Tips & Tricks
We’ve learned so much about cycle touring since we pedalled off from Toronto on 7 July 2016. If you’re an experienced cycle tourer then some of this maybe teaching you to suck eggs, but whatever level you’re at we’re sure you’ll find these tips and tricks helpful and entertaining. Either way, we wanted to share our the knowledge and experience we’ve picked up so far. In no particular order, out top 20 tips to-date are…
1.Take extra Platypus water carriers. No one should be trying to do a whole days’ cycle touring on just three bottles. And you cannot always guarantee you’ll find safe drinking water. We carry two Platypus water carriers to top up water bottles and make pasta / coffee for lunch.
2. Take plenty of cable (zip) ties and gorilla (duct) tape. We have fixed everything from panniers to water tanks with these two things. We keep our signs attached to our bikes with reusable cable ties, and we we’ve repaired rips in the tent with gorilla tape. They don’t weigh much and they last forever.
3. Arnica cream is better than expensive ‘repair gel’. We brought Assos Repair gel with us from the UK and it works well. But when we ran out we found it we found it was $30 to replace. We bought some Arnica cream from Walmart for $8 and it’s actually better! It has helped with saddle sore and much more embarrassing ailments we won’t go into….yet..
4. Make your own energy bars. At home we always bake our own energy bars (recipe) as they’re nutritious, cheap, tasty and excellent energy. When we started this trip we were amazed that Clif bars were the equivalent of £1 so spent weeks living off them. We soon realised this was unaffordable for a year and decided to make our own ‘no cook’ energy bars. Take a look at the recipe page to see how we make it.
5. Get a ready made ‘tent toilet’ from a dollar store. Before we started our trip we read loads of advice about cycle touring, but nobody talked about the embarrassing things, like getting caught short in a tent in the middle of the night. Let us fill that void! And let’s be honest, no one wants to leave the tent at 4am when it’s cold, raining and the rustling in the trees sounds like daddy bear. After several experiments, we bought one of those collapsible water carriers. Chris aims and shoots. And Ties uses a She Wee to ‘get it in’. We keep hand sanitizer ready and clean the bag out with washing up liquid each morning.
6. Ladies, get a She Wee! As mentioned for, Ties uses a She Wee. It’s a genius invention that lets you Wee like a man. No mess (once you’ve practiced a few times) and broadens your choice of nature calls dramatically.
7. Zip lock bags carry everything. We got a box of zip lock bags from a dollar store and use them for everything. We use them for diced onion, relish, biscuits, pasta etc etc. One of the cheapest and most versatile bits of our kit.
8. Find out where you can / can’t get wifi. We know that you go cycle touring to get into the great outdoors. But everyone needs the Internet occasionally to find their next campsite, contact friends etc. In Canada we found that every Tim Hortons, MacDonalds, most supermarkets and banks offer free wifi. Don’t be shy; you won’t be the only one standing outside pilfering it!
9. Airbnb is excellent for city rest days. We’re extremely security conscious and don’t leave our bikes unattended. The downside of this is we can’t explore cities, or anything indoors in general, together. If we really want to explore somewhere we use Airbnb so we can stay in someone’s spare room and leave our bikes in their house. We always ask if we can keep the bikes inside before committing to the booking. And it’s always been well worth it for the odd treat.
10. Visitor / tourist info centres are gold dust. It’s not worth trying to macho and doing the whole thing by the stars / gut feeling. If you see a visitor centre pop in and ask their advice. We have saved ourselves from going down what looks like roads on maps / Google, that turned out to be dykes or logging route only. Visitor centres also usually have toilets, free wifi and picnic benches with outdoor power sockets. We normally aim for these for lunch, so we can charge our electrical devices too.
11.Get a stove with a low heat setting. We bought the MSR Windboiler and were initially in awe of its ability to boil water in less than 2 minutes. However we soon realised its not great at cooking pasta, rice, eggs etc, as it only has settings from very hot to rocket powered! We bought the extra 1.8l MSR Windboiler saucepan so we could cook pasta and porridge in one batch, without it boiling over, but you still need to be very attentive whilst cooking.
12. Make yourselves visible for cars. We’re not that paranoid about cars so we don’t wear hi viz jackets or sashes. But we do use bright yellow waterproof covers for our rear panniers. We’ve stayed at the same campground as RV drivers who’ve undertaken us that day and tell us how good they are at making us visible. And they keep your stuff dry!
13. AeroPress make the best coffee. We have taken very few unnecessary luxuries but our AeroPress is one of them. We love it. It’s very durable, light, cheap and makes incredible coffee. It uses more coffee than your average French press but we reason that the extra expensive is worth it because we’re never tempted to buy a coffee with the quality we get from our own! It’s incredible waking up in the backcountry, knowing you can have a perfect fresh brew to start the day.
14. Put foam mats under your Therma Rests. This was a tip from a friend and we’re very grateful because it saves your Therma Rests from punctures, keeps the cold away and adds extra comfort on hard pitches. Foam mats are very large but add no weight. We just attach them to the top of our rear panniers.
15. Invest in a dynamo hub. Chris has a SON Dynamo hub and it charges electrical devices very quickly via a Cinq5 Plug. You can charge anything that can connect via a USB lead. A Garmin Edge Explore 1000 takes about 4 hours from flat, and an iPhone 6 about 8 hours from flat. All free power!
16. Get a tent with a big porch that you can put bikes in. We can get both our bikes and all our panniers in our Wildcountry Hoolie 3 ETC. The bikes go into the front porch easily and it saves worrying about security or getting them wet at night.
17. Take a water filter. We have a MSR water filter pump. It filters water very quickly and turns yellow, irony water into clear, tasty water. We’ve only had to use it 3 times in 2 months (so far) but if we didn’t have it we’d have been stuffed on each of those 3 occasions. And we’d much rather filter water than use tabs and taste the chlorine.
18. Take loads of layers. We thought we’d spent the whole year in the sunshine and maybe get some cold nights in Texas in the desert. We didn’t bank on 4 degrees Celsius at Lake Louise in August. Or -2 degrees Celsius near Rock Creek in early September! Luckily we brought lots of merino layers and each have a lightweight down jacket. And we’ve used them all already!
19. Take bungee cords. Even if you think you’re travelling super light and have a place for everything, you will invariably pick something up and need to strap it to your bike / panniers. We each have two sets and a spare set. We’ve already used the spare as we snapped a bungee that got caught in our cassette.
20. A pen takes no space! And you will use it almost everyday. If you can handle the extra weight, be extravagant and take two!