|What to Bring on Your Cycle Trip,
How to Prepare for the Riding
Years ago, we thinly disguised a recommendation sheet created by another outfitter (long since out of the business, their demise likely related to their recommendation sheet). Their original work corresponds to the italic passages in the text that follows.
Over the years we have seasoned it with our own suggestions, with random editorial comments, and with other opinions from various sources. The following is a compendium. This process initially seemed easier than doing the work ourselves, but in retrospect, we’re not so sure.
If this is not your first time on this page, you can follow these links to jump directly to the part you need.
- How to pack your paniers. Even if you are not living out of paniers, these recommendations are a good baseline.
- What do you need in the way of bike equipment / luggage?
- Training for your ride.
- If your trip visits our Norway itinerary, there is a supplemental list of equipment and clothing that is recommended. Please see the supplemental “Norway Packing List” for Norway-specific stuff to bring.
What to Bring for Yourself
Do not bring an iron.
The list that follows assumes that you will be packing into paniers. To see what this means, look at our note on “self-contained” travel. It is designed to allow you to pack for a week’s autonomy, which is the length between convenient laundry stops on most of our routes. Obviously, this list can be reduced if you are willing to rinse out shirts and socks in the hotel sink at night. In that case, reduce your quantities accordingly. Many experienced riders prefer to do this, though hotel keepers can react badly (and penalize financially!) when the puddle of water on the floor does in the ceiling plaster of the room below.
Conversely, if you are subscribing to one of our Baggage Transfer Services, you may additionally fill a suitcase, weighing up to 35 lbs. But a 35 lb. suitcase plus a 25 lb. panier is a lot of stuff. Which YOU have to cart up and down hotel stairs, to and from train stations, and on trains, where you carry all of your own baggage.... We suggest that you use the Baggage Transfer Services to lighten your paniers, not to disguise yourself as a moving van.
So, here we go....
Baggage is an important consideration on a bicycle trip. As you will be carrying everything on the back of your bike during much of the biking, and with you when you are travelling by train, it is important to pack light. We cannot stress this enough. You should start out with no more than 15 kilos (33 lbs....).
Experience proves that you cannot cycle comfortably with a knapsack on your back. With planning, everything you need (plus room left over) will fit in your panier bags and your front handle bar bag.
- Three or four t-shirts.
[We suggest five, or even six “riding shirts:” one per riding day between laundry stops. Any shirt in which you feel comfortable cycling, t-shirt, bike jersey, or other, will do. Male riders may find that light cotton shirts which button up the front work well: wear them to dinner in the evening, and then on the bike the next day.]
- Two or three pairs of shorts.
[Two should do. Leggings are a versatile, lightweight alternative for women.]
- Underwear, socks.
- A hat, for protection from sun and rain.
- One pair of running shoes or biking shoes.
[These should be fairly hard-soled, important for biking comfort. Running shoes generally have more versatility than biking shoes - fancy balls, for instance.]
- A set of good clothes for formal occasions: trousers & dress shirt for men, equivalent for women.
[Neither jeans nor shorts will do: restaurants and clubs will often refuse entry. But you dont need a tux, either: this is not normally about any sort of dress code, just about respecting your hosts in a restaurant where the waiters may be in jacket and tie.]
- One pair of shoes for more formal occasions.
[As above, essential for better restaurants. If you have only tevas and sneakers, prepare for pizza....]
- One other pair of trousers - cotton/blends are better than denim for weight and ease of washing.
[As an alternative for women, a skirt, a travel dress, or capri pants. Note that at least one pair of long trousers is imperative for men. European boys stop wearing shorts when they reach puberty and stop skinning their knees. Being allowed to wear long pants to school is a big milestone, which they all remember attaining. They will look at you strangely if they think you have not done so yet....]
- Two good shirts or blouses.
- Sweatsuit or jogging suit.
[This is absurd. Comfortable trousers that you could bike in in a pinch, plus a light sweater, are more versatile. But some cool-weather article of clothing is essential, at all seasons and on all trips. Spring and Fall travellers, and those travelling to Scandinavia or to the Alps at any season, should have some sort of windbreaker and a heavier sweater.]
[This is a reference to gloves worn for warmth, not to cycle gloves, on which more below. Necessary in the same circumstances as the windbreaker mentioned in the previous point.]
- A bathing suit.
[If you’re leaving in Spring or Fall you may never use this, but it's light…]
- Rain gear - must be comfortable to bike in.
[Don't harbor any illusions: if it pours, you'll get wet, unless you’re dressed for toxic waste clean-up. We sell cheap ponchos, if you don’t want to spend on this.]
A word about your clothing: be practical. Stick to one or two of your best colors; bring only wash and wear items. Between laundry stops, you may find it easier to rinse out clothes in the evening and wear them the following morning. This is not a fashion show, so don’t worry about wardrobe variety. Keep in mind that entrance into some galleries, churches, etc. is forbidden in shorts, jeans or bare shoulders - please pack appropriate clothing for these visits [potato sacks or barrels are fine].
- Toiletries: medication, prescriptions for same, eyeglasses [bring along some even if you don't wear them, just for the heck of it], an extra pair of glasses [not necessary if you don’t actually wear them]…
- An alarm clock [or a sundial and a rooster].
- A toothbrush & toothpaste.
- Cold water laundry soap.
- Aspirin or similar.
- Feminine hygiene.
- Plastic bags - handy for carrying wet clothes.
