Following is a guest post from our good friend Patty Huff in Everglades City, FL. She’s a seasoned bicycle traveler, having crossed the United States by bike twice, pedaled the East coast, Nova Scotia, Ireland, Europe and more. She’s 68 years old and when not on her bike she’s usually swamped in work securing more bike-friendly routes for future generations.
By Patty Huff
Traveling to Europe or elsewhere to bicycle entails thinking like a minimalist. Touring by bicycle for either two weeks or two months, you need about the same amount of clothing. If you bike self-contained (carrying everything on your bicycle with you) you have to consider your weight limit. You’ll appreciate this when there are hills to climb. I used to tell myself that I could either eliminate 5 pounds of clothing or lose 5 pounds; it was easier to remove 5 pounds from my bags.
After traveling 26,000 miles by bicycle in the last 15 years, I’ve learned to curtail what I really need to carry with me. Prior to my first trip across the United States, I did my research and read several books about self-contained bike trips. I remember how one 60-year-old woman said that she and her husband would weigh each item before adding it to their panniers (even their toothpaste). Over time my husband and I have refined our system of packing “light.” We have both front and rear panniers, the front for clothes and the rear for sleeping bags, cooking utensils and a tent. If we don’t plan to camp, then two rear panniers are sufficient.
For the bike ride, my list includes: 3 pairs of biking shorts, 2-3 short-sleeve tops, 2 long sleeve shirts (for sun protection and after evening wear), 3 pairs of socks, light weight wind and rain jacket (a must!), biking shoes and helmet. For evening/after biking attire, I take one pair of light weight capris or long pants, one pair of light weight shorts and a skirt with two light weight shirts, and 3 pairs of underwear. My husband takes one pair of long pants and one zip-off shorts/pants and two shirts (one long and one short sleeve).
Almost all of our clothing is from Patagonia or Ex-Officio which are all very light weight; we layer for cooler weather. All clothing should be mix and match, and you’ll be amazed at how many outfits you can create; shirts and tops worn in the evening may also be worn with biking shorts. Shoes: light weight sandals; I like Crocs sandals that are comfortable enough to walk to dinner but versatile enough to wear in campsite showers (also are very light weight). Toiletries: travel-size toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, deodorant, and any other essentials. Handlebar bag: jewelry (minimum), small wallet or bag that includes passport, credit card and money; camera or iphone.
Even if you plan to travel before and after your bicycle tour, you can design your wardrobe so that you’ll be able to wear the clothes you take on the bike trip for all occasions. We carry two panniers each on the plane and ship two with our bicycles (Co-motion bikes which fold into a standard size suitcase). If you plan to do a lot of hiking or walking afterwards, another pair of shoes is recommended. If cold weather is anticipated, a light sweater or another jacket may be needed. All of our clothing is “rolled up” for packing. I also use zip-lock bags to separate the items and press out excess air before zipping to save on space.
A few years ago we spent three weeks bicycling throughout Ireland. It was raining and cold most days but bicycling 70 miles a day warmed us up a lot. Starting off on cool mornings we would layer our clothing and as the clouds disappeared, we would just shed the rain/wind jackets and other layers. Bike shoes that are designed like sandals also dry faster after a heavy rain (stuff newspaper inside at night and most of the moisture is gone by morning). When traveling cross-country, it would get extremely cold in the Rockies so we did need to include a puff-ball down jacket (could be stuffed in its own pocket), gloves and long bike pants. We shipped these items back home once we were out of the mountains. It is important to be dry and comfortable so a good rain jacket and layers of clothing are essential. The best thing is to enjoy the ride; less is better when you’re carrying everything with you.
And let us add: light is ALWAYS better when traveling in Europe, bike or not. The only place in Europe convenient for heavy bags is the airport. After that you’ve got stairs in the metro station, hotels with limited access, antiquated elevators, tiny sidewalks, cobblestone streets, expensive taxis, and the list goes on. You should be able to easily carry whatever you bring by yourself, without depending on wheels or help from a porter.