10 Things You Might Think You Need for a Long Distance Tour, but Don't

Apr 10, 2012

The April issue of Adventure Cyclist delivers a detailed Cyclist Travel Guide. But since Adventure Cyclist  anticipates that our readers will be keen on more information, we present the second of four blog posts  by Ryan McAfee and Michelle Cassel (of America ByCycle ) to appear in the month of April that will serve as the sassy supplement to our annual Cyclists' Travel Guide.

As touring season ramps up and you’re getting your things together, you may be weighing what you do and do not need to bring, or what you need to make room for as your storage space fills up. You may be forced to make cutthroat decisions, and knowing which items to eliminate from your supplies can make a huge difference in your storage space, your stress level, and your overall weight. A dry or "shakedown" ride is always a good way to find out what is working and what isn’t.

And let’s face it, having to push your bike up Afton Mountain because you’re carrying two heavy bike locks isn’t fun. Fewer things that serve multiple tasks should be your M.O. If you're stuck, think to yourself, “what would the 1976 Bikecentennial cyclists do?”

So let’s figure out what you don’t need to bring. 10 things, to be exact:

1. An Expensive “Touring” Bike

People have been riding bikes long distances for many decades, and plenty of them weren’t necessarily suited for touring. Sure, having a strong frame and nice tires on your bike is reassuring, but is not absolutely necessary. The bottom line -- you need to find a bike you’re comfortable riding, and one that can carry your load. It doesn’t hurt to find one you like looking at, either.

2. Cleated Shoes and Clip-in/Clipless Pedals

We started our bike tour with cleated shoes and pedals, and quickly learned that we didn’t need them. About 3/4 of the cyclists we came across wore cleats/clip-ins though, and some thought we were crazy for not using them! To us, shoes and clips are a little on the pricey end, and unless you’re a serious cyclist you probably won’t notice a difference in your pedaling. Plus, you’ll fall over a lot when you start using them, and people in cars will laugh at you. (Just me?)

3. Lots of money

Money is a huge obstacle for people wanting to tour. They think they don’t have enough of it. But if you’ve read or watched anything we’ve done, then you’ve no doubt seen us cut costs and do things as cheaply as possible. It’s 100% possible to be safe, warm and well-fed while at the same time being cost-efficient. Make sure you set a budget, and stay as close to that daily budget as you can. $10 a day, $20 a day, or whatever you can afford. Things like bananas and peanut butter are way cheaper than any restaurant, camping out is way cheaper than hotels, and it will be VERY easy to cut out your Ebay addiction when you're biking all day. Trust me.

4. Cycling Jerseys

If you want to buy a cycling jersey, buy a cycling jersey. They can look cool, they hold some of your loose items effectively, and there’s even an Oberon Jersey, so they've got to be cool. That being said, people who did the first TransAm ride in 1976 were crossing the country in tank tops and cut-off jean shorts, so think about that before you think you really NEED a cycling jersey. You know what else keeps you cool while biking? No jersey.

5. A Wealth of Knowledge of Bike Repair

Chances are you don’t know everything about repairing bikes. Neither do we. The best thing is to watch some free online tutorials on how to do some basic maintenance, or you can go to free classes at your local REI (if you have one). If you don’t have these options, then go to a local bike shop and just ask if they’ll show you how to repair a tire! That's not even a joke, you should really try it!

6. Several Days Worth of Bike Clothing

We carried lots of clothing, and it took up a lot of room in our panniers. Then once we neared the end we realized that we were carrying too many different layers, and that we could get the same comfort and warmth from fewer items that were higher quality. You'll end up paying a little more for these items, but they drastically cut down on the amount of clothing you have to carry. Look for clothes that wick the sweat away from your body. Wool clothing keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter, so it serves two purposes. Also, almost every town has a place to do your laundry, so it’s very likely that you’ll be able to wash your dirty pair while wearing your clean pair, and switch when necessary. This cuts down on the amount of clothing you pack, and also lets you get rid of that old change jar you’ve had sitting on your shelf for years!

7. A Full Kitchen’s Worth of Cooking Supplies

You should keep it to your essentials when dealing with your food while touring. Your cooking pot can double as a bowl or supply holder, your plate can double as a cutting board, and a spork is both fun to say and easy to use! Just make sure that your knife NEVER doubles as your spoon -- soups are really hard to eat with a knife.

