PLANNING A BIKE TOUR
Adventure Cycling Bike Setups and Touring Kit Lists...
One of the charms of pedalling off into the unknown is that it doesn’t always need to involve a lot of planning, if you thrive on the unplanned and unexpected. However, some travelling cyclists find that more detailed planning is either essential for a certain trip, or just all part of the fun. This is a growing resource to help plan your cycle travels, including bike setup information and a useful master touring kit list…
“Before taking to the road, three matters claim consideration, namely, the question of when, where and how to tour, for no one jumps on his cycle for a holiday on the spur of the moment without thought for such things”
Cycle Touring at Home and Abroad 
Trip timeframes will work one of two ways – either you have somewhere you want to ride so are limited by seasons, climates or events, or you have a specific time to ride and have options for routes or places based on the same factors. Block out the most time possible: a weekend, 2 weeks, 1 month, 6 months so you have something to work with. Simple. Adventure cycling is as much about escaping over a weekend as a six month trans-continental ride…
Location & Route Ideas >
Choose a popular / iconic touring route, follow in someone else’s tracks, or pick somewhere that challenges or interests you and plot your own route. The chances are you’ll have an idea for where you want to ride already. Inspiration is everywhere. Check out the great titles on our travel bookshelf below, and the Pannier Journal for ideas. Picking some sort of theme for your trip is a nice idea, whether a distillery tour in Scotland, a wild ruin bagging tour on the Scottish west-coast, or a WW2 bunker tour in the south of France…
Home is Elsewhere – Heinz Stucke // Into The Remote Places – Ian Hibell // Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Nick Crane // Atlas Biker – Nick Crane // Bicycles Up Kilimanjaro – Nick Crane // Cycling in Europe – Nick Crane // In Pursuit of Spring – Edward Thomas // Between the Hammer & the Sickle – Simon Vickers // Off the Map – Mark Jenkins // Travels With Rosinante – Bernard Magnouloux // Travels With Willie – Willie Wier // Spices & Spandex – Tom Perkins // Dervla Murphy – Full Tilt // Around The World on a Bicycle – Thomas Stevens // The Lost Cyclist – David Herlihy // Lost Lanes Wales – Jack Thurston // The Wilderness Books – John Muir // Cycling Home From Siberia – Rob Lilwall // Janapar – Tom Allen // Moods of Future Joys – Al Humphreys // Thunder & Sunshine – Al Humphreys // Cycle & Camp – Thomas Holding // Cols and Passes of the British Isles – Graham Robb // Slow Is Fast – Dan Malloy // The Hungry Cyclist – Tom Kevill-Davis // The Living Mountain – Nan Shepherd // The Adventure Cycling Handbook – The Pikes // Himalaya By Bike – Laura Stone // Every Inch of the Way – Tom Bruce // Bikepacking – Laurence McJannet // A Siberian Winter’s Tale – Helen Lloyd
Map Work >
A typical touring route will be based on riding anywhere between 60-200km a day depending on riding mindset, fitness, bike loads, terrain, daylight hours, and overnight stop-over locations (unless you are travelling totally self-sufficient and happy to wild camp). We plan our days in the saddle travelling at an average of 15km/h which takes stoppages for navigating, mechanicals, photographing stuff, wild swimming, or unexpected caber tossing into account. You never know…
Find maps of the region(s) you’ve chosen to explore at a scale of 1:50,000 or less. Despite the number of useful digital mapping apps, especially that work offline for use on the road, paper maps are still the best for laying-out, highlighting and discovering things at this stage; this is when the real planning starts. Of course, open Google Maps and sites like Dangerous Roads alongside to check/edit certain sections. Work out an idea of a route based on: daily distances; road/track type; terrain; elevation; potential checkpoints; and overnight stops. Try and plan point-to-point routes ending up somewhere new each day, it really is the best way of discovering places and adds to the sense of adventure.
Trip Style, Logistics, Bike & Kit Selection
Once rough ideas are highlighted on the map, work out whether you’ll be riding a circular route (from and back to the same point) or a linear route (from and to different points). The main difference between the two is logistical – arranging access to your start and end points whether by train, ferry, plane, or vehicle. This access, or lack of, will define your final route. From the route and season, you’ll be able to work out what bikes, kit and setups you’ll need. Turns out, ‘when’, ‘where’, and ‘how’ are interdependent; you won’t really be able to go on a winter trip in Lapland on a road bike with an ultralight bikepacking setup…
Always contact travel companies ahead to arrange travelling with your bike.
