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What To Bring On The Tour

Planning what to bring along on your bicycle tour to Germany is an important step in the process. This page will help you plan and decide who carries what.

Our first weeklong tour was uneventful because we did some prior planning. Not only did we need the equipment to record the necessary data (altimeter, cyclometer, watch, tape recorder, etc.) but the other items we chose to carry with us on the bike worked out as well. The trick is to pack as light as possible.

There are always a few hills and the less junk you carry up those hills, the more enjoyable will be your experience. The discussion below can be bypassed for those who just want the gist of the list. I have also included a more thorough list written by Adventure Cycling for those of you who are campers.

So, besides a bicycle, here is what we think you need:

  1. Bike bags (panniers): Originally, we wanted the largest rear panniers we could find. Then we discovered that the smaller the panniers, the more lightly you are forced to pack and that is a good thing. There is no such thing as a waterproof pannier unless it costs a fortune and is brand new. You might as well poke holes in the bottom so the water that will get in, can get back out. I keep everything inside the panniers in plastic bags, or in these roll-up, travel size, vacuum bags available at storage stores. Many prefer is to keep almost all of the weight on a bike on the rear to make the bike easier to handle going downhill. Others recommend splitting the weight 40% on the front (but as low as possible) and the balance on the rear. This recommendation is more pertinent to people carrying the weight of tents and sleeping bags. But, I do use front panniers even though we do not camp. We have found the weight of credit cards or folding money to be easier to carry uphills than a tent and sleeping bags.
  2. A front handlebar bag: This is for your map, sunscreen, camera, etc. We don’t use any of the map holders one can find on the market because neither of us can see well enough to read it without picking it up and holding it just at the right distance for our bifocals. Do not forget, we both belong to the Over-Fifty-with-Bad-Knees Club (a club you automatically join as soon as you qualify). We did find that a one-gallon ziplock bag works great as a waterproof map cover. We folded the map so we could see most of the day’s route, and kept it dry inside the ziplock bag. If no rain threatened, the ziplock bag was not used.
  3. A map: Each ride has recommended maps but other maps are available at German Book Stores. Any good map that shows bike routes and has a scale not larger than 1:100,000 will work but the 1:50,000 scale maps will help you ride through the towns and cities.
  4. Bike tools: We carry the Alien from Topeak and a Leatherman Multi-tool. If I was not so macho and hung-up on tools, I could do without the Leatherman but I would need a small channel lock pliers if I didn’t have my Leatherman. Consider carrying wrenches in sizes 8mm, 9mm, 10mm, 13mm, and 15mm (for axle nuts). Remember, you might need two wrenches to adjust your brakes and a chain tool is handy. I also carry a short, multipoint screwdriver because the screwdrivers on the combination tools are hard to use. As Red Green says, "If women do not find you handsome, they should find you handy." (Not familiar with Red Green? you are not watching enough Canadian public TV.)
  5. A good bike lock: Bicycle theft in Germany is a problem. Sure, there are many bicycles for thieves to choose from and the chance they will pick yours depends on how nice it is, how easy it is to fence, and how easy it is for them to steal. If you keep your bike inside overnight, as you can at most bicycle-friendly lodgings, and if you keep it locked too, you will have a much better chance of finding it in the morning - assuming that you want to find it and have not decided that a stolen bike is an excuse to take a bus home. All rental bikes will come with a lock.
  6. Water bottle: At least one water bottle per person.
  7. A short cord: A short rope or cord of about 10 feet in length for tying bikes to fixed objects on trains and busses. This is valuable. Keep it handy – we use it often for something or the other. Mostly we use it to secure our bicycles on public transports so they do not fall over on curves. We notice that others use a bungee or their bike locks for this but I like the flexibility of a short cord. In the evening, it can become a clothesline extender.
  8. Small bungee cords: Only a few and the smaller the better – mine are about 12” long by 3/8 in diameter.
  9. An array of plastic bags: The grocery store size for covering your bike saddle in the rain or picking berries in the fall. Plastic shopping bags without any holes work great for both organizing your panniers and for keeping clothes, etc. dry when it rains. We keep one handy to cover our bike seat in rainy weather.
