months. No need for two sweaters that serve the same purpose, for example, nor bulky on-bike food when there are more compact options. I can get by with a deep rando-style bag and saddle bag these days, only adding lowriders up front when I'm away from civilization long enough to need to carry food between towns, or when I need overnight clothes (synthetic cycling clothes make me itchy and worse when not on the bike).

    Previously, I was using two Ortlieb Backrollers stuffed with tons of things I never touched on rides. It took a while to realize how pointless that was.

    Though, riding in the dry season involves less gear than in the wet season. Who wants to ride their rain gear all day when rain is only seen for a few hours that day?

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  9. Smartphones have really gotten to the point that you can easily shed: maps, gps, camera, even your bike computer if you are inclined to really pare down some weight. And depending upon your needs, you can forego books, flashlight, laptaps pretty easily, too. Never mind all the different batteries and chargers that go with all that junk.
    Funny, when I was a kid I would've left on a trip around the world with whatever I could fit in my pockets. As I aged, my "needs" grew and accumulated more stuff. I've been making a concerted effort to turn that trend back around.


    You were nice enough to reply to a comment I made on an earlier post about your husband's Apidura bags. I've been looking into a frame bag, and I like their offerings. Reasonably priced, even with shipping to America. I await your (and his) thoughts on these.


    Wolf.

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  10. I tour with as little as possible. We're doing a 7 day tour of Netherlands at end of the month and 2 of the guys have never toured, so I put together this gear list for them

    https://goo.gl/photos/qobdtN45U9isWJtx9

    My only rule is, if you take it you carry it.

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    1. I am very bad at taking pictures like that in the moment! But I should really recreate my setup and take a similar shot, as it worked well and I want to remember it for next time.

      That's a good list and a good rule. Don't know why it works out that way, but I very often end up carrying stuff for other people I'm cycling with!

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    2. Yeah I've seen others get lumbered with someone else's stuff and they are too polite to say no.

      No one ever asks me, funny that :)

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  11. This post will be copied to several friends who tour with 60 to 100 pounds in their bags. Same parties complain of cracks in their 600 gram rims.

    The traditional approach was mentioned above. Tradition means steel tubes with downtube and seat tube @ 28.6mm, toptube @25.4mm. With that constraint it becomes rather difficult to construct a frame for loads much past twenty pounds. And that was how traditionalists toured. In theory there were Jack Taylors and Rene Herses, those were never common. Old school wheels were not too strong either. The few strong rims available were not easy to find. And 'strong' was relative. Some LBS would simply turn away customers over 200#. For heavy riders or heavy loads the practical mount was a roadster.

    I am surprised that bag does not sag into the tire. It must be very well constructed. If it ever does sag, or if you want a bag a size larger, there are ways to elevate the bag.

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  12. A favorite site is CGOAB because it's loaded with photos, journals (some are quite well written) and information about all aspects of touring. Just looking at loaded bikes it interesting to me ;)
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=tS&doc_id=8000&v=4MN

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  13. My son and I recently toured on mostly gravel/dirt for 11 days with camping gear and food. I used a setup almost identical to your husband's on my cyclocross bike: a Revelate Designs Pika seat bag (LOVE), a Banjo Brothers frame bag, and compression straps for my tent/sleeping bag/sleeping pad. I was pleasantly surprised that riding my bike fully loaded was extremely stable and very fun!! The frame bag is the same size/shape as your husband's Apidura bag and it was almost obscene how much I could cram in there!

    @Anon 5:00 I too love looking at other people's bike touring/camping/adventuring setups :)

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  14. When you post about touring, or touring light, you're in the wheelhouse I find most interesting. There are so many opportunities to explore one's region -- all the better by bikes -- and to promoted that idea and share experiences is good for all. In my neck of the woods the folks at The Path Less Pedaled have done a fantastic job for several years now and I suspect you'll do the same for your region….May I share one of their tempting videos?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-u0x0DsVJoI#t=10
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDj7aSGuVUc

    I just want to plant the seed that getting out on bicycles and enjoying one's backyard is quite wonderful.

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  15. Just returned from a driving trip along Highway 101 in far northern California - a popular cycle-touring route. Saw many groups of long distance riders going full Ortlieb in groups of 2 to 6. Then there was the single guy, dressed in normal, even grubby, street clothes riding a multi-speed baloon-tyred bike, with a stuff sack lashed to the handlebars and another lashed to the seat. Miles to any town either direction and camping the only option. Doin' what he loves with what he's got. Doesn't take much.

