All in all, I have been very happy with the gear I took with me to cycle across Europe.
Before I left on the trip, the total weight of everything I had in panniers was in the 15 kg range. After the first couple of days, I barely noticed that my bike had any weight on it so this range seems to be acceptable for someone like me. I have created a gear list for people doing something similar who are looking for a checklist of sorts. Below it you will find my comments on some of the gear and what little I would change now that I have hindsight. I will post a separate review on my GPS in the coming couple of days.
Trek Lexi SL WSD road bike
Tire change for the bike before I left: Schwalbe Marathon 25-622 28×1.00 700x25C
Two water bottles in racks on the bike frame
GPS: Garmin Edge 810
Front and back bike lights
Speedometer: Cateye velo wireless
Bontrager clip-on bike shoes
Waterproof Swatch watch
Two red Ortlieb Back-Roller Plus panniers
Red and black Ortlieb Ultimate6 Plus handlebar bag
Tortec Ultralight Rear Rack
Eagle Creek RFID Blocker Money Belt DLX
In my handlebar bag:
Anker external battery for emergency charging
Toilet paper for pee stops
Snacks: some dates, dried apricots, sometimes some crackers, sometimes a banana, sometimes Oreo cookies
International drivers license for emergencies
Eye glass case (sunglasses and normal glasses)
Castelli Ladies Leggera W Jacket with stuffsack
Abus microflex 690 Shadow bike lock
Printed list of all my intended destinations, distances between destinations, possible places to stay, and small amount of info on each destination (in case my technology failed, which it didn’t, so I could refer to it as a basic guide)
In my money belt:
A small cloth wallet with some money, a debit card, a credit card, Egyptian drivers license, three different health insurance cards, and contacts to my favorite bike repair shop in the UK in case an emergency happened and I needed repair help over the phone.
Smart phone (with UK Vodafone SIM that has a Eurotraveller deal)
A sandwich bag with a brown envelope inside with all my cash in it minus the amount I keep easily available in the cloth wallet.
Pannier holding camping gear:
Nordisk Ultra-lightweight Telemark for two 950 gram tent
Robins Down Lite 700 sleeping bag
Exped airmat basic 7.5m inflatable mattress
Lifeventure inflatable pillow
Lifeventure x large trek towel soft fibre advance
Small tent lock
String for hanging clothes to dry, four clothes pins, two bungee cables, a few plastic clip ties, duct tape
A sponge cloth for wiping off tent floor or bike
Small waterproof bag with extra toilet paper
Mini bike tire pump
Dry sack holding tools: a combination multipurpose bike tool set; four brake pads; chain links; scissors; 8mm, 5mm, and 4mm large allen keys; repair kit for inflatable mattress; USB cables to charge bike lights (by connecting to GPS’s wall charger); inner tube; inner tube repair kit; chain oil.
Pannier holding clothes:
Sanitary pads and tampons
Castelli cycling tights
Below knee bike shorts
Above knee bike shorts
One long sleeved and three short sleeved sports shirts made of wicking material
Long sleeved cotton shirt
Big dry sack for emergencies
Long sleeved thermal shirt to sleep in and as a layer
Jogging pants to sleep in and for walking around camp
Dry sack for undergarments: one normal bra, two sports bras, 4 pairs of sports socks, one pair of heavy wool socks, swimsuit, 6 pairs of underwear
Full warm cycling gloves and half light cycling gloves
Endura Dexter Overshoes
Toiletry bag: Shampoo and shower gel in little travel-sized containers, two razors, tweezers, nail clipper, nail file, toothbrush, travel sized toothpaste, deodorant, dental floss, comb, hair elastics, zinc oxide cream for saddle irritation
50 spf sunscreen
Athlete’s foot spray
TheNorthFace rain jacket with hood
Scarf for praying and for warmth
First aid kit: dettol antiseptic wash, eye drops for irritation and dryness, emergency aluminum sheet, antibiotic tablets, antihistaminic tablets, anti-diarrhea tablets, cough tablets, rehydration powder, safety pins, sterile gauze, microporous tape, 2 hygienic cleaning wipes, seven various-sized band-aids, sterile swabs, vinyl gloves
Ecco Offroad walking sandals
Plastic shattafa bottle
My biggest pride is in my bike that held up against some pretty brutal conditions, the new tires that did not puncture once in 5630 km, and the panniers that held everything I needed without getting a single thing inside wet, sandy, or muddy. I would recommend bright-colored panniers, the red or yellow, as they add much needed visibility when weather conditions get bad. I had Ortlieb Back-Roller Plus panniers. The fact that they rolled meant more space when needed and that I could make them more compact when not. The outsides of the panniers got very wet and muddy at times but were so easy to wipe off at the end of the day and they dry surprisingly quickly. The handlebar bag was very useful to keep important and frequently needed items during the cycle. I would sometimes lock my bike up at a roadside cafe, leave the panniers on the bike, and just take the handlebar bag with me because it had my most expensive and personal items. Whatever was in the two panniers I could do without if it came to it or at least losing it would not mean a huge financial loss or loss of personal information. The bike lock was lighter than some on the market but gave enough protection for my purposes. The bike was rarely out of my sight for long unless I knew it was in a secure place.
