One of the features you’ll find on any self-respecting adventure cycle tourist’s blog is a ‘kit list’ page.
Usually published in the name of providing useful information, and occasionally as bait for search engines and to earn money through affiliate links, this page is the place where the rider lists bicycle components and the contents of panniers in unfettered detail. (It’s usually to be found alongside a route map and tour budget breakdown.)
Despite the amount of riding I’ve done, I’ve avoided published such a list for as long as possible.
Here are a few of the many reasons why this is (or was) the case. They are all still valid:
1. Kit lists place unnecessary emphasis on kit.
Not knowing where to start with the planning process, for my first big trip (which became Janapar) I spent the best part of a year researching ‘the best’ cycle touring equipment.
I did so by Googling “cycling touring kit lists” and inevitably coming across scores (if not hundreds) of such pages, none of which quite seemed to agree on what ‘the best’ actually was.
I had no previous knowledge of the outdoor or cycling industries, nor their products, nor their various ways of convincing potential consumers that equipment is critically important to actually doing anything. So much of that year was spent trying to get my head round the abundance of options and the reams of conflicting recommendations. And I never did realise that the industry marketing machine was peddling a fallacy.
Had someone experienced told me it was possible to just grab what I had lying around, beg/borrow/steal the rest or at least pick it up on the cheap, and hit the road, I’d have done so much sooner.
I also wouldn’t have made the mistake of trying to get gear sponsorship for the trip, and would have had a hell of a lot less to worry about when things inevitably broke as I wouldn’t have been so attached to them.
2. ‘Big Trip’ bloggers represent a tiny minority of cycle tourists.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that it takes a very particular type of person to decide that a) instead of an enjoyable little ride during their annual leave they are actually going to cycle across a continent or two, and b) their trip is epic enough in scale or importance to warrant starting a blog about it.
No judgement is implied here – in any case, I am one such person myself! It’s just worth pointing out that 99% of people travelling by bike are not on epic trans-continental trips and are not blogging about their experiences in any kind of on-the-Google-radar way.
Close the laptop and actually hit the road and you’ll meet all manner of people conducting their trips with cheap gear from brands you’ve never heard of and on whatever bikes they had lying around, no matter how ‘good for cycle touring’ it appears to be.
The truth is that the ‘best’ gear for cycle touring is that which you can forget about until it breaks, at which point you can easily fix it. Becoming a gear nerd is entirely optional.
3. The cost of ‘standard issue’ touring gear is hugely discouraging.
If you added up the cost of (for example) a Thorn expedition bike, Hilleberg tent, MSR stove and cookset, Exped camping mattress, Mountain Equipment sleeping bag, Ortlieb luggage, a full wardrobe of North Face/Patagonia apparel, a set of professional camera gear, top quality tools and spares, and all the trimmings, you would be approaching the price of a small family hatchback.
Some people (usually those from the 1% minority above) will save significant amounts of cash for a once-in-a-lifetime dream trip. There’s no problem with that, and it often make sense for them to do so, given their priorities. But it’s completely optional.
The longest world tour I’ve ever come across (9 years and 300,000km, for what it’s worth) was conducted on a succession of cheap aluminium mountain bikes. Maria hit the road for six weeks for an initial outlay of about fifteen dollars. Jamie and friends rode from the UK to Slovenia on £30 bikes. Last year I cobbled together everything you’d need for a bicycle tour of any length for £25.17.
For someone dipping their toes into the idea of adventuring by bicycle, being led to believe that you have to spend a few years’ worth of life savings on bits of shiny metal to do so is discouraging.
4. Gear choice is a hugely subjective thing.
Especially now I’ve got a few dozen countries and a few thousand miles of riding experience to draw upon, whatever gear I end up choosing for any given journey is dependent on a combination of factors unique to me alone, and not necessarily shared by anyone else. I know these factors inside out.
By publishing a list of gear I use for a cycle tour, I’d be doing the equivalent of publishing a list of ingredients without explaining what I was actually cooking, or what the end result was supposed to look or taste like.
Just because I prefer raised handlebars; just because I’m reckless enough to rely on suspension forks not breaking; just because I prefer non-waterproof canvas panniers with dry-bags inside them; just because I’m happy cooking noodles in a tin mug over a stove made out of a beer can; just because I don’t mind having no space to spread out in a 1-person tent; just because I carry 6 kilograms of camera gear; just because I’ve an anti-conformist streak and like the idea of a cargo trailer – doesn’t mean anyone else does.
The same goes for any other kit list. There is a vast range of gear available: homemade, brand-new; cheap, exorbitant; minimal, luxurious; basic, complicated; generalist, specialist. And there are whole categories of gear some might depend highly upon, but which are completely irrelevant to trips of particular lengths or in particular regions. Lists don’t really help much with understanding any of this.
5. Mindset is far more important than gear.
I’ve written about this before, but there’s no harm in covering an important point more than once: no amount of money spent on gear is going to counteract Murphy’s law, which states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. All that spending money will do is delay the inevitable.
It is often the case (but less often understood) that a major source of hesitation and delay when it comes to committing to a big trip is a lack of confidence and understanding of what will actually be involved. Researching ‘the best’ gear is one way in which we attempt to combat that lack.
But another way – which would better serve any budding adventure cyclist in the long run – is to accept the inevitable and to prepare an appropriate response. Knowing that you’ll be able to fix pretty much anything that might go wrong with a bike, for example, will not only instil a healthy level of self-confidence; it might also counteract the belief that one needs to spend two or three grand on a bike that supposedly won’t ever break (it will) in the first place.
So if you’re researching kit lists because you want to understand what’s involved in cycle touring, I’d suggest instead that you go and take your bike apart, realise you’re missing a couple of critical tools, consult Park Tool or Sheldon Brown on the bits you can’t figure out, and put it back together. Then I’d suggest taking it all off for a good weekend’s shakedown. That’s what’s involved in cycle touring.
You’ll emerge with more confidence than dredging any number of kit lists could ever impart. And with the perspective you’ll learn, you might well save enough on unnecessary gear to extend your trip by another few weeks or months.
(Purely to avoid having to reply to almost-daily emails I get about the kit I use, I have now grudgingly published a list containing a mixture of what I use on various tours. Find it here, if you must.)
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If you need more help understanding how your desires, dreams, plans and priorities for bicycle adventures factor into your choice of gear, you could do a lot worse than checking out the 257-page digital guide I’ve written on just that topic. It’ll help you no end in navigating this mess for once and for all, and save you money in the process. Check it out at GearForCycleTouring.com.