It’s that time of the year again, the time when all the latest spring fashions are hung from storefront windows. Are you going to hit the red carpet in the latest Louis Garneau full leg lycra? Frolic on the beach in the newest Pearl Izumi shorts (Don’t get that chamois wet!)? Maybe have a romantic, sunset dinner on the veranda in your favorite shop’s newest kit?
Of course not. You’re a serious cyclist and you only wear serious cycling clothing for serious cycling activities.
Hmm still not quite right. Let me try again. You’re a semi-serious cyclist that’s looking to get some touring done this summer and you want some ideas about what to bring and what not to bring? Cool. I can help with that.
No matter if you’re taking a week long excursion across the state or a multiple-month trek across the country, you’re going to need the same basics: socks, shorts, shirts. So let’s take a look at those first.
At a minimum, you’ll probably want to bring two sets of riding clothes plus a pair of non-riding undies, probably a pair of shorts, and some light flip flops. You could absolutely ride in a single outfit the whole time. This will increase your chance of getting a rash as well as the likelihood that no one will want to be remotely close to you after a few days. I’d suggest hauling the extra ounces to do yourself and the world a favor.
Your routine is going to go like this:
- Finish the day’s ride.
- Take off Clothing Set 1 (CS1).
- Change into Shirt 2, your casual undies and shorts, and flip flops.
- Locate a sink/water pump/any water source.
- Wash Clothing Set 1.
- Sleep, wake up, put on CS2.
- Pack up, hang CS1 from your bike (rear rack, panniers, etc.) so it can dry.
- Go until you’re just about to finish for the day, then return to Step 1.
See? Two sets of clothing are perfect. You’ll have clean enough clothes every day, and you’ll barely notice the extra weight. If you’re going for an extended ride, I’d recommend properly washing your clothes every week or two. You will be amazed at how many boogers you will wipe on your shorts in a single day. You’ll look like a reverse dalmatian.
All of your basic clothing should be at least two things: wicking and antimicrobial. This won’t be cheap, but avoid the urge to waste your money on lower quality clothing. You will be wearing the same clothes day in and day out, so you’re paying for quality, not quantity. Also, higher quality goods will go further without washing and last longer over their lifetime. I know $40 for an athletic shirt seems like a lot, but if you wear it every other day for two months straight, it’s really a bargain. The same goes for $20 socks.
For your shirts, buy two different sleeve lengths. If you tend to run hot, get one short sleeve and one sleeveless. If you have poor circulation, one short sleeve and one long. Don’t buy two stylish shirts that are identical except for color. Style means nothing on tour. Remember that.
For socks, buck up and get the fancy ones. A cheap pair of cycling socks will mean unhappy feet. The last thing you want on tour is pissed off feet. They get very passive aggressive and start making snide remarks. It’s really uncomfortable for everyone in the room.
For shorts, wear what you like. I’m personally a fan of Canari (I bargain hunted for all of mine, FYI), but that’s just me. I have tried other brands, and nothing has ever fit quite as comfortably. It’s just a matter of body type. Wear whatever makes your butt want to sing joyously. If you thought unhappy feet were bad, wait until you meet an angry ass.
For casual wear, think light. Hiking shorts are usually light and fold down to nothing. Instead of a belt, pack a nylon camping strap that you could also use to tie something down to your rear rack with (get the kind with the aluminum buckle). Comfy undies are usually small, so not much to think about there. Flip flops can be very heavy. Cheap flip flops may as well be made of lead. Some nicer brands like Teva make ultralight, extremely durable, and super comfortable flops. It doesn’t mean much when you’re wearing them, but weight matters when you’re carrying them. Same goes for sneakers if you bring any, which I’d have to strongly recommend against, but I can’t force you to do something you don’t want to do.
Remember, style isn’t important on tour. Unless you just can’t help it.
The other clothes you bring will depend on your route. If you’re going to have some colder weather when the sun’s down, you may want to pack a set of thermals for at night, as well as full legged lycras for when you’re starting your day. Some people avoid full length riding shirts and pants by buying lycra sleeves and pant legs. I’m not a big fan as they never seem to fit me quite right, but others swear by them. A big bonus of those is that they are extremely light and packable.
If you’re going to be riding through rain (I’m looking at you, Ohio), pack a light rain jacket. Most summer days you won’t need a rain coat unless it’s raining all day and night. The summer sun usually dries you off very quickly. Plus, you have dry camp clothes to change into even if you’re soaked when you finish. If you’re riding in cooler temperatures a jacket is a must, though, for when the temperature unexpectedly drops. Might as well make sure it’s waterproof to kill two birds with one stone.
Should you really need pants, go with extremely thin sweatpants, and wear your thermals under them if you need more warmth. Packing a pair of jeans sounds reasonable for going into town, but what will end up happening is you’ll never wear them and just be pissed that you’re taking up the space in your pannier.
Also, and most importantly, get a small stuff sack to put your extras in. You won’t be putting these items on very often, so avoid aggravating yourself every time you dig into your clothes pannier and compartmentalize. If your extras are in their own bag, they can’t get in the way.
Layer your pannier for maximum ease of unload. At the bottom, pack your sneakers if you brought any. On top of that, pack you stuff sack of ‘extras’. On top of that, your daily wear. This way you’ll have easy access to the clothing that you’ll be using on a day to day basis.
Hang your flip flops from the straps on your rear rack, or from a pannier strap. You don’t want those stink bombs in with your clothes.
Easy enough, right? You’ll likely find that clothing preferences will change over the course of your trip, and if this is your first tour, likely changes to definitely. Don’t feel shackled to your clothing. If something doesn’t feel quite right, just go to a store, buy something new, and mail the old clothing home. Don’t ride in uncomfortable or high maintenance clothing, it’ll just be a distraction from the joy of the road. Remember, you want your clothes that are light, feel comfortable, and keep your ass singing that joyful song.