Our top tips for cycle touring
The advice we picked up from other cyclists and websites whilst we were planning was invaluable. For that reason we thought we would put together a list of equipment we loved and that we hated, along with a few top tips from our time cycling around South America.
Things we loved
Tarp – we were in two minds about this, but TravellingTwo raved about theirs so much that we decided to get one. It turned out to be one of our most used pieces of kit. Great for covering the bikes whilst camping, for sitting on for meals and providing emergency shelter from surprise rainstorms when there was nowhere else to hide.
Notebook laptop – our small, Asus Eee notebook survived 15 months of being shaken about on the road. As most hotels, hostels and cafes have free wifi, it meant that we could easily get online – great for skype calls home, downloading podcasts and updating the website.
Cycle sandals with SPD clips – we started using these in Venezuela and instantly fell in love. No more smelly socks, hot feet and heavy shoes. Laura used Keen sandals whilst Paddy opted for Shimano. Overall we think the Shimano were better as Laura had problems unclipping because of the fit of the sandal. Be warned you will get some dodgy suntan marks, but they make for good conversation. Top tip – buy during the summer as in the winter months they disappear.
Mooncup – Laura found this easy to use and clean whilst on the road. It was a much cheaper, efficient method of sanitary protection, as in most of the countries we cycled through it was difficult to find tampons, there were only pads.
Magic letters and moo cards – Our short letter done through Google Translate into Spanish and Portuguese helped explain to people about our trip. We also had a map on the bottom with our route around South America – very useful. The moo cards with our contact details were also very popular and so much easier than swapping bits of paper.
Rucksack – to store our clothes in our panniers we used a small dry-bag (Exped drypack pro) which had straps on. It was perfectly dry and super handy for day trips when we had a ‘normal’ rucksack to carry all our things.
Ipods and headphones – the ipod shuffles we took were really easy to use on the road and had a good battery life. Top tip is to download podcasts from your favourite radio shows as you soon get bored of listening to the same music. We used Phillips sweatproof headphones which lasted very well.
Things we wish we’d not bothered with
Water filter – even when we were in the middle of nowhere, we weren’t far. We hardly ever used the filter and in the end sent it home. We were never more than a day from a water supply and in cases like that we just carried more water in our bottles, or collected water from a stream and boiled it.
Shee-wee – a female device for urinating. Laura used it once in a hospedaje that had no toilet, that was a rather hysterical experience for both of us. It was far easier to squat.
Ortlieb water bladders – they leaked a lot from where the lid is screwed on and the water never tasted quite right. It was just as easy to load up with big water bottles.
What we would have liked
Computer with altimeter – it wasn’t a necessity, but it would have been great to have a better idea of the altitudes we were climbing. We were very jealous whenever we met another cyclist with one.
Mirrors – our grips made it difficult to get a mirror on the handlebar and we broke several helmet mirrors, which were never that good. We wished we had got mirrors fitted when choosing the bikes as we missed them, especially cycling in big cities.
Our top tips
Use plastic water bottles – cleaning water bottles is a thankless task, especially when they start to turn green. Take one large water bottle per person and then fill plastic bottles with water (large soda bottles normally fit in your water bottle holders) to refill your main bottle. When they get dirty simply replace them.
Frozen water in hot climates – in every hot country we cycled through, if we ate at a roadside stall we would ask for a refill of water when we left. More often than not they would have bottles of frozen, filter water in their freezer which they would give to us free of charge in return for our empty ones.
Arrive/Leave big cities on a Sunday – city traffic is no fun to cycle through, but we found that on Sundays (especially in the morning) we could often enter or arrive with the roads to ourselves. However, if you’re cycling into Lima, Peru, it doesn’t matter when you arrive, the traffic never stops!