15 Veteran Cyclists Share Their Favourite Non-Essential Luxuries On Tour

One of the central tenets of my new eBook Essential Gear for Adventure Cycle Touring (released this week!) is that there’s no right or wrong way to ‘do’ a bike trip.

This is a truism, of course; I’m far from the first person to point it out! Each one of us has different priorities when we saddle up and hit the road, and the scope for doing things our own way is truly vast. This is one of many qualities that makes the bicycle such a superb choice for long, personal journeys that deeply satisfy the soul.

To really get across the point that one size does not fit all, I asked 15 of the guide’s 50+ contributors to share their favourite personal items they carried with them on their longest tours – items you’re unlikely to find in any prescriptive kit-lists.

“An MP3 player for music and nowadays podcasts. I do not listen to it 24/7, but sometimes it has a magical power to kick in with great motivation, or calm me down when being solo for too long. And a pen & paper to put thoughts down and to draw what I need/want when the language barrier is too high.”
Marija Kozin / Slovenia to China & back

“My favourite bit of kit was a pair of Leatherman pliers for grinding fresh peppercorns into my food at night. I also carried popcorn kernels and made a pan of salty popcorn each evening while I wrote my diary before dinner.”
Alastair Humphreys / Round the world

“My favourite piece of non-essential kit is definitely my Kindle (and all the free e-books people gave me along the way). I never saw the point of them until I was on the road, but now I couldn’t imagine travelling without it. It was wonderful to be able to sit in my tent in the evening and browse through a whole virtual library, rather than relying on whatever dog-eared paperback I’d had in my panniers for the last six months, and I ended up reading more books on the road than I usually do at home. Of all the many things I carried with me, the Kindle was the most enriching.”
Emily Chappell / London to Japan

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“We bring a big cotton blanket that is totally impractical – it’s relatively heavy, not waterproof, a doozy when wet, and takes up space. But we use it almost every day. It’s home!”
Ramona Marks / All over Europe

“My favourite non-essential item is my camera. I travel by bicycle because of the slowness, and with a camera I can enjoy a country and its people in a more extensive way, with an eye on the small things – like flowers or insects or frog babies. And when I get home I can relive my travels again and again.”
Blanche van der Meer / Round the world (in progress)

“Easy – my inflatable Mammut Air Pillow!”
Ken Roberts / Round the world

“My favourite thing was a 5 Euro tripod stool bought from Decathlon. The trick was to keep it on top of the gear so I could grab it for any rest stop, and it was really great for the evening camp. I also had it in Morocco with a friend who was on his way to South Africa, and I gave it to him before I flew home. I think he carried it all the way to Cape Town!”
Tim Brewer / UK to Australia

“My favourite non-essential piece of gear was a box of beads, needles and thread. I am not a person who can sit around doing nothing, and those rainy days when we were crammed into a tiny tent or hotel room would have driven me nuts if I hadn’t had my beads to occupy my time. Yes, it weighed a couple of pounds. Yes, it took up space. Yes, many people think I was crazy for carrying them. But I know myself, and I would not have made it through our four years on the road without them.”
Nancy Sathre-Vogel / Alaska to Argentina (with kids)

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“A compact, durable, lined notebook is something I’d always find room for in my panniers. A handful of notebooks provided a frame for capturing each day in restrained one-page diary entries which tracked our progress across Europe and Asia. The back pages are covered in scores from rainy day card games, hand drawn maps and the logistics of route planning and visa restrictions. There’s stick-figure sketches used for bartering train ticket prices, and the addresses and names of people I met on the side of the road. The filled notebooks I posted back home every few months are by far the best souvenir from my long cycle tour.”
Emma Philpott / London to Bangkok