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    1. Well, it does take a certain sort to just hop on any bike and strap a few things together and then pedal away. I've meet a few of them on the road and remember a conversation with one who had a fat tired department store bike and five gallon kitty litter buckets strapped to her racks. The group of three had been traveling from Ohio to California and I saw them for a couple days in Kansas. They were young and eager, their bikes all over the place and were getting discouraged with what they had left to do. She, in particular, had realized hundreds of miles earlier that her bike was too heavy and her load too unstable to continue with winds and upcoming mountain passes. Her knees where hurting and every dusty town they stopped in they were looking to replace the bike and find better gear along the way but it was not cheap. They weren't going to give up, were nice kids, and after a couple days I said goodbye, gave them some money for towards their goal, and kept pedaling. It's hard and not for everyone.

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  16. BTW, there are many people who tour as a lifestyle thing as opposed to a recreational thing. They carry all they possess in order to be ready for anything even if they prefer the shelter of a B and B or hostel or Warm Showers host. So, I don't know what 'touring' means, exactly, but like all things it encompasses all styles and choices.

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  17. For a moment I thought the photo of Pamela's bike was showing Curly Hetchins style stays till I realized it was just how the angle of the photo showed the typical curved stays we see on bikes today. I wonder why no-one has done Carbon Hetchins type Curly stays before. Granted, it would be sacriledge and a cynical exploitation of an Iconic bit of our Cycling Heritage, but that's certainly never stopped anyone before, has it? I suppose I shouldn't even mention it since I'd hate to be the person responsible for destroying the eternal rest of Hyman Hetchins' spirit by giving some marketing genius the idea, but it really looked that way in the photo...

    Spindizzy

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    1. You know - I've pointed out in the past that the Seven/Honey stays bring to mind the Hetchins curly stays in some ways, and no one seemed to agree!

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    2. Oooh! I do so love being validated!

      Spin

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  18. The shop I work at just hosted a "bikepacking night" featuring a short film from Blackburn design and presentations by friends and employees of the shop about bike touring, both on and off road, and one recurring theme is how little stuff you need, even if you're camping.
    I've become a huge fan of the modern saddlebags, they really do hold an amazing amount of gear without complaining.

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  19. I fall somewhere between.

    I'm a bad photographer, don't care about tracking my performance, and not much of a communicator so the iPhone is more than enough electronic gear for me.

    Finding decent vegetarian options in much of the US (and France and Germany for that matter - Italy and England - Curry Shops! - are better) is difficult so I'm forced to bring plant protein which takes up space.

    If a city is on my itinerary I do try to visit an art museum, jazz club or classical music venture. Somehow I never got the typical yank memo and simply don't feel comfortable visiting cultural venues in apparel meant for yard work.

    These days there are some decent lightweight, wrinkle resistant somewhat dressy pants and shirts. Shoes take up a lot of space.

    Modern racks and, as you say in your article, panniers weigh much less (and frankly are more durable) than what was available even a few years back. Same holds true for cycle camping gear, BTW. The biggest challenge I have on camping trips these days is potable water. Even with my Katadyn I'm reluctant to filter water in agricultural areas as I'm not convinced any amount of filtering will get rid of all the pesticides and weed killer.

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  20. Sorry for the double post, but I forgot the most important travel item - decent coffee! Other than parts of Colorado and the Pacific Northwest, finding acceptable coffee outside of major US urban areas is a real challenge (Starbucks is not an option).

    Fortunately Ocean Air makes a swell (and very light) compacting pour over device. With my Hario light weight all steel coffee grinder and Ti coffee mug I can enjoy my morning fix no matter how far from civilization I may be.

    On a longer trip I took recently I was even able to arrange via iPhone a fresh bean delivery general post office stop along the way.

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  21. Mind sharing your route and miles?

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    1. We did very low milage; 40-50 a day, not counting detours for photos. Roughly speaking, we went around the Dingle Peninsula, then around the inside of the Ring of Kerry. It's a ride that can easily be done as a 300K brevet in one go, except that we enjoyed it slowly and stopped to explore a lot. I am hoping to post a collection of routes all along the west coast of Ireland soon, and this one will be included.