  10. Ziplock baggies: Bring some ziplock Baggies for lunch or snacks you buy along the way.
  11. Large 30-gallon size plastic bags: These can be used for covering your bike bags (panniers) in wet weather. Some panniers come with raincovers, and those are handy. But another option is to use large trash bags. Any type of rain cover works great to keep prying fingers of ne'er-do-wells out of your bags. Plastic bags can be rolled up tightly so they take only a small amount of space and they do not weigh much. It sounds like I have stock in a plastic bag factory doesn't it? In later years, I have opted to purchase raincovers or waterproof panniers.
  12. Spare inner tubes: One for each size bike tire you have in your group. It is extremely rare to have more than one flat at a time. If you do not patch inner tubes as a matter of religious preference, you can always purchase another tube at the next bike shop you pass. In German, an inner tube is, ein Schlauch. Consider wrapping the spare tube with a wheel liner. You know, the cloth or rubber thingy that goes over the spoke ends inside the wheel between the metal and the inner tube. As an aside, old inner tubes can be cut crosswise to make rubber bands of different strengths and thicknesses.
  13. A small rag: This is to wipe your hands after handling a greasy chain. We also carry a waterless hand cleaner that comes in small containers but I think we are obsessing over that.
  14. A good bicycle tire pump: Try it out first. If it is more than a couple years old, the inexpensive ones have a rubber inside that may get brittle and not hold pressure. that would make it worthless. (Those of you in the OFBKC stop working too when you get old and brittle). Topeak makes a great pump (Mountain Morph) that attaches to your bike frame like any other pump but it has a folding foot stand and a handle that turns sideways so it looks for all the world like the one in your garage. It also has a built-in pressure gauge.
  15. A pressure gage: Consider an inexpensive pressure gage or educate your thumb to act as the pressure gage. (The Topeak mountain morph has one built in.)
  16. A first aid kit: Make sure to include some spray disinfectant and a few extra large Band-Aids. Road rash is the most reoccurring problem and a fresh road rash must be cleaned, sprayed, and covered for a couple days. What is road rash? It is the rash you get from rubbing body parts on asphalt, cement, or even gravel at speeds over 4 mph.
  17. Shorts: Biking shorts with crotch padding are best but any type of shorts will work. Two pairs for a weeks’ trip normally will do nicely. We wear the biking shorts during the day and have a pair of regular lightweight shorts to wear in the evening. In fact, we carry ultra-light long pants that have zip-off legs. We use these for our evening wear after the day's ride is over. Also, I have found bike shorts with pockets and detachable padding. I like pockets.
  18. A skirt: One reader suggests that women carry a lightweight wraparound skirt that can be worn over your Lycra bike shorts for sightseeing or dining out with non-biking folks. I do not wear one at least not in public and never over Lycra bike shorts. Wife Maxa might however.
  19. T-shirts: I used to think that lightweight cotton was fine but now I do not carry anything of wool or cotton. All of our clothing is quick dry material so we can wash it out in the sink and wear it the next day. If cold weather threatens, I also pack a long-sleeve t-shirt. There are several new fabrics (like CoolMax by Dupont) that are lightweight and wick moisture away from your skin keeping you cool in hot weather and warmer in cold weather. Unfortunately, the new fabrics are more expensive.
  20. Briefs or panties: Try to find some without seams across your sitz bones like most briefs have (both men's and women's). You can purchase underwear that has a padded biking seat in most bicycle stores. These will convert any pair of shorts into biking shorts. (By the way, please decide before the ride which you will wear - briefs or panties. Your riding companions will appreciate it.) There is a myth that real bicycle riders do not wear underwear beneath their tight Lycra bike shorts. It is true.
  21. Socks: We like to change into clean socks every day but we only pack three pairs. One pair to wear, one ready to put on and one that we just washed in the sink the night before. If you buy socks made of CoolMax, they will dry overnight. Remember, the lighter the better.
  22. Hand and face soap and shampoo: A hotel size bar will do. In a pinch, you can use it to do the laundry (see laundry detergent below).
