Category Archives: Materials and Gear

The stuff that gets you places

The Things I Carried (with apologies to Tim O’Brien)

Probably the thing that takes the most amount of thought before I leave for any bike trip is what I’m going to bring with me and how I’m going to pack it all. And as I was biking through Utah, it was the question that people most often asked me: what do you have in all those bags?

So in case you, too, are curious, I spent part of a rest day in Moab taking pictures of all the material possessions I had with me–everything I needed for three and a half weeks on a bike, though I’m confident it would have served me for as long as I wanted. The difference between three weeks and twenty is not so much, so long as you keep washing your clothes and buying more food:)

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Before I get into the details, this is what my bike entirely loaded looked like (picture courtesy of a super awesome woman I ran into at the top of the Burr Trail switchbacks):

touring setup

So that’s how it looked with everything packed up. It came down to this: two panniers, one extra bag strapped on top of my rack, a little saddlebag with my tools, a frame pack, and my handlebar bag. It weighed sort of a lot, but once I was biking the weight didn’t really matter, since as long as it was even remotely well-balanced, all it did was make me slower going uphill.

Now as for what was inside all those bags.

pannier 1(Pannier 1: clothes and food)

So this pannier was the heaviest one. The grey stuff sack was filled with food: dehydrated dinners (bought in bulk at People’s Co-op in Portland), oatmeal, nuts, dried fruits, energy or granola bars, veggies, whatever I happened to have on hand. The weight and bulk of that varied according to how much food I had at any given time, but other than water, food was probably my heaviest thing.

Aside from food, I stuffed most of my clothes in this bag. From the top left, I have one short-sleeve shirt (I’m wearing the other one), booties, long underwear, one sports bra, three pair wool socks, one pair normal pants, two pair underwear, two pair biking bottoms (one shorts, one 3/4 length), and my water-resistant layer. Plus, to take this picture, I was wearing (aside from the short-sleeve shirt I mentioned), a sweatshirt, another pair of socks, some shorts, and long underarmor. I did have some other clothes-type stuff too, but I put that in different places.

pannier 2(Pannier 2: randoms:)

This pannier was much more scattered. My sleeping bag took up most of the room, but stuffed in around it I had most of my pragmatic things as well as my entertainment things. From the left, I had my puffy down jacket (so glad to have had that on this trip!) as well as a quick-dry towel. The rolled-up blue thing by my puffy is my water filter. I didn’t use that too much, so I was glad I brought this super small and sort of annoying one instead of my usual MSR pump filter. In a plastic bag, I have a spare tube, a pink rag, and lube for my bike. Underneath that, my headlamp. Next to that, and this is a weight extravagance for sure: my maps, my journal, and two whole books.

Above my literary stockpile is my Jetboil, which is how I made anything warm to eat or drink (the fuel cannister for that fits into the Jetboil itself). Then I have a bunch of little things. A stuff sack with my camera and cell-phone chargers, plus four extra rechargeable AAA batteries. An orange stuff sack into which I put all my toiletries: biodegradable Dr Bronner’s soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, rudimentary first aid (consisting mostly of neosporin and bandaids), chamois cream, toilet paper and baby wipes. The black square thing next to my sleeping bag is actually some leg warmers that I’d cram around everything else if it wasn’t cold enough to wear them.

rack bag(rack-top bag, held in place by three bungee cords)

This was a fun one. The green bag is just some cheap Eagle Creek bag I bought at REI–it was convertible between a duffel bag and a backpack, but since I wasn’t going to be using the duffel function, I just cut off the straps for that. But why I liked it is because I could take it off my bike and use it as a backpack for dayhikes, but when it was on my bike, I could zip the straps into a compartment and get them out of the way. It was also the bag I used as a carry-on when I flew to Grand Junction (I checked my panniers in a giant duffel bag).

Anyway, this bag carried another random assortment. The blue stuff sack is my tent; the long bag underneath it is the poles and stakes. I liked having those in this bag because then my shelter was super readily accessible when I stopped to set up camp, without having to dig through all the stuff in my panniers.

The other stuff sack is my sleeping pad, a NeoAir that I splurged on before I left because it packs up so darn small and light. Then I’ve got two collapsible liters of water storage–I’d fill those if it would be a long time between watering holes and leave them empty if I didn’t need them. I put layers that I thought I’d want super accessible on top–my beanie, gloves, arm warmers, and some baggy shorts I’d pull over my bike shorts when I stopped in towns where I thought spandex might not be appreciated. My hiking shoes (really just old, dead running shoes) fit right on top of the bag but strapped under the bungee cords for super easy access.

Finally, I had my three relatively little on-bike bags:

bike bags(A Novara saddle bag, a Jannd frame pack, and some random velcro-attachable handlebar bag. Plus two water bottles in cages and a bike lock I kept coiled around my toptube)

bike bag contents(close-up of what’s in those three bags)

My saddle bag was just for tools: another spare tube, electrical tape, patch kit, tire levers, multitool, and spoke wrench.