The bike and how it is loaded will go a long way to determining the type of tour, and vice-versa. Each tourer’s travel mindset will also dictate their kit list – do you prefer to camp comfortably and cook up a gourmet meal in the wild? Or saw your toothbrush in half to save weight? Experience is key – you quickly learn what you can live without, and what you miss. One thing we’ve learned is: no matter how much gear you’re travelling with, always leave a bit of space somewhere to pick up supplies you might need on the road. And carry a spare strap/bungee to help with this…
Source a suitable bike, the touring equipment you need, and organise how to carry it…
…how do you tour?
Trad(itional) Touring Setup
The traditional method of loading a bike for adventures. Given the vast amount of space provided by four panniers and additonal bags, this setup lends itself to self-sufficient comfy bike-camping tours and really is the only way to go if you need, or want, to carry a full-on shelter and cooking setup, kitchen sink, plenty of clothing and enough food/water supplies.
However, with the bonus of space and flexibility comes weight and agility issues when looking to head further off-the-beaten-track. Rack bolts rattle out, panniers hit stuff, and the weight of the bike makes a bike-hike arduous / impossible. It’s like running the 100m in wellies that are 10 sizes too big. Cue the Bikepacking Setup…
The increasingly popular method of loading a bike for nimbler, further off-the-beaten-track adventures. Bags are fixed directly to the frame, seatpost, saddle and handlebars to reduce the weight and bulkiness, and improve agility. This rackless setup lends itself to bike-camping tours for those travelling off-road, endurance racing where lightweight is the only way to go, and tours where you don’t need to carry as much kit, if not camping. The beauty of this setup is that you can load virtually any bike (providing the clearances work out) and it really restricts the stuff you can take with you = max efficiency.
However, the bikepacking setup can take a lot of getting used to and experience to perfect in terms of carrying your optimum comfortable touring kit list. And, whilst this setup improves options for terrains and routes, it can restrict things like taking the odd luxury item, or picking up extra needed supplies on the road. Cue the Cross setup…
The ideal cross between a traditional touring and bikepacking setup, for mixed-terrain bike-camping tours. The beauty of this setup is that it keeps packing efficient, but the larger set of bags allows for an added level of comfort, and ability to pick up supplies on the road.
“The question of what to take is, and probably always will be, one upon which there is a great diversity of opinion…since this is so personal a matter”
Cycle Touring at Home and Abroad 
ESSENTIALS: SHELTER / FOOD & DRINK / CLOTHING / NAVIGATION / TOOLS & SPARES
The amount of equipment you need does not necessarily increase with the length of your travels; you will find you need as much for a weekend away as for a month in the saddle. Pack efficiently and realistically – what is the minimum you need to enjoy the way you want to tour? Packing efficiently does not always mean cutting the amount of equipment, look to upgrade the type of equipment – lighter, more packable and higher performing options. The Pannier Shop outlines some great equipment in each category, which you can now even hire.
Bike Camping – prepared to camp and cook for yourself – really is the ultimate way to travel by bike. For the extra gear you need to carry you have a greater amount of freedom and flexibility on the road, memorable nights under the stars, and less of a drain on budget on lengthy tours. There are three main setups for camping out overnight, scaling down in shelter, comfort, packsize and weight: sleeping in a tent, sleeping sheltered under a tarp with a bivvy bag, and sleeping in a bivvy bag:
Bike & Touring Bags
Shelter, Cooking, Food & Drink
|Tarp, Poles, Guys, Pegs|
|Cleaning Stuff / Toothbrush|
|Spare bags for litter|
|COOKING, FOOD & DRINK||Stove|
|Lighter / Igniter|
|Food (on and off the bike)|
|Coffee Maker / 3-in-1 sachets / Fruit Tea|
|Water Filter / Tablets|
Clothing, Tools, Spares, Navigation & Extras
|Padded Shorts / Bib Shorts|
|Base Layer / Overshirt / Jersey|
|Waterproof / Wind Jacket|
|Off-The-Bike Gear (you won’t regret it)|
|TOOLS & SPARES||Multi-tool (HEX Keys, Chain Tool, Screw-Drivers)|
|Quick Link (check chain speed)|
|Spare Tubes & Patch Kit|
|Small Tubeless Sealant|
|Universal Derailleur Hanger?|
|Spoke Key & Spare Spokes (check size)?|
|Spare Brake & Gear Cables?|
|Spare Brake Pads?|
|Maps & Map Case|
|EXTRAS||First Aid Kit & Suncream|
|Phone (loaded with mapping?)|
|Sketchbook & Pen|
|That book you’ve been meaning to read|
|Powerpack(s) / Solar Panel?|
|Harmonica, to annoy everyone else|
Material, Geometry and Size. The frame is the integral part of a bike as it dictates comfort, riding style and adventuring capabilities. Check: clearances for wheel and tyre sizes; disc brake compatibility; geometry; chainstay lengths if loading panniers; the space within main triangle for frame bags; cage mounts on the frame and forks; cable routing method; and axle setup. Importantly, ride the right sized frame – head to your Local Bike Shop (LBS) to get a basic fitting sorted… // #steelisreal
2. CAGE MOUNTS
As many as possible. Look under the downtube for some. As a hack, you can always strap cages to the frame using clamps, or even cable ties if you’re not carrying heavy loads. Always carry cable ties. If using frame bags, go for side-swipe cages…
Road Shifters? MTB Shifters? Bar-End Shifters? Downtube Shifters? Each offers something different but largely depend on the style of bike, bars and the drivetrain; double-check compatibilities with manufacturers.
