If you are lucky and work hard enough you save enough extra cash to spend on a dream vacation. For me that dream was a months-long bike tour in France. Finding the free time to do it was another matter – my own experience had been either having either time or money, but not simultaneously. So it was after working for 6 years after college, paying off my school loans and a car – I was rich by my standards but had 15 days of vacation/sick time per year. I then made the somewhat irrational plan to quit my job in the Spring of 1996 and tour through France for 3+ months.
I didn’t plan to camp – traveling lighter and covering more miles each day trumped the extra cost of cheap hotels (then mostly under $30 per night). I wanted to stay in the many great small French towns and not in crowded campgrounds in the countryside. I planned to buy a touring bike and a couple panniers until I randomly met another cyclist one Saturday in the Santa Cruz Mountains Riding toward each other, we both turned onto Pescadero Creek Road at the same time. We introduced ourselves and ended up riding together for another two hours. I mentioned my upcoming trip, and he said that he did a couple bike trips to France on his standard racing bike. He was a senior pilot for United Airlines with a favorable schedule for 10-14 day cycling trips (and free airfare). He mostly road in the mountains – riding all day and skipping museums, cathedrals and other more typical haunts of tourists.
Over the years he whittled down his extra gear and clothing to a total of 7lbs – stashed in jersey pockets and huge Kirtland Tour Pak seat bag (a future inspiration for our 01033 Saddle Trunk). His stories of traveling for a week or two while carrying so little were eye-opening. His ultralight setup had obviously let him ride faster and farther, but had some downsides: Wearing the same clothes each day (but he traveled each day, so who notices?) This of course predated the selfie Doing laundry in the hotel sink every single day (sometimes 2x per day –afternoon for cycling clothes, later for street clothes, which dry overnight.) Limited ability to handle any/all weather – but he could take a day off if conditions were especially cold or wet.I think he wore $2 flip flops off the bike - I drew the line there. Using this light and fast approach, packing for a 3 month tour is nearly the same as for a weekend trip.
I wanted to have more options off the bike, mixing in touristy visits and hiking. This meant I would be carrying a bit more than 7lbs of gear, so I finalized my rig with this: Road bike with a converted mountain bike crankset (no granny ring) 48/34T chainrings – basically what would now be called a compact crankset. Seatpost-mounted rack with a rack trunk on it. Mountainsmith XL lumbar pack (A HUGE waist pack. This worked and doubled as a hiking pack, but I didn’t like having a bag on my back. I wouldn’t do this again). Street shoes strapped to underside of the rack. In my first week of riding in late April (and the first few serious hills) I began to look through my gear to lighten the load. I put some clothes in a La Poste mailer and sent them home.
As the weather warmed, I mailed more clothing home. Every couple weeks I bought a new jersey and mailed the old one home. By the summer, I was carrying significantly less than when I started. I easily covered 70-100 miles per day and felt fresh enough for exploring each new town. Carrying an extra 10-12 lbs up alpine passes is much more pleasant than 25-30 lbs. Other riders that I met along the way assumed that I was on a day trip. Some days I did leave my bags in my hotel room for a day trip, my bike encumbered only by the seatpost rack itself.