Tips and Tricks for Smart Bike Tour Packing

Smart bike tour packing can make the difference between a miserable and a rewarding outing, especially when conditions turn wet and cold. The rewards of a cycling adventure–whether rainbows and waterfalls or the memories of Type II fun–almost always require persevering through the low points of a tough ride or tour. But the ability to persevere, contrary to popular belief, is not a function of some sort of inherent fortitude distributed in varying degrees to each of us at birth. In fact, smart bike tour packing can provide the peace of mind to help you persevere.

Perseverance is mostly about a state of mind in which you acknowledge the discomfort and trust that you will be able to endure until its inevitable end. Where does this trust come from? It’s not a blind trust. Rather, it comes largely from good planning and preparation. This is precisely what “Wander far and wise” means at Comova Cycling. Smart bike tour packing is a fundamental part of wandering far and wise.

In this first article in our series on how planning and preparation can build your perseverance, and in turn your ability to access the joys of a cycling adventure, we focus on wet weather riding–specifically, how to choose and use your gear to give yourself confidence that you’ll be able to make it through no matter how wet it gets on your ride. In Tips and Tricks for Cycling in Wet Weather we’ll discuss technique and skills to ensure your wet adventure is a safe one.

Wondering whether your wet weather gear is adequate, or knowing that it is not and bracing for the moment when the weather overwhelms your gear, is not going to help you get in the state of mind needed to persevere through the potential discomfort of a wet ride. Getting into that state of mind has two simple steps rooted in smart bike tour packing:

  1. Do everything you can to stay dry for as long as possible
  2. Carry additional layers or an entirely separate set of clothing that you keep dry no matter what

Stay dry as long as possible

This step requires not just good gear but also its judicious and effective use. The first piece of advice for step 1, depending on your bike and the type of terrain you’re going to be riding, is to mount some full coverage fenders. While not exactly something that you “pack” for a bike tour, having fenders will affect the types of gear and layers that you choose to pack. The SKS Chromoplastic Longboard Fender Set provides great coverage and is reasonably priced, lightweight and durable.

For a deep dive into proper mounting and functioning of fenders, check out this guide from René Herse: Requirements for good fender installation. And if it is all too daunting, head to your local bike shop to have your fenders professionally mounted.

Now that you’re set to keep spray from your tires instantly soaking your feet, legs and back (not to mention the extended life your drivetrain will get by being protected from water and grit), let’s talk about staying dry from the inside out.

You’ve probably heard, or experienced, that no matter how “waterproof” something claims to be it is eventually going to let the water in. While this is not necessarily true, what is true is that the more impermeable a jacket is, for example, the more it will keep moisture in.

The second bit of advice for step 1, therefore, is to hold off as long as possible before putting on your most waterproof layer. Putting it on too early is likely to get you wet from the inside out before the heavy rain has even started. Too early and too late both have the consequence of your base layers getting so wet that they take longer to dry off.

A cyclist practicing smart bike tour packing changes out a wet layer for a dry oneThe good news is that your waterproof layer will act as a windblocker and provide some warmth even when everything underneath is wet. But this depends to some extent on what you’re wearing underneath. Merino wool blends are ideal for their ability to keep you warm even when wet. Even better, merino layers give you the confidence that when you take your waterproof layer off–which you want to do as soon as the rain has stopped–you’ll stay relatively warm as the merino begins to dry out.

This was precisely how my layering system functioned on the Hidden Eel Lost Coast route. At my lowest point everything had soaked through, but as soon as the rain stopped I removed the outer layer and before I knew it my Tørm jersey and Icebreaker base layer had dried out.

Carrying additional layers (and keeping them dry) is key to smart bike tour packing

Remember how perseverance comes from trusting that you will be able to endure discomfort? It makes a huge difference knowing that you have a completely dry change of clothes and can switch into them, when the time is right, to end the discomfort of being wet. Again, the right gear and an understanding of when and how to use it is essential. Whether waterproof bikepacking gear or a ziploc bag, you need a fail-safe way to keep your spare kit dry.

The next consideration is what to carry and when to break it out. On a day ride, or when you know the weather you’ll encounter will be short-lived, you might not need to carry a complete set of replacements. At a minimum, having dry gloves, a hat and socks can be really nice. Sometimes I’ll even carry two extra pairs of gloves and just cycle through them as they get wet.

When touring, you really need to have a complete set of dry clothes to change into. A long day on the bike is made even longer if you have no choice but to ride late into the day, or even the night, wearing wet gear. And if you’re camping, there’s nothing worse than getting to camp wet and having to get dry and warm before even beginning to set your camp up.

Knowing when to deploy your backup gear is essential to the overall strategy of using planning and preparation to increase your confidence that you can endure whatever discomfort you encounter. The best option is to break out your dry backups only when you’re certain the rain has stopped. If you followed step one and mounted fenders, you can keep yourself dry even if the roads remain wet.

A second scenario is where the rain hasn’t stopped but you know you are near the end of your ride and decide that you need to get dry to push through to the finish even. This is recommended only if you are near the end of your ride/tour, or if you are on a credit card tour where your overnight accommodations will allow you to dry your stuff out (as we did on the second night of the Hidden Eel Lost Coast route).

In the end, it’s all about the mental game. And it’s not easy to trick yourself into feeling dry or warm when you’re wet. But you can win the mental game by having gear that will keep you warm when wet and that will dry out quickly, and by knowing that when the moment is right you are prepared with a fully dry second set of clothing to switch into.

At Comova we aim to tailor your trip to exactly the level of adventure you desire. That might mean rescheduling if the forecast looks too cold or wet. But we also meticulously plan our trips and believe that by teaching you how we plan and prepare we can guide you comfortably outside your comfort zone. It’s by wandering far and wise that you discover the places where the experience of adventure is both deepened and widened and where you might just learn something new about yourself.