Bike tours are typically classified as supported when a vehicle travels with the biker carrying all of their gear, or self-sustained when all gear is packed up each morning and pedaled with the rider to the next location. Given that we aren’t sponsored riders, and that we prefer the idea of carrying all that we need under our own power, we opted for a self-sustained ride.
Through our many experiences backpacking, we were very familiar with the fact that even the smallest items add weight that requires more effort to haul. With this fact in mind, we were relentless in our selection process. The general rule was that if we were on the fence about whether to bring something, we left it. Here are the precious necessities that made the cut and sustained us for the 1800+ miles and 40+ days of biking from Northern Washington to Malibu, Califonia.
Our cleverly designed bike bags, called panniers in the cycling world, made it possible to comfortably carry all of our gear while travelling an average of about 50 miles per day. Panniers clip into the back rack over the rear wheel, keeping our load stable and out of our way while we ride. The Ortlieb panniers that we use are waterproof, which we confirmed through a ten-mile stretch of torrential rain near Fort Bragg.
In addition to rear panniers, we used smaller bags attached to the frame of our bikes to store more frequently used items. Our front bags were attached to the handlebars so that we were able to access them while riding, and were used to store phones, wallets, snacks and other things that we used en route. We stored a few essential parts and tools in a tiny bag attached to the frame under my saddle.
Cooking Supplies and Food
After a long day of riding, nothing is better than cooking and enjoying a hearty meal. Due to a lack of refrigeration and the need to minimize weight, we usually cooked food that just required boiling water. A couple of weeks into the trip, we purchased a high efficiency jetboil stove that heats two cups of water in just two minutes and has allowed us to conserve quite a bit of fuel. We used an old pot whose cheap lightweight build was perfect for our needs. Other cooking supplies included by a couple sets of silverware, a pocket knife and two tupperware that are used both for coffee/ tea cups in the morning and as storage for the infrequent leftovers (we usually devour every morsel of food).
Our most common dinners were ramen with dried mushroom, tofu, fresh brocoli and carrots, and garlic sriracha paste; and couscous with dehydrated black beans, fresh veggies and spicy sauce. For breakfast we enjoyed oatmeal with craisons and nuts; and for lunch we ate countless peanut butter and jelly tortilla wraps (tortillas take up much less space that bread). We also stocked up on warm beverages including tea, coffee and hot cocoa; snacks including granola bars, chocolate and chili spiced mangos; and spices including cinnamon and garlic salt.
The energy expenditure that goes into riding 5-6 hours day after day, can only be sustained through plenty of high quality rest. We sleep in the two person Marmot Ajax 2 tent, which we have set up and put away enough times to have it down to a science. Just prior to setting out on our trip, we invested in lightweight Nemo inflatable sleeping pads which are incredibly comfortable despite weighing just over a pound and packing down to an incredible 8″x5″. Our backpacking sleeping bags rounded out our sleep system offering additional lightweight comfort.
To get around camp we each brought a headlamp, and spare triple-a batteries. We brought small pieces of lightweight foam pad to sit on around the picnic table. We use a 6-foot piece of small gauge cordalette to hang laundry. We brought a Steri-Pen to sanitize river water in case a campsite doesn’t have running water, but luckily did not need to use it. Late in the trip, we bought a battery pack that we charged so that we would no longer need to leave our phones plugged in to campground bathrooms unguarded.
It’s worth mentioning that we did not bring pillows, instead opting to use our fleece sweatshirts in their place. Many blowup backpacking pillows are available, but we already have a routine developed over many backpacking trips.
Tools, Parts and Accessories
We packed the minimum of spare parts and tools sufficient to cover flat tires, loose bolts and lubrication, and resolved to hitchhike to the nearest shop should we experience a major malfunction. Luckily we experienced no big issues, suffering just six flat tires during the trip. Our entire spare part kit included one spare tire each, which we replaced at the next bike shop each time we used one. Our tools included an allen wrench set which we routinely used to check and tighten loose bolts, a patch kit, tire levers, a small hand pump, and a compressed nitrogen nozzle with two nitrogen bottles. We also carried a couple rags and lubricant which we used to oil our chains about once a week.
As a side note, if you are not already oiling your chain regularly you are really doing yourself and your bike a big diservice. It takes just two minutes, will make a noticeable difference in riding noise and extends chain life.
While out on the road we use front and back lights to warn cars of our presence. We brought a selfie stick for pictures when no one is around to ask. We also have an extremely packable day backpack for short hikes and side-trips. We each use a bungee cord to attach extra items such as sleeping bags, bike lock and tent to our back racks outside of the panniers.
We each brought bright, neon, spandex bike clothing for our time on the road and comfortable cotton clothing for hanging out at camp.
- two pairs bike shorts
- two short sleeve bike shirts
- one long sleeve bike shirt
- bike gloves (V)
- tennis shoes
- two cotton tee-shirts
- long pants
- fleece sweatshirt
- four pairs of socks
- four pairs of underwear
- flip flops
- backpacking towel
- bar soap
- quarters (shower money)
- dish soap
- aloe vera
- mosquito spray
Entertainment (AKA: Extra Weight):
Our phones acted as our main source of entertainment on the road. The kindle app and ebook copies of the entire Game of Thrones series from Los Angeles library cultivated a GOT addiction and filled our downtime. When we weren’t reading, we were writing in our journals about the days events, which were then used as the basis of the blog entries we have posted.
Despite our best efforts, we still ended up bringing quite a few things that we only used once or twice on the trip. Most of these items we thought we’d use for entertainment, but just didn’t end up needing. They include a frisbee, a portable speaker (we used earbuds instead), and playing cards.
There you have it: the entire Pacific Coast Bike Tour gear list. We enjoyed making do with just the things we could carry, and in fact lived quite comfortably with these essentials. Every time we have everything out of the bags, I marvel at how much can actually fit on two bikes and the fact that we use so much more at home.
In about a month we will be living out of the truck, which is a study in efficient packing in its own right. After living on bikes for a month, I’m sure we will feel luxurious sleeping on a real(ish) bed, cooking with a two burner camp stove and keeping cold food in the ice chest. We will have gear to play outdoors in any number of activities: climbing, backpacking, biking, hiking, etc. If this post is interesting to people, we will gladly write a gear breakdown for the truck in the coming months.