An idiot’s guide to a charity bike ride – Part III: What to take

June 24, 2009 on 12:24 pm | In Getting started | 9 Comments

The short answer: just enough.  This of course is pretty hard to do.  The trick is to err on the side of taking too much.  You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere without something imperative to your success, like food, water or a spare inner tube.  Here are a couple of tips for planning the amount of gear to take, especially if weight is an issue.  You may have a support crew for your particular challenge, and they can carry your gear, and go find replacement bits and pieces for you as you go.  But in my case I was solo and had to carry my gear on the back of the bike, so weight was very very important.

  • Water – This is pretty important so I put it first.  Take 2-3 litres with you each day.  As I was cycling 4-6 hours a day, in the sun I would go through a lot of water very quickly so I carried 3 litres with me.
  • Food – Being on the road can be very expensive and you cant expect to dine out every day for breakfast lunch and dinner.  You will need to take your daily supplies with you or face going broke. The key is to take only enough supplies for today+1, and restock as you arrive at your destination each day.  That way your will eat dinner and breakfast before moving on so that’s two meals you wont have to carry.  I would carry a dozen muesli bars and some tinned meals with me, that could be eaten out of the can or heated up.  Each day when I got near my destination I would look to get some more exciting foods for dinner and breakfast but it is near impossible to shop for food to make a decent meal for one.  You will probably end up carrying bread, cheese and other stuff in your bags over a few days.  It is worth taking a bit of extra weight with food as your body is you engine, you have to keep it well fuelled.  Tinned stuff like tuna and baked beans are good for protein and very convenient.  Keep a couple of tins at the bottom of your bag, as you WILL get stuck at some point and need these for emergency nourishment.  Stuff some muesli bars somewhere handy for on the go refuelling.
  • Clothes – Have the best layers for the worst conditions.  I took far too many clothes to start off with but there is nothing like experiencing the actual conditions to determine what you will need.  Once I shed all the extra items I didn’t need I settled on the following:
    Bike shorts (2) – The built in padding for your arse is essential.  I took a second pair so I could alternate them, letting them rest and breath :)
    Light and fast drying trousers with big pockets – Long trousers keep he sun off your legs and give you plenty of pockets for stuffing things into.  I wore these over the top of my bike shorts and they were pretty comfortable.  On hot days I took off the trousers, but more often than not I just had warmer legs.  When it rained they helped keep my legs less wet and warmer.
    Thermal base layer – Icebreaker thermals! Essential essential essential. I wore my Icebreakers every day, sometimes as my only layer on top.  Icebreaker merino is magic.  It keeps you warm and cool and does not smell even after a week of wear.
    Merino socks (2 pairs)- Warm and cool and don’t smell (too much).  You will want to keep your extremities warm and your feel nice and comfy.
    Rain jacket –  This will be your saviour, especially if you are planning to ride through every kind of weather like I did.  I picked up a 2XU cycling jacket, which unfortunately I would NOT recommend.  The jacket despite being water proof, kept the wind off, but not the rain out. Inevitably I got drenched, but fortunately with my other layers beneath I kept warm.  On the second day of wearing the 2XU jacket, some of the stitching started coming undone. For a $300 jacket, I thought the workmanship was poor and all it really did was keep the wind off.  You can will find a better wind-jacket for a quarter of the price.  Also when I contacted 2XU to draw their attention to the problem I was having with the jacket, they denied their was any problem with their apparel and so the problem must have been of my own doing.  I would steer clear of 2XU as their after sales support does not exist and it appears to be a hollow overpriced brand.  Boo to you 2XU!
    A good breathable cycling shirt – On hot days you will wear only this on top, and on cold days you will layer this with your base layer and wind jacket.  I started out with a few changes of shirt but in the end I only wore one, so posted the others home.
    High visibility vest – You will want this on anytime you think visibility may be low.  Hell, just wear it all the time.  Be safe, be seen.  These also add wind protection too.