The plastic bags are particularly important. In fact, we suggest that you pack all of your clothes inside plastic bags, by category of clothing. This organizes your luggage in a way that will help you locate things without a nightly “panier explosion” (see photo) and thus speeds packing and unpacking. It also protects your clothes from downpours. Getting wet on a bike ranges from mildly amusing to irritating, so long as you have dry things to change in to. One end of that range of emotion is significantly expanded if you don’t.
You will not be sent home if you do not have the following, but they may make your cycling more comfortable:
- Cycling shorts or tights, to avoid chafing.
[There is an internal dispute at Blue Marble about whether these are really useful. Know that some people live long and happy lives without them, while others wonder how they could....]
- Gel seat cover.
[If you are not bringing your own seat altogether. Gel utility is another topic of Blue Marble fireside debate. Frequent riders do not always find gel seats or seat covers helpful sometimes the reverse.]
- Cycling gloves, which help prevent hand damage.
[At the cost of looking goofy, protective gloves can double as the warm-weather gloves mentioned above, except in Norway, where finger-tip cover is essential.]
- Resource material: guidebooks and maps.
[Michelin Green Guides are well-suited to our trips, since they mainly discuss stuff to see, and not places to stay, taken care of by us. We loan you maps for free: ours are better than those you will find outside of Europe, and generally cheaper even if you want to buy them as souvenirs.]
- Please do not bring expensive jewelry [or negotiable securities].
Do without a hair dryer if possible, and bring a compact version if not.
If you are North American, do not forget that European appliances function on 220 V current, and require a different type of plug. These are two, separate issues. That means: converting the plug alone does not convert the current, it only lets you feed the wrong current into your hair dryer, thus frying the motor and sometimes producing a surprising flash of blue light, resembling lightening. This is fun, but it only works once, and then you have to buy a new hair dryer, so it is an expensive jolly. Both plug and current converters are available at hardware stores: bring them if necessary.
And remember: do not bring an iron.
What to Bring for Your Bicycle
Unless you have told us that you are bringing your own, we supply a 21 (or more)-speed road touring bike with a back carrier rack, a cable cycle lock, and a tire pump. Road touring bikes are a rare breed, specifically designed for the type of touring we do. They are not fat-tire mountain bikes, since these are inappropriate for distance riding on paved roads. (In Norway, off-road conditions dictate that we use mountain bikes.)
You additionally need...
- ...bicycle luggage (panier set, a.k.a. saddle bags) which should fit over or hook onto the back carrier rack. The bag(s) should be hardy and waterproof.
[We suggest that it be a one-piece bag with an incorporated (not zip-on) top compartment.
This type of panier is hard to find outside of Germanic countries, but if you manage, they are sturdier, easier to carry off the bike, and they provide larger average capacity. They are what we rent and sell in Europe. Note that if you do not have, and do not wish to buy, bike luggage, people have successfully traveled with a variety of sacks, backpacks... once even a hard-sided suitcase. Paniers provide a better (lower) center of gravity, but if you don’t mind being a bit top-heavy, you can make almost anything work. Whatever you bring, just make sure that you can securely bungie it onto the back of a rack-equipped bike before you settle on it as your luggage of choice. Info on the stuff that we rent and sell can be found here.]
- A bicycle lock.
[As noted above, we provide cable locks without charge. You only need this if you are doing independent riding involving major cities, where a cable will not sufficiently protect the bike.]
- A tool kit with patching equipment.
[We supply summary tool kits without charge: patch kits, tire irons and allen keys for seat adjustment. Only bring your own kit if you have some expertise that would make it worthwhile...]
- A bicycle helmet.
- A water bottle.
[The bikes are equipped with holders, and you can put plastic bottles of Evian in them rather than carrying this piece of superfluous equipment across borders. Or you can find them in any bike shop en route.]
- A front carrier bag, or handlebar bag. These fit in front of any handlebar, and carry items like a wallet, lunch, a camera, or several pairs of glasses. A transparent map pouch should be attached to the top [so that you can see just how lost you really are as you ride along]. Installation and removal take seconds; they can be easily carried as shoulder bags off the bike.
- A parachute.
We suggest that you visit a local bike shop or sporting goods store in your area for advice on optional equipment like toe cages, odometers, GPS’s, mini-bar...
[O.K., so it’s an inexact quote. We can equip your rental bike with toe cages for free, so don’t buy any, just verify that you checked the appropriate box on your application. We do not particularly recommend toe cages: they marginally improve performance, but they increase the seriousness of certain types of accident.]
Training for the Ride
Our trips are carefully designed to ensure that a normally fit person will be able to complete the daily route without undue strain. If you bike some, you’ll be fine. If you exercise regularly, but don’t bike, you should try to go on at least one reasonably long ride (25 miles / 40 kilometers) in the two weeks before your trip.
This is partly to insure that you actually know how to ride: if you have trouble in traffic, or with the gears, then more intensive practice is a good idea.
But it is mostly to break in your posterior. If you give yourself a sore saddle in the week before the trip, you will fully recover (that is, be able to sit down without discomfort) by the trip start, and yet hold on to some of the resistance you built up on your long ride. Don't harbor too many illusions, though: your seat will be sore on days 3-5 of your trip.
If you have done nothing but guzzle beer and watch TV since you were 12, then you’ll initially be exhausted in the evenings (and your seat will be sore). You should probably avoid trips whose first week is “Challenging,” and going out for a walk from time to time between now and the trip departure might be a good idea....