Traveling Light and Self-Contained: Jerry’s Cross-Country Bike Tour Secrets

Last summer, our friend Jerry spent 9 weeks bike touring 9,300 km across the United States and parts of Canada. I talked with Jerry a few times about his tour – once before he left, once while he was in the midst of his ride, and again after he finished. He also shared snapshots of his cross-country adventure on his Instagram feed.

One of the questions people most frequently asked after reading these interviews was how Jerry managed to travel with so little, but fully self-contained. In this post, Jerry talks about his method and motivations for traveling light, including a kit list for those who may be interested in trying a similar touring method. Thanks for giving us an inside look at your traveling system, Jerry!

Packed up. All photos courtesy of Jerry Seager
Packed up. All photos courtesy of Jerry Seager
The Benefits of Traveling Light

I rode 9,300 km from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Washington, D.C. with front panniers, a handlebar bag and a saddle bag. Most people I met were surprised by how little I was carrying, but it didn’t really occur to me to take anything more.

Traveling light has a number of benefits. The obvious one is that you can travel faster. I rode an average of about 150km a day, which I couldn’t have done with the “usual” touring set up.

Packing up in the morning is quick since there isn’t much to pack. Finding things during the day is quick too, since there isn’t much stuff to rummage through.

On occasion I win the admiration of my fellow cyclotourists, which my vanity appreciates. They say I’m heroic for traveling with so little. I think they’re heroic for hauling such heavy bags all the way across the continent.

Jerry 1

I can’t say exactly when I started traveling light; the removal of clutter from my life is a gradual and on-going process. I’ve moved around a lot in my life and I think I learnt to pare down somewhere along the way.

I do activities like backcountry skiing and carrying your own stuff for three weeks across a glacier helps you figure out what’s essential and what’s dead weight. I also have amateur interest in minimalism.

My bags and gear weigh about nine kilograms. When I’m contemplating whether to pack an item I don’t say to myself, “it doesn’t weight much.” Rather, I ask whether I really need it. Lots of light items add up to a heavy bag – you’d be surprised.

Below is my full kit list, and I’ve put together a full chart version, including links to some of the items I used, here.

Jerry 3

Kit List

I try to have multiple uses for things. My off-bike clothes are suitable for cycling and when it’s cold I’m wearing everything I have. My cooking pot is also a mug. My bike light is my flashlight for nighttime reading in the tent.

There are quite a few things I cut back on. I leave half of my tent pegs behind. A bottle of iodine is lighter than a water filter for the few occasions when I need to treat water.

I don’t take a third water bottle since there would be a temptation to fill it and add weight to the bike. I don’t have spare underwear.

Tent

There is a lot of good lightweight gear available these days. My tent weighs 750 grams, the same as a full water bottle.

My sleeping mat is three-quarters length and I use my jacket to pad my feet. My sleeping bag is down and packs up small.

My towel is the size of a face cloth and wrings out dry. I have a Jetboil stove which is light and fuel-efficient.

Jerry 2

Clothing

My Rapha winter jersey is one of my favorite items. It’s light, warm and looks respectable off the bike. My cycling jersey, t-shirt and hat are merino wool, too. They are comfortable to wear and feel clean long after they aren’t.

I bought Swrve lightweight trousers for the trip and am very happy with them. They are cut slim, have a little stretch in them and are good for wearing on the bike and in the evening.

There is a system to the packing. The left pannier is for sleeping bag and clothes. Everything’s nice and clean in there. The right bag is for sleeping mat, tent, cooking equipment and food. It can get a little wet and musty in there.

Jerry 5

Handlebar Bag

The handlebar bag is day food, phone, Kindle, sunblock, wash kit, cue sheets and odds and ends in general. The saddle bag is for bike tools and spares, waterproof jacket and reflective vest. I strap the tent poles and spare spokes to the top tube.

Front Panniers

My bags are all Ortlieb, so solidly waterproof. The panniers are the small ones. Carrying the large ones would tempt me to carry too much. I removed the cloth insert (pocket) to save weight. I also removed the clip that holds the bag to the rack, using elastic cord instead. This holds the bag more securely and saves weight.

Traveling light does requires an adjustment of mindset, and it might not be for everyone. Expect to wash out your clothes and put them on damp because they’re the only ones you have. Learn to love spending time in your cycling shoes, whether you’re on the bike or not.

Jerry 6

 

Buy small amounts of food often. Get used to cooking in a small pot. Some of these things are a little uncomfortable, but I prefer this to hauling heavy bags.

Carrying smaller bags allows you to put all the weight on the front of the bike and I should say a word about that. Almost every cyclotourist I meet is intrigued about this.

The bike handles much better with the weight at the front and you don’t get speed wobble. You can get out of the saddle and crank up a hill without the rear end of the bike flopping from side to side.

Jerry

Less weight on the back reduces the risk of broken spokes. You can lift the front wheel to negotiate surprise potholes rather than just closing your eyes, powerless, as your rear wheel slams into the hole. I’m told front panniers are more aerodynamic too.

These are my reflections on travelling light. If you’re interested in paring down for your next tour, it would make me happy to know that these thoughts have helped. Have a good ride and see you down the road!

11 thoughts on “Traveling Light and Self-Contained: Jerry’s Cross-Country Bike Tour Secrets

  1. Every touring cyclist has the same story. After a few days, they stop at a post office and box up all the stuff they don’t need. Jerry saved a step and then some! Great read.

    Like

  2. Thanks to you and Jerry for this! As an amateur cyclotourist, I have a strong interest in tips to enhance the experience. I’ll likely always carry more creature comforts than Jerry, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to refine my kit toward less waste and duplication. Very helpful!

    Like

  3. Great follow up to the other articles. I’m also incredibly impressed by the small kit. The steady high mileage also blows me away, covering that much ground has to be an exciting way to spend the tour. Looking back what is more memorable, the landmarks/places you went or the hours in the saddle?

    Like

    1. HI Tony D. I think more the journey than the actual places I stopped at. That’s part of why I enjoyed travelling so far every day; I feel like I saw so much that way – the landscape was beautiful all the way and I saw a lot of wildlife too. When I arrived somewhere I enjoyed the people i met, so it was always good arriving somewhere.

      Like

  4. Great information. I’m touring Cape Cod and the Islands this summer and will switch from rear to front load. I will carry my tent and sleeping bag and pad on the rear rack though. However my short tour will be less riding. More like 30 -40 miles a day.

    Like

  5. I am a veteran bike tourist, once carrying up to 40 lbs. of camping and light hiking gear on my bike. I am currently trying to reduce what I carry so these tips are very helpful.

    Like

  6. Funny that I just purchased two sets of the smallest Ortliebs and was reluctant to do so, but thought that a little extra space would be okay. Backpacking, bicycle touring, and travelling I tend to have one bag/pack and it is sub 20 pounds.

    I’m planning a cross country ride later this year and after reading this thinking that I’m sending a set back! I have always gotten away with one set, and a few other things attached to the seat etc. Thanks for the inspiration – I know I can do it (ride less encumbered).

    Like

Comments welcome - moderated for spam - but please write if you like!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s