The frame pack held two more liters of water (I always kept that one full–yknow, until I drank it) and, annoyingly, a shoulder strap for one of my panniers that I hadn’t meant to bring with me but forgot to take out of my pack. I also kept any trash I had in there, easy access for throwing it away whenever I came to somewhere with a garbage can.

My handlebar bag was for snacks and other things I wanted super easy access to: sunscreen, pocket knife, lighter, watch (the band broke, so I just kept it in my bag instead of on my wrist:), hair ties, sunglasses, lip balm, cell phone, and money.

And that was everything I had!

I probably had more clothes than I needed. The underarmor, for example, was sort of redundant with the leg warmers, and I probably could have done with two pairs of socks–but clean socks is such a luxury for me when I travel that I made room for them:) And my tent, which is a two-person tent, is bigger than I really need. But mostly, I had exactly what I wanted and exactly enough–a great feeling.

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After a few days, I figured out my packing scheme so that I always had everything in the same place–that not only made it easy to find things when I wanted them but also kept me from leaving anything behind, because it would be super obvious to me if I was forgetting anything.

So that worked really well for me. If you asked anyone else, they’d of course have their own packing scheme entirely different from mine. So if you’re anyone else and have any ideas, feel free to chime in:) The Jannd pack, for example, was an idea from Urban Adventure League, and I was super happy to have gotten that little tidbit before I left. So I’d super love to hear other ideas for improving the rig for next time:)

Introducing my excellent new bikey:)

Ladies and gentlemen: this has been a few years in the scheming, but finally, here it is–my new bikey.

soma double cross disc(hell yeah!!)

It’s a Soma Double Cross–steel, which I’m excited about–with disc brakes, which I’m also pretty excited about. I intend this to be my new travel and crap-weather bike, a bike with racks and carrying capacity and a little more heft (and a lot more fender clearance;) than my racey Trek.

I’ve been riding it for just shy of a week now, and it is amazing. Of course, any new bike is going to feel amazing, but still:) It’s exactly what I wanted out of a bike–which makes sense, since Mark at Upcycles helped me build it up from the frame. (A huge thank you to Upcycles for ordering the frame for me, finding all the parts I wanted, and giving up basically a whole Sunday to have a bike-building party with me. Super solid.)

So far, it’s done me pretty well in this crazy snowstorm we’re having, too:) The tires are only a little wider than on my Trek, but they feel way more solid in the slippery. A good omen.

I am seriously so excited about this bicycle. I cannot wait to take it on tour. And everywhere else too:) Is it too early to start thinking about better-weather bike adventures yet?? Who wants to go for a ride?? :)

Hauling by bike: the saga continues

Sometimes when you’re on a bike, you end up buying something bigger than what you expected and it doesn’t quite fit your carrying capacity.

In those cases, you improvise:

whiteboard burley

That’s right. That is a bigass whiteboard in my not-bigass trailer, propped upright by my backpack and tied in place with my jacket. And however hokey that setup looks, it made it all the way up the hill to the zoo.

I’m glad it didn’t rain on me:)

Bike bells!
Or, re-learning how to pass people

For a long time, I’ve had bike bell envy. My handlebars–both the ones that were stolen and the new ones I got to replace them–are super thick, and I’ve never yet found a bell mount that fits around them. So while people cheerily dinged their bells on the Eastbank Esplanade, say, I was relegated to saying “on your left” and hoping my voice would carry over the sounds of nearby I-5.

Sure, I probably could have cobbled something together, but this was a case where the activation energy required was just that much higher than how much I cared about it;)

But! Enter David! For my birthday, he got me a bike bell that mounts on the stem. Which is awesome not only because it means I can actually attach it to my bike, but I can also attach it to my bike while still using my handlebar bag!

trek + new bike bell(isn’t it awesome?? Ding ding!! :)

I’ve had this bell on my bike for two and a half days now, and I’ve gotta say–I feel like I need to re-learn how to interact with people now that I have this whole new gadget.

I sort of thought I would just put a bell on my bike and then I could ding it when I passed people, but it turns out that doesn’t feel quite right. If a person’s not actually in my way, for example, but I just want to let him know that I’m going past, a bell ring seems almost like overkill. Not quite aggressive, but even this super cheery bell seems somewhat intrusive in that case.

On the other hand, I don’t like to pass people without at least letting them know that I’m there. So for right now, I’ve been using an only-slightly-more-rational-than-random approach of saying “on your left” or “hello” or “how’s it going” when I go past someone without them necessarily having to do anything, then using my bell when I want to make absolutely sure that someone ahead of me knows that I’m coming up.

I just want people to feel acknowledged and warned but not pestered. And I’m not quite sure yet how a bell fits into that.

But I sure do like that shiny, happy little bell! :) Thanks, David!

Anyone else out there have a bike bell? Is there any common bell etiquette that I should know about? Please enlighten me.