This is part eleven of a series of posts discussing various aspects of a bike trip I did across the United States in 2012. Part one discussed the start of the trip and choosing a route. Part two discussed my daily routine and nightly shelter. Part three discussed general mileage, elevation encountered, and state-by-state scenery. Part four discussed mileage extremes and water. Part five discussed food. Part six discussed elevation extremes, particularly crossing the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass. Part seven discussed how I used down time and how I kept electronics charged. Part eight discussed mechanical problems and other surprises. Part nine discussed health on an aggressively-paced cross-country bike trip. Part ten discussed how I managed to get home afterward. This post lists all the gear and equipment I took with me.
One of the big surprises of my trip was that I carried visibly, significantly less than anyone else I met. I expected to be on the light side. I didn’t expect to be the lightest person I saw. Subsequent reading suggests my load was at, or nearly at, the ultralight touring level. This still surprises me, because aside from sets of clothing and maybe the rain coat, I don’t feel like I made particular sacrifices to carry so little.
Of course, none of this is to say that touring cyclists should carry this gear, this little gear, or that they necessarily shouldn’t carry anything not mentioned. Take or don’t take whatever you want on your own trips, as long as you don’t complain to me about the consequences of your packing choices.
My bike was a 57cm Scattante R-570 road bike: aluminum frame, carbon fiber fork, 700×23 aluminum wheels with non-blade spokes, ten-speed with a triple crank up front. All parts save for the seat were exactly as sold with the bike. (I used my racing bike’s seat because I figured using a seat I’d already used was prudent to avoid a potential bike-fit issue.) Truth be told, it’s more a low-end racing bike than a touring bike. The wheels are quite narrow for touring, the wheelbase is shorter (bringing my feet very close to hitting the panniers when pedaling), it doesn’t really have mount points for racks, and the geometry isn’t designed for longer-term comfort. But as long as I travel as light as I did this time (seatpost rack, rear panniers lightly loaded, any other little things in a hydration pack), on generally non-gravel roads, it works fine. The recommendations I saw for cross-country travel before leaving were 1.25-1.5″ tires; I’d say those widths aren’t necessary, as long as you can deal with gravel roads and roads under construction taking more effort.
I carried a few bike accessories going beyond what was needed to simply ride the bike. Some of it I carry regularly:
- Blackburn Delphi 4.0 wireless cyclocomputer (speed/distance measurement)
- Kryptonite U-lock
- 350-lumen Cygolite Pace 350 headlight with external rechargeable battery
- Tail light with integrated reflector
- Spare batteries for the tail light
The rest was gear I’d need only for a longer trip:
- Minimal AAA-powered bike headlight (backup, also a flashlight in camp), and spare batteries for it
- Headlight charger
- TransIt seatpost-mounted aluminum rack (25lb. capacity)
- Nashbar ATB panniers
- Plastic food-storage scrunchie (for covering bike seat overnight)
- Platypus Roadrunner backpack
- Two 100-ounce Camelbak water bladders
I will somewhat sheepishly note (but that’s hardly stopped me so far ) that I carried some non-backup equipment that I never used:
- Replacement cleats
- A set of Lightweights wheel reflectors
I purchased new pedals shortly before I left, and they came with cleats that I didn’t have time to install before departing. I planned to remove my old cleats and install the new ones at some point. But by end of day I was either not in the mood to install them, or I lacked the time to do so. I ended up carrying them the entire way for nothing. (I still haven’t taken the time to install them yet!)
The bike, being new, came with the original heavy plastic wheel reflectors. I intended to replace them with the Lightweights at some point. But technically you’re supposed to clean the spokes with rubbing alcohol before installing the reflectors. It was always inconvenient to get some and install them, and I never got to it.
My repair tools were pretty standard fare:
- Two tire wrenches (for levering a tire off the rim, to replace the tube or tire itself)
- Multitool (variety of Allen head and screwdriver bits)
- SKS Airchecker electronic tire-pressure gauge and carrying sack
- Tire pump
- Spoke wrench
- Spare tubes (2)
- Continental Grand Prix 4000s spare tire
Two tubes would suffice for getting unlucky twice between bike shops, just as it suffices for Bay Area travel. I don’t regularly carry a spare tire, but for this distance and isolation, having one made sense.