“Obvious I guess, but no less important, is a book. I was happy with one and desperate without one. When I had no company for days or weeks, the characters in the book became my friends, and I would spend all day cycling wondering what they’d get up to once I’d set up my tent and snuggled into my sleeping bag. The funniest of my literary experiences was reading Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” whilst cycling across the Mongolian steppe. I’d got it from a friend in Ulaanbaatar and so Austen’s dainty and agreeable set of characters were my companions as I cycled across the plains and mountains into Russia.”
Kim Ngyuen / Australia to Denmark via Outer Mongolia

“My favourite piece of kit was my trusty flannel. If you think wild camping means going to bed dirty, dusty and sticky, then think again. It took me 15,000km of cycling to realise this, but with 600ml of water, a bit of soap and a flannel you can clean your entire body, almost as thoroughly as you can in a shower. Now, no matter how cold or public my camp spot, I absolutely refuse to go to bed without a refreshing naked flannel-wash.”
Max Goldzweig / UK to South Africa & China

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“Luddites may rail against this, but a phone or tablet with the Google Translate app is a fantastic communication tool. Downloading languages and foreign scripts to use offline, we spent many evenings passing a tablet back and forth with local hosts learning and sharing so much more than we could have done with hand gestures or a dictionary.”
Tim Moss / UK to Australia (in progress)

“My favourite non-essential piece of kit was my tin whistle! Chicks dig a guy who can play a manly instrument like the tin whistle…”
Leon McCarron / New York to Hong Kong

“My favourite non-essential piece of kit was a vacuum flask. Not only in winter (when I prepared coffee in the evening and had it ready and warm in the morning without even getting out of the sleeping bag), but also in warmer climates, where I could heat water at breakfast time and have it ready for my lunchtime instant noodles. And in China – where they give you hot water in every restaurant and café – I filled my flask before camping and had pre-boiled water to speed up the cooking!”
Francesco Alaimo / Italy to… (in progress)

Big thanks to all of these kind and well-travelled souls for their contributions. You can check out their ongoing projects via the links above.

And as for me? For several months I carried a large metal wok strapped to the back of my bike. Huge, heavy, totally impractical – and absolutely perfect for cooking up the most enormous meals over the DragonFly. (I believe it now resides in a small flat in the Turkish city of Samsun.)

A possibly ill-advised cooking utensil

When it comes to essential items of gear (such as your bike!), the combined experience of these riders adds up to a lot of hard-earned wisdom. If you’re getting kitted out for a tour and you’d like to benefit from their knowledge and advice (plus that of 40+ other veterans), you really should check out the new Essential Gear for Adventure Cycle Touring guide at GearForCycleTouring.com.

Essential Gear Cover Image

Buying bikes and equipment for your next tour?

Reading Essential Gear for Adventure Cycle Touring will help you avoid ending up with the wrong thing, and put more cash aside for your trip.

Click here to find out more at
GearForCycleTouring.com

9 Responses to “15 Veteran Cyclists Share Their Favourite Non-Essential Luxuries On Tour”

  1. Ed Shoote

    Interesting article shows how different we all are. Personally I agree with the blow up pillow and camera !

    Reply
  2. Oliver

    Inspiring collection indeed. I quite struggle to decide whether the “tripod stove” or the imagination of “Wok ‘n’ Roll” is my favourite… marvellous!! 😀

    Reply
  3. Melody Hazel

    Gosh… can’t hardly see your cycle for all that gear u r schlepping around… looks heavy and can’t be all that much fun to move especially when uphilling it … what kind of mileage do u achieve per day with such a load? … it must be a relief when u can stow your gear for awhile and enjoy a lightened up tour?

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      That photo is from 2007, when I was carrying everything I thought I needed to cycle round the world! I’d just spent 4 months crossing Europe. Daily distance was 30-60 miles – which depended a lot more on how interesting the place was than how much gear I had…

      I go a lot more light weight these days, having learned a thing or two since then 🙂 The point is that we all have different preferences and levels of experience. At that time I was quite content to lug that amount of kit around the planet!

      Reply
  4. Alex Gandy

    Tom,

    What are you saying?

