Gear for long-distance biking looks a little different than what you take with you on a leisurely, 10-mile Saturday right to the market. Just ask my friend Clarity Huddleston, she’s traversed the country on a bike, twice. She sat down with SPY editors to discuss her must-have items for long-distance bike rides, as well as everything she brought with her on her coast-to-coast excursions in 2014 and 2018.
On a regular bike ride you’re probably strapping on one of the safest mountain bike helmets and clipping in with the biking shoes that maximize the power of your glutes. Long-distance biking, where you’re biking 50, 80 and sometimes even 100 miles each day, is a different story.
She’s biked from North Carolina to California twice, a distance of over 3,000 miles, accomplished over the course of just under 3 weeks with an average ride of 80 miles per day. The second time she traversed the country she was leading a group of younger riders on the adventure with her, making sure none of them got lost, crashed or injured themselves while traversing all sorts of terrain on two wheels. It’s a daunting task she’s done twice, so naturally I had to interview her about her favorite biking gear that helped her get from point A to point B both times.
In this piece, we’re going to cover:
- Apparel for long-distance biking
- Necessary bike repair and adjustment tools
- Essential bike accessories and adds-ons
Many of the products Huddleston recommended are pricey, because for a long journey the last thing you want is for a cheap product to wear out on you and break halfway through. However, there were some items she suggested that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on, and I’ve noted those below. I’ve also included budget options where possible, for folks who are looking for durable gear but not necessarily gear that’s going to carry you over 3,000 miles.
Editor’s Note: Quotes have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
Her Main Advice? Weatherproof and Comfortable Gear
“Well you’re going to be spending a ton of time on your bike so you really want to make sure that the clothes that you wear and the gear that you have, you’re really happy with and it serves a lot of purpose,” said Huddleston.
“Also, there’s gonna be days that it’s raining and there’s gonna be days when you have to go uphill a ton and you have to keep light, so you really want to keep those things in mind too. So you want to have weatherproof as much as possible and you want to be comfortable, especially if you’re camping,” said Huddleston.
Part I: Apparel
The apparel you wear while biking long distances matters a lot more because of the increased potential for friction, irritation and injury from an ill-fitting sock or itchy tag. Huddleston recommended spending more on your shorts and helmet than your top, and investing in a pair of cycling shoes made specifically for bike touring.
1. A Secure Helmet
“You’re of course going to want a good helmet. And I think recently they’re saying that Mips technology is the choice for the safest helmet, and they said to replace your helmet more than you would think. Helmet manufacturers say every 3-5 years, but the government says 5-10 years. Mips technology is really good so you’ll want to invest in that,” said Huddleston.
What is Mips Technology?
Mips is a specific helmet brand that specializes in the latest technology of helmet safety. Their technology and safety systems are now used in helmets from many major manufacturers of bike helmets, as well as snow sport helmets, motorsports, team sports and construction helmets as well.
Specialized Echelon II
Specialized’s Echelon II bike helmet is has a sleek construction and a compact profile that protects your head without adding too much bulk. This one is MIPS-equipped and has a 5-star Virginia Tech rating for safety. It fully complies with the CPSC Safety Standards for Bicycle Helmets and has an easy-adjust Headset SL II fit system with six different height positions and a twist dial so you can find a comfortable fit. It also has a 4th dimension cooling system for ventilation, a crucial edition for long rides.
Giro MIPS Cycling Helmet
This Giro helmet is also equipped with MIPS technology for optimal safety, ans uses a Multi-Directional Impact Protection System to redirect energy during a crash to avoid injury. It’s built for universal sizing right out of the box and has 22 vents built in for temperature management.
2. A Bright, Neon Top
Huddleston was a tad ambiguous about the specific top you wear, since your shorts matter more than what you’ve got on your top half. She did share that designated cycling jerseys can include helpful features like pockets in the back, that make it easier to grab important items while pedaling. She noted that the color of the top matters more than the material, and that neon is preferred visibility. Biking all day, every day means you’re likely riding after the sun goes down, and safety becomes more of a priority when sharing the road with cars.
“For your top, I’m a really big proponent of wearing bright colors when you’re biking just as another safety thing. I think you can wear any top, but you can get cycling jerseys that have pockets in the back that are really helpful for storing snacks or whatever you might need on the road, your phone can go in there — things like that,” said Huddleston.
She added “you’re going to want to go as neon as possible just because you want to be visible.”
Weimostar Store Men’s Cycling Jersey
This cycling jersey comes with a smooth zipper down the front for easy removal, and has a silicone band lining the bottom for coverage. It has elastic pockets lining the back for storage, and comes in a bunch of bright neon colors and patterns.
TSLA Men’s Long Sleeve Bike Cycling Jersey
This cycling jersey from TSLA comes with a 12″ semi locking zipper down the front and reflective logos in the front and back for optimal visibility. It’s also made with extended coverage down the back and three elastic pockets in the back for carrying water bottles, snacks and other essentials.
