There is nothing like clearing 100km in a day when you are on tour. That satisfying feeling as you hit that mark brings a smile to your face. What people don’t talk about too much is how disgusting you feel having just completed that ride in the heaving heat of August. It might even be a big reason why so many don’t give it a go so here are a few tips to help any newbies interested in trying this for themselves…
This is non-negotiable. EDIT Apparently this is controversial because of biodegradability – I’ll fallback on two arguments here, 1: Not buying them is fine if you like but it won’t stop them being made, there ain’t no such thing as consumer democracy it’s a fallacy plus I’m on a bike so my carbon savings more than make up for this 2: You can always post your alternatives to wet wipes below… like someone mentioned the Sea to Summit pocket shower. As I said to one commented to below until they them ban them I’m gonna make use of them but I this disclaimer shall now live on as acknowledgement of people’s concerns.
If you have wet wipes you can pretty much clean anything. I always remember when I was a kid my mother would always bring wet wipes with us on holidays and road trips, they were indispensable. Use them on your cook set use them on your hands and face. Use them on your body before you go to sleep. And of course use them on your arse when your nature pooing. I always buy pocket tissues to compliment them. Try and be economical with them you’ll miss them when they’re gone but you can always pick up more at Lidl or Aldi. Dispose of them responsibly or use them when they are dry as kindling for a fire but don’t start an open fire in the woods.
Take advantage of toilet sinks everywhere
When you stop for a coffee or tea especially In the mornings have a sink wash. You’ll feel much fresher when you ride and be able to get rid of the layer of grease that built up when you were sleeping. It’s essential for me to do this so I can put my contact lenses in.
Talcum powder and chamois cream are good lubricants and deodorisers.
I always put some talc in my shoes and socks before a ride so my feet don’t sweat as much and my footwear remains fresh. Remove your shoes and socks when not riding and slip into some sandals. Chamois cream is optional mine makes my balls tingle, that’d be the slightly mentholated flavour. Use it if you are not wearing padded shorts or tights to reduce chaffing. Vaseline or Shea butter is also good for reducing saddle sore but it’s a bit messy in hot climates. You can also use talc in your shorts in a pinch then your bits will smell like baby bits.
Wear padded shorts or tights
You might thinking you’re joining the MAMiLs middle aged men in Lycra (not sure what the female equivalent is but I’ve never been averse to seeing a woman wearing Lycra in fact one of my favourite Google image searches is “women’s cycling bibs” ) but trust me you won’t ever go back to wearing normal underwear on the bike. My preferred fashion option is a pair of Hummvee baggy shorts from Endura, loads of pockets and they sell liners with gel padding that clips into the shorts for comfortable and less skin tight ride. Mine have lasted two years of hard riding but I had to patch the back pocket to cover a hole from always stick my keys there.
Don’t waste water reuse every last drop
This you learn the trick of while on the ride. It mainly applies when cooking. If you made some tea use some of the hot water to clean your pans even dirty hot water will loosen the most stubborn crap from your pots. If you boil pasta make it first and then use the water in your pasta sauce with a bit of double concentrated tomato paste you have quick and easy meal.
If you travel along rivers or coastlines use the water or sometimes available public showers
This is for those of you like me who don’t enjoy not having a shower for a few days. If you want some respite and the country you’re in has a coastline or lakes you can bathe in them or the sea and use the beachside showers. The water from the showers is usually drinkable, definitely so in Europe so don’t buy bottled water it’s a waste of money. Probably not a good idea to drink straight out of a river but mountain streams should be fine. (EDIT thanks to Sam Reich) If you’re not sure about water quality probably get a Lifestraw (I neglected to mention I have a few) or better yet a Sawyer water filter as they fit on normal plastic bottles and filter 99.9% of your common bacteria, protozoa and so on – basically you can drink from a muddy puddle and you should be good with these filters but make sure you don’t drink anything that might be chemically contaminated, or salt water – they don’t work for that.
Johnsons baby shampoo works for hair, skin and clothing
This one I learned from a book called How to Live For Free. Johnson’s baby shampoo is kind to skin so won’t cause reactions and is perfect for washing all sorts of things. It means you reduce the number of toiletries you carry to a bare minimum and don’t have to carry a separate hand washing detergent for clothes.
A silk liner is an essential piece of kit if you want your sleeping bag to not smell like a rubbish sack
An Air mattress and ground sheet
These days Thermarest and Exped (mine is the latter) make some pretty amazing blow up mattress that are way more comfortable than shitty roll matts of yesteryear and actually pack down smaller. The feature image above shows my prefered sleeping setup – a ground sheet, blow-up mattress and sleeping bag.
If you have a spirit burner your fuel is an excellent cleaner
Methylated spirits and ethanol otherwise known as denatured alcohol works wonders to clean metal (also makes a lot of soot if your is a low percentage when you burn it) use it sparingly it doesn’t smell great, actually makes you smell like a drunk. Good for all sorts of things not just burning.
Wear synthetics while riding
This one I can’t emphasise enough. If you don’t want to smell like a troll then wear synthetic bike shirts they usually have handy pockets in the back they dry quick and smell less after a hard days ride.
Buy merino wool base layers
If you’re cycling in cold or hot climates merino wool works as an insulator and when you sweat it wicks away the moisture it’s nature’s best tech fabric. It’s a bit pricy but you only need one or two things so pick wisely – I got my gear from Howies but you can pick up stuff on Amazon a little cheaper – beware polyester mixes best go for the pure stuff
Camp under trees if you’re setting up a tent or sleep under the stars if the weather is good
If you’re a late starter like me then making sure your tent is under shade will mean you don’t bake in the morning sun. Sleeping under the stars is great make sure you’re covered up its usually coldest at 3-5am and stand still for five minutes after 7pm if you’re not bitten by mosquitos then you’re good to sleep in the open.
Always seek cover from the wind at night
I tried hoboing it once and sleeping raw in my clothes cowboy style. I woke up at 3am with my knees feeling like they were going arthritic – not advisable. In the end I just set up my tent because the wind had picked up and was chilling me to the core despite the fact that I was under a bridge and a bush. Also same problem with hammocks – if it’s windy or cold out your back will freeze unless it’s specially insulated.
Wear sunglasses or clear glasses while riding
If you wear contact lenses this is a must. If it’s sunny this is also a must. The glasses will prevent your eyes drying out and feeling irritated by the end of the ride from wind. They will also stop insects from splaying their innards all over your eyeballs on a downhill evening run. Somehow I always get one insect hit per day on my face – I mean seriously what are the bloody odds?
Short of staying in official campsites, hostels or using AirBnB all the way those are my top tips for people on a shoestring but if anyone else has any other tips for staying comfortable and clean on tour leave your comments below.