Fall, with its crisp days, glorious light, and promise of last warmth for a few months, is the ultimate time of year for bike touring. I've been basking in the season's sunshine on a wine-country tour for the past week, and during that time have come to a few conclusions about gear for these sorts of endeavors. The biggest rule: If you're self-supporting -- or traveling far for the tour -- the things you carry have to be versatile enough to perform both on and off the bike, as packing space is limited. The other important lesson is that unusual equipment might be fine at home, where your local shop can source your favorite 42mm tires or oddball cleats for the boutique pedals, but when traveling, it's best to go with good old standard stuff so that getting replacements in the event of problems won't slow you down. What follows are six things without which I wouldn't leave home for any tour.
Giro Republic Shoes
Having now spent two weeks touring in these shoes ($150), I'll never use any other again. They perform just fine, even if they aren't as stiff or as light as the shoes I normally ride in back home. The biggest benefit is the element of disguise. They are built for MTB-style pedals, not road, meaning the cleats are recessed and much easier to walk in. The rubber walking pads on the sole are sticky enough to ensure that you won't be flailing like a Floridian on ice. A rider I met on the road said the Republics look like "church shoes," which is to say he didn't even realize they were built for biking. On the road, a shoe that transitions seamlessly from back road to basilica—or even the bar—is not a bad thing.
Shimano XT Trail PD-M785 Pedals
I choose mountain pedals for touring, even on the road bike. The thing about touring is that you never know where you'll end up, what sort of terrain you might cover, or if you'll need to walk. A mountain cleat tucks neatly into the sole of a bike shoe so you won't have to duck-walk when you do get out of the saddle. And a mountain-style shoe means that if you hit unexpected stretches of dirt or gravel road, as I have several times this week, there are no slick road soles to contend with. Finally, since Shimano's cleat design is the most common out there, their replacement cleats are available virtually anywhere in the world. As for this XT model ($150), it's probably the company's most durable—so there's no risk of getting stranded—and the oversize cage yields a large enough platform to keep your feet comfy on longer days.
Rapha Long-Sleeved Merino Polo
If I could travel with just one jersey, this Rapha polo ($150) would be it. No, it doesn't look like a jersey at all, which is exactly the point. Several times this week I've unexpectedly ditched the bike for a stop-off at a winery or a place for dinner without first visiting the hotel, and this piece makes such changes of plan simple. The fit is trim and the contrast interior on the collar (pink gingham on the navy jersey) adds enough style for almost any setting. The long sleeves have kept me cozy on chilly mornings, yet the finely finished merino is lightweight for hot afternoons, especially if you roll up the sleeves. Finally, thanks to the wool, you can ride for days without the jersey stinking. And when you do wash it, a quick rinse in the sink suffices and the fabric line-dries quickly.
Giro Bib Undershort
Yep, full bibs are best, even for touring. The chamois on these undershorts ($150) is well-padded but not so thick that it's irritating or bulky under outer shorts or beneath a pair of jeans. The mesh uppers are super lightweight and cut really low in back, which I've found comfy and cooler than the higher-cut racing variety. But what I like most about this Giro model is the trio of pockets built directly onto the bibs. This has allowed me to inconspicuously carry all the necessities for a day of riding (food, a pump, gloves, a map, phone) even while wearing Rapha's long-sleeved polo or other standard shirts that have no pockets.
Kitsbow Men’s Adjustable A/M Shorts
This Vancouver-based apparel company has an uncanny ability to create beautiful, high-function pieces of gear unlike anything else on the market. These shorts ($285) are cut from a Schoeller softshell that's lightweight but has enough structure to look good, is quick-drying, and, thanks to slick, smooth facing, resists snagging or pilling. The cut is trim and tailored so as not to rub or hang up on the top tube when riding, but it's also loose enough that you won't feel conspicuous off the bike. The waistband is cut high in back for comfort and is textured on the inside for added grip, though fit ultimately rests with the handy adjustable-waist design. The pair of locking adjusters let you tighten the shorts as they stretch out with use (important since you might not be washing daily), but the buckles are tucked neatly away in covered ports on each side of the shorts so they don't look techy or geeky. Finally, the two back pockets (one zippered) use little built-in magnets to keep the pockets closed and your wallet and phone in place.
POC Did Sunglasses
I can't ride without sunglasses, but I also can't stand the Terminator-styling of most cycling-specific models when I'm off the bike (or on it, honestly). Normally that means I must have two pairs of shades, but that's too much gear for a bike tour. Enter the Did ($165), which cuts a great balance between technology and fashion. These glasses look ready for the beach or café. But beneath the chilled-out styling, there's a tough, grilamide-injected frame; lenses that are sharper than the average consumer camera; and enough venting and shaping that the glasses have never overheated on me. The iridium-red and hydrogen-white frames are a bold statement (à la Ryder Hesjedal at the Tour de France), but the black or brown-on-brown are more sedate, yet stylish enough to wear with a blazer.
Next Up: Cycling Shootout: Bike Travel Cases