Equipment For A Cycling Tour: The Thoughts Of Billy Romp

IMG_0469 copyOccasionally, readers of this website put such time & effort into writing a comment that it is worthy of elevation to an entire blog post of its own. The wonderfully-named Billy Romp (he joins Otto Sentieri & Lester Knibb as characters in my future novel, whatever it may be about…) who describes himself as an ‘experienced long-distance cyclist of over 40 years standing‘ posted the following on my previous blog entry all about the equipment that I will be taking with me when I cycle along the Eurovelo 8 this summer. You can read the original post here. It is long but worthy of your own time & effort. My responses to the thoughts of Mr Romp are in red;

“Dear Mr Sykes, Far too formal! Please call me Andrew…

Words from an experienced long-distance cyclist re: Kit.

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 19.32.11I have travelled very heavy and very light, and everything in-between. I much prefer a light kit on a heavy bicycle with fat, smooth tires. My 2012 trip was 10 months, 14,000 miles, in weather that included freezing temperatures, snow, rain, desert dry heat, and tropical heat with humidity. I camped about half the time. contains a list of my equipment. After forty years of bicycle touring I feel I have a highly developed kit.

1) Ortlieb panniers, not light, but recommended Agree
2) I choose to ride without a helmet; I use a wool cycling cap in cold weather, a cotton one in warm. For my daily commute I wear mine all the time but yes, for touring you need to have a more pragmatic approach depending upon the conditions you are cycling in.
3) A plastic plate is very light but unreliable and single-purpose. I use a titanium Sierra cup, no heavier, more versatile. Not sure why a plastic plate should be unreliable… or less versatile.
4) I use a four-season mountaineering tent, single-wall, 1-2 man, Black Diamond brand, 3.5 pounds. More than 4 pounds is excessive. The Robens Osprey 2 – the tent I’m taking – weighs in at 2.4kg or 5.3lbs. Excessive? I need more space than I was afforded by the Helium 100 back in 2010 so I’m happy with the Osprey.
5) A two-pound goose down bag (North Face Chrysalis) serves me well; it packs up very small. A goose-down hooded jacket, pants and booties, ultralight, from Western Mountaineering, extends the bag’s usefulness in cold weather. Rule of thumb: if I am not wearing everything to bed on the coldest night of the trip, I have carried too much clothing. Nice logic. My sleeping bag is down but I don’t think that during the summer cycling along the Mediterranean coast I’ll be too worried about the cold. 
5b) Vango brand I am unfamiliar with. I see most bicyclists carrying way too much mattress. An ultra-light Thermarest has served me well for decades; it rolls down to the size of a water bottle and weighs a few ounces. Again, my own experiences from 2010 tell me that ultra-thin is equivalent to ultra-uncomfortable. I’m happy with a standard mat which rolls up slightly larger than a water bottle.
6) I make up my own first aid kit, according to my planned exposure and my own first aid skills. Wound care, basically. It would probably have cost me about the same (if not more) to buy the items in the first aid kit individually.
7) I use a wash cloth; a towel is a luxury. It’s a travel towel so very small. Towels can be comforting; you can hug them…
8) A single keychain LED light is enough. A spare one is in the survival kit. The LED one I’m taking is very small. 
9) A camping stool? Unless you have a physical limitation, a heavy luxury. It’s extremely light and it is certainly one thing that I missed when cycling to Italy in 2010. That said, it is likely to be an item that I abandon if it becomes a pain to carry it. It only cost me £6.
10) I wear mountain bike racing shoes, SPD. “Touring shoes” and sandals break down quickly by comparison. The sandals are wonderfully comfortable and allow the feet to breath in the hot weather. 
11) I read books on my iPhone these days. Delighted to hear that! (Have you bought mine yet?) I’m clearly a big fan of eBooks but I’m also a professional browser who likes nothing more to sit with a beer and choose random pages of a guidebook to read. Yes, I could do that with the iPhone or iPad but at least real books don’t need charging…
12) Business cards are a good investment and worth carrying. Agree! (especially when you are flogging a book…)
13) Finish Line Dry has limited application, no rain protection. I’m not particular, but it has to be heavier than that. Again, the conditions should be dry along the Med but if needed I can always exchange for heavier duty oil.
14) Multi-function tools vary a lot, and most are overly heavy. I carry a tiny pocket Swiss Army knife to supplement the Opinel knife in the cook kit. I need to take some basic tools hopefully for nothing more than reassembling the bike when I arrive at Athens airport.
