Sunday, December 28, 2014

Carrying the Luggage



Here are some ideas regarding how best to pack and carry your gear on a tour using a Brompton. Despite being sturdy bikes, touring on a Brompton entails obvious limitations on what you can take with you but I have found out that the following setup works exceptionally well provided you will stick to decent surfaced roads and travel where temperatures are not too cold. The greatest benefit of this system together with the compact fold of the bike is that in ten minutes you are ready to transform your fully loaded bike to a conveniently packed setup, ready to be taken on a shuttle bus a train or  plane should you need to take a transfer during your tour. The backpack goes on your shoulder, on one hand you hold the folded bike stored in a light Dimpa Bag, on the other simply carry the T-Bag. It really works! To secure the backpack on the rear rack of the Brompton a metal bar is fixed horizontally under the saddle by means of a couple of leather straps. This allows a secure support for the backpack shoulder harnesses that is stable and easy to remove. Further reading and close-up pictures.

Below I listed the content of each bag on a typical setup for a tour that can last from a week to a month or even longer. Of course there is room for improvement and my list might not fit your needs but provided the load and volume is similar it will work just as well.

Front Bag: ( Brompton T-Bag )



Inside Compartment

  • Light tent
  • Camera
  • Go Pro
  • Gadgets cables and accessories
  • Gloves, Woollen hat
  • Gore-tex Jacket
  • Long sleeves light jacket
  • Extra space can carry food to take to campsite at the end of each day
  • Passport in zipped inside pocket
Outside Pockets

  • Ready access food to eat during ride
  • Water Pet Bottle
  • Oil to lubricate chain
  • Repair Gloves
  • Mobile phone
  • Wallet
  • Chamoix Leather ( Perfect as a towel at the campsite )
  • Combination Lock


Backpack:




Top Compartment


  • Spare clothes in compression bag ( 1 light underpants, 1 merino long sleeved shirt, 1 merino socks, 1 long johns, 1 light down jacket, 1 short sleeved shirt, 1 light knee pants with zip extension ) This compression bag can function as your pillow at night!
  • Cables, plugs and chargers in compression waterproof bag

Centre

  • Sleeping Bag
  • Toiletries bag
  • Light plastic flip flops
  • Portable Radio

Bottom

  • Repair tools
  • 2 spare inner tubes and repair kit
  • Extra bunjee chords
  • Heavy duty gaffer tape
  • Dimpa Bag
  • Light Bike Bag ( Used only for flights at start or end of trip )
Outside

  • Sleeping mat (tied to backpack with bungee chords)
  • 2 spare tyres around backpack
  • Helmet if not worn

Clothes:




In the picture above you can see all the clothes I take with me while touring. It might seem very spare but I assure you it is all you need to be comfortable and warm enough to tour in most weather conditions. Most garments come in sets giving you the ability to always wear a clean set while you wash and dry the other one. In order to be light I choose clothes that are comfortable not only for cycling but also provide a good option for all the time I spend off the bike. The only cycling specific garment I take with me is one pair of cycling shorts. These I normally wear under my light trousers at the beginning of the tour when I am not used to be on the bike for long hours and the padding will make this transition more comfortable. The downside to them is that they are not quick to dry so I limit their use to the minimum necessary to ride comfortably. I still use underpants while wearing them as this will keep them much cleaner and should you wish to, you will be able to wear them a few times before a wash. I have talked about the great qualities of Merino wool in another article, suffice to say that my merino base layers and socks provide odour free and comfortable wear for many days without the need to be washed. Zipped trousers are used in their short version during the ride and the extensions can then be zipped at other times allowing for a very flexible use. Long johns are very useful to provide extra warmth with a very little addition to space and weight. I mostly wear them at night while camping. Riding long hours each day doesn't mean that one cannot keep clean during a tour. A very useful trick I figured out is that wearing light and quick drying underpants that are washed each day under the shower (perfect sponge too...) or with some water is a great way to keep clean; having two pairs of them means that you can wash the pair you used during the day, wear the clean ones for the night and the following day while the others are put on the outside of your luggage to dry. This works a treat and also brings a degree of theft deterrence while you shop! All the clothes that are not worn during the day are stacked on top of each other and rolled. I then put them inside an Exped 8 Litres waterproof compression bag. Once at the campsite I can have easy access to them when I need to get changed. Also this bag design, without buckles and straps makes for an ideal pillow.
As far as shoes I have used a light pair of trekking shoes, again avoiding the cycling specific solution.  Yes it is more efficient to have clipped shoes that you can attach to pedal and very stiff soles that don't bend while you pedal but my view is this. Clips might had a little speed and distance to your day but come at the risk of being tied to the bike. Even those who are used to them might not react as quickly when their bike is fully loaded with weights. Bike shoes might not be as comfortable when you are off the bike too.  I next plan to try riding on Keen sandal type shoes which are much used by cycle tourists and seem to offer a good balance between riding and comfort.

