Bike tour: planning and packing

After three weeks of biking through Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium,  here are some suggestions of what to bring, and what to plan for.

What to pack

In addition to the specialty bike gear mentioned in a previous post, here are some other things we found really handy:

  • a pocket knife with basic tools such as a screw driver and scissors, and most importantly: a cork screw and bottle opener.  We saved a lot of money by going to grocery stores and buying our lunch items there.  However, when you've stopped in the middle of a scenic rural country sight - amazing how challenging it can be to open that shrink wrap if you don't have scissors!   Wine is super cheap in Europe, but without a cork screw you will just be looking wistfully at your bottle during your lunch stop.
  • simple bike repair kit (of course) and a spare inner tube.   We never had a flat, but when packing up for the plane we had one of the valves explode - good thing there was a spare tube!
  • a number of surgical gloves for bike repairs and packing up the bike at the airport
  • tape for emergency repairs, we used medical tape for strength, but any tough tape will work
  • bike locks & helmets
  • sunglasses
  • Fewer clothes than you think :)  Make sure you pick fast drying items, and think layers.   Use the 'tube' technique ('skivvy roll') for packing, it saves a ton of space.  Both lululemon and MEC have some very suitable athletic wear.   Try to find socks that are both warm and fast drying.
Clothes in skivvy rolls
  • A rope - for making a laundry line etc; even when staying in a hotel.    

'Rope!' muttered Sam. 'I knew I'd want it, if I hadn't got it!'

  • Shampoo makes a great laundry detergent.
  • A few spare ziplock bags.  Handy for snacks that you buy in bulk and once you've opened the bags you dont want those little pebbles going everywhere, and many other uses of keeping things dry and tidy.
  • Actual padded bike pants do make a difference to your bodily comfort in certain areas.  As do bike gloves.  However, no need to bring 4 pairs, like I did :)
  • Invest in a well fitted saddle.  Measure your size by sitting on a piece of card board, and measure the distance between the dents from your sit bones.  We replaced our fancy sleek saddles with basic ones from MEC and they worked like a charm. 

We never had rain, not once in three weeks (June 2023).  Instead we had heat.  So our rain gear was never tested, but we ran out of sunscreen.  Absolutely essential to bring hydration packs - amazing how many liters of water you need in a day.   Most backpacks have a slot for them and an opening to slide the tube through.

Route planning

  • The Komoot app is absolutely fantastic for getting you off the main roads onto proper bike trails.   It is crowd sourced, and shows pictures people have taken along the route so you have an idea of what to expect. 
  • In Belgium and Germany, a number of dis-used train routes have been converted to bike trails.  Because they were leveled for the train, they are relatively flat and easy to bike.   Many train stations along the route have been converted into pubs and restaurants.








Food & Drink

We always carried a fair supply of salted nuts, snacks and fruit juices.  It is easy to get de-hydrated and you'll want to keep replenishing at every stop.  I tend to get low blood sugar easily which makes me loose strength, tempo, and focus, so always have some apples and pastries handy.  Because, you know, you have to have that daily pain-au-chocolat when in Europe :)

Most grocery stores carry premade salads with a protein (tuna, egg, chicken) with a lettuce or pasta base that, for less than $10, provide a great lunch.    We also relied heavily on fresh bread from bakeries along the way, and of course European cheese.   And when all else fails - we found a bread vending machine along the road, cuz you know.... bread emergency :)

It helps to know the names of some common grocery chains to point your mapp app at, so here's the ones I'm familiar with.  Note that these also sell a fair variety of beer and wine.

and now you've got a bike to deal with ....

Of course, the reason you went on a bike tour is to bike.  But when you arrive in this cute medieval village for lunch - what do you do with your bike, with panniers, and maybe backpacks?  If you leave your gear, it may not be there when you get back.

  • Invest in good bike locks - but consider the weight!photo of a loop cable
  • We brought loop cables that can be hooked through then handle of the panniers, and then connected to your bike lock.  Will not prevent a serious thief, but will slow things down.
  • Little backpacks will allow you to carry all your valuables with you, if you have to leave bike and panniers behind.  
  • We picked our lunch spot based on proximity to a place to lock up the bikes
  • For day trips, we left our gear at the hotel, and took only one pannier which sometimes we carried by then handle - it makes a pretty cute hand bag :)
BIke stored in the night club below Hotel Havana, Mainz
  • We would try to check into the place we were staying as soon as we could, to be able to lock up the bikes.  Most hotels in Europe do have somewhere to store your bike - in the parkade, in a shed, etc.  Let them know in advance you'll be coming with a bike.  Your bike may find itself in entertaining places with stories to tell, I'm sure.  
Guest bikes parked in the hallway.  Ours are in a room down the hall. 

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