In my opinion (and several others as well), it really can’t be stressed enough; you are going to have a better time if you can bring less gear. It is nice to travel with creature comforts, but it comes at a price. The more gear you pack, the harder your bike will be to move, the more mechanical problems you will have, and the more you’ll have to lose if your bike gets wrecked or stolen. Regardless of what kind of bike you have and what your budget is, the lighter you can pack, the more enjoyable your biking experience will be. Keeping that in mind, sometimes the most important thing to do when you pack is identify the things that you do not want to bring with you. If an article of gear is big, heavy, or expensive you really should think twice about bringing it along. You also should remember that it’s better to buy random things along the way you find you do need rather than bring along every random thing you think you might need. Below is a list of things which you should doublethink before packing. That is not to say you should not bring any of these items, but just be mindful of some of the potential negative consequences.
Yes, you probably will want to check your Facebook, email, blog, etc., but there are plenty of great, free ways to access the internet on the road without using a personal computer. Smart phones can prove quit versatile, and, when you need a real computer, almost every town in the country (regardless of how small they are) has free internet access available at their local library. A personal computer can be a nice thing to have, but be mindful that most laptops are delicate, bulky to pack, and surprisingly heavy (especially when you count the weight of the charger, spare batteries, accessories, etc.).
Depending on where you are traveling, your plans for accommodations, and the time of year, it could very well be the case that you absolutely need to pack a sleeping bag. Nonetheless, for lots of people, this may be something worth not packing. Even if you plan to camp, some warm clothes and a simple travel sheet may be more than enough if traveling in the summer (especially in the Southern half of the country). An emergency blanket could be thrown on top on the off chance of a colder night. Know your route, know what temperatures to expect at night in the places you plan to camp. Sleeping bags are oftentimes not too heavy, but they usually take up a huge amount of space. If you can avoid bringing a sleeping bag, don’t bring one.
As with a sleeping bag, a tent may be necessary for your trip, but it also may not be necessary. If you are biking in the rainy season and want to camp out every night, then yes, you will probably want to bring a small tent. If you only plan on camping sporadically, you will most likely be ok with just a lightweight tarp. Don’t bring a big heavy tent with you if you are only going to camp a couple times during the trip! Keep in mind that there are other cheap and free ways of finding accommodations besides from camping. Also, I would encourage you to look into smaller and lighter alternatives to a conventional tent. Bivy sacks and lean-tos take up a fraction of the space and weight of a tent and can be used in all 4 seasons, depending on your style of camping. Do some research, see what seems to fit you best, and try it out before hitting the road for multiple months.
Here’s some food for thought on bring cooking gear with you (yes, stupid pun…); it takes up a lot of space! How important is it that you make a cup of coffee in the morning (which you shouldn’t do anyway because it will dehydrate you)? Even if you only want to do some minimal cooking while camping on your trip, you are going to need gas, a stove, utensils, soap, cups, plates, towels, pots and pans. It’s important to weight the benefits and disadvantages of bringing an entire kitchen with you on your bike. There’s plenty of tasty food you can eat while camping which requires no cooking. Also, it’s pretty easy to find hot, ready-to-eat food at stores which really isn’t that much more expensive than making it yourself. Many supermarkets make fresh bagels every morning and sell them for about 50 cents each. 5 bucks can easily get you a good biking meal such as a monster burrito or a foot-long sandwich. I’d strongly advise against bringing cooking gear.
Nonessential bike gear
The rule of thumb I always abide by is to not bring anything which I wouldn’t need in an emergency situation to get the bike moving again. Here is the essential bike gear I recommend bringing. Spare brake pads, chains, derailleurs, tires and cables are all things which you very well may need to use on your trip, but they are also things which you can temporarily go without for a day or two if you find yourself in a bad, unlikely predicament. A bike is actually quite resilient in many ways. Even without a functioning break or a derailleur, you can keep moving. Also, you should be vigilant and replace brake pads, chains, tires, cables, etc. before they ever stop you out on the road. Just walk your bike into any bike shop and you can get some free advice from a mechanic on what needs to be replaced (I find they’re usually pretty honest). With that said, if you are planning on biking on dirt roads and/or through remote areas where it could be several days between towns, then you may need to pack the abovementioned items. For the vast majority of riders however, even the “middle of nowhere” won’t be more than 50 miles away from the nearest town. If you do happen to already have some of the smaller parts mentioned above, you might as well bring them along, but don’t go out and buy expensive or bulky replacement parts until you need them.
Excessive amounts of clothes
It’s important to have clothes to be prepared for different weather, but don’t let improbable “what ifs” lead you to over pack. Clothing can take up a huge amount of space in your pack (especially clothes for cold weather). While there is often merit in packing on the side of caution, it’s more important in this case to not bring things your probably won’t use. For example, if you’re biking in the summer, you don’t need to bring a big jacket. In fact, when I biked through the South in the summer, I didn’t even bring a long-sleeved shirt or a single pair of pants. I looked at the historic temperatures for the places I was traveling and decided that the chance of me needing warm clothes was pretty small. If something bizarre does occur, it’s relatively easy and cheap to find clothes on the road as needed. You can even have things shipped out to you from home if you decide they are necessary. As it turned out, I ended up never missing the long clothes I didn’t bring.
Excessive amounts of food
You’re not trekking across Antarctica; there will be plenty of places to pick up more food along the way. Food can be heavy and take up space. You should always have some food with you, but never carry more than you will need to either get you through a day or two, or get you to the next grocery store (whichever one is longer). Also, you don’t need to stalk up on specialty, niche performance foods from GNC and other like retailers. If you want to, knock yourself out, but you will be perfectly fine buying bars and other foods from regular grocery stores.
Towels can take up a lot of space and can be really hard to dry when you’re on the road almost every day. Also, a packed wet towel can start getting pretty disgusting pretty quick. Chances are not too bad that you will be able to find towels to use wherever you happen to be taking a shower. Even without a towel, I find that it’s really not that hard to dry off if you air dry for a couple extra minutes.
I found it surprising how many people I met who were shocked I didn’t carry any weapons on me. If you do feel a little vulnerable on your bike, feel free to bring some pepper spray or something similar. I would never recommend bringing a gun, machete, or anything along those lines as it would probably be big, heavy, and cause more problems than it’s worth. You should, however bring a pocket knife, but as a utility item, not a weapon…