15) Rechargeable and battery front lights are heavy for their output and unreliable compared to a generator with a powerful light. I prefer battery-powered rear lights; they are more reliable than a long wire from the front to the back. Spare batteries are not needed; I carry a spare rear light, a tiny button-battery unit, the size of a wrist watch that mounts on the seat post or anywhere. I don’t intend cycling at night but it may happen (and there are tunnels of course if I’m allowed to cycle through them) so hopefully recharging the front light shouldn’t be too much of an issue. It charges by plugging into a computer via the USB port so when I arrive at a friendly campsite reception…
16) I am not a photography enthusiast, so I save weight by bringing no camera, case, tripod, batteries, recharger. Essential for me. I missed having a quality camera in 2010 as there are things that an iPhone simply won’t do. In the book I’d like to publish more photographs but they do need to be good ones!
17) I’m a believer in good solid water bottles.
18) I do not use a lock. While occasionally one would be convenient, it is hardly necessary. In the most dangerous campsites I tie a black cord to the bike, lead it into the tent and tie it to my sleeping bag. At hotels, hostels and at hosts’ homes I bring the bike inside, try hard to bring it to my room, and trust the front desk when I can not. So far so good. Agree mostly with this. The cable lock is used for the purpose you state here to attach the bike to the tent (although I suppose I might be better buying a thinner steel cord). My bike is however insured and to not lock it would invalidate the insurance so this one is not optional I’m afraid.
19) There are lighter pumps, good ones. Mine is Topeak brand, tiny, only a few ounces. It was the smallest one in the shop!
20) Three water bottle cages are sometimes not enough for water. I would not use one for tools. I’ll take a flexible approach to this. If I need a third cage, I’ll use it for water instead of carrying tools. That said, I am cycling through some very hot places and I will probably be carrying extra water in the panniers anyway.
21) I go a little heavy on tools. A needle-nosed Vise-Grip is good. So is a toothbrush. I like to have a couple of cone wrenches and some BB tools. I carry two tubes and a patch kit (with a razor blade, wire, and money in it). I did not notice a patch kit on your list. Well-spotted! There is no patch kit as I’ll just replace the inner tube if they go with a new one and stock up on spare inner tubes as I cycle. In 2010 I didn’t have a single puncture. I’m  hoping for a similar experience in 2013! I may live to regret this strategy…
22) Soap powder; for laundry? Available where laundry machines are; not recommended for rivers and streams. My experience tells me otherwise. Very often campsites use the necessity for washing powder as a reason to fleece their customers. A few solid-state washing powder tablets are useful.
23) Wallet, of course, for the contents. A zip-lock bag suffices.
24) Better make that two spare cables, one brake and one derailleur. Spare spokes definitely; I put mine in the seat post with a cork. Thanks for pointing this out.
25) Toothpaste I like. Deodorant creates a situation where eventually you will smell worse as the bacteria change to deodorant-resistant. Wear wool, which has natural antibacterial properties and fights odour. In warm weather I wash (rinse) clothing and body daily. The deodorant is not for smelling sweet while I cycle but for the occasions when I have other things to do. I am writing a book about the trip and will be spending much time in other people’s company, some planned meetings, other impromptu ones. They will not all be cyclists and if we head off to share a meal in a restaurant for example, I’d rather not wreak of perspiration.
26) Shaving gel–in a can? Heavy. Bar soap (which I have anyway) and a brush (super-light weight) do the trick. I like my smoothly shaved chin 🙂 Surely the small can I have cannot be much bigger than a brush.
27) Another lock? See above. Padlocks (if you are referring to those) are useful on any trip whether on or off a bike.
28) Mouthwash–like deodorant–you’re better off without it. Good brushing, the occasional mint or chewing gum. Mouthwash changed my oral hygiene a few years ago when I started using it. I’m afraid it’s coming with me! Gum? Not a fan and environmentally unfriendly…