4 & 5. BAR SETUP UP-FRONT SPACE
Drop Bars? Drop Bars with flare? Flat Bars? Jones Bars? The width and profile affects riding style / comfort and up-front carrying capacity, whether handlebar bag, large rando bag, or bikepacking roll. Change the bar style, the bar width and stem length/angle to gain more space, although riding comfort should be paramount.
Material / Compatibility. Anything other than steel forks will make for a lighter adventure bike, but less versatile touring bike for loading up. Check for rack and cage mounts, mid-fork.
The majority of tourers will go with cantilever brakes – effective and super easy to maintain out on the road. However, with the increased stopping power of disc brakes, it’s hard to look passed this option nowadays, especially for off-road adventuring. Mechanical disc brakes are ideal for adventure cycling (eventhough hydraulic should be bombproof) as cables are a lot less faffy than bleeding brakes on the road. It’s always worth carrying spare pads. Wheelsets need to be disc-compatible, as does your bike frame.
It’s worth looking at dynamo hubs. These can be used to power USB charges or to directly power lights, or both. Never worry about charging lights again. Disclaimer: you often need to be riding more than 12kmph for these to charge effectively…
9. WHEEL & TYRE SIZE
One of the most confusing but important things to get right as it totally dictates how off-the-beaten track you can ride a touring bike; the bigger and wider the tyre, the more flexible you can be with a route. Anywhere between 33c (mm) and 42c is usually suitable, compared to 25c-28c for paved road riding. That said, you’ll need to work with the rim size (inner width/outer diameter) and frame clearances at the fork crown, chainstays, and brakes as they will affect the max sizes you can go to. Keeping the width of the rim consistent, there are essentially three diameter sizes (measured to their outer diameters), which are then given other names by then applying the typical tyre size on top:
622mm = 29” / 700c
584mm = 27.5” / 650b
559mm = 26”
So, if you’re planning to head further off-the-beaten-track, check the clearances on your frame, and then the size of your existing rims to see if everything is compatible for an increase in tyre size. Also, check the treads are right for your riding. There is also the tubeless option – an airtight sealed rim instead that is more resistant to punctures and pinch-flats on a tube, which requires tubeless-compatible components…
Totally a matter of individual preference but it’s always good to just travel with one pair of shoes – go for 50/50 pedals (cleats one side, flat the other) for ultimate flexibility, or just ride flat pedals…
Touring fully loaded? Travelling off-the-beaten track? You’ll need to think about a lower gear ratio to maximise your time in the saddle – a poor range will limit you to flatter regions, paved surfaces, and lighter loads. This is a complex area and a matter of individual preference, but essentially look for as low as 24t (teeth) chain rings on the front and a rear cassette with anything up to 11-36t (or more if running a single ring, 1x, on the front). Check compatibility across everything if making changes; you might need different derailleurs to cater for different ranges, for example. Crank length is also a factor for comfort and gearing. Check your chain for wear and if carrying a spare / quick link double check you have the right speed chain (size – width). Have a look at our extended tools & spares list below…
Fenders are an individual preference. If you’re mainly paved-road touring in groups, or worried about protecting your bike parts, then they’re a good idea. The issues come with frame clearance, riding mixed-terrain and transporting a bike. Not only will you find it tricky to fit fenders when running bigger tyres, but fenders are prone to blocking and they are just one extra thing to rattle / bend / rub. Quickly taking your bike apart or wheels off to chuck in the back of your mate’s hatchback becomes an issue too…
13. RACK MOUNTS
If looking to travel with racks, ensure there are mounts at seatstay and dropout level.
14. BACK-END CLEARANCE
If looking to fit bikepacking seat packs, saddle bags, or pile stuff on the rear rack then double check the seatpost and saddle area clearance…
Your best companion on the road. You cannot go wrong with a Brooks saddle, whether the traditional leather or the new Cambium range.
Before heading off on a trip, learn about the basic mechanics of your bike so you are able to fix minor problems on the road. For servicing and spares before setting off, support your LBS. Check our list of tools and spares on the master kit list…
Here’s to your next adventures…