It was the summer of 2017, and my friends Erik, Taylor, Mark, and I were halfway through our 4,300-mile self-supported bicycle trip across America. A trail angel had treated us to two nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Pittsburg, Kansas, where our room almost instantly turned into what looked like the aftermath of a tornado, our belongings scattered all over. And I had been outed—among my stuff explosion was a full-size towel and a hair towel that I’d secretly been carrying through four states. Weight is everything on a bicycle tour, and these items aren’t exactly essential. After a mini intervention and a Walmart run, I reluctantly swapped out the two towels for one small quick-dry towel.
People like to say that less is more, and I can certainly attest to that today, as Erik and I have ridden a combined 20,000 miles (and counting), stopping at innumerable post offices along the way to ship unneeded weight home. It’s one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned while adventure cycling: how little you actually need on bike tours and in everyday life. This makes the items you do end up bringing that much more important. Here are some small luxuries we and our friends have found to be worth the weight.
(Annalisa van den Bergh)
A Manual Food Processor
Cycling from L.A. to Santa Fe, we didn’t need to buy a single canister of propane. Instead we enjoyed hot food when we had access to proper stovetops. When on the road, we use our Zyliss Manual food processor for almost every meal. Just as temperature is a huge part of taste, texture is, too. Not only are we able to easily shred our ingredients into fresh slaws, pestos, hummus, and guacamole, but we're also able to get our arm workouts in.
A Laminated List of Answers to the Usual Questions
Being on a self-supported bicycle tour can sometimes feel like stepping into the shoes of a celebrity, because of the countless occasions you get approached and asked the usual questions. Most of the time, it’s empowering to be the outsiders rolling into town, the sight of our 80-pound bikes inspiring others to move. But sometimes it gets tiring responding to the same questions over and over. We used to joke that we should strap a sign to our bikes that answers the most popular inquiries—and finally, we did.
It evolved into a laminated list we hand over when we’re too exhausted to use our words. It addresses the typical FAQs: Where are you coming from? What is the pool noodle for? Where do you sleep? You’re not out here alone, are you? Why? The sheet also doubles as a cutting board—because adventure cycling is all about carrying items with multiple uses.
I love wearing Crocs, because doing so is a good practice in not taking life too seriously. They come in fun colors, and they’re lightweight and durable enough that we can simply strap them to our panniers. They’re great as camp slippers and for walking, giving us a much needed break from our cycling shoes at the end of the day.
Erik’s been rocking them for years. And he likes to break gender norms. On our latest trip, he brought along the Floral Clogs, prompting another constant question: Are those really your Crocs?
(Annalisa van den Bergh)
The Pool Noodle
After hearing about the pool-noodle bike-safety hack for years, we finally decided to try it for ourselves. Along with Bike Peddler eyeglass mirrors, we’ve come to swear by this silly-looking piece of gear that protects us on the road. We strap our pool noodles to our bike racks so they stick out to the left side, showing passing cars what three feet of safe-passing room looks like and giving drivers no choice but to leave that much room when they do pass us.
One of the reasons we prefer bicycle touring over hiking is that we get to bring more stuff. Weight still matters, but less so as our belongings are secured to our bicycles instead of our shoulders. For us that means fewer energy bars and more real, colorful meals. Contrary to popular belief, produce can last for days unrefrigerated, particularly harder foods, like cabbage, carrots, and edamame.
To ride a loaded bicycle is to ride a conversation starter, one that causes jaws to drop and doors to open and has led to many hot meals, stories around the dinner table, and a realization that in the midst of all the bad news in the world, there’s still so much to be grateful for. Last year on our bicycle trip around Holland, my friend Maria gave me the idea to carry around a pack of thank-you cards to leave behind everywhere we go. My equivalent is a collection of postcards and local artists’ cards that I’ve gathered over the miles.
A Cute Sundress
“A sundress is always on my packing list! I rarely actually wear it, especially if I’m traveling alone, but I just love knowing I’ve got something that makes me feel beautiful tucked away in my bag.” —women’s biking advocate Olivia Round
A Plastic Ukulele
“I recently got a good plastic ukulele that I can strap on top of everything and not worry about the rain. Traveling with an instrument is a nice way to relax at camp or have the opportunity to plug into in local communities as you ride. On my Portland-to-San Francisco tour, I was able to play at an open-mic night in Coos Bay, Oregon.” —artist and filmmaker Guthrie Straw
A Spice Kit
“My trail name on the Appalachian Trail was Dr. Spice, because I carried a bunch of spices in a weekly pill organizer—the AT is super wet, and I needed something waterproof to keep my favorites dry. I hate bland food, so anything with a bold flavor ended up in there: curry, chili powder, Montreal steak [seasoning], and habanero pepper taken out of a pizza shaker in North Carolina.”—Appalachian Trail thru-hiker and TransAmerica cyclist Mike Trimarchi
A Tiny Red Baby Mitten
“It was the first thing I ever picked up off the road. It always makes me think about all the children who are traveling and having adventures, including at least one with chilly fingers.”—adventure cyclist Alison Kirby