29) I have stopped using maps since I carry an iPhone. When I did use maps, I kept them in the pack and referred to them only when necessary, usually in town. I find a mounted map distracting. Same for iPhone: I carry it in the handlebar bag, not on a mount, and refer to it as necessary. I’ll be using both electronic and traditional maps. I am a sucker for a map and could (and no doubt will) spend hours poring over them. Digital maps are great but I like to look beyond the edges of the screen to where I’m not going as well as those places that I will visit. In addition, maps are excellent conversation ignitors in a way that screens on iPhones or iPads are not. 
30) Waterproof bags, good. Bungee cords, bad. They are poor attachment devices on a bicycle, and can be dangerous. Perlon cord will serve you much better. You may have a point about the bungees. I’ll think about this one carefully.
31) You carry an iPhone. Why all the paper books? The books and information in there (and in the leaflets and other printed stuff) is available for download. See above
32) Powermonkey I take to be a battery for electronics. I carried one all last year, a Mophie 4200MAh unit, and only used it a couple of times. I charge my phone with a Tout Terrain “The Plug” powered from my front hub generator. I don’t like the sound of that “bag of accessories.” All the accessories won’t be going with me, just the one or two plugs that I need. The PowerMonkey is an amazing piece of equipment and comes with solar panels for charging when there is no access to a mains plug. You may be interested in reading this post that I wrote about my experiences with solar chargers in 2010.
33) iPad mini AND iPhone? If you are an enthusiast, maybe, but it seems like a lot for a bicycle trip. I am! I’m also doing a lot of writing (in 2010 I tapped out 30,000 words on the iPhone and at times it was a little tedious). The mini iPad is the perfect size for doing such ‘work’.
34) The camera is a good, small model, but with it’s charger, batteries, adaptors, cards and their care and storage, I leave mine home. The iPhone has a decent camera. See above
35) You have a notebook in addition to the phone and iPad? I created and wrote my blog on my phone, using voice-memos and learning to type fast on it. See above. Sometimes, more private thoughts are best expressed on paper. It’s the poet in me I’m afraid… And I may be tempted to sketch from time to time!
36) I don’t use a cyclocomputer any more, but I used to, and I understand the appeal. I don’t miss mine. It’s a very small one and is useful for quickly checking distances, speeds etc… The iPhone app is a little more cumbersome to consult while cycling.
37) Years ago I gave up bicycle gloves. One less item to keep track of. This requires that I set the bike up more precisely to control the weight on my hands, and better set-up is a good thing. I carry leather dress gloves (with the lining removed), light wool liners, lighter polypropylene liners, and waterproof over-mitts, which covers a range of conditions. On the occasions that I haven’t worn gloves I have suffered so again, they are coming with me!
38) A plastic mug. Again I choose a titanium mug. Plastic cracks, melts, burns, and stains. My University of York plastic mug has served me well for over 20 years! It’s almost a personal friend 🙂
39) I hope your Swiss Army knife is a tiny one. It’s a small one yes but it could do with a sharpen.
40) Razors, OK. Insect repellant is largely ineffective, smelly and hard to clean off, soils the clothing, and is often toxic. I carry a mosquito head net. Same for sun block; I use a hat. In the desert, a band-aid on my nose and tops of my ears. I’m suspecting that you haven’t read my book as I had terrible problems with mosquitoes in Italy in 2010. I solved them problem by starting to use a product called Autan. The stuff I taking with me this year is similar so again, it’s non-negociable I’m afraid.
41) The pharmaceuticals are your choice, but I have found little use for them over the years. I have learned to approach health from a pro-active, preventative approach, and healing from a food-and-local-remedy perspective. Great advice… but cure may be just as important as prevention if the circumstances dictate.
42) The phone mount I have mentioned above. With no map, cyclometer or phone on the dashboard, attention is focussed outward for navigation information, which places a person more definitely in the landscape and increases skill and ability. With a cyclocomputer, one never really learns to estimate distances properly. See comments above about maps.
43) Bottles can be opened with almost anything, including the bottle openers on your multi-tool and Swiss Army knife. Agree – I need to check if the Swiss Army knife has a corkscrew on it (I think it does) in which case the bottle opener will probably stay at home.
44) A knife, of course, and a spoon. A fork is redundant. If you can’t get it with a spoon, and you can’t get it with a knife, a fork is not going to help. Again, good point but what if I invite someone around for dinner…?