    Warm head wear and gloves –  You will want these on the coldest of cold days, and when you get off the bike for evenings and early mornings.  I found that I didn’t usually need gloves on the bike and after 20 minutes of pedalling my blood was flowing nice and warm to my hands.  I had both Icebreaker gloves and hat and can highly recommend both.
    Warm jumper – You will need something warm and handy for when you stop, so you don’t get too cold.  If you cool down too fast it will be hard to get going again.  You will wear this in the evenings too so take something tidy and smart so you look like a regular human.
    Clean casual wear so you don’t stink in public – You will want to integrate into society as you go, perhaps going out for a meal or even just to stock up on supplies.  If you want to actually talk to people, you will need to be relatively presentable.  I took a couple of changes of “civvies” so I was somewhat approachable .  You are fund-raising remember, so will be wanting to talk to as many people as possible.  Make it a pleasant experience for them :)
  • Tools and spares – You will need some bits and pieces to ensure that you keep going should something go wrong with your gear.  You will want the right tools to be able to maintain all the nuts, bolts and screws that hold your ride together. If possible, you need to be able to take everything apart and put it back together with only the tools you take.  You can guarentee that the screw you dont have the right allan key for will be the one that comes undone. Here is a run down on what I took:
    Spanner – this was annoying as there were only a couple of things on my bike that required the torque of a spanner and it was heavy.  However, you have to cover off all your bases.  I should have found the smallest spanner I could find but resorted to taking one out of the shed at home.
    Small set of multi-tools, allan keys, screwdriver etc – These are brilliant and have all the sizes of allan keys and screwdrivers you are likely to need for a bike.
    Swiss army style pocket knife or Leatherman. – If you forget a tool, this will be probably what you will fall back on to cut, screw or bend something.
    Bike specific stuff…
    Bike pump
    – Ahh yeah.  It’s hard to pump up a tube with your mouth.
    Spare tubes – I took three, as you may not be passing a bike shop very often.
    Puncture kit - for when you don’t pass a bike shop very often and need to patch up one of your spent spares.
    Chain oil, spare chain links
    Cable ties – Essential.  These are handy for securing all sorts of bits and pieces to your bike.
  • Plastic bags – for keeping stuff dry and seperating smelly things from things you don’t want to be smelly.
  • Personal locator beacon – This was my wife’s idea, but probably a good one.  Worst case scenario you fall into a ravine.  You break both legs.  You are not visible from the road and no one can hear you scream.  Night is falling and hungry Keas are circling.  With one of these puppies at hand all it takes is a simple push of the big red button on the front and it will send out your co-ordinates to rescue services and you will be being winched by helicopter out of the ravine in no time.  These things add a bit of weight as they appear to be all battery, but they will keep your partner sleeping at nights.
  • Cameras – Photo and video is essential.  You will not only want something to look back on 10 years after, but this is a great way to get other people engaged. Share the sights and sounds with the world as you travel.  I took a Flip MinoHD for video which was super compact and convenient.  My iPhone was also my camera. I uploaded photos and video on a regular basis so everyone could see I was really doing it, and could see what I could see.  People will live vicariously through your adventure, so make it as rich an experience as possible.  Here is a post I wrote before my ride about all the tech gadgets I took.
  • Laptop – This was essential for me, but is really a luxury.  I used it to edit all my video as I went and posted regular videos to YouTube.  I wrote blog posts in the evenings and researched my daily routes online.  It was my connection with the rest of the world online.  I agonised about taking my laptop before I left as it and all its associated bits and pieces probably added 4kg to my overall weight, but it was worth it as it let me keep everyone else in touch with my progress.  I will cover keeping in touch with the world as you go in the next post.
  • Maps and a guide book - Always carry paper maps and information as these never run out of batteries.  I took a couple of Pedlars Paradise NZ cycling guide books with me.  These are fantastic books with maps, elevation charts and information on accommodation and supply points.  These only cover New Zealand but I am sure there are similar books for every cycle friendly part of the globe.
  • Sleeping bag – To sleep in.