3. Bike Shorts That Won’t Ride Up
When it comes to picking bike shorts, Huddleston emphasized the importance of investing in them. She explained that, in general, your choice of short can “kind of depend on how far you’re going but you’re on your seat all day so you want to have a comfortable cushion, or they call it a ‘chamois’, a chammy, for staying comfortable on your bike, so you want to invest in that for sure.”
“And you’re going to want a fresh pair because you’ll want to change out after you’ve been riding all day,”
She recommended Pearl iZumi as the specific brand she recommends, I’ve included a bestselling pair from them as well as a budget-friendly option with great reviews.
Pearl iZumi Men’s Quest Padded Cycling Shorts
These cycling shorts from Pearl iZumi come with a 1″ plush elastic waistband for a comfortable, flexible fit through your midsection. The compression fabric has a 9-inch inseam and silicone leg grips lining each leg to keep them in place. The transfer fabric wicks away sweat efficiently throughout your ride and the Levitate chamois uses high-density foam for unmatched support and wide coverage on your seat. These shorts also incorporate reflective elements for visibility while riding at night.
Pearl iZumi Men’s Cycling Shorts
Another format for long-distance cycling shorts are these bibbed ones from Pearl iZumi that have a 6-panel anatomic bib design that keeps the shorts in place. You ideally won’t need to adjust the waistband of the shorts after you’ve started riding, and the breathable, quick-drying fabric is designed to keep you comfortable. They’re made with BioViz reflective technology for visibility, and are built with a blended thickness chamois for chafe-free comfort.
4. Bike Touring Shoes
I learned during this interview that they sell shoes specifically for bike touring, or long-distance biking, that are different from regular cycling shoes. Their soles aren’t as rigid, and they’re easier to walk around in since it’s assumed you’ll be getting on and off your bike more mid-ride, as opposed to changing out of your shoes immediately after your ride is over.
“They sell shoes that are specifically for bike touring which is really nice, that’s what I had, you’re not wearing really hard shoes, because it’s kind of assumed you’re going to be off your bike walking around, and then you can walk a lot more easily, because you’re kind of clompy in those ones,” said Huddleston.
Huddleston recommended this pair from Adidas, specifically, because of the look as well as the functionality, but explained that anything that fits SPD pedals and is specifically for touring, a.k.a not as rigid, will work.
The Velosamba Vegan Cycling Shoes
If these cycling shoes look just like Adidas shoes to you, it’s because they are! They have a more flexible upper and less rigid sole than traditional cycling shoes, but still maintain the two-bolt cleat compatibility on the bottom for efficient pedaling, and easy walking when you get off your bike. The upper is vegan and coated for water-resistance so your feet stay dry, and they’re available in a wide range of sizes and half sizes for finding a perfect fit.
Part II: On Your Bike
Huddleston also had a slew of recommendations for equipment, accessories and added elements for your bike that can make the trip a lot easier. Since your bike is about to become your primary mode of transportation, hangout spot, morning, afternoon and evening companion — it’s important you add everything you need before your feet hit the pedals. Here’s everything she recommended adding, with specific product recommendations for each item.
5. An Extra Water Bottle Holder
Huddleston’s first recommendation when it comes to your bike is making extra room for hydration. This is a small detail that can make a world of a difference out on the road, and doesn’t cost a lot either.
“You’re going to want to make sure you have at least a couple water bottle holders. That’s a really little thing but a lot of bikes only come with one so you’ll want to install a second one,” said Huddleston.
Water bottle holders for bikes tend to have a universal size, and are available for very little money on Amazon.
FiveBox Lightweight Aluminum Alloy Water Bottle Holder
This one costs less than $10 and fits most water bottles between 23-28 ounce capacities, as it’s designed to flex if needed. It comes with screws for mounting and is made of anti-rust, extra strength aluminum. All you need is a 4 millimeter hex key to install, and the holder has arms that wrap around the bottle for a secure fit.
6. Waterproof Panniers
What’s a pannier? It’s okay, I had the same question. It’s those bags on the back of bikes that sit on either side of the wheel, sort of like a horse’s saddle bags. They hold all of your stuff on a long-distance trip like this, including camping gear, clothes, emergency supplies and food.
“You need panniers for your bike just to put all your stuff in, and you’re also going to need to put a rack on your bike to hold the panniers,” said Huddleston.
Huddleston emphasized the importance of panniers being waterproof, even if you’re biking through an area without a ton of rain.
“With panniers, you can, again, get a lot of different kinds, but they need to be waterproof. That’s a big thing, because even if it’s not actively raining, your tires will just kick up water from the street and it’s a pain if everything gets wet.”
Read More: The Best Saddle Bags For Bikers
Ortleib Sport Roller Classic Panniers
This is the brand and product Huddleston recommended for panniers, if you’re gathering gear for long-distance biking. The large, 25 litre bag is made of polyester fabric that’s waterproof, and has a roll-top closure for an extra seal. It has a QL2.1 mounting system that can fit racks up to 16 millimeters in tube diameter, and it comes with an adapter if you’re working with 8 millimeter or 10 millimeter racks.