As for clothing, I favor merino wool shorts, tights, jerseys and socks for most weather. Merino wool can be aired out overnight and smell good; polypro and most synthetics are very hard to keep fresh. In the heat, lycra shorts and jerseys, rinsed daily. A Gore-Tex bicycle suit is nearly always enough, but I carry an extra ultra-light hooded Gore-Tex shell for extreme weather (it will go over my goose-down jacket, which my bicycle suit will not). On a long trip I carry no other, off-the-bike clothing. What for? In the last forty years I have very rarely wished I had some civilian clothing along. I feel fine at any gathering in bike clothing and shoes. My clothing is mainly made up of quick drying materials that are designed specifically for sporting activities if not specifically cycling. I will be taking off-bike clothes for all the lavish dinner parties that I will be attending (although I think I’ll leave the dinner jacket at home)!

You did not mention cook kit. I use a minimalist alcohol stove, kettle, Sierra cup, 12-oz. bowl, and spoon, all titanium; aluminium foil a windscreen; and two 8-oz. Nalgene bottles for alcohol. I carry 1-oz. Nalgene bottles for salt, pepper, garlic powder, 8-oz. for olive oil. That’s it. Usually I use it only for dinner. When I cycled to Italy in 2010 I left all of my camping equipment in a hotel in Luxembourg. Remember that I am cycling through Europe, a continent that is dripping with cafes, supermarkets and restaurants. My favourite meal three years ago consisted of some beer, a baguette and some cheese. Wonderful!

My entire kit is 48 pounds with water and fuel, without groceries. Everything goes in the panniers; I do not stack the rear rack. On this last trip I took my mandolin in its hard-shell case and five harmonicas, an extra nine pounds, purely an indulgence. I’m a guitarist… Now there’s an idea!

I have met cyclotourists with twice as much weight as I was carrying, doing much more work and camping in no more comfort than I was. I often wonder what is in those stacks of stuff (poorly attached with bungee cords) that I see people carrying on the rear rack, and I wonder what good it does them. The world is not flat, mostly. I have toured with less, and put up with the lack when it arose, very happily.

I hope you have found my comments useful. Very. Many thanks for putting down your thoughts. It has certainly made me think carefully about the things I will be taking. I stand ready to eat my words when I set off in ten days’ time.


Billy Romp”

Categories: Cycling

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6 replies »

  1. And Billy, if you are reading this, would you mind sharing with us how you use your iPhone to guide you? Which apps do you use? How do you make your route?

    Normally I make a .gpx file on the computer with my route and use the OSMAnd app (Android only?) to plot it over OpenCycleMap. This app also allows me show POI’s (which includes camping places), download maps for using it offline and record my own trail on a .gpx file.

  2. Maybe I should write a “Equipment For A (Beginners) Cycling Tour: Student version” with my € 15 rear panniers, € 30 tent, € 30 sleeping bag, second-hand bike, etc 😛

    By the way, I am finally considering buying some cycling clothes. Any tips on where should I start? I guess some cycling (lycra?) shorts would be a good idea, right? Are the “cheap” shorts (around € 20) still useful, or is it a matter of “take a good one or don’t take any at all”? And they should be worn without underwear, right?

    Thanks for Andrew and Billy Romp for the post! Really informative and quite some interesting tips. 🙂

  3. An interesting comparison between touring gear. I would just like to point out that gloves often save your hands if you are unlucky enough to fall off. There is nothing worse than a big gash in the soft part of your hand that presses on the bars while continuing your journey.

What do you think?