Apr 02 2012

Bangkok to Singapore by bike: Packing

Published by at 10:56 pm under Bangkok to Singapore by bike

Packing for a 2000 kilometre cycle journey is an interesting proposition, especially if you’ve never done a long distance cycle tour before. I had no idea what would be necessary, really, so it was all educated guesses and asking advice that helped us create our packing list. And by packing list, I mean stuff we threw into panniers at the last second. We’ll divide this subject into two parts: specialised cycling kit and general supplies.

Waterproof panniers.

Waterproof panniers.

Cycling kit
I’m a bit of a minimalist (and also kind of cheap) so I don’t often go in for the full kit when trying out a new sport or activity. The basics are pretty straightforward, and you can add to the bare minimum as your budget and interest allow.

You first and foremost need a bike. It should be big enough for your frame (frame sizing help here), but not too big. It doesn’t need to be the best bike out there, but remember that lighter is better. A mountain bike (with road tires) or a touring bike are your best options. You are going to be a lot happier if you spend more than 300 US dollars on the bike — less than that and you are looking at problems with brakes, poor quality shifters and most likely weak tires. A lot of money can be spent on specialised components, like carbon fibre seat stays and the like, but I like to apply this test: Do I know what this thing they are trying to sell me is? No? I probably don’t need a better one than already comes standard on the bike. There are going to be a lot of people who don’t agree with that, but it’s served me well this far.

Racks and panniers are a must. Racks fit on the back of the bike and the panniers are special bags that hang from the rack. People do journeys wearing backpacks but they make you quite top-heavy, and it’s uncomfortable to pedal for six hours straight wearing a hot, heavy bag. In Bangkok, racks were around 650 baht installed, and inexpensive panniers could be had for 2,500 baht for the pair.

You’ll want to have some blinking lights for the front and back of the bike for dawn, dusk and night riding, although night riding in Southeast Asia is fairly dangerous as many vehicles don’t use headlights and when it’s dark in the countryside, it’s really dark. You will need a multi-tool designed for a bike — it should have the common sized hex-keys used, as well as a screw driver set. Park Tool is a good brand to look for. Long distance riding is hard on tires — make sure you have a good patch kit (at least 10 patches, a tube of vulcanizing fluid, and a coarse piece of sand paper) as well as tire spoons to remove the tires. You’ll also need a small pump that rides along with you. Carrying an extra new inner tube (preferably two) allows for quick tire repairs while on the road, and you can wait until propped comfortably in your guesthouse with a beer at night to patch your punctured tube.

Clockwise from the top: bike tool with multiple hex key sizes, tire spoons, patch kit, chain lube (not a euphemism), tire pump, standard and philips head screwdriver, towels to clean the chain.

Clockwise from the top: bike tool with multiple hex key sizes, tire spoons, patch kit, chain lube (not a euphemism), tire pump, standard and philips head screwdriver, towels to clean the chain.

A padded seat cover was a real comfort to have along, and my cycling companion bought a pair of padded cycling pants that provided extra protection for the crotch region. You can decide if cycle shorts are for you or not — some people swear by them, but personally I’d rather cycle in any other pair of loose fitting, light shorts (boys, you’re probably going to want to go commando — seams on briefs and boxer briefs can cause, er, chafing). A poncho is handy for short rain showers, but any serious rain is best dealt with by just getting wet.

General gear
General equipment is common sense, but you’ll want shoes to cycle in and flip flops to relax in afterwards (or to change into for when you have to ride through the rain), a few T-shirts, a pair of swimmers, socks, plenty of bug spray, lots of high SPF sunscreen (even if you like to tan, take the powerful stuff — you’re in for many hours in the sun), and the two secret ingredients to cycling in Southeast Asia: prickly heat powder (Snake Brand Original Scent is my go to brand) and tiger balm. Dust your nether regions with the prickly heat powder in the morning and then again at lunch, and keep the tiger balm handy for post cycling rub downs. It’s honestly THE BUSINESS for sore muscles (and they will be sore).

I took a lot of tech with me as I was working from the road as well, so a plug splitter was handy for charging multiple devices (available all over Thailand), and you’ll need an adapter for Malaysian plugs if your equipment isn’t UK plug compliant (fairly easy to find at local electrical shops for about 1 USD/3 ringgit).

The most indispensable thing I brought was my smartphone AND EXTRA BATTERIES. IPhone users don’t have the extra battery option, but invest in some sort of portable power device for the iPhone if you are going to use it. Google maps works everywhere in Southeast Asia, and is an amazing resource for changing your routing on the fly because of wind/traffic/unsuitable roads. I cannot stress this enough — my smart phone was my GPS and mapping system as well as my source of music, podcasts, and audiobooks and my connection to the real world. True Move is probably the best choice for 3G internet service in Thailand, and Celcom in Malaysia — SIM cards are available at convenience stores nationwide. I’m sure this is possible with paper maps, but the smartphone is really a game changer as you can look up bike shops, guesthouses, massage therapists or whatever you might need from the road — plus you get to Facebook ridiculous pictures while you ride.

I put together a simple first aid kit that has proved well worth carrying: bandages, disinfectant, immodium, ibuprofen, surgical tape, and a small bottle of Sangsom whiskey, for the relaxing times. No really.

Most general gear can actually be bought on the way, with the exception of your cycling gear which should be sorted before departure. So pack light and you can accumulate as you proceed!

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