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What to pack for a cycling holiday – The best gear for cycling trips 2020

What to pack for a cycling holiday – The best gear for cycling trips 2020

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It might sound easy, but lots of people get it wrong.

I’ve been on group cycling holidays in Vietnam, Jordan, Morocco, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, and Cuba. I’ve cycled solo in South-east Asia, France, Germany, Canada.

I cycled the C2C cycle route across the north of England from Whitehaven on the west coast to Tynemouth on the east coast, in 11 hours and 6 minutes. I was a lot younger then, but I’m still proud of it!

I’ve learned what kit works well for me, and found some great solutions to common problems.

Here’s the biggest mistake people make: Taking brand new gear they’ve never used before.

Trust me, wherever possible, take clothing and equipment that you have already been using for a while. If you buy something new specifically for a trip, use it at home first. Go out on a shakedown run and get used to it, get it worn in.

OK, so, let’s talk about gear. I’m going to break it down into a few categories that you need to make sure you’ve got covered:

  • Safety
  • Comfort
  • Performance
  • Hydration
  • Maintenance
  • Photography
  • Clothing
  • What you need when you’re off the bike
  • What not to take

At the end I’ll give you a checklist you can print out.

Packing for a cycling holiday - Tips

Before we look at specific gear, lets go over some general principles that will help you get it right.

  1. Don’t take brand new gear. Use it at home, get it broken in, get familiar with it
  2. Don’t hire helmets. You don’t know their quality or condition
  3. Don’t weigh yourself down. Only carry the essentials.

Here I am cycling in Morocco.

Safety

This is the first and most important. This is not the place to try to save money.

Helmet

What to pack for a cycling holiday? If you pack one thing, make it your own helmet.

There is always an option to borrow a cycle helmet from the tour operator. It can be tempting, because a cycle helmet is a bulky thing to pack. Never do it, unless you’re already there and have no choice.

Most cycle helmets made around the world are not subject to quality testing, and even a good helmet could have been dropped and damaged dozens of times before it’s your turn.

Always take your own. I’m not going to give links to Amazon for cycle helmets because you should go to a proper cycle shop and get it fitted correctly. If it is not fitted correctly it is useless, and even dangerous in an accident.

The quality standard matters. The most common EN-1078 specification is relatively easy to pass. These are the majority of helmets you will find in a shop, and they have the CE logo.

A tougher standard is operated by Snell, an American standards organisation. The criteria are more stringent, and the testing is more realistic.

A helmet that meets Snell B-90 or B-95 offers significantly better protection in the sort of real-world accidents that adults have.

Professional cyclists look for Snell rated helmets. The leading manufacturer of Snell rated helmets available to buy in the UK is Specialized.

Visit your local cycle shop and ask for a Specialized Snell rated helmet.

Better still, pick up a helmet with MIPS. MIPS is a recent technology pioneered by Giro. It is designed to reduce the chances of bran injury by absorbing the rotational forces in a head impact, and independent testing so far supports the claims.

Specialized, one of the brands know for taking protection seriously instead of just churning out plastic crap, have adopted MIPS too.

If you shop online and search for a MIPS cycle helmet, be sure to read the specifications and verify that the helmet does actually contain MIPS. Only Giro, Specialized, and Bolle currently manufactur MIPS helmets, like this one.

Yes, gloves come under safety because they are the first thing to hit the ground if you fall off, and when you sit on a bike all day long your hands get rubbed and sore very quickly if not protected.

If your hands are sore, it’s distracting and compromises your control.

Take short gloves and long gloves, and yes, take a spare pair. Riding all day long for a week can cause splits and tears.

Make sure they have decent palm padding, like these ones, but not too thick else they’re uncomfortable.

Useful for comfort, but if you’re a baldy like me then this is essential for safety. Ride in a cycle helmet and your shiny bald head is exposed to the sun all day long. You’ll end up with tiger-stripe sunburn on your head.

