Max’s Bike Touring Essentials

It’s about the bike and the journey. These just help me along.

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Whenever I hit the road, a few things always make it into my panniers. They’re either especially useful, especially elegant, or they’re bringing something significant to my trip. Here’s a Top 8, with a Part II due later this month as we get into the first mini-tours of the season.

1. Ricoh GR

Arguably, this is the best compact digital camera on the market. Having a non-DSLR camera has changed a lot about the way I shoot, mostly in that I shoot more. This camera makes a great backup to a DSLR for everyday use (or for anyone hoping to document their tour for a video blog, etc.). It’s also highly customizable, more so than a lot of full-body interchangeable systems.

I could give you the technical specs and the handling details, but this isn’t a photography blog. Here’s what you want to know:

  • It shoots quickly and responsively, handling consecutive shots and motion shots with grace.
  • It handles focusing in low light exceptionally well, and takes flash shots where you can see what’s going on.
  • It sits comfortably in a jersey pocket, a handlebar bag, a jacket pocket, or a hip pouch.
  • The battery lasts an agreeable amount of time, and it charges via USB.

I shot with it at night on a camping trip this past weekend, and every shot came out crisp and clear (head over to my Flickr for the set). I also shot with it on all of my excursions this spring. If you haven’t noticed a change in photo quality over the past three months, that’s a good indication to the power of this camera.

The button and menu layout is the best I’ve seen; It blows my old D7000 out of the water. Everything is customizable, configurable, and user-friendly. If there’s a button on the camera, there’s a good chance you can map it to your specific settings. It also comes pre-loaded with a few “filters,” and the Black and White settings are especially crisp and clean.

The only drawback for me is converting RAW on a Mac computer. I could use Lightroom, but only a small percentage of my shots actually hit LR before they go up — iPhoto handles most basic retouches with ease, and I don’t like to mess too much with my shots. I’ve also noticed that some colors, like the sky, can look a little dulled. But hey, that’s what post-processing is for, right?

Attached is a Pedco UltraPod II, a really inexpensive and lightweight tripod system that is ideal for smaller cameras like this one. It might be able to handle your DSLR, but it thrives on mirrorless systems like the Ricoh GR. It also comes with a strap so you can attach it to your handlebars, hiking pole, or a nearby tree for some shot flexibility. I’ve found it to work well, and at 4.2 ounces, it’s silly to leave it at home.

2. Snow Peak Gigapower Manual Stove

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After trying out a few different camp stoves, some with auto-ignition like this $6 deathtrap and some without like the MSR Micro Rocket, I settled on this little Japanese wonder. At a reasonable $40 and an even more reasonable 3.25 ounces, it’s not the cheapest, lightest, or fastest boiling stove on the market. It is, however, a perfect mix of the three. With the manual ignition, I save a little weight. The control on the stove is great, from a roaring blaze to a simmer. Four legs is a lot more stable than three, in my experience, and the Snow Peak also has its own repair kit. The Snow Peak reputation is also a good insurance policy; these stoves are highly regarded for their reliability.

I usually cook in an MSR Titan Kettle.

3. Hydro Flask Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle

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Few products feel magical. This is one of them. If I throw in 6-8 ice cubes and fill this at a sink in a rest stop, I’ll still have solid ice cubes 16 hours later, and my water will still feel ice cold the next morning. Hydroflask’s insulation is pretty remarkable, and this 40 ounce behemoth keeps me hydrated for at least half the day. I usually carry this on winter trips when my water could freeze or especially hot trips, since cold water does wonders for morale. It’s not light, but it’s worth it for the sweet refreshment.

This bottle also works the opposite way; hot cocoa or warm tea stays that way long after you’ve left the house. I can fill it to the brim with piping Peppermint tea before I leave for the mountain, and it warms me up six hours later at the summit. Ahh, beautiful.

I use a Salsa Anything Cage to keep it strapped down.

4. Vibram Fivefingers KSO (Keep Stuff Out!)

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If you’ve never heard of minimalist footwear, this is probably going to sound like cultist mutterings. That being said, walking “barefoot,” as the minimalist master race likes to call it, is hard to stop once you’ve put in your mandatory months of strengthening and conditioning.

I started using minimalist footwear back in 2012 after three consecutive foot surgeries left me with a lot of damaged muscle and lost flexibility in my right foot. Using minimalist runners, I rebuilt a lot of muscle and gained more use in my foot slowly over several months, which is at LEAST the time it takes to build muscle and heal microfractures.

Once I paid my dues, I was able to run and hike for the first time in my life. Today, minimalist shoes follow me on every tour, and I wouldn’t leave home without them for any serious trip.

For those of you without handicaps, these are a lightweight alternative to carrying water shoes or off-bike shoes. If you’re willing to build up your feet first, replacing your heavy trail runners or hiking boots with a pair of these really extends the amount of distance you can take your “off-bike shoes” without a weight penalty. I have the freedom of stopping for some of the most beautiful trails and mountains in the US, all for just a few ounces of extra packed weight.

I find the black KSO’s are the least horrendous looking of the toe-shoes. Some of them are downright weird looking, but don’t let me stop you…

5. Apple MacBook Air

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The life of the freelance writer… the number one question I get asked through this blog is how I afford to do what I do, traveling and camping all over the US with nothing but the stuff in my bike bags. This computer is the “how,” and this blog is the “why.”

I write science, fitness, health, and culture articles online for several online publications, picking up freelance jobs wherever I get the chance. I network constantly, throwing emails back and forth like persian arrows. I’m mostly published through Demand Studios, but I also find occasional work through O-Desk and local contacts or friends-of-friends. All this adds up to a meager income, but it’s enough to pay college loans, update broken gear, repair and maintain a bicycle, and keep food in my stomach. This blog itself is monetized; when you buy something off Amazon that you found through my links, I get a commission. I’m dreaming of the day someone buys a Macbook through my link…

Don’t let anyone tell you different; I love the clean interface and simplicity of not dealing with viruses or spam or interrupting software updates. It’s obviously not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. A 9-hour battery life is also an enormous benefit for a traveling writer; I charge my bike lights, headlamp, phone, and camera using this as an external battery. When I’m in a coffeeshop or library catching up on work, I plug in and juice up. I only need to charge it once every few days.

Small and mighty, this keeps me on the road. I love it.

6. Chrome Shank

Max, The Cyclist will no longer represent Chrome Industries. Their objectification of women as a marketing strategy goes against my moral compass. You’ll have to look elsewhere for a review.

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3 thoughts on “Max’s Bike Touring Essentials

  1. “mirrorless systems like the Ricoh GR.”

    Just FYI…large-sensor fixed lens cameras like the Ricoh GR (and the Fuji X100S, and the Sony RX100, etc) aren’t typically referred to as ‘mirrorless’ — while its true that, because it has no mirror, the GR is technically a mirrorless camera, that’s not really how the term is typically used. That usage is generally reserved for cameras/systems that have interchangeable lenses as a way to differentiate them from ‘mirrorful’ DSLRs. Examples would be the Sony NEX series, the various Olympus and Panasonic micro-4/3 cameras, the Fuji X-series, etc. The GR would just be a point-and-shoot (albeit a very good one).

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