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Saturday 26 May 2007

Bike Travel

I have not yet worked out the perfect kit, but this is what I've got so far.

The bike

You need a bike that is comfortable going long distances and which can carry baggage. Also some bikes are unwelcome on certain trains. I picked Brompton because they're light and fold and can go on any train or in any hotel room and have adequate baggage-carrying ability. Also, they are comfortable for going long distances. There are a few other makes of folding bikes which can also be used as touring bikes. Make sure you get lights on your bike and also luggage-carrying ability.

Rent or buy?

If you are towing a dog, you will probably need to buy, since you are attaching a hitch to your bike. Otherwise, it depends on a few factors, including how long you'll be travelling and how you will be going. If you do train, bike, train, bike, etc, it could be wise to rent a bike at each town rather than lug a bike on all those trains and pay a supplement on every trip (unless your bike folds).

However, if you're going to be out for a while, you can buy a used bike and sell it at the end of your trip. If you don't break anything on the bike, this can be cheaper than renting. There's two drawbacks to this plan: 1. Used bikes tend to sell out of shops at the start of the tourist season, so you'll have to plan ahead with overseas ebay. (Used Bromptons don't go for much less than new anyway.) 2. If you get a really cool bike, you won't want to sell it back. (My bike is so awesome! I love it.)

Clothes to pack

This list is still in flux for me, but here's a draft. Note that your needs will change depending on whether you plan to camp, stay in hotel rooms, with the weather, how much time you spend in urban areas, etc. In all circumstances, you want stuff that dries really quickly. Wrinkle-free is also very nice. Unless you plan to pack an iron.

For biking
  • 1 or two pairs of non-dorky looking bike shorts. These are shorts that have removal, padded liners, so you can wear them to bike around, but also walk around in them without looking silly.
  • One or two under-layer bike shirts. These are the really tight shirts that wick moisture away from your skin. they dry crazily fast. I wash mine in the shower and it's dry for the day as soon as I put it on. Mine is currently a dark color and I think I might also want a lighter fabric, lighter color one for when it's really hot.
  • One or two bike jerseys. I have one that looks like a normal t-shirt, which means I don't look goofy when walking around, but those back pockets are very handy and I miss them and the lack of collar means my neck is more likely to sun burn. Also, mine is a dark color which can get too warm in direct sun.
  • A bike rain jacket. Waterproof, windproof, breathable. Ideally, you want one where the sleeves come off and with a removable liner. Thees are awesome because they adjust very easily to changes in temperature. They look a little goofy for just walking around because they're long in the back, but are super comfy anyway.
  • Bike sleeves. These are spandex sleeves which are like arm warmers. They are really handy even when you're not biking. If you are going in cold weather, you might also want spandex leg warmers which work the same way. And if it's going to be really cold, you can also get a helmet-liner, to keep your head warm.
  • Bike gloves. You put sunblock all over your arms and hands. You bike for a couple of hours. You stop at a toilet. You wash your hands. You bike 4 more hours in the sun. Your hands are burnt to hell because you washed them and didn't re-apply sunblock. Screw that. The gloves also add some nice padding for when you're on cobble stones. (Remember that stupid joke about the nuns, the bike and the cobblestones? Who the hell came up with that? It should go, "'Oh my god, I've lost all feeling in my genitals except for some pain!' 'Yes, cobblestones make celibacy so much easier!'")
  • Glasses or sunglasses. You know what sucks? Getting bugs in your eyes. Or dirt. Or leaves. Or blossoms. Protect your eyes.
  • helmet. You only get one head in life. Besides, it completes that roadie look that you're now sporting. Yeah, all this stuff might make you look like a dork, but you're a comfortable dork who is protected and dressed in layers.
For touristing - Male / Masculine IDed people
  • swim trunks. These also work for shorts. (and a swim shirt if you get sunburnt easily)
  • A short-sleeved shirt with a collar. (2 if your bike jerseys can't be worn around as regular clothes)
  • a tie or bow tie. (seriously)
  • Pants that zip into shorts
  • Pants
  • A hat or two. I take two hats. One keeps the sun and rain off. The other is warmer and more formal looking. Both pack flat.
  • A nice swearer. You throw on your pants, collared shirt, you bow tie, your more formal hat and your niceish sweater and suddenly, you can go anywhere. (If you don't do a nice sweater, bring a blazer)
  • Nice-ish shoes. Well, you can't go anywhere unless you have niceish shoes. I want to pack light, so I just got tan shoes which are really comfortable and sporty enough for biking, but nice enough for the Mister Rogers look described above. I kept gravitating to the golf shoes at sports stores. I can't tell you how alarming it is to discover an interest in golf shoes.
  • Flip flops or tevas. For avoiding athlete's foot in shared showers
  • Two pairs of underwear. One if you can get the super amazing fast drying kind, but make sure it breathes or you'll be unhappy.
  • 2 or 3 pairs socks. Yeah, that means you're always hauling around an extra pair of dirty socks, but we can pretend. I'm going to investigate biking socks tomorrow.
For touristing - those who prefer femme clothes

I got help with this list, but I'm not sure about it.

  • swim suit.
  • A piece of fabric that you can wrap around your (silly) bike shorts for an instant skirt. If it goes past your knees, that's a bonus for getting into churches.
  • one or two shirts. (Two if your bike jersey is too silly to wear around town.) Make sure at least one of them covers your shoulders so you can get into churches.
  • Pants that zip into shorts.
  • Pants OR a skirt or dress.
  • a nice looking sweater or other wrap
  • Nice-ish shoes.
  • Flip flops or tevas. For avoiding athlete's foot in shared showers
  • Two pairs of underwear. One if you can get the super amazing fast drying kind, but make sure it breathes or you'll be unhappy.
  • One or two sports bras or tanks with one of those bra thingees built-in. These also work for undershirts and can be used instead of the bottom layer when biking.
  • 2 or 3 pairs socks. Some of these might have to be matched with your nice-ish shoes. You know how to do this better than I do.
  • a hat
  • bling. For looking dressy when needed. (Let's put makeup in the "bling" category.)