  23. Raingear: In Germany, it will rain on the average of 20 to 22 days per month for each month of the year. That means you will probably get rained upon at least once unless you ride only during the other eight to ten days. Your chances of experiencing a shower on a 5-day ride is high. Try to find lightweight raincoats (rain pants too perhaps but these are not as important) that allow lots of freedom of movement. Poncho’s do not work unless you like to sail. A lightweight bicycler's rain suit works better. When it gets cold but is still dry, raingear will substitute for warm, wind-breaking clothing.
  24. Something to wear after biking: Shorts are OK but if it gets cold some long pants or a pair of lightweight nylon shell pants are ideal (they are light and do not take up much room). I like the kind of hiking pants that you can zip off the legs to make into a pair of shorts.
  25. Whatever you sleep in: Instead of pajamas, I take a pair of lightweight long underwear and a long sleeve t-shirt, Maxa takes a lightweight nightgown. If it gets very cold, I can use my long-johns as leg coverings and the long sleeve t-shirt as a layer. Maxa cannot use her nightgown for anything but a nightgown.
  26. Lightweight fleece jacket: Consider an ultra-lightweight fleece jacket that you can layer under your raincoat if it gets cold.
  27. Personal kit: This includes cosmetics, hygiene supplies, etc. But pack it lightly. You only need a few days’ supplies so don’t pack a months’ worth. If you run out of something, you can stock up in a market or a drug store. It is best to use mostly empty or small travel size toothpaste, shampoo, etc. Other considerations include; medications, eyeglasses, sunglasses, sunscreen, toilet paper, sewing kit, sunglasses, sun hat (for off the bike), insect repellant, rubber bands, compass, emergency first aid, blister kits, photograph of your family (for making friends), camera, earplugs (for sleeping), wristwatch with an alarm, and an undergarment style money wallet or a money belt.
  28. Other Documentation: Do not forget any documentation you might need like personal documentation, passport if you are leaving the Euro-zone, credit cards, cash, tickets if you need them, cell phone or phone cards, address book, wallet or purse.
  29. A washcloth: It will substitute for a towel in a pinch. Most hotels, Zimmer, etc. provide towels but only the most expensive accommodations provide washcloths.
  30. A small flashlight: This optional item is for finding the bathroom in a strange room in the middle of the night or reading your map after dark. If you belong to the OFBK club (Over Fifty with Bad Knees), finding the bathroom in the middle of the night may happen more often than you would like.
  31. Zip-ties: You know, those plastic things that hold two things together and go "click, click" when you snug them up. The police use large ones for handcuffs.
  32. A small roll of electricians tape: Like Arthur Dent’s multi-use towel that he carries in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, electrician's tape or duct tape can accomplish anything a bigger hammer will not.
  33. Laundry detergent: We buy small tubes of travel laundry detergent because after two days, clothes stink. We carry enough stuff that we can make it two days but then we must do laundry. We do it by hand in the sink. We wring the washed and rinsed clothes dry inside a towel to remove as much moisture as possible, then we hang it to dry on the clothesline or short cord. We even carry a few clips with us and a 20 foot long lightweight cord, just for laundry.
Here is a short checklist from the above
Tour leader: Maps, first aid kit, tools, multi-tool, tire pump, a few plastic bags in various sizes, bungee cords, duct or electricians tape, a couple plastic cable ties, a short rope, a spare tube for every size tire in the tour, tire repair kit with a set of rim pry bars, some waterless hand cleaner, and a small grease rag. Also consider a few extra spokes, some miscellaneous nuts and bolts of bicycle size, an extra rim liner, some bailing wire, and a little chewing gum. (Just kidding about the gum, but I do carry some wire.)
All riders (at a minimum): Bike bags, helmet, bike gloves, bike or sport shoes, money, cash cards, 1 pair bike pants, 2 t-shirts, 2 sets of underwear, 3 pairs of socks, evening clothes for after riding, toiletries and soaps, prescription drugs, hygiene items, glasses and sunglasses, sunscreen, raingear, fleece jacket, small flashlight, toilet paper (for the occasional emergency), bike lock, some clothes pins, and laundry detergent. Other items to consider include cell phone, paperback book, wristwatch, energy snacks, and a camera.
By the way, we pack the same whether planning a three-day ride or a two-week ride. We just do more laundry. You can purchase more detergent along the way, so you do not have to carry much with you.