Each pannier has an inner pocket for extra protection, as well as large reflectors for visibility and a shoulder carrying strap for easy unpacking of your bike.
7. A Waterproof Handlebar Bag
In addition to the panniers, Huddleston also recommended adding a waterproof handlebar bag to the front of your bike to hold smaller everyday essentials.
“I think that one of the biggest things is a handlebar bag, so you can put your phone in there, snacks in there, some have a clear sleeve so if you’re using a map or if you’ve got your map up on your phone you can put that in the sleeve,” said Huddleston.
OranLife Bike Handlebar Bag
This cycling bag is made to mount on the front of your bike, and is made of waterproof polyester and TPU material for maximum durability while out on the road. It has a waterproof sensitive TPU touch screen as well as 3.5 liters of space inside for holding all the necessary items like your phone, wallet, keys and bike repair tools. It comes with three stickers for easy bike installation as well as a shoulder strap so you can detach and take it with you where you want to go.
Ortlieb Ultimate 6 Plus 5-8.5 Liter Handlebar Bag
This is the specific handlebar bag Huddleston recommends, and the one she used on both of her cross-country bike rides. It has a larger capacity than the budget-friendly one above, and a higher price tag. If you’re going on a longer ride and looking specifically for gear for long-distance biking, this bag is more your speed.
It has a waterproof laminate on the outside for dry storage, a snap-shut lid that’s easy to open and close and secures your belongings, as well as reflective taping. It clips onto and off of your bike easily so you can carry it with you at rest stops, and the wide opening up top makes it easy to retrieve things while biking if you need to.
8. A Bike Computer
Huddleston explained that this one is a little extra, but on super long trips it can be a major help.
“It’s basically a little monitor that you put up on your handlebars that tells you how far you’re going, how many miles you’ve done, how fast you’re going. It’s a little extra but it’s nice if you’re following directions, or just to keep track of where you are, it’s nice to have that,” said Huddleston.
While biking in the middle of nowhere, you can never be sure where your next phone charge is going to come from. This is why it’s best to save your battery, and use a bike computer for your directional and performance metrics needs during the day.
SY Bicycle Speedometer and Odometer
This simple bike computer only tracks your metrics, so if you’re looking for something navigational keep reading.
This one is great for providing basic metrics like your speed and mileage, and has a wireless and waterproof design that makes it super convenient and durable for long rides. It provides an automatic backlight for when you’re riding at night, and only has two surface buttons that are easy to program while riding.
Garmin Edge 530 Performance GPS Bike Computer
A bike computer with GPS is going to cost more than a simple speedometer, but as a piece of gear for long-distance biking it can be a major help. this one uses Garmin’s mapping technology to route you where you want to go, and can provide other performance metrics including your VO2 max, recovery, heat and altitude acclimation, nutrition and even hydration when you sync it with compatible sensors. These metrics can help you improve your performance, and includes cycling safety features like a bike alarm, group messaging and tracking.
Part III: Bike Repair Accessories
The last category of essentials you’ll need is bike repair kits and tools for keeping your bike in tip top shape on the road. A flat tire, uncomfortable seat height or fumbling chain can be a real problem if you don’t have the right tools in the middle of a long-distance bike ride, so you’ll want to make sure you have each of the following kits in your panniers when you hit the road.
Huddleston explained that “you also want bike repair stuff, there’s little bike tire pumps that are portable and these little tire tube patch kits, and like a multi-tool, they call them, just like a little tool with all these screwdriver heads and stuff if you need to adjust something,” said Huddleston.
We’ve included an affordable, high-quality option for each one below, so you can be fully prepared with the gear for long-distance biking you need before your trip begins.
BV Portable Mini Bike Pump
This portable mini bike pump has a smart valve design, so you can use it with both Presta and Schrader bike tire tubes. It’s super lightweight, is less than 10 inches long, and can pump your tire anywhere. It also has a mounting bracket included so you can keep the pump attached during the ride, and it also comes with a sport ball needle so you can use it to inflate pool floats and water tubes as well.
Slime 1022-A Rubber Tube Patch Kit
This small bike tire patch kit comes with patches for bicycle tires as well as ATVs, mowers, wheelbarrows and other wheeled vehicles. The 7-piece kit is super small, comes with five rubber patches, a metal scuffer and a tube of rubber cement for sealing.
Crankbrothers M19 Multi-Tool + Case
There are general use multi-tools available out there that help with handyman projects around the house as well as everyday needs, this one is more specialized for biking and bike maintenance, and is therefore more useful for a long-distance biking trip. It comes with 19 different tools for common roadside and trail repairs, including seven Hex wrenches, four spoke wrenches, a Philips and flathead screwdriver, and a universal chain tool. It weighs and 1/3 of a pound and is only 3 inches long, so it’s easy to pack and carry.
Read More: The Best Multi Tools of 2022