I was happy to have my small speedometer on the bike in addition to my GPS. It allowed me to keep my GPS on the map screen while I kept the speedometer on the distance and speed screen.
I am glad I brought my clip-on bike shoes instead of normal shoes for normal pedals. The clip-ons really did help give me that extra amount of power on the up-pedal. They held up surprisingly well when I needed to get off and walk on rough gravel roads and in mud. Having my walking sandals for city walking and camping was great. They were easy to put in the bags without taking up much space and were comfortable for walking. For warmth, when needed, I wore wool hiking socks with them. The sandals gave my feet much needed air after a long day of cycling. They also provided great padding for my tired feet to be able to walk about comfortably. I would definitely recommend them over flip-flops or normal sandals.
The Nordisk tent is a great investment. It is very lightweight so it’s perfect for touring and hiking. It takes up very little volume in the pannier. It was fine in the rain and kept me warm in the cold. I used a groundsheet to give the thin tent fabric some extra protection from stuff on the ground based on a few reviews I had read before leaving. The fabric didn’t even get the tiniest rip. I have a two person tent. It was the perfect size for me and all my panniers when I was alone. When my husband joined me, it fit both of us very well and comfortably but it would have been impossible to keep our panniers inside with us as well. So he brought an extra groundsheet that we put all our stuff on at camp and then covered it all with a two-man bothy we have to protect them from the elements.
I am so happy I brought the inflatable mattress and pillow. They take a bit of space and add a tiny amount of weight but made all the difference in giving me a good night’s sleep in the tent. I slept better in that tent sometimes than I did in some hotels.
The microfiber towel is a discovery. It is very lightweight and compact. And it soaks up water really well while drying afterwards almost in minutes.
My money belt was on me almost at all times. I only ever took it off inside my tent or a hotel room and had it with me wherever I went. I never left it in a hotel room while going to have breakfast even. I also wore it at all times while cycling.
The external battery saved me a few times. This was a gift from a dear friend and fellow Egyptian revolutionary, Muhammad Ghaffari. We’ve been through some rough times together, notably getting shot at at the front-lines of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. My GPS battery is very long-lasting but it ran out of juice a couple of times on very long days. My iPad also ran out of juice once because I was unable to fully charge it at a camp and I needed to use my digital map in it for navigating. I had the external battery in my handlebar bag and would hook it up to the iPad or GPS while it was inside the bag still. It was very handy and so easy to use. I was surprised at how much charge it had to give and the speed at which it did this.
My tool kit was more than sufficient. The multipurpose tool wasn’t as useful as I thought it would be. It doesn’t give good torque because it’s so small. It was really only useful as a screwdriver. I am really glad that I brought the three large allen keys. I used those extensively while putting the bike back together when I arrived in Lisbon and a few times later making some minor adjustments. I also used the chain lubricant a few times. I had an issue that the bottle I had with me had a bad cap and so I got oil over every single tool I had. I had the tools separated in ziplock bags. I had the lubricant bottle in a separate ziplock bag with its cap taped on. It still got into everything. Luckily I had all the tools put together in a dry sack so the oil did not get anywhere else. My only recommendation on this is to buy lubricant oil that has a cap that firmly and securely screws on and to keep it in a separate dry sack from everything else.
On dry sacks, I did not need them in the end to keep stuff dry. The panniers did that perfectly well. They did help me compartmentalize stuff inside the pannier. I also had in mind that if for any reason I needed to buy more stuff, I could put it in a dry sack and tie that to the bike’s rear rack.
I’m happy with all the clothes I brought. I could have done with a couple less socks and underwear and one less shirt, but they don’t weigh anything so it hardly mattered. I washed the clothes I was wearing each day. Usually they dried by morning. When they didn’t I’d put them on the outside of my pannier to dry while riding. Having three pairs of cycling pants and three shirts is best. The warm cycling pants were needed a few times for cycling in the cold rain. They got wet but did keep me warm.
The only clothes item I ever thought I would have liked to have were cycling sleeves. Sometimes it was too warm for a jacket but chilly on my arms in the mornings. The Castelli jacket was good for the early morning chill and as an extra layer of protection and warmth. It was good for drizzles but is in no way water resistant. For proper rain, nothing protected me but my NorthFace rain jacket.
The overshoes I had were horrible in the rain. My feet got absolutely soaked every time and the shoes collected puddles. The overshoes themselves take forever to dry. When I get back home I’m researching overshoes to find ones that are properly rain proof. Neoprene might be the way to go.
