The beauty of bicycle touring is that it’s just you, a few panniers packed with supplies and a working bicycle. There are those, however, who prefer to travel carrying only a bare-bones minimum of equipment. This practice, known as ultralight touring, has a die-hard group of adherents who live by the motto of “Less is More”. And while definitely not suited for everyone, this style of touring does have a certain appeal to those who prefer to keep things simple and uncomplicated, and are more inclined to the idea of “roughing it”.
What is it?
The basic premise of ultralight touring is straightforward: ditch as much unnecessary weight as possible. Even though bicycle touring by necessity requires carrying a limited amount of goods, ultralight touring goes another step farther; for example, employing the use of smaller panniers or handlebar bags and lighter weight versions of commonly used gear.
Some of the benefits of ultralight touring include a reduction of mechanical issues (such as broken spokes), less energy expenditure and fatigue, an increase in speed and overall less discomfort after riding.
Many of the aspects related to ultralight touring may prove to be too much for the typical cyclist, however, the principles behind it are sound – after all, it only makes sense to keep your weight down as much as possible. Here are a few tips for you if you’re thinking about doing some ultralight cycling, or just need some pointers on keeping things lighter.
Keep it Light
If you want to give ultralight bicycle touring a shot, you’ll need to not only cut out anything that’s superfluous, but also replace anything you can with a lighter-weight alternative. Obviously, the bike itself is a critical factor to overall weight. The bicycle frame and wheels for ultralight touring should be as light and as strong as possible, without the heavy duty racks that typical touring bikes have.
Another important example would be your tires. You can find tires not only in a variety of sizes, but weights as well. Simply changing out your tires for a lighter pair can greatly impact the amount of drag you experience while pedaling. Specialty tires like these not only reduce the overall amount of weight you’re transporting, but are both durable and resistant to punctures, which is obviously an advantage when touring.
Some other items that you’ll want to keep as light as possible include your sleeping bag, tent, panniers, handlebar and saddle bags, and backpack.
Don’t Overdo it
A lot of people get carried away when it comes to packing, anticipating that they’ll leave behind something that they might need on the trip. After you’ve gotten some touring experience under your belt you’ll have a better idea of the things you’ll need and won’t need. The three main things that most beginners need to cut back on is the amount of food, clothing and tools they pack.
When it comes to packing food, a good rule of thumb is to only bring what you’ll require for the day, as well as a little extra for emergencies, otherwise, you should be able to acquire more as needed during your trip. With clothing, just pack an extra change if you want, but this is not necessarily crucial. And as for your tools, stick to a multi-tool that’s all-purpose which should handle most of your potential mechanical problems. Anything which that can’t handle will more than likely need to be taken to a local area bike shop anyway.
Less Room for Less Stuff
Many bicycle tourers have the habit of completely filling their bags for no other reason than because they can. Don’t fall for this. The best way to keep the amount of stuff to a minimum is by using smaller, specialty bags and panniers. This way, you will have no choice but to limit what you bring along to only the most important items.
Cut the extras
It’s easy to figure out which of your larger items to leave behind or replace for ultralight touring, the tricky part is packing too many smaller items (they add up) which probably aren’t necessary at all. Leave out things like regular eating utensils, radios and bowls. If there’s any item that won’t make or break your trip then simply don’t bring it.
A lot of cyclists are guilty not of packing unnecessary smaller items, but of collecting them along the way. Now, there’s nothing wrong with acquiring some mementos from your trip, but always keep in mind about how the extra weight will affect your ride. One good idea is to mail any of your souvenirs back home, that way you can have your keepsakes without bogging yourself down.
Practice Makes Perfect
If all of this seems more than a little challenging, or the idea of leaving behind items you later wished you’d brought seems unpleasant, there’s an easy way to ease yourself into it without much risk. Make a plan for a simple overnight or weekend ultralight trip and see how it goes. This way can refine your list of necessary gear and if you don’t bring something along you need it won’t be a big deal since it’s for a short time out.