Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Ultimate Bike Tour Survival List

As my next bike tour draws closer (I'm coming for you NYC Century!), I've found myself mentally compiling a list of all the essentials I'll pack. 

I've got about eight bike tours under my belt so far, and by now I pretty much know exactly what's worth toting along and what's better left behind. The key is to pack as light and efficiently as possible.

Here goes: 

Sunscreen. I tan easily, but that doesn't mean I like it. I worry constantly about sun damage while riding each day and since bike tours take place in spring and summer, they're pretty much all-day, blistering hot affairs. Pack a mini bottle of spray on sunscreen (it dries quicker and it's easier to apply while riding).

A water bottle. This is a given and if you're biking more than 50 miles, I'd suggest carrying two. My go-to bottle is Polar Ice, which is far cheaper online than you'll find in stores (though I did stumble upon a $6 sale at the Container Store once). 

Always remember to pack light.
Spare inner tubes. If you're not sure what size your tires need, drop by any bike shop and as (or just inspect your tube for its measurements and make sure the tube matches). I have yet to go on a bike tour where no one gets a flat, and it can happen to anyone, I don't care how fancy your $2,000 bike is. 

Ibuprofen. I'm not condoning drug use here, but if your joints tend to get inflamed during strenuous activity like mine, you'll save yourself a lot of pain by keeping a few anti-inflammatories handy. I always take a couple before a tour and then a couple more during the ride. If that's not enough to ease your pain, chances are you're not using good form on your bike. Drop by your bike shop for an adjustment before any long ride to be sure your seat and handle bars are properly set. 

Extra snacks. Each bike tour varies, but most typically provide some kind of food along the way. Do yourself a favor and pack something you know you'll enjoy anyway if you don't want to take a chance on missing out on all the "goodies". Personally, I get sick of PB&Js and power bars, so I love packing oranges (they're hold up well in the basket) and nuts to keep myself fueled. If there are snacks available, chances are they'll have vegetarian options but the gluten-free and vegan crowd should definitely stock up on their own stuff. 

Portable tire pump. If you're riding a group, make sure at least one person has a portable pump. You can find them for under $20 on Amazon and it's handy to have one on hand if a tour volunteer isn't around to help. 

Baby wipes. Yes, baby wipes. I can't tell you how quickly my friends and I go through these things during longer bike rides. You'll need them to wipe the muck off your face, hands, arms, legs, and eyes (because sunscreen will inevitably dribble into them and burn like hell) throughout the day. Trust me––there will be muck, especially for the sweaters out there like yours truly. 

First-aid kit. This doesn't have to be anything special, but a few bandages and anti-septic cream are probably a smart idea to carry along. You never know how well-stocked tour first aid tents (if there are any at all) will be and even then, it's best to treat scrapes as soon as possible. 

Cash. This is for emergencies and also in case you get sick of tour snacks like I do and need to run into a bodega for something else. 

A visor. I'm not a huge fan of those dorky visor/cap thingies people wear under their helmets, but they are damn useful on bike tours. Keep the sun out of your eyes as much as possible and you'll save yourself one major headache down the road. 

That's all for me. Did I miss anything? Let me know!


  1. You hit it right on the nose! The only thing I would add for an NYC specific tour is your Metrocard in case something happens to your bike and you can't ride home. Also, a non-essential, but something I really really want to have during this next century is some music. Portable speakers and a way to recharge my iPod if it gets low on battery. I always want to ride next to the people who have music so I'm either speeding up to catch them or lagging a bit if they are behind me.

    1. I just got a portable ipod speaker for my bday! My first thought was "Can't wait for the next bike tour!" :)

  2. Sandra Yudilevich EspinozaAugust 8, 2012 at 9:27 PM

    Mandi: I don't ride (I swim)...but I love reading your bike writer blog...especially when you describe (or take pics of) places I know. Makes me feel just less homesick! Thanks...

  3. Sandra Yudilevich EspinozaAugust 8, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    that should have read "just a little less homesick!"

  4. Music is a must have on any bike tour I go on... Headphones aren't safe for cycling so I just use my Jambox with the Jambox Case mounted to my bike and I can stream tunes from my iPhone. Works great

  5. My hubby and I will be coming up from DC to do the NYC Century tour. we did it last year which was our first tour and love it. This year we're doing the 55 mile tour not he whole hundred. Thanks for the infor. Luckily we carry all those items except for handy wipes. Good thinking.

  6. Thank You! Great post. I'm considering a leg of the NYC century, and information like this is invaluable.

  7. The list you have provided is very helpful for every cyclist out there. Great job and keep up the good work.

  8. Biking can be fun and adventurous. It is a great way to keep healthy too. Most cyclists enjoy the fun and health benefits combined when they go out for a biking tour.

  9. I like this a lot. Thank you for sharing. I'm always looking for upcycles like this. In the end, you don't know it was a shipping pallet to begin with!
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