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Adventure Cycling Minimalist's List: After we developed the above list, Adventure Cycling published the following list (Bike Bits Vol. 2, No. 21, March 22, 2001) which they call a "minimalist's" list of bike trip essentials: It depends on your goal, but I find that the list below may include many things that those of us over fifty and who aren't camping, just don't need.

The [brackets] below are mine, not the list's author.

  1. Bicycle: A light bike with front and rear racks (both where you can load on top) and two water bottle cages, strong wheels, and a comfy seat.
  2. Clothing:
    1. A pair of biking shorts
    2. Silk-weight Patagonia t-shirt
    3. Mid-weight Patagonia long sleeve t-shirt
    4. Super Pluma Patagonia jacket. (rain protection)
    5. Helmet
    6. Synchilla pile sweater, Patagonia. (mainly for sleeping)
    7. One pair polypro socks
    8. Cycling shoes, if road riding and light hikers if off road riding
    9. Tights
    10. Rain pants, pneumatic Patagonia
    11. Capilene pants for sleeping
    12. Another silk-weight or mid-weight top for sleeping
    13. Patagonia baggie shorts and cotton t-shirt (for camp)
  3. Tools
    1. One tube
    2. Patch kit with plenty of extra patches
    3. Derailleur (only if off-road)
    4. Mini Leatherman tool
    5. Mini channel lock pliers
    6. Allen wrenches - 1.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10 (only if your bike uses them) my bike only uses 3, 4, 5, 6 7
    7. A few spokes, more nipples than spokes
    8. Duct tape
    9. Ritchey CPR chain tool
    10. A few rack bolts, nuts, washers, and a hose clamp
    11. Mini-pump Cooking
  4. Eating
    1. One cook pot (1 quart per person) so for two you should have a 2-quart cook pot. (share whenever possible)
    2. An MSR Whisperlite stove, with fuel bottle
    3. A 1-quart Lexan Nalgene bottle
    4. Two bike bottles
    5. Spoon, fork (use the knife from the mini-Leatherman)
  5. Camping
    1. ultra-light sleeping bag (under 1.5 pounds; i.e., Kelty light top)
    2. Foam pad
    3. Light weight floorless tent
    4. 4 pounds or less; i.e., Black Diamond Megamid sleeps 4) or "Bivy Bag" if solo
  6. Miscellaneous
    1. Two water proof stuff bags
    2. Four straps (a good nylon strap works for me)
    3. Map, big Zip-locks
    4. Folded paper, pen, stamps (a send away journal)
    5. Camera, film
    6. Sunscreen
    7. Bug dope
    8. pain pills (Aspirin, Tylenol, hash, etc.)
    9. Credit card, phone card, cash
    10. Tooth brush, paste
    11. Mini-lighter & candle
    12. [ed. note: I would add a first aid kit to this list at this point]
  7. Food
    1. Bars (snickers, mars, Cliff bars, Power bars, harvest bars, Milky Way, a big variety)
    2. Cream of wheat
    3. Liquid butter
    4. Coffee (if required)
    5. Sugar
    6. Freeze dried meals
    7. Milk or soy milk powder

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Note: All this food could be forgotten when traveling in populated areas. Where groceries are plentiful.

General ideas – carry so little you do not need panniers. Strap tent and clothes on front rack and bag, pad, the rest on rear rack. [Yah, right]

Know your bike, your equipment, and yourself.

Be sure your bike will not have problems. [If you are not a bicycle mechanic, take it to a good one.]

Realize that anything you desire is available within a days ride. [Some exceptions apply but sadly they are not listed.]

The fuel for adventure is creativity, and resourcefulness (you may be able to eliminate a few things due to reuse, multi-use and the fact that you are in a civilized populated area. For example: the food and cooking stuff could go if you didn't mind eating at groceries, and cafes. The tent could go if you planned to look for shelter like overhangs, abandon buildings, friendly invitations, bridges etc.)

All this should come to 15-20 lbs. [Again, good luck with that.]

[What you do not need to bring with you because you can purchase these things the day you need them is fresh food, beer, wine, juices, meats, sausages, cheese, etc. The best place to find fresh food and an inexpensive bottle of wine are chain grocery stores (Lebensmittelgeschäfte). Beer can be acquired in the grocery stores too but the least expensive beer is found in a Getränkemärkte, or drink stores, have a large selection of beer and soft drinks but only a small selection of wine and spirits. The Germans have a slang name for inexpensive wine, they call it Aldiwein. That is because Aldi stores have a large selection of inexpensive wine and liquor. Some is good quality, some just so-so but what they sell is normally less expensive than in other stores. Lidl and Penny Mart are competitors to Aldi. Cheap and cheerful, as Maxa would say. Yes, Virginia, we shop at Aldi too.]

Ed. Note: The square [brackets] are the editor's notes and not from the original list.

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