I didn’t carry a patch kit because I couldn’t find non-preglued patches to carry. My experience is that preglued patches such as these die very quickly. The most I’ve ever gotten out of such a patch is about eighty miles: about useless, particularly on a trip like this. The old-school rubber plus separate cement patches hold up significantly better, and longer, but it’s hard to find them in stores any more. So I banked on two spare tubes being adequate, and they were. Also I figured patching flats (rather than just swapping tubes) would be more trouble than it was worth, especially given time constraints.
I don’t know why I carried the sack for the tire-pressure reader — probably just not thinking.
The only tool I’d add to this set on future trips would be a cassette removal tool. But it’s possible to get away without one, as I did — it’s just a gamble that you’ll never absolutely need it and won’t be able to find and get to a local bike shop.
The entire route ran to ten maps and a few pages of printed-out errata. But obviously I’d only use one or two in a day. So I resorted to a thru-hiking trick: a bounce envelope (normally a bounce box) I’d send to an upcoming post office, then retrieve it and send further along. Before I left, I sent most of my maps somewhat over a week ahead of me:
c/o General Delivery
Escalante, Utah 84726
Please Hold For Western Express Cyclist
ETA July 27, 2012
I left with only the first three maps and errata. When I arrived in Escalante, I pulled the next maps/errata out of the envelope, put in the ones I’d completed, and sent them to the Newton, KS post office (guessing at timing, aiming for a post office I’d pass closer to mid-week to not worry about weekend closures). After Newton came Marion, KY, where I retrieved the final maps and sent the remainder back to Mountain View. In this way I only ever carried three or four maps for a 7-10 days of riding at a time. (I could have carried fewer — just a matter of taste how much coordinating with post office schedules I wanted to do.)
On long backpacking trips I carry two sets of clothes: one for hiking, one for towns. I swap them when I hit towns and can get a shower and do laundry. That doesn’t work for cycling, because cycling clothes aren’t interchangeable with town clothes. (Or at least my road cycling clothes weren’t — mountain biking-oriented clothes might be swappable.) As I didn’t care much about comfort, I decided to carry a set of cycling clothes and a set of town clothes, and I’d aim to wash them both in showers when I stopped at motels along the way. This basically worked, but I’d have enjoyed having a second set of cycling clothes if I didn’t have to carry them. As I would have to carry them, I don’t especially regret not having any.
- Short-sleeve Firefox cycling jersey
- Canari cycling shorts
- One pair Pearl Izumi cycling socks
- Pearl Izumi “sun sleeve” white arm warmers (mostly as sun protection, also claimed to aid efficient perspiration)
- Leg warmers (an on-the-road thought, purchased the second day out in Davis, CA)
- Pearl Izumi finger-length gloves (finger-length for long mountain descents)
- Shimano mountain biking shoes with recessed SPD cleats
- Long-sleeve polyester REI hiking shirt
- Columbia Aruba III nylon convertible pants/shorts with built-in liner
- A second pair of Pearl Izumi cycling socks (these were swappable, but I never did)
The shorts worked great, but an internal seam in the seat ripped in them, and I ended up throwing them out when I got home. :-\ The sun sleeves were an inspired idea and were totally worth it. The leg warmers were only occasionally useful, but descents made me glad to have them. The gloves worked fine, except that the inside of the left index finger ripped on the third day out — just past the REI where I’d have exchanged them, had I noticed. (Perhaps I could have on return, but 37 days’ use is way too much to return something after, I think.) The mountain biking shoes are similar enough to normal shoes that I never wanted something else at the end of the day. (They’re actually day-to-day shoes back home as I bike so regularly.)