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    2. Please do post your list of routes! Bike touring in Ireland is on my wife's and my "to do" list, and I would be very interested in your recommendations for routes.

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    3. Through the middle of the Iveragh peninsula is *much* nicer than the Ring of Kerry N road, which carries lots of heavy traffic which is in a hurry (my wife and I did both a week ago). Irish road surfaces are variable and completely unpredictable - the category of road does not indicate what kind of surface you will encounter. You may as well plan to use the lanes. They won't be less ridable than R or N roads. We found that the roads became much quieter once we left counties Cork and Kerry behind. Be sure to go to the Sperrins in county Tyrone - beautiful, and the best cycling of our Irish tour.

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  22. One thing I don't see mentioned in the post, nor the comments, is the cost of credit card touring. I simply can't afford to do even a week long tour staying in B and Bs, hostels, or other accommodations that cost more than camping (with the exception of Warmshowers or CouchSurfing). Nor can I really afford to eat all my meals in restaurants. But, I also enjoy camping and cooking my own meals, so it's okay for me. Do what you love, love what you do.

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    1. This is a good point and one I had raised in another post earlier. In Ireland, depending on how you approach touring, the cost can actually be pretty easy on the wallet, though it depends on the area.

      B&Bs along the west coast are for the most part (except for touristy spots) pretty reasonable, and if you look around it is not difficult to find sub-50euro/night rates. Hostels can cost as little as 15 euro a night, sometimes even less depending on season. But the best kept secret for safe and cheap accommodation, is to stop in small village pubs and ask if someone would put you up. The pubs themselves often have spare rooms upstairs, for which they will charge next to nothing (and in some cases literally nothing). But if not, they will usually pick up the phone and ring their mom/auntie, and find someone local with a spare room.

      There is no need to eat meals at restaurants. Many village shops here serve hot food, cheap. You might have to eat it by the side of the road as the shop will not always have seating, but you *will* be able to get decent hot meals on a budget; it's no more expensive than buying raw ingredients for cooking.

      Either way, assuming that you do not already own camping gear (tents, sleeping bags, etc.) and have no one to borrow it from, going the indoor-sleep route here, if anything, can be less expensive in the short run (meaning calculating the cost for the single trip, instead of over multiple trips).

      In the end, there are ways to be both lavish and economical no matter which way you go about it (apparently, "glamping" is a thing??). Doing what you love is key.

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  23. For the truly observant, I am carrying conspicuously less in the photo above than one could ever get away with on a two month tour! The dry back the fits into the red harness attached to the saddle was safely tucked away at the place I was staying for a few nights. Since this was just a short spin into town for lunch, I just had the bare basics with me! The photos on the previous post shows the saddle bag in its full expanded glory.

    pamela

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  24. What fortuitous timing!
    My husband and I are planning a cycling holiday in Germany next summer and are just at the "thinking about gear" stage. I have a pair of ugly cheap nylon panniers and a Basil Katharina bag. Neither quite the thing for three or four weeks.
    But this post (and the comments) are food for thought. We had considered front & back panniers and bags. Now I'm thinking it might be possible to go w much less.
    A couple of questions though:
    What are you liking for rain gear? I discovered the other day -- granted, in a bit of a deluge -- that my raincoat leaks in odd places. My rain pants, while quite waterproof, were recently eaten by my chain. Fixed it w duct tape, but it's not pretty. And what about gloves for rain?
    And where does one find these wool dresses you mention? (And any leads on wool cycling shorts would be much appreciated!)
    And do you carry laundry soap for the evening wash of garments (or just use shampoo)?
    The biggest impediment to travelling light, is that I tend to be a bit of a shopper when the situations warrants. Tourist in Europe will be such a situation. Suspect I will need at least one bag for souvenirs.
    Brilliant post, as always.
    Best,
    Lil Bruin

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    1. Hah! Inspired by the great advice here, I made a list, checked it twice, culled it as much as I thought prudent, and set out everything I thought I would need for my tour next summer. It looked like an enormous heap on the bed, but it all fit into my two 12 litre panniers — w room to spare. Still missing a second pair of shoes and a raincoat, but I think this could actually work. Even for me, who really doesn't have a pack-light gene!

      Now that I know about how much room I will need, it's time to shop for a saddlebag, and a handlebar bag, and a bike bag, and ....