Your shopping list may be a little different.  If you take too much, you can, as I did, post the non-essential stuff home and lighten up your load.  It is easier to post it than to realise you don’t have it in the middle of Nangatokatoka on a Sunday night.  If you have a support crew then they can carry more gear, and you don’t need to be so anal about weight.  If you are carrying all your gear like I did, here is a tip. Some of the weight you will carry will be stuff you don’t need every day.  If you know where you will be in five days box up a lot of the stuff you can do without for a few days and post it to yourself further up the line. By doing this you will save a lot of effort compared to lugging it all around especially if you have a few days of hills on a bike ahead. You will have to be sure the postal service beats you there though ;)

Next post, keeping everyone informed.


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  1. This is an awesome post man, very informative and inspirational! Too bad about your rain jacket. It’s always disappointing when a company won’t stand behind their product but a lesson well learned for all of us there. :)

    Comment by CopperBot — June 24, 2009 #

  2. [...] What to take – The essential items for survival and sanity.  I will review what I took on my ride and why. [...]

    Pingback by new zealand …uphill » An idiot’s guide to a charity bike ride – Part I: The idea — June 24, 2009 #

  3. [...] Next I will cover the gear I took to reduce the risk even further. [...]

    Pingback by new zealand …uphill » An idiot’s guide to a charity bike ride – Part II: Planning — June 24, 2009 #

  4. This is a pretty good guide for any trip or hike. You would just need to make the necessary adjustments for the specific trip you are taking.

    Comment by Mike from Tennessee Knives — June 25, 2009 #

  5. Silly question, but how often did you launder your clothes during your trip?

    And how frequently did you service your bike?

    Comment by Su Yin — June 28, 2009 #

  6. Good question. I did a wash once a week (or twice if it was a particular hot week). I carried my own small zip-lock bag of powder so didn’t have to pay ridiculous $$ at campgrounds/motels. I would throw EVERYTHING in the wash and walk around in a towel for an hour or two (much to the horror of the rest of the campground). I would usually time the wash right before a rest day.

    I would service the bike myself as I went. I oiled the chain every 2-3 days, and if I was near a bike shop I would get them to give my chain a really good clean, especially if I had been on dirt roads for a bit. Usually they would do it for free :) I got my bike to have a really good once over in a bike shop about halfway. But in general I would tighten every screw nut and bolt every couple of days, oil the chain and replaced the tyres when they were getting bald.

    Comment by Vaughan Rowsell — June 28, 2009 #

  7. Good tip about the laundry powder!

    I assume you didn’t pack a towel and toiletries as you would be expecting the accommodation to have those handy, eh?

    And I think you missed your personal first aid kit in the list—I remember you mentioning it on one of your tweets. :)

    Comment by Su Yin — June 28, 2009 #

  8. You are right, I did forget a few things.

    I took quite a few toiletries at first, shampoo, soap, toothpaste etc. but on the trip I found I just condensed it down to deodorant and toothbrush. This shaved off close to a kg of dead weight. Towel was essential. Backpackers and camp grounds don’t supply linen or towels.

    My first aid kit was also quite weighty, and had everything to deal with some pretty severe injuries. I figured if I was really that injured, I would probably not be administering first aid to myself, or would trigger my personal locator beacon. I took one of most things from the kit, but mostly just kept the bandages, emergency blanket, and plasters. This saved a bit of weight. First aid kits are funny things as you wont know if you need something till you need something.

    Comment by Vaughan Rowsell — June 28, 2009 #

  9. Hi – just completed Route 66 solo for charity and am looking at doing New Zealand in 2015. I may have overlooked so apologies if I did, but what kind of bike did you take and did you stick to paved roads or did you have to go on gravel occasionally.
    thank you

    Comment by Lydia Franklin — January 5, 2014 #

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