8. Makeup/Blow Dryer/Vanity Items


9. A Solar Charger

Solar chargers are fun. They’re cool techie gadgets that charge your phone using the power of the sun! However, you will usually be able to find a power outlet no matter where you are. There may be some campsites or national parks that don’t have any outlets, but for the most part you will be able to find an outlet to plug your phone/mp3 player/tablet/computer into. Libraries, gas stations, post offices, and Yellowstone’s gift shop were all places we plugged in our phones and charged, while awkwardly standing near the counter making the clerk anxious. (Hint: The top plug in the outlets behind vending machines are almost always free and within reach for those who prefer 'stealth charging.')


10. Physical Fitness

Our first day on tour we did 13 miles. 13. You don’t need to be in great physical shape to do a tour. You can do 10 miles a day. You can be 80+ years old. You can be a paraplegic. Over the duration of our trip we heard about all of these situations, and the underlying theme throughout is that mental toughness trumps physical fitness. Hills suck, this is true. The wind can be awful, without a doubt. But the best part is, none of these things will stop you. You will get stronger every day, and soon 30-40 miles becomes easy. Then 70-80 miles becomes easy. As long as you don’t lose it mentally, your body will follow. Just make sure you take breaks every now and then and give your legs a rest!

Photos by Michelle Cassel and Ryan McAfee


MICHELLE CASSEL & RYAN McAFEE are Los Angeles-based journalists who recently biked across the country on the  TransAmerica Trail. They continue to ride their bikes on tours and share their stories of the road through videos and blogs, and can be found at  AmericaByCycle.com.



Agreed on all points!!

My first serious multi-day tours were on a mid-80's Miyata (and not a higher end one, either, a 210), I ride with sneakers and toe straps/cages...you get the idea.

I did carry a lot of clothes, but I didn't regret the weight, so hey.

April 10, 2012, 8:15 PM

Glad to see you two made it! Good little articles too. Glad we all went to the flagg ranch (snake river) semi-dispersed free sites, that was quite a find. I'll surely be back to that spot some time in my life - maybe Gary will be there.

April 10, 2012, 8:38 PM

Great post - thanks for helping to keep it all in perspective! It's easy to get carried away with what we think we "need" to go ride.

April 10, 2012, 9:10 PM

I went fishing with some thread, paperclip and an eggcup - I caught a fish! My wife's father who is a surgeon performed a tracheotomy with a biro.

I could go on with these kind of examples, of course many things can be done without proper equipment or preparation or training but it's terrible advice to give to say that they don't need these things.

As someone who works in the bicycle industry I have a massive issue with the first point "1. An Expensive “Touring” Bike". Suggesting that quality equipment is expensive is misleading, sure you could buy a bike from Wallmart for the fraction of the price of Rivendell/Soma/Vanilla/Surly or similar but which bike is going to last, which retailer is going to provide service and advice. And most importantly which bike is most likely going to turn you in to cycling advocate?

I agree that it's important to encourage people to tour and cycle and I agree that it's not essential to have all the gear and knowledge of a bike geek but ensuring that you are prepared and not reliant on good fortune to stop your tour being a disaster is paramount.

April 10, 2012, 11:59 PM
bonnie mckibbin

when we rode from ca, az, las vegas nv. I had a 15.00 rock hopper that i rode. it was fabulous, worked great!!! we are taking a trip now from las vegas nv to evanston wy...this time we bought mongooses...can't wait to feel that, it will be great!!!!

October 25, 2014, 12:47 PM

All good points I can vouch for. You are helping to lower the barriers to the great adventures! I don't even use panniers or a rack anymore. I just bolted an old aluminum crutch (vertical) to my back axle and hung a couple of old book back packs from it directly behind me so its more aero than panniers.

It's all part of the total adventure. And with goofy gear you meet more interesting folks.

April 11, 2012, 3:49 AM

Great message, thanks!

For the Dutch, there are only a few essential differences:

* get a bike with really low gear and hillproof brakes. Many Holland-bikes have neither.

* Local bike stores tend not to teach you much. The best way to leurn is from collegue bikers or a 'wereldfietser'.


April 11, 2012, 7:42 AM

WOW! I absolutely loved reading this! My son and I are doing our first tour this summer and it's a cross country one! This puts my mind as ease about a lot of concerns I had.

Thanks Much!

April 12, 2012, 2:32 PM

I think the point that they're trying to make is that you can tour on whatever bike you have at the time. Yes, the marquees you mention are going to be better than a Wal-Targ bike. But I've talked to a lot of potential bike tourists over the years. A lot of them get hung up on having the right bike, and feel that they can't tour until they have that right bike.