      Best,
      Lil Bruin

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  25. I haven't actually done it yet, but I am hopeful of being one day free of many current ties and my plan is to load up my little Brompton bike for camping and touring. I am gradually putting together the kit - ultra lightweight modern gear unfortunately costs, so it is a bit by bit process. I have a 1.5kg tent, a 1kg airbed, a fabulously soft luxury quilt that packs away to nothing, a little stove and pan, a soft squashy pillow ... I could go on. It all has to go into the Brompton touring pannier and, so far, does! I plan on taking only 2 sets of clothes, 1 on, 1 in the wash. I've cut my list down from "what I think I will need, and what if ..." to "what I actually need", and then cut half of that out too. I want minimalist. Most campsites have showers and somewhere to wash clothes, so hopefully I won't smell too bad ... or not for too long anyway! I'm thoroughly enjoying planning and dreaming of my retirement escapes anyway. :)

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  26. Lil Bruin, laundromats are good places to meet and talk with
    the locals. Rohan makes some travel clothes that look good enough
    to pass in a 1+ star restaurant, helps to look civilized sometimes.
    One comment on the frame bags vs Ortlieb panniers, if your bike is stored in
    the "bike room" at the hotel, easily removable panniers are handy.

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  27. Setting aside bikes altogether, any person on earth who travels light and finds a companion who also travels light is a most fortunate person indeed.

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  28. I've been one of those credit card tourers with 2 big Ortlieb rear bags. Then we went to Provence with our folding bicycles this year, which meant my capacity was cut down to approx 30L in total (versus 43L previously).

    We are planning a coast-to-coast trip (back on the ti road bikes). Based on your good example (and looking again at that mad ultralightcycling blog yet again!), I think I can do it with my Dill Pickle bar bag and Carradice Pendle. Of course, I am drooling over your DP saddlebag. It's lighter than the Pendle and of course would match my bar bag. So that's going on my Xmas list! :) Total capacity about 15L, which for the first time I feel optimistic about managing. So thanks for the inspiration.

    And that prototype Seven is stunning. Good luck with that project!

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  29. Considering how often you use puns in your titles, I expected this post to be about bicycle lighting for touring!

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  30. Do you know goingslowly.com? It's Tara and Tyler travelling the world for two consecutive years, and besides their whole yournal being a wonderful personal narrative, they have some great thoughts on more loaded touring and what gear to bring.

    Their gear is listed here: http://goingslowly.com/gear

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    Replies
    1. I remember finding their site years and years ago! Starting from scratch and heading out together. Great photos and stories and recipes. Loved their blog!!

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  31. Great blog!

    In 2008 my wife and I decided to throw caution to the wind (and in my case, my job too) and spent four months cycle-touring France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria by bike. To save on accommodation we spent all but two nights in our little tent. We took a few choice warm and wet weather clothing items with us and bought T shirts and other summer clothes as required en route (along with much food and wine!). Along with tools and one camera and mobile phone that was it, but we still needed four small-medium panniers each.

    We took the roads less travelled, taking in country villages via quiet back roads, canal tow-paths and trails, often preferring quiet hilly roads to busy flat ones.

    Whilst it's fun to travel light, in the cooler and wetter periods we valued a warm tent, sleeping bag and warm/wet weather gear. Taking in alot of varied terrain and road/trail surfaces we quickly realised we'd made the right choice using heavier, more rugged bikes, (steel-framed bikes with Rohloff gears) which gave us maintenance free riding for 1000's of kms.

    Credit-card touring is great for shorter trips, but for long-distance reliability we'd rather take a extra few kilos.

    Each to their own; I wish everyone happy riding.

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  32. First, I cannot WAIT to read about the collaboration with Seven Cycles. What a gorgeous bike.

    I really liked this post. I am always surprised by how comfortable I can be when traveling with very little stuff. In addition, I am a big proponent of trying out a new activity, like cycle touring, with the gear you have. It can be so easy to purchase too much, or worse, never go on your adventure because you were worried about cost or buying the wrong things. I recently went on the Sunrise Trail in Maine, a rail trail through the woods and bogs of downeast Maine (magical) with my partner who had no bike bags at all. We each carried one of my Ortlieb bags which I worried would make us unbalanced but worked fine for us. I also bought a cheap handlebar bag ($10) at Walmart, which in certainly inelegant, but served the purpose. If we started to do multiple tours a summer, I might start investigating some different equipment, but right now the most important thing to me is just to try new things and see new places with minimal fuss, using what we already have. It works.