If you’re not a baldy, then a bandana is also a great way to keep dust out of your face when cycling in hot places, and to keep the sun off the back of your neck, which is exposed all day in a cycling position.

Again, this really is a safety matter. Protecting your eyes from bright sun, but also ensuring that you can clearly see the road and any ruts or rocks that might be in the way.

Quality polarizing sunglasses prevent glare from wet surfaces. Sunglasses with a brownish tint are ideal for cyclists because they enhance contrast of the road surface in bright conditions.

Even if it’s not particularly hot or sunny, just being outside all day long exposes your legs, arms, nose, ears, and the back of your neck to the sun.

Take a good quality waterproof and sports-specific sunscreen, like this one.

Cheaper ones wear off with your sweat.

Comfort

You are going to be out all day long, away from home. Even if you’re not making hard effort all the time, just sitting on a bike for that long causes problems.

The most critical thing is what you’re sitting on, and that’s obvious to most. Equally important, but often ignored, is to keep yourself lightly loaded.

I don’t like to ride with a backpack or even a small hydration pack. After half in day in the heat, they’re really uncomfortable. Most people end up throwing them in the tour bus and riding without. There is a great alternative that I now use every time.

If you wear cycling shorts, make sure they are padded.

You might be comfortable riding all day on your own bike, but the rental bike you’ll have on holiday probably does not have a brilliant saddle.

Take your own saddle, or simply take one of these padded saddle covers.

This thing is great. It fastens on very securely in a few seconds with some velcro straps. It’s big enough to carry a camera, wallet, rain jacket, energy gels, wet wipes, sunscreen, maps, and more.

It has a strap on the top where you can shove a baseball cap or gloves or raincoat.

It’s dirt cheap. It’s stable and won’t fall off.

Best of all, it means that you don’t need to wear a rucksack. You will feel so much more relaxed and free and comfortable when you don’t have a bag on your back, but you will still have all your essentials right there with you.

It also means you don’t need pockets full of stuff. Stick your multi-tool in the bar bag, along with your snack bars.

Performance

I’m not talking about trying to win races, but there is something that makes a massive difference to the efficiency of your pedalling action, and that is cycle shoes and pedals that you clip into. The improved efficiency means that you enjoy your riding more, especially on long rides.

If you regularly ride with SPD or SPD-R pedals, take your own shoes and your own pedals with you. The tour team will fit the pedals to your bike.

If you don’t or have never ridden with proper cycling shoes, I urge you to get some and to get used to them at home before your holiday. You won’t regret it.

Take pedals to match your shoes. Also take spare clips for your shoes. Don’t assume that the tour organisers will have spare SPD or SPD-R cleats.

No need to go mad with these unless you’re competitive or have delicate digestion. Your tour group will stop regularly and be provided with snacks and drinks, but if you want more than water and fruit, take your own.

I particularly like this High 5 cycle pack, which is a great value selection of the essentials, and just the right amount to have on standby for a week long cycle holiday. It also comes with a free water bottle.

Hydration

On a group cycling holiday you will be escorted by the bus or the cars, and you will be provided with drinks when you stop, but you need something while you’re riding.

I see lots of people with hydration packs. I hate them. I don’t use them. They are uncomfortable, restrictive, hot, sweaty, and smelly.

Much easier to take a water bottle. Take the bar bag I recommended above and you won’t need any extra carrying space.

You can leave your rucksack on the tour bus, and every time the group stops to reconvene for drinks or lunch or whatever, all your stuff is right there on the bus.

If you do take one, look for a small, lightweight, ventilated pack, otherwise you’ll find it really uncomfortable, especially if your holiday is somewhere hot. 

I used to recommend just using a plastic water bottle, but these days you really should be taking a reusable bottle and encouraging your tour operators to provide water from a bulk container, not small disposable bottles.

Take your own, and take two.

Bikes on an organised tour will almost certainly have a bottle cage, but you can take one of these quick-fit cages that attaches without tools or mounting holes, and then you can be sure to stay properly hydrated.

