Roam Free: An Experiential Guide To Ultralight Bicycle Travel

A trip I’ve documented to Arizona was a good example of how you can tour light on your next vacation (whether flying into a destination or taking off from your front doorstep). You’ll enjoy the freedom of cycling on your own schedule and not a tour company’s agenda – saving enough in the process to easily cover the cost of the equipment discussed here.

It’s been almost 40 years since I penned a “going light” piece for Bicycling Magazine where I coined the phrase “credit card touring”. Some cyclists may also refer to credit card touring as fast touring or ultralight bikepacking (ULB), but the concept is the same, minimize the weight and bulky gear of your luggage – in other words, no sleeping bags and no tents. Motels, friend’s homes, or even ‘warm showers’ stays can replace campground accommodations. Technology is beginning to catch up with this concept as numerous companies are now offering a wide selection of gear for this two-wheel travel alternative. I’ve enjoyed ‘traditional’ touring for years, I was a partner of Burley Design Cooperative for 15 years and used their cargo trailer for many international backcountry tours, but there are times when it can be more enjoyable to travel light and explore more of the area you’re visiting.

Arizona: A Case Study In Fast Touring

A trip I’ve documented to Arizona was a good example of how you can tour light on your next vacation (whether flying into a destination or taking off from your front doorstep). You’ll enjoy the freedom of cycling on your own schedule and not a tour company’s agenda – saving enough in the process to easily cover the cost of the equipment discussed here.

Tucson, AZ in particular, lends itself to the credit card travel experience while also offering a comfortable escape from winter. Since the area is a popular destination for winter cycling training camps in January and February, you might even see a few pro teams on the roads. I flew into the international airport on the outskirts of Tucson and took the free shuttle to the hotel (which most hotels near the airport offer). I unpacked my travel S&S Co-Motion Nor’Wester and put everything together that night. Most hotels near the airport are happy to store a couple pieces of empty luggage for your return flight (in our case, a week later). The airport location, some 10 miles from downtown, was a good spot to start touring without having to navigate the typical big-city commuter traffic and head directly out into the desert on quiet secondary roads.

We carried two sets of riding kits so we could either hand-wash one set every night or use the hotel’s washer/dryer every other night. We tried to make our gear do double-duty where possible. Our rain pants and jacket could be used over our lightweight, compact ‘hiking’ shorts and shirt for dinner or exploring the town. You’ll probably find your own unique variations for keeping the weight and bulk down without sacrificing the fun factor. It’s not difficult to find mini travel sizes of most necessities like a toothbrush, toothpaste, contact lens solution (make sure to carry a spare pair), etc.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Five Ten’s new Kestrel shoes ($180) with BOA closures – designed primarily for downhill mountain biking – made incredibly comfortable and durable SPD touring shoes.  I switched out their liners with currexSole bike-specific high-tech insoles ($50), another Interbike find. Subtle modifications like this – especially for a critical item like shoes you’re going to spending all day riding and walking in – can make a huge difference by the end of a week’s trip.

Other essential gear that we tested – and now will become a part of our ‘must have’ packing list – was the  Cycliq Fly6 rear flashing taillight ($169) that also incorporates a camera. It uses an ‘endless loop’ so all you have to do is recharge it every night or two, and forget about it.

We used a various selection of Nite Ize straps and cords for keeping all our gear attached and organized, as well as their new innovative ‘swipe-to-shine’ (STS) bike lights (helmet and handlebar options, $35 each). Even with gloves, it’s easy to swipe the top of the light for various settings. Nite Ize has a huge selection of innovative accessories for the touring cyclist that we couldn’t begin to explore here; check out their website.

Ironically, during our week’s stay in Arizona, we didn’t need a lot of the extra clothing gear we had packed. Instead, we enjoyed near record-setting temperatures in the high 70s, fantastic desert scenery – including a side trip to the Town that Wouldn’t Die a la Tombstone (Kurt Russell); and nothing but blue skies. If only all my tours had such problems.

Rob Templin’s involvement in the cycling community spans more than four decades, ranging from the somewhat traditional (a partner in Burley Design Cooperative for 15 years) to the extreme (four-time Race Across America competitor). He also has made regular editorial contributions to various cycling publications over the years. He holds a number of long-distance records with tandem partner Pete Penseyres, and has earned a few National Championship jerseys along the way. Rob now makes his home in SoCal. You can learn more about Rob and his bike adventures at secondsummertours.com

A condensed version of this article appeared in Issue #135

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