Ultralight cycle touring: How low can you go?

James alerted me to one end of the cycle touring spectrum. And yes, that is a seven wheel vehicle. 

Want to camp on a sloping river bank? No problemo, the legs will lift it off the ground:

Tempting to give it a push though. It has 120 litres of storage, weighs 24 kg empty, and costs US$900. See the web site for this and other monstrosities, here.

What is at the other end of the spectrum? Almost, but not quite, nothing.

As in: “I walked off the plane with the plastic spoon and toothpick from the in-flight meal. My cooking gear was complete.”

This guy is so extreme it’s either genius or something certifiable: http://ultralightcycling.blogspot.com.au/

But there are some absolute gems: What is that bulky, heavy, but oh so important sleeping item? The sleeping mat.

Solution: Bubble-wrap. Weighs nothing, insulating, and can be used to waterproof other stuff. Genius.

Here’s a setup for a 2 week tour of Jordan & Israel:

Another setup for a longer trip:

Ultralight cycle touring: http://ultralightcycling.blogspot.com.au/

“Reducing the load and volume is an iterative process that follows the “lightening circle”. Always think of the mystical circle of light weight touring: less weight -> less volume -> less containers -> less weight -> less mechanical problems -> less spare parts and tools -> less weight -> … ”

“Shorter cycling socks: save 30 g.”

“Cut seat tube – saved 50 g”

“Cut your shirts, tear off buttons, straps, collars and not needed pockets. You will save few 100 grams….”  – You can see his thinking. Imagine what a shipping container load of shirt collars would weigh! Genius.

“…it pays off to wash your stuff. The dirt, sweat and dust make clothing up to 10% heavier. Or even more. I’m still not sure why I feel good after a wash: because I am clean or because I am lighter?” – Just as I ask myself most days.

A taste of what is possible:
Ordinary pedals (not clipless) and light sandshoes; only one set of shoes needed. No cooking equipment. No panniers (stuff bag on the rear rack and little bag on handlebar). Light single-skin tent (900 g) and down sleeping bag (600g). No sleeping mat (use bubble-wrap).

Tools & Spares:4/5/6mm allen keys, pedal spanner (cut in half), screwdriver, chain tool, spoke key, pump, tyre levers. Patches (trim excess foil), 1 tube, oil in dropper bottle, duct tape, (spare spokes taped to frame).

Food: No food, eat cold food bought in supermarkets or eat at cheap restaurants.

Cooking:
“No cooking utensils. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this: there’s no cooker, no mugs, no pots, no plates, no cutlery, no fuel, no fuel container, no cleaning utensils, no bags for storing all this junk, no additional cooking water and no bags of raw, useless food. In addition, you don’t waste your time in cooking, cleaning and searching for fuel. There are only two things I need: a plastic tea spoon and a plastic toothpick – taken from the meal served on the plane. Both weigh about the resolution of my scale (2 g). I carry both in the back pocket of the cycling jersey – you never know when an opportunity for a good meal will come, so you better be prepared.”

Water: Ordinary 1.5L plastic water bottles instead of cycling bidons (save 70 g).

First Aid, Toiletries & Sewing kits
Thread with a needle, razor blades, a roll of white medical tape (wrapped around a piece of cork), a couple of aspirins wrapped in a piece of plaster, 3 vitamin pills, two shaving razors (no handles) and tooth brush (cut in half)


Clothes: Use women’s nylon stockings as arm or leg warmers and save on long cycling knicks – an enormous weight and space saving.

Maps: This one good for 1500 km in India:
“No maps/guidebooks. I made notes of the towns, directions, distances and road numbers, all on a small card (10×6 cm) which I plastified and wore in the back pocket of the cycling jersey. It saved me a little weight (~50 g), but the main benefit was that I didn’t need big handlebar bag to store the map. I also was not distracted by taking out, unfolding, looking at, folding and storing back the map, and that probably gave me advantage of a few kms per day. Can also be used to scrap off ice from the tent walls.” – Yeah, and note that his fingernails are closely trimmed: (10 g).

Touring weight: (excluding bike, water, clothes on back) 5.5 – 7 kg.

“Once you reduce the carrying weight below 8 kg, it is the volume and elegance that matters, not the weight.”


Update (19/6/12): I’ve come across a copy of the legendary, out-of-print, cycling classic: JttCotE (or “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”). It may be more relevant to our future endeavor. The story of the Crane brothers on an epic minimalist bike trip, from the shores of Bangladesh to the point farthest from the sea anywhere on the planet (in China’s Xinjiang Province), passing through Kathmandu and Lhasa. It took place in the mid-1980s, when China and Tibet were just opening up to foreigners, bikes were retro and minimalist was pretty damn minimal.

The (at that stage) newly constructed Lhasa-Kathmandu highway:

Sheltering in a cave:

Morning in the Gobi desert:

Some quotes from the equipment appendix:
“Campagnolo cone spanner 13/14 mm, drilled for lightness.”
“Chopped-down chopsticks (one pair each).”
“Plastic teaspoon (5 ml hospital), holes drilled in handle (one each).”
“Control was from a cut-down Simplex gear shift to a Shimano 600 EX derailleur. In order to save weight, there was no front derailleur or lever, we used heel kick-down for lower gears and finger lift-up for higher.”

More photos here, pdf of book here.

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5 Responses to Ultralight cycle touring: How low can you go?

  1. jamescyclefar says:

    Great Photo in the desert, looks like you had room to think out there.

    That pedal spanner can be eliminated if you use pedals that have a 6mm allen key hole at the end of the thread (accessed from the back of the crank arm, when on the bike). You may already carry a 6mm anyway as it’s often used for the seat post and/or where the saddle mounts the seat post.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Love your setup because it is pretty much identical to mine!! I can’t agree more; get rid of all that cooking equipment, you can always find somewhere to get a coffee/cheap meal. For people interested in going light I tried 700CX28 tyres (with tyre liners to “prevent punctures”) on dirt and poor asphalt roads in South America and as I kinda expected they just could not take it—far too many pinch flats. So now I use 700C X 40 and no more problems.

  3. Mark says:

    Update: Minimalist-retro-Tibet-cycling brother’s book.

  4. 888riley says:

    I must say, I do admire the obsession, but I am surprised he still uses vowels in his blog posts. Surely these would be the first things chucked overboard

  5. Anonymous says:

    This bloke must love taking his ablutions matinales more than most people.

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