Bicycle Gear for Long Distance Travel —
I can remember riding down the highway in Hungary with Bicycle Luke by my side.
I looked his bicycle up and down: it was a purchased new, super duper touring bike. I then looked at his gear: he had nice waterproof panniers, stuff sacks, a Hennessy hammock tent, and just about every other bike gadget I could think of.
Bicycle Luke then looked at my setup: I had an old beat up 5 speed thrift shop bike that I picked up in the Czech Republic for $50, a couple shopping bags filled with stuff hanging off of each handle bar, a tarp and rope for a tent, and a luggage carrier that was really nothing more than an old milk crate tied on to the back of the bike with a length of commandeered clothesline.
Luke spent a lot of money for his sharp setup, I paid next to nothing for mine.
Just as I was starting to really admire Bicycle Luke’s foresight and preparation abilities, he said something to the effect of:
“I probably could have done this more like you.”
As in the cheap, clunky sort of way.
I quickly denied his self accusation by saying,”No, I could have done this more like you.”
Meaning the good, solid, “I know my bike should not fall apart beneath me” sort of way.
We were two bicycle riders representing the two extremes of long distance bicycle touring as we rode side by side through the Hungarian countryside.
As the best way to do something usually falls somewhere in between two extremes, I would like to introduce Manitoba Dave, and his simply, though not overtly clunky, set up for long distance bike travel.
I wrote an article about Manitoba Dave, and how he trades farm work for free accommodation in the Feature Stories section of Vagabond Journey.com.
“Every extra pound that you add is an extra pound that you have to haul up the next hill,” spoke Manitoba Dave when I asked him why he choose the tent that he brought with him on his bicycle journey from Montreal to Rhode Island to Halifax and then back to Montreal.
He then added that he did not really choose his tent per se, rather, he just happened to get it really cheaply from a sporting goods store that was getting rid of all of their old rental tents. But the tent that Manitoba Dave bought proved to be good for traveling, as it was light weight, compact, and fit right on the top of his gear rack.
“Light weight, that is the mot important thing for putting on your bicycle. ”
I then looked over Dave’s bicycle and the gear hauling set up he had attached to it.
He rode a used steel framed bike that he picked up at a police auction in Montreal. It was a simple touring bike that was probably manufactured in the early 1980’s.
Dave then explained that older bikes tend to have simpler components than newer models, which means that you stand a better chance of being able to fix a break on an older bike yourself. “Which happens often enough on the roadside,” he then added.
Manitoba Dave summarized his choice of bicycle:
“Its a bike that was set up for touring, it has a sturdy frame for packs and panniers”
I then looked at his gear set up, and found two panniers connected to a rack that flanked the back wheel of his bike. Dave explained that the two panniers on the back were full of food and rain clothes, and that he strapped down his tent and sleeping bag to the top of the rack with a bungy cord.
My gaze then followed the steel bars of his bicycle up from the gear rack, to the central column, to . . .
“Oh shit!” I exclaimed, “What the f’ck is that?”
I was looking at the seat on Manitoba Dave’s bicycle. It was much less a seat than two little black foam pads hovering over his bicycle in horizontal proximity to each other.
“Its called a Spongy Wonder,” Dave spoke simply.
There was no nose on this seat to speak of, just two foam pads to hold up your buttocks in tandem. The intention of which was to prevent injury to a man’s “sensitive parts” on long bike journeys.
“The seat was made specifically to alleviate the problems that some guys have with other bike seats . . . in terms of sexual dysfunction,” Manitoba Dave explained with a smile. “I have it more for psychological reasons,” he continued, “I just thought that after a long day of biking I could have some peace of mind, and it turns out that it is really comfortable.”
He then went on to tell me that this “Spongy Wonder” was, in fact, the most expensive component on his entire bike.
We then began talking about basic bicycle traveling strategy.
I asked him what he does with his panniers when he wishes to leave his bike, like when he wants to go into a store. I have always found this to be a tricky decision when traveling by bicycle: do I leave all of my gear attached to my bike outside or do I carry it all in the store with me?
I usually always chose to carry it with me.
But Dave, as did Bicycle Luke, leaves all of his gear connected to his bike when going into stores, and just trusts in the good will of the people whose home he is traveling through.
“Part of it is luck, chance, I guess,” Dave admitted with a slight smile.
Dave then added one really good tip:
“In smaller, rural communities you don’t have to worry as much about bike theft than in the cities. Avoiding the cities is one way to avoid those problems.”
It is my impression that this is good advice for any style of traveling.
Manitoba Dave then spoke some parting words of advice:
“It is a good thing to familiarize yourself with your bicycle before you leave. Make sure you can change a flat tire and make some other minor adjustments, because that stuff will come up often enough and it will definitely save you a lot money and a lot of trouble if you can handle it yourself.”
Good words spoken by a good traveler.
Read more about how Manitoba Dave trades farm work for free accommodation at, Canadian Bicyclist Trades Farm Work for Free Accommodation
Vagabond Journey on Bicycle Travel