Camping gear

  • Tent. Light is good.
  • Sleeping bag. Light is also good, but you want one that will keep you warm enough at your lowest likely temperature.
  • Flashlight

Optionally, of course, you can add pads to sleep on and a little cooking kit and a light weight espresso maker and dishes and all the other cool camping stuff. Depending on what you want to take uphill with only the power of your own muscles.

Toiletries / first aid

  • tooth brush, tooth paste, normal stuff, you know the drill. Make sure to also bring dental floss as it not only prevents cavities, but can also be used as a clothesline and to repair ripped fabric. don't get travel versions of these things, just bring a regular size.
  • soap, shampoo, conditioner, comb, etc. Again, you know the drill. It's possible in some places to find shampoo in bar form. This is way lighter, takes up less space and is more economical.
  • razor, shaving soap, etc
  • A pack towel. These are tiny, light weight microfiber towels that dry out really fast. Worth the price.
  • Sun block. and after-sun lotion. If you go to a drug store in France and ask for after-sun lotion, they will sell you the most soothing moisturizer ever, which totally helps sun burns. It may still be the case that European sunblock is better than American due to differing regulations.
  • Hand sanitizer. Keep a small bottle of it in your pocket at all times. This will make you happy and keep you from contracting strange toilet doorknob-borne illnesses.
  • toilet paper. Especially if you're going to camp.
  • some sort of clothes washing stuff. you can bring laundry powder or super-concentrated laundry soap or just use your bar soap / shampoo, but you're going to end up hand washing your underwear and socks, so you'll need some kind of soap for it, even if you take all the big stuff to laundry mats
  • bug spray. DEET repels ticks.
  • vitamins - keeps you healthy even with a weird tourist diet
  • any pills or medicine that you take, including for allergies.
  • pain killers
  • moist towelettes. For cleaning wounds.
  • a tiny bottle of vodka. For cleaning wounds.
  • band aids.
  • ointment that can be applies to things like rashes, dry spots, bee stings, etc
  • a sewing needle that can use dental floss as thread.
  • tampons or whatever if you need them. This might be a good time for the diva cup, but it's not a good time for luna pads. Unless you want to bike around with nasty, bloody, dirty, washable pads. If you are really that granola, may I suggest a water-tight container filled with water and hydrogen peroxide / oxygen bleach? Stick them in there until you can clean them properly. (Same goes if you have a baby with you that uses cloth diapers.)

Other stuff

  • Pocket knife.
  • hand pump
  • tire patch kit
  • bike lock
  • blinky lights
  • rain cover for seat
  • clip to keep your pants out of the chain (unless your chain is covered)
  • if your bike folds, get a canvas cover for it.
  • water bottles or camel back thing (or both.)
  • camera (w/ film or extra memory stick)
  • rechargeable batteries and charger - for your camera and your lights and flashlight. These can be purchased very cheaply in Europe. don't bring your own from America. (or vice versa.)
  • (optional) cell phone. Get it unlocked before you leave.
  • maps.
  • travel book.
  • diary or laptop. (yeah, seriously, but be careful.)
  • a pen and some paper
  • a watch. analog watches can be used for navigation

augh, that's so much stuff!!!

No it's not. Especially if you get the REI/ travel versions of listed clothes. They pack very small. You want to carry as little of this on your back as possible, so look into saddle bags, back racks, front racks, etc. If you have a brompton, get the front luggage attachment and the back rack. There is a 28 liter bag that can go on the front and carry all of this stuff for one person with no problem. They also have bags that specifically fit the back, but 1. Your tent might not fit. 2. The way the bike folks makes this back rack hard to use, unless you're towing a dog, in which case, you're not folding the back up anyway.

this sounds complicated

It's not. You're taking all your normal tourist stuff minus a few street clothes and plus a few bike clothes. And a few bike gadgets. A lot of this stuff can be picked up as needed. I didn't add bandaids to the list until Cola cut her foot in Berlin. (alas.)

this sounds expensive

Cheap acrylic clothes dry fast too. Buy used when you can. Borrow when you can. Silly bike clothes are more comfortable but not required by any means. (I never owned padded shorts before this summer.) Camping is really cheap lodging. You can buy food at delis and bakeries and eat it outside. Also, being on a bike means not having to buy metro or tram tickets. If you buy a used bike and sell it at the end, I don't think this ends up being any more expensive than any other vacation.

However, budget more money than you think you'll need. You may end up in hotels more nights than you expect and you might need bike repairs, etc.

This sounds hard

So start with an easy ride. If you follow the Loire, for example, there is always a downhill tendency, since water always flows downhill. The towns and villages are pretty close to each, so you can find lodging (although maybe a hotel) at many, many points along the way. If you have a problem along that route, the locals will help you out as much as they can. Seriously, if you do an easy ride, you don't need to train in advance. It might be a good idea, but it's not required. (All the usual disclaimers about seeing a doctor before starying to exercise apply.)

But seriously, don't strain yourself. Pain is a way of telling you to take a break for a while. This is not sprinting, so you shouldn't 'feel the burn.' Stretch when you stop (not when you start) to keep from being sore the next day. If you feel like you've pulled something, take a day or two off from the bike and walk around instead. Eat fruits and vegetables. Make sure you get enough iron, because you're probably going to end up with a lot of bruises, alas.

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