I think it's better to get people out there on whatever bike they have than convince them they'll need a new one before they ever pedal one stroke on a tour. If they like touring, and they want a different bike, they'll most likely upgrade to a nicer bike from one of the makers you suggest or another quality bike manufacturer. That's what happened to me.

And there is another avenue to pursue: a decent second hand bike. There are plenty of good options out there if you know where to look.

April 13, 2012, 4:09 AM

My first overnight trips, three years ago, were on a mid-70's bike with a gas-pipe steel frame and horrible 10-speed gearing. My next bike was a 1985 Miyata 210 that took me on a dozen or so short trips, ranging in length from overnights to a nine-day tour covering 350 miles. Then I got a 1995 Novara Randonee and rode that 3,800 miles over four months last summer. Within the next month and change I'll have an even better (and new) touring bike.

The only reason I say this? If I had decided, at the start, that I would only bother touring if I had a Surly LHT (or other new bike), I would not have taken the trips I did and I would not have fallen in love with bicycle touring.

People should start with what they have. If they decide they love touring, they'll upgrade (slowly or quickly) with better bicycles, clothes, and equipment. But they have to START.

April 14, 2012, 8:48 AM

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April 20, 2012, 1:50 AM
Davey D

I agree with everything, but since I wear clipless MTB shoes all the time (even right now, as I type this in my room), I'm bringing them on tour.

April 28, 2012, 6:14 PM
bike clothing

Thanks for detailing all these. Your list will definitely help a lot of touring cyclists out there. Much appreciated!

May 1, 2012, 4:55 AM
Mac, Media Specialist

All true. Re. point #3, when Nancy and I headed out on our (almost) cross-country tour in 1974 we had around $100 in our pocket. Somehow it worked out, and we were on the road for almost three months. http://blog.adventurecycling.org/2011/01/my-first-bike-trip-part-1.html

May 2, 2012, 12:41 PM

There's no need to spend a lot of money for pedals & shoes - you can get a pair of SPD mountain bike pedals on eBay for under $25, and I bought a pair of biking sandals from Nashbar for something like $40. The sandals are so great that I'll never again wear cycling shoes - they're much cooler when it's hot, and when it's cold or raining you can wear wool socks (two pair, even) with them. If (when) your feet get wet, no worries; the wool keeps you warm and after the rain stops it all dries out much faster than any pair of shoes. They're pretty comfortable off the bike, too; you might not even need camp shoes.

April 29, 2013, 1:53 PM

What is the big deal about surly L H T? It is not really that good a trek is just as good if not better? And my mountain bike does me good thick spokes steel frame came standerd with eyelets my racks fit fine no problem. In fact my gearing is better than a lht ? I got over 3000 mile on my next parawan no next isn't a trek but built just as good . Plus if I wanna haul a trailer it will do it also .Any bicycle you are comfortable with will do for a long trip as long as it is in good mechcanical shape will do as good as any lht and chances are you get the bike cheaper so you can get more stuff you actually need for your tour I don't have 500 to 1000 dollars to spend on a bike I can and will spend 2 to 300 and that is max

May 9, 2013, 9:51 PM

Great article, for me the information is priceless especially #1 and #10. I might write out #10 to keep with me. I am 60 years old, have about $180,000 in my back, hurt 24/7 and have no business taking a bike tour but am going next spring from MT. to AZ. to OK. and back. I know nothing about bike touring so will stay glued to sites like this for the next 8-9 months. I hope to find someone who understands my insanity.

August 5, 2013, 7:42 AM

I understand your insanity. I am taking my daughter on a cross country next summer with little money and walmart bikes. My daughter is what society considers "special needs" but she loves bike riding and we are doing this to prove that no matter what life throws at you, you can always achieve your dreams if you just BELIEVE...Most think we are crazy and that's ok because it just gives us that much more determination to succeed....Much fun to you on your ride!

September 23, 2013, 2:30 PM

Well done Mike did you finally go on your trip ? Im leaving York town in June 2014 and will be in Oregon by August ,to celebrate my 70 birthday

March 4, 2014, 7:19 PM

Love your blog. If anyone is thinking about biking in Nepal, please check Dawn Til Dask site. They introduced mountain biking in Nepal back in the days. For me I am a road biker and can't wait to do across the country ride.