Some Further Packing Light Wisdom

With a little experience one finds out things that work and things that don't. Often it is just about trial and error but we also learn and get inspired by what other people do. Hopefully you will find some of these tips useful and take some of them with you on your next tour!

  1. Merino Wool: It took me forty years to figure out but I hope it will come faster for you! Basically this is the best gift you can give yourself if you are serious about touring. These are expensive but with some care they last long and their benefits make the purchase very worthy indeed. Merino wool garments keep your body temperature cool when hot and warm when the weather gets cold but mostly can be worn for weeks on end without the need to be washed and they dry extremely quickly too. Odours are neutralised by the natural fabric and can be worn much longer than any other sport dedicated material. Recently NASA tested every material conceivable in order to chose the best for astronauts planning long stays in space and guess what material came on top... Merino Wool. I use two long-sleeved shirts that i change every week or so. They are on my skin during the cycling day, are removed while I take a shower and then are back on on my skin for a night sleep! Long sleeves I found work best no matter the temperatures and weather you will find. In hot and sunny places the long sleeves will keep your forearms from sunburns and if it gets cooler the long sleeves will keep your arms warmer too.
  2. Merino Continued: As you are there get yourself some Merino wool socks too for the same reasons...
  3. Use normal light trousers: The temptation to go for cycling gear is natural but I found in my experience that this is not a good idea. Cycling trousers have the benefit of a chamoix padding to make your ride more comfortable but they have many shortcomings too. They smell really bad after just a day riding ( yes I do take showers every day... ). This means that pretty much every day or two you will have to wash them and the padding makes the drying process a long one. Usually you would wash them in the evening at the campsite when temperatures are cool and end up drying them by putting them soaked wet, tied somewhere outside your bags during your next day ride. I usually do take a pair with me to use at the start of my tours when my rear hasn't yet become too friendly with the saddle... After a few days riding, a better solution in my opinion is using normal light short trousers possibly with zipped extensions that can be attached in the evening as this will serve a double purpose and can be used when you need to look just a little bit smarter at the restaurant, etc. Now for the most secret and intimate...underwear. A great way to stay dry and clean during your tour is to simply bring with you two pairs of light and quick drying underpants. At the end of the day you wash the one you were wearing while you take a shower ( by the way they make an excellent sponge too... ),  and put on the clean ones for the night and the next day ride. Quick drying materials mean that your washed set will be probably dry by the morning but as you only need them the next day in the evening you have plenty of time to just hang them on your luggage during the day so that they can dry in the sunshine. Pants strapped on your cycling bags are also good theft deterrents! 
  4. Use normal shirts: Again as above! Usual wisdom says that it should be good to wear lycra shirts with cycling pockets behind and so on... If you want my advice, don't! Bring with you two short sleeved shirts with buttons and pocket at the front instead, the kind you would use for trekking. I wear these over a Merino base layer. It looks much more stylish, is more  comfortable and chances are you might even be complimented on your cycling style! If you wear Merino wool on your skin the shirt will be just an extra layer on top that won't make you too hot and will be so much more useful when you are not cycling and it is time to go to a restaurant or cafe to recharge body and soul! I bring two shirts with me, one I wear and the other one is a spare to get changed after I get a chance to do some laundry. I heard people saying that they don't like Merino on their skin as it is itchy but I believe this is mostly due to the quality of Merino they have used. I don't like that feeling myself but have found that thin base layer of 100% Merino Wool are most comfortable on your skin. 
  5. Everything in twos: I just realised that it seems that everything comes in twos but the bike and the tent... Two base layers, two underpants, two socks, two shirts and even two tyres as you are not likely to find Brompton size good tyres outside main cities.
  6. Compression Bags: These can also be waterproof if needed but they mostly function very well to keep your gear tidy and in place. Cables, chargers for your gadgets, and clothes can all be organised in small packets and easily found when needed. Your spare clothes compression bag will be the most comfortable pillow at night too so try to choose compression bags without straps and buckles. Usually roll down tops work best. See an example of the kind I use here.
  7. Gadgets: That is where it gets hard and we all tend to bring too many of those... I still take a very heavy DSLR camera for my photos but more and more light gadgets that do it all come on the market and make it easy for us to carry less around. Smartphones are today capable of taking decent pictures, amazing HD videos, help you keep connected to friends, check maps on the internet and much much more. There is no reason why a smartphone is all you probably need. If you are like me you can't resist taking your iPad with you too and a small radio for weather, news and entertainment at the campsite!
  8. Cooking Gear: Come on, why did you tour on a Brompton anyway! This is a no brainer...just don't bring anything of this sort! You don't have the space for it, if you are touring with a Brompton chances are that you are not crossing the desert or Siberia and you will be just fine eating out here and there and getting stuff from groceries. Trying out local food is a great part of the enjoyment so make the most of it and stay light!

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