Because Vera worked for Rapha for a while we were lucky enough to be able to buy their clothing at favourable prices. We love the understated beauty and top of the range functionality of the classic merino cycling jerseys, the winter jersey, the hi-viz pink winter gloves, the winter cycling cap and the padded shorts. We also love the long- and short sleeve merino base layers and the merino buff but these can also be found for less money with other brands such as Icebreaker or on discount websites.
Cyril brought two different kinds of cycling shorts, for colder and for warmer seasons, which he really likes.
Invaluable: leg warmers and arm warmers, for chilly mornings and evenings. Bringing leg warmers means you won’t have to bring a pair of long cycling tights. They are light and pack away really small.
In the end we find that brands don’t matter that much. Pay attention to material, durability and price. Researching, shopping around, waiting for the sale and then investing a little bit will be worth it, because it will keep you comfortable on long days in harsh conditions.
One set is enough, allowing for seasonal changes. Vera has shorts that can be worn year-round combined with thick tights and a jumper. Don’t bring much as normal clothes can be bought on the cheap anywhere. Having clothes made by a taylor or finding a cool t-shirt on a market can be a nice change in your usual attire and a lovely souvenir.
A merino t-shirt, long johns and socks that are only ever worn in bed or in the sleeping compartment keep us warm and comfortable. On very cold nights we wore our woolly hats as well. On the coldest of nights you can add an extra insulating down layer by wearing the down jacket inside the sleeping bag.
We love our Shimano XM9 shoes for cold and rainy weather or difficult roads. We have double pedals and we use the spd click pedal side every day. The shoes are light, durable, waterproof and decent hiking boots. They are very comfortable on and off the bicycle and don’t look half bad as city shoes either, under long trousers. The only remark is that the metal spd cleat can make them slippery on wet stone surfaces. For longer hikes we would recommend replacing the cleat with the rubber bits that fit in the sole so bring these along on your trip.
Vera has a pair of Keen spd sandals for hot weather. They are great for walking and cycling alike, but they do get very smelly after a couple of months. Replacing the inner sole fixed this. Cyril has a pair of light mesh Giro spd shoes for warmer weather.
Invaluable: light, compact and very warm. To be worn on chilly evenings and mornings around the tent. Vera uses her knee-length down jacket as a pillow, stuffed inside a cotton pillow case. Get one with pockets and a capuchon, to keep your hands and your head warm.
We shopped around for affordable gore-tex jackets and trousers, meaning no sweat while packed up in our rain gear.
Vera’s rain trousers have a long zip up the side, all the way up to the hip. This is a great feature as it allows for extra ventilation in warm weather or quickly changing in and out of the rain gear while wearing the Shimano boots.
Vera kept her feet dry in all conditions with Sealskinz waterproof socks, combined with a thin merino sock for comfort and the Shimano boots. They are bulky and feel a bit funny but the comfort of dry and warm feet on a cold and wet day is priceless.
Be sure to buy a brightly coloured or hi-viz rain jacket. Usually the visibility is low in wet weather and you might find yourself in heavy traffic on a dark and rainy day which is arguably the worst possible experience of bike touring.
We didn’t have much deep winter stuff, as you can get warm enough by layering everything you have with you. No real need for specific winter bibs, just wear your rain trousers on top, although Cyril liked his. A nice woolly hat, thick merino socks and good gloves are indispensable.
Merino is essential! You can cycle and camp in merino garments for a week and it won’t get smelly. Fantastic stuff. It’s surprisingly durable as well, as we have washed our merino clothes by hand and in washing machines for well over a year and most of them are still in fine condition. Cotton gets smelly very quickly and takes ages to dry, synthetic is durable but isn’t as nice on the skin and doesn’t regulate temperature as well as merino wool. We have several long and short sleeved loose merino shirts, fitted cycling jerseys, sweaters, socks and long johns. I’ve worn the loose long sleeved shirts in 40 degree heat, they worked well at protecting my skin from the and effectively cooling me down by wicking sweat away from the body.
Things to leave at home
We brought too much of everything. You really only need two of everything.
Don’t bring jeans. They are bulky, heavy, they never dry and you won’t ever wear them. Cyril was horrified at the idea of outdoor trousers, but Fjällräven is a functional yet stylish compromise somewhere halfway on the spectrum between lightweight khaki zip-off trousers with 20 pockets and Japanese vintage denim.
Don’t bring high heels. Vera brought a pair of strappy heels on her first long trip. Because it would be nice to walk around in them in fancy cities and not be a scruffy bicycle traveller for a day or so. Get over it, and own the fact that you are now a scruffy bicycle traveller.