An Absolute Beginner, no practice, no experience, not even a regular cyclist! I must be crazy :)
Stephen Peel

Stephen Peel

Cycling Around the World

How Much Weight to Carry on a Touring Bicycle

 

I get all sorts of looks with my loaded bicycle, and comments like "that looks like a lot of weight" "how do you get up hills" "you must have strong legs"

 
So how much weight should you carry on a multi-month or longer bicycle tour?
The easy answer of course is: As much as you want that you and your bicycle can safely handle

Weight seems to be an issue to many and it was a concern for me too at first, but I found that space was more important. People are different and different people require and expect different things. So I would love to hear from those that have been on bicycle tours lasting many months or years with regard to your own views and experiences.

The way I see it is that it matters little what your bike weighs and how much gear you carry when on a very long bicycle tour because…

  • the more weight you carry or push, the stronger you're likely to get in order to cope with that weight 

  • you want to be comfortable at the end of the day with a cosy and safe place to sleep and eat, as the chances are you will be camping

  • cycle touring is about experiencing the world at a relaxed self-propelled self-supported pace, not trying to get from one point to another as quickly as you can

  • you don’t really care much that a little extra weight might add a few more minutes on the day

  • longer distance bicycle tourists like to have more luxuries and comforts, as they are basically carrying their home


During my first 3 months through the UK, France and Spain, I experienced something really quite weird. When I took the gear off my bike and left it in my tent while I went to the shops, it felt strange and even difficult to ride. My balance was off and I really didn’t like the feel of it. 

Without all the panniers on I thought I would be able to cycle up the 400 metre very steep hill back to the campsite really easily, but this wasn't the case. In fact, I found it pretty much the same if not a tad harder. The bike didn’t feel anywhere near as sure, as strong, or as steady. I found myself preferring to ride with all the gear and weight on than with it off. I wasn't able to cycle any faster or any easier. 

I appreciate that once used to riding my bike without all the gear over a long period of time, it would likely get easier, but that's not what I want from this bike and a tour, it's a workhorse for lugging me and my crap, day after day in all sorts of conditions and over all types of terrain.

Having spoken to others about this weirdness, it turns out I’m far from alone. So when it comes to how much weight I should take, it really doesn’t matter all that much to me, within reason. What matters more to me is how much space my gear takes up in the bags. I find myself filling every bit of available space, which makes it much harder to find anything when I need it. 

I have a bar bag, 4 pannier bags, and a 49 litre Rack-Pack, and it is important for me to leave enough room for things I might pick up on the road during the day. Not like road-kill, but food and water supplies from shops. I will of course still try to keep the weight down, as carrying more than I’m going to use would be silly. 

I think it's a case of finding a perfect balance that suits the cyclist. I haven’t talked about personal body-weight, but it goes without saying it is another element that we can all balance and work with how we wish. Some people lose weight on tour, and some gain it, so I just haven’t included it.
 

Bikepacking

Bikepacking takes the rider on mostly trails and tracks that would not be really be a great choice for a road or touring bicycle.

It also means packing ultra light, as the bike may need to be carried from time to time, pushed through mud, dragged up crazy rocky steep hills too. Usually for quite short tours. Sounds like great fun to me.

 

Credit Card Touring

A fairly lightweight bicycle and just a couple of pannier bags for a few changes of clothes, camera gear and valuables and simple repair kit. 

You can basically buy a universal rack and bags for your road bike you already own and off you go. Usually for fairly short tours of a week or so, or as long as the money holds out with staying in hotels and eating out all the time.

 

Bicycle Touring - Weeks or months

Anything from a lightweight frame to a heavy duty expedition ready bike, depending on where you plan to tour.

For mostly road miles and not being away for too long, you will find people using larger but thinner wheels than expedition bikes, a fairly strong frame, and just enough baggage to keep them going for a little while.

 

Bicycle Touring - Years

For touring for many months and years through all terrains and weathers, most people choose an expedition ready bicycle.

These bikes are super tough. Strong wheels and frames able to cope with huge weights, brakes tough enough to stop this beast quickly, wider and tougher tires, and racks that can carry bags piled on. 

The world cyclists usually need to take a bit more than the average touring cyclists, as it will be their home for a while.