The clothes I had generally also did everything I needed them to do for layering and warmth whether on the bike, in the city, or sleeping in the tent. When it got its coldest and wettest while cycling, my long, warm cycling pants were sufficient below, while on top I wore cycling shirt, fleece, Castelli jacket, and rain jacket. I wore my warmer full length gloves. With all this on I would be warm and dry on top but not steaming hot.
I would have preferred not to have sports shirts in colors that easily identified me as a woman. Next time I’m going for more neutral colors. I also had only one proper cycling shirt with pockets in the back. I’ll be buying more of those. The pockets were great for holding toilet paper, my jacket in a stuff sack, keys, and my GPS when I had stopped cycling. When I didn’t wear that shirt all those things had to be in my handlebar bag. My city clothes were drab in color, allowing me to be somewhat unnoticeable. They were comfortable. And they did not get dirty easily. I’m very happy with them.
I used 50 spf sunscreen religiously. Nevertheless, I got a nice bikers’ tan. I wouldn’t go less on this sort of trip unless you want a sun burn.
The zinc oxide cream was a last moment idea I had before I travelled to Portugal. I was thinking about skin problems in the saddle area, saw expensive creams at bike shops, and remembered the magic zinc oxide did for my babies when they had diaper sensitivity issues. So I bought some from the local supermarket. It did magic for me as it did for my children years ago.
I rarely needed to use my phone, thankfully. Every single hotel and campsite and almost every restaurant had a free wireless connection that allowed me to be constantly in touch with family and friends. My iPad was one of the best things I took on the trip. I had it in my handlebar bag while cycling and held it while city walking. I used it as a camera. I used it to blog and connect through social media. I used it to Skype with family. I had my maps on it. I had a book to read on it. I had bike repair manuals on it. I had my whole route plan with destinations, estimated distances, and other details on it. I emailed with it. I checked the daily weather updates with it. I’ll be writing a separate review on my Garmin Edge 810, but not having to carry tens of detailed maps or buying them and having to throw them away was great. The digital maps I had on my iPad, in the end once I got the hang of it, were, although by no means as good and detailed as the good paper maps, more than sufficient to get me across Europe.
On snacks, my absolute favorite were dried apricots. They had the right taste for me and gave me energy boosts. After trying many sorts of snacks, I made sure I always had a bag of those in my handlebar bag. Salty crackers were my second favorite. Every now and then I would fill one of my water bottles with juice instead of water. That was fine as long as it wasn’t a scorching hot day, in which case it just made me more thirsty. There was nothing better for me than water while on the road. I’d stop sometimes at gas stations and buy a Coke for a sugar and caffeine boost. And when rarely available, I’d buy a chocolate milk.
All in all, extremely pleased with my choices! Really proud it all stood up despite the distances and the elements and that the weight was something I could handle.
Interesting. You carried a few items I have not considered. I notice you travelled without fenders. You experienced a lot of rain. Do you wish you had them? And, did you use Google Maps for cyclists, or does it even exist for European countries?
I’ve never used fenders so I don’t really know what kind of a difference they would have made if any. I used Google maps only a couple of times but did not notice a cyclists’ option. ViaMichellin, though, does have one and I used that often. My main digital maps were from the Garmin Connect app. I’ll be writing in detail about that tomorrow.
You don’t mention cooking gear. Did you eat out the whole time?
Yes. I couldn’t possibly have added the extra weight of cooking gear. I was also always very tired after a cycle. To cook for myself would have been a real burden for me.
Note that cooking not only involves having the gear for it: cup, utensils, pot, burner, etc. It also means finding a supermarket, buying food, and carrying it. That would have been way too much for me. What are the items I brought you hadn’t considered? I’m curious.
Contact for bike shop, inflatable pillow (!), sponge cloth, sanitary pads, zinc oxide cream, bike lock (!), money belt and iPad (mini).
LOL at sanitary pads!
Food is always an issue for me. Cycling burns a lot of calories. I need fuel hourly and try to carry a lot of fruit and bars. Not always easy to find. And, I need a coffee first thing.
Food was a major issue for me. The snacks I had carried me well between stops. Gas stations everywhere had enough small items, sandwiches included, to sustain me until I stopped properly for lunch. Roadside cafes were generally plentiful enough. And I ONLY chose to stay at camps that had a restaurant that could give me a good breakfast and dinner.
I suspect you stopped at populated camp grounds if there were restaurants. Were you ever nervous alone in your tent?
Actually, they weren’t very crowded at all this time of the year. Usually there were several caravans and a couple of tents and that was it. I was never nervous in the camps. They were all so well secured with cameras and fences. The campers all seemed to be family people, retired folk, and travelers of the kind I relate to.
This is good to know. I overlooked the time of year. Looking forward to you Garmin post. Almost purchased 1 this year but hesitated.