    “Here’s my ebook called ‘ESSENTIAL Gear For Adventure Cycle Touring’, but actually ‘one of the central tenets of this book is that there’s no right or wrong way to ‘do’ a bike trip.'”

    You’ve been a massive advocate of no frills cycle touring for yonks and it feels like you’re mis-selling yourself. If you know all the gear isn’t essential then maybe best not to say it is in big capital letters on the front cover of your new book. “Gear For Adventure Cycle Touring” or “The Big Book of Adventure Cycling Gear” or “Some Gear You May, Or May Not (Depending How You Feel), Like To Take On A Big Bicycle Ride” might be better titles (except the last one, that was a joke ;))

    Hope that sounds logical, it just seemed to slap me in the face as soon I saw your post.

    The contents of the book look great btw. Well done to you and Tennie for putting in all the hard work collating it. I’m sure it will prove incredibly useful to many many people regardless of what it says on the front!

    Alex

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Hi Alex,

      Thanks for the input. Allow me to address the points you’ve made.

      The working title of this book was “The Ultimate Gear Guide”. A beta reader pointed out that this didn’t really reflect the contents. The book does exactly what the new name implies – it covers the essentials for bike trips, no more, no less. It starts from the understanding that certain items of gear will aid you immensely in achieving your specific goals for your unique touring ambitions (i.e. one size doesn’t fit all), covers the wide range of considerations within those parameters, and stops right there.

      On top of that, you can add what you like, and I hammer this point home with annoying regularity throughout the book (and for good measure I offer a 100% refund if all what reading the book does for you is help you realise you already own all of the ‘essential’ gear and that the money you spent on the book would be better spent on your trip!)

      People have asked me to include chapters on electrical gadgets, charging equipment, security devices, specialist bikepacking gear, navigation devices, and more. I have elected not to because, as you point out, I’ve been a “massive advocate of no frills cycle touring for yonks”. This stuff is all completely optional. I respect everyone’s right to do things their own way, while making it abundantly clear what constitutes ‘essential’ and what doesn’t and focusing solely on that – because that’s the quickest route to getting people out on the road.

      Allow me to share (anonymously) a snippet of an email I received this morning from a reader of the guide:

      “I have been putting my trip off because thinking about equipment and gear (not to mention being able to afford it) left me despondent. After reading this book I realize that I have most of what I already need and the only 2 items I will need to find are a tent and sleeping pad. I realize that I can make do with what I have for everything else. Thank you so much for helping me to sort out the gear and giving me confidence in what I have and in my own ingenuity!”

      (I hope the author will not mind me sharing this, but it illustrates exactly what I’ve tried to do with this book.)

      Hoping that clears things up! 🙂

      Tom

      Reply
      • Alex

        Amazing to see such thought going into this and what fantastic feedback already.

        I think what I’ve picked up on is the pictures which suggest you’re recommending well known brands (nothing wrong with that) under the title “essential gear”. There are lots of silly articles like this – (£1500 pedals anyone?) – floating about the internet which I really don’t like at all and saw you falling into the same cavernous hole. But so long as you’re confident it does what it says on the ‘tin’ because, as you say, ‘essential’ is different for everyone…

        I heard news of a Chinese cyclist up on the Tibetan Plateau carrying little more than a rug and mostly eating what he could forage. He didn’t even have a front tyre and his rim just rattled and skated along the asphalt.

        One man’s walk in the park…

        All the best with the launch 🙂

        PS Also wanted to say well done for pricing it reasonably and not under valuing yourself. Good work deserves to be well paid.

        Reply
  5. Graham W

    Pants! No, not the article, my luxury non-essential. They’re horribly uncomfy under the padded shorts when riding (so I don’t wear them in the daytime), but there’s nothing like the luxury of a big ‘ol pair of baggy pantaloons when kicking back in the evening. The freedom of movement and getting some well-needed ventilation to the twins is the best feeling in the world after a sweaty day in the saddle 🙂

    Reply

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