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Top 10 must-haves for a bike trip

Published June 28, 2012

There is an endless array of parts, accessories and tools out there to make for a safe and comfortable bicycle trip around the city, Ontario or across Canada.

We asked experienced tour cyclist Tara Vanderniet, sales rep with Urbane Cyclist, a popular downtown Toronto bike shop that has catered to commuters, couriers, tour riders and racers for 15 years, about the must-have items for lengthy two-wheel trips.

She’s given a seminar on the topic and here are her top ten bicycle touring essentials:

Steel bike frame – “A nice hybrid, which is halfway between a road bike and mountain bike, absorbs and dampens road vibration and shocks better than aluminum, which is more rigid and therefore transfers the vibration to your body,” Vanderniet says. Over long touring trips the vibration will take its toll on joints and muscles. She points out that although the frame may be slightly heavier it is more flexible and better suited to carrying gear. A good frame starts at about $500.

Tires – If you want to reduce the amount of flats it’s a good idea to invest in puncture resistant rubber and German-made Schwalbe tires give the right amount of grip, are fast on pavement and also offer good traction on sand and gravel. Extra layers in the tire make it harder for glass and sharp objects to penetrate them. “When travelling a great distance, the last thing you want to do is stop for a flat and this will definitely reduce the chances,” Vanderniet adds. They cost about $45 a tire.

Panniers – The French term for baskets, they are saddlebags slung to racks over the wheels. While backpacks may be fine for hiking, they can be very uncomfortable on long bike tours. It’s amazing how much you can store in them and they come in many varieties with high levels of durability. The Quebec-made Arkel panniers start at $115 a pair and the made-in-Germany Ortlieb brand begins at about $130 a set. They can also be mounted on the front wheel as well if you really want to haul a lot of stuff.

Handlebar bags – They come in a variety of sizes and styles, and are handy places to keep a camera, snacks and any other small items you may want to reach for as you cruise “so you don’t have to get off your bike and fiddle with all the stuff you’ve packed,” as Vanderniet puts it. They come in nylon, canvas and leather with buckle or Velcro snaps and range in price from as little as $20 to more than $200 depending on what you’re after. Similar bags can also be mounted under the bike seat.

Saddle – Most commonly known as the bicycle seat, this is where comfort begins with really good ones and the torture never stops with the cheap kind. The British firm Brooks has been making some of the best since 1866. Says Vanderniet: “They are like a fine Italian shoe. As you ride it molds to your shape, gets more comfortable and eliminates the need for padded shorts. It’s a saddle that will last you a lifetime.” The $135 Brooks model is the most popular of its kind at Urbane Cyclist.

Helmet – “You definitely want a helmet if you’re out touring on country roads, or any roads and a good one with lots of ventilation will be about $50,” Vanderniet says, adding: “I wear a ball cap under my helmet when I’m touring because I like having a visor.” You can pay as little as $25 for a noggin protector and the more elaborate and aerodynamic racing lids can soar in price beyond $200.

Gloves and shorts – We’ve lumped these two together as they both help to “reduce the amount of pain you will suffer over a long bike trip,” as Vanderniet sees it. A pair of fingerless cycling gloves giving you good dexterity while padding the palms will set you back $20 to $35 and tight-fitting cycling shorts cushioned with foam or gel range from about $60 to $200 and can be worn alone or under a pair of baggy shorts. As mentioned before, a finely-constructed saddle will eliminate the need for cushioned shorts.

Sunscreen – Whether you chose a lotion, spray or gel our cycle tour expert says protection from the rays of the sun is most important when out on a bike road trip. The back of the neck, ears and arms as well as the tops of knees are the key spots to have covered and you can buy sunscreen just about anywhere.

Water bottles – Everyone has their preference of how to carry water to keep hydrated while riding and the two most common are the camelback (backpack-style) water bags with sip tubes or a variety of bottles, some thermos types, held in cages mounted on the bike frame or handlebars for easy reach. Vanderniet opts for the caged bottles as “when you tour it’s nice to have things close to your hands and the camelback tends to get a little hot over the course of the day.”

Tire patch kit – Some puncture resistant (tubed) tires come with a 100 per cent guarantee, but that won’t do much good if you’re out in the middle of nowhere with a flat. “So for about six dollars you can get a set of levers (to pry off and on tires), a bunch of patches and glue,” says Vanderniet. She also suggests it’s always smart to take along a wrench, Allen key, or a small multi-tool to be able to tighten up any lose bike parts on a trip. Investing $5 in a spare inner tube is also a good idea. With all the space the panniers, handlebar and seat bags provide, stowing these items shouldn’t be a problem.

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