Maintenance

If you’re on an organised group cycling holiday then you don’t need to take loads of tools and parts with you. The tour company will have tools and pumps and inner tubes and so on.

It is useful to be able to make your own adjustments and tighten things up without having to wait for the tour bus to catch up with you, and this multi tool with just a few essentials is all you need.

Photography

I like to take photos, but when your cycling it can be awkward to carry cameras with you. I found a brilliant solution that, for road cycling trips at least, lets me comfortable carry my camera on the bike and have it instantly to hand for catching the action shots.

This is a work of genius.

It makes the camera sit over your shoulder, out of the way and secure, without any bouncing or swinging, and then when you want to take a picture it simply swings up into a natural position. The arm strap means it will not fall off while cycling.

It’s really comfortable, and the only realistic way to carry a camera while you’re on your bike.

I don’t recommend using it all the time, only on road sections and only for those occasions when you want to get some action shots of your fellow cyclists as they pass.

When you’re done, put it back on the bus, but for those quick and short rides between shots, it’s perfect.

I have the original Black Rapid strap, but there are now lots of imitators at lower prices.

There are also some great mounts for go-pro cameras, and the key to getting interesting footage is to have a variety of mounting options.

You can mount them on your cycle helmet, your chest, the handlebars, or the seat post.

When mounting to the bike, make sure it is very tight otherwise the vibration and bouncing will make it move.

This mount is perfect for fastening to handlebars or seat post.

Clothing

Clothing is obviously a matter of personal preference, but you really should pick up some proper cycling gear. It is made from light, wicking, breathable fabric that ends up being much more comfortable for day-long cycling. I urge you to visit a local cycle store rather than buying online, because fit and comfort is essential. Here’s what should be on your list of what to pack for a cycling holiday:

  • Light, wicking, short-sleeved T
  • Light, softshell long sleeve zip-up with rear pockets
  • Lightweight waterproof jacket
  • Breathable sports socks
  • Arm warmers
  • Padded cycling shorts

A baseball cap is also a good idea to keep the sun off your head and your face when you’re off the bike.

When you're off the bike

Here’s some of things I’ve learned to be invaluable, either when you stop for lunch or in the hotel at the end of the day.

When you stop for a snack or for lunch, you need to clean your hands. These ones are brilliant because the individual packets means you can carry just what you need and they don’t dry out.

A waterproof emergency poncho can be a real godsend in a sudden downpour.

Especially in places like Asia where there can be sudden heavy downpours, cheap zip-lock bags are perfect to protect your phone and your wallet.

Ride along in a monsoon burst and even if your phone and wallet is in a zipped pocket, within minutes it will be soaked. Your phone will stop working. All your banknotes will be soggy.

A simple plastic bag is all it takes to keep things dry.

Don’t waste money on branded “Zip-Loc” bags. These generic ones do the job for a fraction of the price.

You might be surprised to see this on a list of what to pack for a cycling holiday, but I don’t travel without them.

The secret to a good night’s sleep in a hotel is earplugs, especially if you’re sharing a room.

Another top tip for a good sleep in a hotel. Even if you’re worn out from day of cycling, light coming through the curtains or under the door can disturb your sleep.

What not to take

Now we’ve covered what to pack for a cycling holiday, here’s what not to pack. You really don’t need these if you’re going on an organised group cycling holiday.

  • Hi-viz
  • Lights
  • Pumps and tubes and patches
  • Bike lock
  • Pannier racks
  • Backpacks or hydration packs other than very small and light ones

Don't forget

Don’t forget travel insurance, and make sure it covers you for cycling. Most do, but some cheaper policies don’t, and most exclude any racing.

What to pack for a cycling holiday - check list

You can print this section out and tick off as you pack. Don’t forget T-shirts, long sleeve jackets, rain jacket, sports socks, padded shorts, and maybe arm warmers for the downhill sections and mountain passes.

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