Cycle Touring Gear Recommendations
I recently got back from cycle touring in Japan and I’m intending on writing heaps about it, but after several weeks enjoying myself I’ve had to knuckle down and get some work done before sitting down to pen any articles about my trip! I’ll definitely be writing more about cycle touring in Japan, so check back soon for tips, recommendations and general gloating about what a fab time I had.
In the meantime, I thought I’d put together a small list of gear I recommend, as with it being summer I’ve had many people ask me what kind of stuff they should invest in for bike based adventuring. So from racks to tents, sleeping bags to stoves, here’s what I took cycle touring.
We rode Charge Plugs which come fitted with disc brakes – kinda essential when you’re bombing down a hill with fully loaded panniers. The sturdy steel machines did us proud, and would you believe, we didn’t get a puncture the whole trip! It was also the most perfect way to break in our Brooks saddles – I’m sure this isn’t how you’re supposed to do it, but leave your bike out all night till it’s covered in dew, then hop on and ride a 120km eh voila – your saddle has perfectly moulded itself to your bum!
First up, the tent. We plumped for Decathlon’s QuickHiker Ultralight II Hiking Tent, and I can’t recommend it enough. Not only is this tent an absolute bargain considering how pricey backpacking tents can be, it packs down smaller than many of it’s competitors and it’s really lightweight – 1.96kg to be precise. It’s the ideal size for fastening on top of your pannier rack with an inner tube and it takes 2 minutes to put up and down as it only has one pole.
There’s plenty of room inside for two people (unlike many tents marketed for two!), though it’s not the kind of tent you’d want to hang out in as you can’t sit up. There’s room on one side to put your pannier bags between the inner tent and the fly sheet and it’s totally waterproof. The only problem we had was there was a fair bit of moisture from condensation on the inside of the fly sheet, so we had to dry it off before putting it away. But that’s just because it was pretty hot in Japan so we gave off a lot of heat I suppose.
Packing down takes two minutes too – just remove the pole and fold it up, then fold the tent in half, then in thirds and roll. It’s £109 and bloody brilliant.
My next recommendation is a Thermarest inflatable sleeping mat. These are pretty much the best sleeping mats you can buy; they’re really small and light, blow up quickly and feel brilliant to sleep on – like sleeping on the breath of an angel in fact. They also insulate you from the cold ground beneath.
Having said that, beware the Women’s NeoAir XLite – for some unfathomable reason it’s only the length of my head to my hips, which meant my legs were on the floor. Why, oh why? I was so jealous of Dave’s full length Thermarest and snuck onto it’s blissful surface whenever I could.
I slept in the Rab Quantum 250 sleeping bag, which is soft, light, cozy and full of down. It packs down super small and felt luxurious every night. The only time I’ve ever had a ‘fancy’ sleeping bag is when I’ve borrowed one of my Dad’s, so yeah, this is one of his again. Dad likes trekking in places such as Morocco, Nepal and the Alps and has the finest selection of sleeping bags known to man, and whatever he has will have been thoroughly researched in advance of purchase.
We travelled with the Tubus Classic racks, which I reviewed for Total Women’s Cycling, and they’re pricey but perfect. I really like the way the bars you attach your panniers to is lower than the top section, as it means your bags are lower and you’re better balanced. The top rack is also the ideal place for your tent. More on why I like it here:
When it came to cooking, we stuck with my favourite stove (yes, I’ve a few!), which is the MSR micro rocket. It’s a teeny weeny little thing, about a finger length when folded, and you just pop it onto your gas canister when you want to cook. It takes about 2 minutes to boil enough water for cups of tea. It’s lightening fast and only weighs 73g (without the gas).
What else was useful? Zip ties and CTC bike bags as you have to dismantle your bike and put it in a bag if you wish to take the train in Japan. It’s quite annoying really, and makes you realise how lucky we are in the UK, just being able to wheel a bike on. We turned our bikes upside down, took both wheels off and zip-tied them to the frame before putting the whole thing in the bag. Then you could (if you got it right) carry the bike by holding the chain stay, or whichever bit of tube you can reach.
Word of warning though – Virgin Airlines very, very, very nearly didn’t let us fly home with our bikes in these bags, saying that we needed ‘proper’ bags. The problem wasn’t that they were made of plastic, apparently it was that they were see-through? Doesn’t make sense really.