August 5, 2013, 6:14 PM

up date to my post in may I did a little better on my touring rig I bought me a tour easy frame from someone and built it up my self it is also gonna be a tour rig i'm taking it for a week long tour this spring from new Madrid Missouri to Memphis ten and return no more sore butt and no more wrist going to sleep or elbow pain with the recumbent bike..

October 25, 2013, 4:06 PM

This list was very helpful, I did a tour myself in South America with Tour d'Afrique in 2009. It was a life change experience.

January 7, 2014, 2:22 PM
Clint Ballinger

I am reading through a lot of cycling blogs, and love posts like this. I am planning a first long trip through Central America. I am at the end of a long trip around the world (not cycling) and want to get into long distance cycling, finishing the trip with a long ride on locally bought gear (I am in Costa Rica). When I hike I use the "homemade and simple is better" philosophy and usually it works great. I am trying to raise a tiny amount of funds for this trip to make a small short documentary on it precisely about amateurs doing long trips with minimal equipment (the URL I am linked to here is an Indiegogo funding page if anyone knows how to help get the word out on it - I really don;t have any cycling connections now so any help is greatly appreciated).

May 26, 2014, 9:24 AM
Clint Ballinger

Sorry - On my name above the link doesn't work, it is https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/costa-rica2dallas-by-bike-a-short-on-distance-cycling-life-in-central-america/x/7392074#home

May 26, 2014, 9:27 AM

Thank you for this. We're gearing up for our first tour and the there is MUCH to learn. We're deciding to go with cleats or not. The bike shop swears by them, especially where knee strain issues are a concern.

July 27, 2014, 9:56 AM

I really enjoyed reading this blog. It is inspiring! I really enjoyed points #1, and #3. Regarding point #1, I have an '80s Univega mtb that I have been upgrading for my tour (when I decide to begin the tour). Regarding point #3, I am glad to read that money should not be an issue when touring.

At 61, I have keep the desire to do a long - distance bicycle tour with me for years. While raising two daughters, and being in and out of several careers I am getting close to kissing my daughters )(who are grown) farewell, and leaving

on my tour.

I do have a question: what is the part of the bicycle that is most prone to failure while on a tour?

January 30, 2015, 6:22 AM
Fred Nicolet

Your inner tubes then tires.

February 19, 2015, 7:17 PM
Crni Zec

Wanted just to correct a few things.

1. Never ride long distances without jerseys. Based on years of experiance don't wear underwear with jersays. Jarseys will keep you dry, under your amrs and between legs and in that way minimized the level of bacterias that usually starts to multiply if you wear regular cloths while cycling. The other thing, jerseys will nut rubb against your skin between legs or under the arms, regular cloth will, and if you get infection, you will not sit on your bike anytime soon.

2. If you don't know to dimantle and fix your chain, your wheels, pedals and axle, knowing to fix only tires will not save your day. Always carry at least one replacement for axle balls, axels and chain. In that way you minimize the expenses alot, because it's cheaper to pay for the part and fix your bike on your own, then paying 3x times more to someone else to do it.

3. at least one per week take a night with a tent in a camp that have showers with hot water. It will help your muscles to relax, clean your skin and keep you going. (This is must do for those who travel 700km per week). Also if you are driving near sea, take your time and float on the surface for a few hours.

4. After long ride if you feel very tired take one liter of yougurt (2,8% or 3,2% of fat) and drink it all up. It will reset you instantly.

March 8, 2015, 5:40 AM
Vince Bochsler

Nice List. As the saying goes if you have extra space you will fill it up. On my 1976 across America trip ( Oregon to Virginia) I was always having to get rid of collected junk every couple of weeks. Ha-Ha. Keep up the good work with this site. Thanks.


March 19, 2015, 1:24 PM
LT Torg

I am in the beginning steps of preparation for a long distant bike ride from Washington to Arizona.

I am 60 years of age and in fairly good health now, but just over a year ago I was in critical condition and in the hospital. I decided back then that I was going to do this for my kids and grand-kids. I inspire them maybe, to show it could be done and that I can do it ..... that I'm not quitting.

I appreciate this site and all the posts, it helps a lot.

My bike is an older Norco Highbyrd Cross, it's in pretty good shape for the shape it's in!

I'll get new tires and tune it up.

I still need to get all my gear together ... still figuring out what all I'll need for a 1400 miles trip. Thanks

March 25, 2015, 9:17 PM
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