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  33. Really love to do touring with my bike in Malaysa just like how you do it. Nice and simple. BTW, nice sharing :)

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  34. Your first sentence says it all...'I used to assume'…welcome! At sixty five I've said this so often it's now boring but these days I am fully loaded b/c the B&B became too familiar. It's mostly unplanned but all the bases are covered. Keep cycling!

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  35. I love this post. My boyfriend and I do weekend bike camping trips from Chicago fairly often, usually only spending one night away. We typically take a train as far out of the city as possible, and then ride 75 miles-ish to our campsite. We've learned to pare down our baggage lately, and have found a very sweet spot for what we need. We are lucky to live in a flat area, so we ride with the same shoes we can walk around in, and don't need another pair. We bring one change of clothing each, very minimal and lightweight, and always handwash the dirty set and hang to dry overnight. Freeze dried food is our new favorite since it reduces the stress of preparing a meal, and pares down our weight for food. As far as bags go, I use a set of rear panniers that I made myself, plus a front Cetma rack to hold sleeping bag/blanket. Brian uses a Carradice saddle bag, and attaches a blanket/sleeping bag to that. He loads his Cetma rack with his Freight porteur bag, and that's all we take. The best way for us to know if it's too much is if we can feasibly carry our own bikes up and down a flight of stairs. If yes, we're good to go. There's definitely a learning curve to packing light, and I think everyone needs to take one over-packed trip to realize how important it is for a pleasant trip to lighten your load. Thanks for another great post! Cheers!

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  36. For me, cycle touring means camping so I've always got a rack with a tent on top and at least two panniers, often four. I don't really need four, especially as I always have a bar bag too, but they're more for balance and having space "just in case I get more stuff" (ie food!). By balance I mean that because I tour on a modified mountain bike with suspension, the front end can get worryingly light on steep hills, so panniers at the front just serve to keep it down and unload the back wheel a little.

    But for day trips I'm trying to cut down my luggage. Waterproof jacket is the thing though; even though half the time I'll not wear it, I feel the need to have it with me just in case it rains or gets colder. I did compromise recently on a sunny day by taking a semi-waterproof jacket rather than the full on waterproof.

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  37. Back in 2010 I biked across Canada, it took three months (I took my time) and the temperature varied between snow and +30'C. On that trip I was self-sufficient, I camped and I made my own food, not to say that i didn't sleep at a motel every once and a while or enjoy a huge trucker breakfast (Huskies and Shell gas stations we my go to for a good greasy breakfast).

    I did my whole trip with four panniers (two front, two back) and my tent strapped onto my back rack. I started the trip with a couple books (which I sent home since I was too tired to read after biking all day), an MP3 player (remember those?) and a Nokia flip-phone (I got pretty proficient at using T-9 without looking by the end of the trip, I could give Leo a run for his money in 'The Departed').

    My rear panniers were my house: Sleeping bag (which filled my whole pannier), sleeping pad, cooking ware, food.
    One of my front panniers was for clothes, I had two cycling sets of clothes, and one set of street clothes (I was in a new town every day, so no one would know that i was wearing the same outfit. They were all quick dry so i cleaned them in sinks at night and was ready to pack in the morning).
    My other front pannier was random stuff i didn't need, camera (I used a Canon Rebel XT which took a lot of space, next time i'll just use my phone), repair kit, journal, souvenirs I collected...etc.

    As a self-sustained trip, I don't know how i could get much smaller (other than getting more compact equipment, and loosing the large camera). But, since I now Credit Card tour, two small front panniers for me and my partner is all we need.

    Thanks for the article, it's inspired me. Once this heat-dome passes i'll be hitting the road again for a couple weekend excursions.

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  38. Everything in biking is relatable and since the subject of this post is touring light may I link an article entitled 'Alone' which I found yesterday. The idea of traveling by bike, alone, is calling me. I've done several tours with others which were mostly social even though there were grueling days. This article, and researching the women profiled, was enlightening and encouraging and rich with practical advice…...http://bicycletimesmag.com/feature-alone/ …… Happy cycling :)

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