Minimalism On A Bike

Knowing what to not to take on a bike is more important than a list of things you want to take. My approach has always been minimalist and some luxuries can safely be left behind as they can be acquired and used and then passed on during your travels.

My approach centres around the space I have which is essentially one 35 Litre pannier on the left rack and one larger 41 Litre pannier on the right hand rack plus a small top box which is empty but could take a further 20 litres. I have used for the last 18 years the basic Zega aluminium panniers from Touratech – my preference is to have something that can be hammered, heated, re-riveted or glued into shape again and I have avoided the specialist or ‘Pro’ systems as they seem to add little in terms of strength but add a bit extra weight. I use a standard steel tube rack which has been waxoiled a few times rather than the alternative stainless steel systems – again for easy roadside repair.

The top box is always left empty and never counts towards my luggage volume – I use mine to store water for the days riding, my camera, a pair of gloves and food for each day’s stopover or rough camp.

The right hand pannier takes my trusty sleeping bag and gortex bivvy bag and the left-hand side is half filled with essential spares, equipment, stove, pan, and the last thing always on the left is my first aid kit.

I adopted many years ago, the approach of after each trip, working out what I had taken and not used… indeed on one of my early trips I remember the first morning having unpacked the night before, sorting my gear again and actually giving away or leaving for others, things I thought were going to be essentially but I quickly realised were useless or ‘just in case’ or comforting.

My refined kit list after many trips and over 160,000 miles on the bike is finally down to;

  • 10 m of Paracord.
  • 100% DEET insect repellent, any less in my opinion does not work.
  • 12 long cable ties (taped to the pannier lid).
  • About a meter of insulated electrical wire in a small coil taped to a pannier lid (handy for running repairs and bridging fuses, relays etc).
  • Air Hawk – yes I know I am an old man but it makes 800km days possible and enjoyable on the stock BMW seat – the Honda CRF1000 Africa Twin does not need this.
  • Alternator Belt for the BMW (taped into the pannier lid).
  • Anti diarrhoea tablets (Imodium melts are my preferred choice as they need no water).
  • For the GS, around 500ml of engine oil… I just buy more on the way (the GS is not too fussy so long as its thick enough for hot temperatures).
  • Bike registration document (V5).
  • Breakdown insurance for those countries that the AA will cover.
  • Buff and some roc straps.
  • Canesten Cream (have you tried riding with jock itch from overheated groin?).
  • Combination padlocks for the panniers.
  • Compass and again learn how to use it with a decent map.
  • Cup, knife, fork, spoon and a plate.
  • Dental floss – useful for teeth and running stitching repairs to clothing (my jacket still has the sleeves stitched in places with waxed floss) plus some big darning needles.
  • Digital camera (I use a Nikon D700 with 28-130mm lens and spare battery and memory cards).
  • Driving licence, original and good colour photocopies.
  • Duct Tape – I wrap this around a bottle rather than take a roll – you only need a couple of meters.
  • Duel fuel Colman stove (can run on petrol and Colman (white gas) fuel).
  • E111 – if you’re based in the UK and travelling in Europe.
  • Ear plugs – a good handful.
  • Energy bars… just in case.
  • Few soap filled Brillo pads in zip lock bags (which can be reused).
  • First Aid kit – make one up with things you actually need including some sticky stitches and drugs etc – let me know if you want my contents list…
  • Individual wet wipes.
  • Insurance and MOT Certificates.
  • IPhone and Charger to run from my accessory socket (made myself – just ask for the wring diagram if you need it).
  • Knife – I carry a 4” Benchmade lock blade.
  • Lanyards (for securing keys off the bike in our packet or around your neck).
  • Leatherman.
  • Lip balm (I use tubes of Carmex).
  • Long sleeved T shirt for evenings – a contradiction in terms but helps stop you being bitten.
  • Maps – I buy in UK unless you can read fluent local languages and get good quality, I have been using National Geographic plastic maps for years – they are almost indestructible.
  • Matches and a lighter – I have a Zippo from a USA trip and a couple of cheap disposables (if your out of gas the spark is often enough the light a stove or fire).
  • Medicated powder (Lanacane) – you know why.
  • Medicated soap in a plastic zip lock bag.
  • Mobile phone (unlocked and charged  – I use a Sonim XP3, holds a charge for abut three weeks and is water proof and robust).
  • My GPS and mapping system – currently a Zumo 660 or a 590 and a Montana 660T.
  • Notebook – I use small Moleskine and some roller ball pans and some pencils.
  • One evening shirt.
  • One pair of long trousers.
  • Passport.
  • Phrase book – a comfort but I always seem to just get by.
  • Pillow case – I use my air hawk, slightly deflated and wrapped in this as a pillow – it’s excellent – and a reminder of home.
  • Puncture repair kit (and learn how to use it and re inflate a tyre before you go) plus a compressor.
  • Sandals or flop flops (I use Vibram 5 Fingers).
  • Self Inflating sleeping mat.
  • Side stand puck.
  • Sleeping bag, silk liner and bivvy bag.
  • Smartwool T shirt and underpants.
  • Some strong wooden cloths begs (12) for your washing.
  • Some tea bags and fruit teas – if you have to make a decision – always make time to have a cuppa before you make any rash decisions.
  • Spare bulbs and bike keys and phone battery and spare fuses
  • Sun glasses – polarised.
  • Swimming trucks – rarely worn in practice as naked river swimming is exhilarating!
  • Tent (Terra Nova Quasar).
  • Tent repair kit.
  • Two pairs of socks.
  • Toilet paper in a zip lock bags – you don’t need a whole roll and some wet toilet tissue (Andrex is best!).
  • Tool kit and again – learn how to use it.
  • Toothbrush and paste.
  • Torch (small and powerful – pay a premium its worth it I use a LED Lenser).
  • Travel insurance.
  • Travel sink plug.
  • Travel wash (for body and clothing it works just as well).
  • Tyre pressure gauge.
  • Vacuum pack bags for your soft items such clothing – they are incredible!
  • Wallet and a spare dummy wallet – cash, prepay cash card, credit cards (a few different ones).
  • Wash bag.
  • Waterproofs.
  • WD40 – small tin is enough but will get you out of some soaking electrical situations.
  • Wind Stoppers – gloves and balaclava, they really do work.
  • Ziploc bags.


3 thoughts on “Minimalism On A Bike

  1. Thanks for your post. Another factor is that to be a photographer involves not only problem in catching award-winning photographs but hardships in getting the best camera suited to your requirements and most especially hardships in maintaining the grade of your camera. This is very true and apparent for those photography fans that are into capturing the nature’s exciting scenes — the mountains, the particular forests, the actual wild and the seas. Going to these adventurous places definitely requires a dslr camera that can surpass the wild’s harsh conditions.

  2. Thanks for your post. The soap filled scrubbing pads are what I am adding to my kit. My stove (JetBoil) is great for boiling water but keeps scorching the bottom of my pot. This really helped.

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