I could have taken a rain coat, but my experience with them is that I’m always sweating inside them, and I still get wet anyway. I did without a rain coat and barely missed it. I was probably helped by doing well with weather; I sat out one fifteen-minute downpour, and I biked a bit in intermittent rain, but otherwise I didn’t hit anything serious, or that lasted more than half an hour or so.
My goal was to bike across the country, not to do it by camping, or staying in motels, or whatever. I determined shelter on a day-by-day basis, depending where I might end: campgrounds, motels, a bed and breakfast, hostels, even a few city parks when allowed. In one city a woman chose to open up her house to passing cyclists; this was the only time the whole trip that I washed all my laundry, not in a hotel shower. I did meet some people planning to stay inside every night the entire way. A little comfort and a breakfast was nice to have, but every night would have been too much for me.
- Mountain Hard Wear Ultralamina 45 with compression sack
- Silk sleeping bag liner (easier to wash, keeps sleeping bag clean longer)
- Inflatable 48″ REI sleeping pad
- One-man Eureka Solitaire tent and groundcloth
I considered a bivy sack, but I decided for this trip I’d prefer a one-man tent’s extra space and increased comfort in rain. I think that was the right choice, even though I was inside as often as not at night and maybe could have worked around rainy nights.
- Canon PowerShot SX230 HS camera and battery charger
- Kindle with case, USB cord and power adapter
- Samsung Galaxy S II phone, headphones (double-use with Kindle), charger
It was a mistake to bring the camera. I only used it three times. The cell phone camera was far more convenient for posting pictures to Twitter as I’d planned to do, and it wasn’t worth the trouble to dig out the camera the rest of the time.
Usually I have a Costanza wallet, but I carried only the essentials on this trip.
- Driver’s license
- Medical insurance card
- REI Visa card (primary credit card)
- Citibank Mastercard (backup)
- ATM card
- HI-USA card
- Rubber bands to hold it all together
Only the insurance card and the HI-USA card went unused. The HI-USA card I thought might be useful along the way, or near the end if I had time to bike to a better airport at the end (Washington, for example), but neither possibility panned out.
Given I’d be outside all day for a month, sunscreen was a must. Even with comfortable cycling shorts, I contended with chafing, so Gold Bond also became a must. The rest is minimal but standard fare.
- Gold Bond powder
- Contact lens fluid, lens case
- Spare contacts for the trip (plus an extra pair just in case)
- Travel toothbrush
At various times I carried nail clippers, but I made a deliberate decision to buy them as I needed them to save weight, so I didn’t carry any most of the time. Those would have been good to bounce-envelope, but I didn’t think of it.
- Lexan spoon
- Bike lock key and apartment key on a ring (as far down in my bag as practical, to avoid their getting lost)
- 6 or so zip-ties for securing things on the bike
- A few extra gallon-sized ziplocs
- Small ziplocs for the camera, Kindle, phone, toiletries
- Small roll of reflectorized tape
- Polarized sunglasses
I picked up the zip ties the first day from a Lowe’s on the route and used them to tightly attach my cyclocomputer to my front fork. I’d had to switch things late due to the bike switch, and this fell through the cracks.
Ziplocs are randomly invaluable while backpacking, and I expected the same would be true here. It wasn’t, and I shouldn’t have carried them.
The reflectorized tape was handier than I’d have expected, but only as tape, and only for my sunglasses. I don’t usually wear sunglasses, so I picked up a polarized pair from Wal-Mart before I left. They made it about seven days before one temple/temple tip broke, and I used the tape to hold it together til I could get new sunglasses. This happened several times; I was on my fourth pair of sunglasses by the end of the trip. Moral of the story: cycling sunglasses, likely designed to fit around a head with helmet straps, would almost certainly have been money well spent.
Thoughts on gear
Obviously I carried a very minimal set of gear. I probably missed another set of clothes (whether cycling or not, I’m not entirely sure) the most of anything I didn’t take, but I didn’t really miss anything. Only a very few, mostly very small things I carried, did I not need to carry. And those were perhaps a dozen ounces, so I didn’t take too much either. I think I basically hit the sweet spot as far as gear went.
Next time, overall cost.