If you’re thinking about doing a multi-day supported bike tour (like the BRAT), you should find some good advice here. Once I get "tables" working right in GeekLog, I’ll come back and add more. Take a look.
FROM CHARLENE A.
(hasn’t ridden it yet, but planning some similar rides)
I have purchased a self-inflating sleeping mat (I slept in my Hennessy Hammock this trip, but this is important) from REI. You are welcome to borrow it if you don’t have one.
I’ve been told that a camp towel (they’re compact and dry fast – good idea) is a good idea to bring instead of the standard terry kind. They are quite absorbent and dry quickly.
I’m doing Ragbrai with a charter group as most riders do or travel with a team, some go solo and carry their own gear, but the Ragbrai fee includes SAG and carrying your gear from over night town to over night town. I’m told to only pack what you need.
The weather will be cooler for your ride in September than my ride in July, but I’m sure that sunscreen (unless it rains all week, you’ll be in the sun) and chapstick will still be useful items to remember.
Pack clothes in plastic bags (good idea) and bring extra trash bags (cover your seat, sort stuff) to pack wet tents, tarps and such in so as not to get the dry stuff wet if it rains over night.
Put seam sealer on the seams of your tent before your trip, even if the tent box says that your tent is waterproof and by all means don’t forget the rain fly.
Most importantly, about a month before your trip you may want to get in three or four days in a row of riding (you need to be able to ride long distances, multiple days in a row). That’s in addition to your regular training.
FROM JEFF B.
(rides BRAT distances on fixies, non-stop)
I have not done BRAT, but I’ve obviously got some experience with riding these distances. I’d advise putting something on your bike (e.g. rack + trunk bag (nice to pack stuff along) ) so you can conveniently carry plenty of gear, depending on the weather. It will probably be mostly warm, but it’s nice to have a rain jacket avaialable if you need it.
In your camp bag, I’d recommend bringing some bag balm (your butt will appreciate it), available at Costco and some of the local drug stores. This can ease saddle tenderness at the end of the day.
FROM VICKI C.
(doing it in 2005, 2nd time)
Take your time and enjoy it is my best riding advice. You’ve got all day, and the first ones in get to
unload the luggage truck. Who wants to do that?!
Pack light, because you will be toting all yourworldly possessions to and from an 18-wheeler every
I took a pretty good tool kit and spare parts with me, but we had excellent mechanical support at camp every
evening, so that’s one thing I’d cut way back on as far as packing.
I’m a whitewater paddler, so I have several large "dry bags" which are used on multi-day paddling trips. I
packed in one of those so I didn’t have to worry about my stuff getting wet when it was out of the truck. We
didn’t have rain, but there was heavy dew several nights.
(keep it simple)
I am riding the BRAT. It is a great ride. The camping is easy. They have showers & food. All you have to take is a tent, a pad & a sleeping bag. Let me know if you have any specific questions. (take some comfort items. you don’t have to carry all of it on your bike!)
FROM AL W.
(ridden multi-day tours, including BRAT twice)
Attached is our checklist and since we are on a tandem – we only need one bike.
Also, we pack most of the stuff in large duffels (wheels are extremely nice) that can be dragged around but we also bought a large watertight duffel (the kind you take on canoe trips and can get at REI) We put all of our "can’t get wet stuff" like clothes, etc in it because they will haul your stuff from park to park but you load it and when they get to the new location they unload the whole truck and literally throw everything on the ground in a big spread out pile. If it should rain before you get there, all of your stuff will be wet.
FROM DAVID I., BARBARA L AND BRENDA A.
Your inquiry was forwarded to be by Barbara, and I’ve sent it on to Brenda for her wisdom; the 3 of us did part or all of BRAT 2005 last September.
For my part, take a bike you have used a long time and are completely comfortable with in every way on day-long rides, and be in reasonably good riding condition because it is strenuous, even the "easy" days, and keep in mind you have all day long to complete the day’s route; even at a stately 10mph average you will cover 70 miles in only 7 hours; you don’t have to keep up with the hotdoggers. (even though, there were tons of riders in their 60’s and 70’s – first leaving, last arriving)
Unless you are a very young and strong rider with a high power-to-weight ratio, change out the racing gear ratios your bike likely came equipt with, and install a 48-36-26 (or 24)T chainwheel and a 12-27 (or 30)T (if you get into long climbs after multiple days, you’ll be wanting lower gears) cassette/freewheel (Rivendell has these); you will need them or be prepared to push your bike up some of the steeper grades you will encounter (and wear cycling shoes you can walk in).
If you sunburn easily like I do take SPF 30 sunblocker and use it (I still blistered last year using SPF 15).
Take a small bottle of Ibuprofen (obviously, and bring some Icy Hot) for the end-of-day muscle aches. (you can’t just take a day off in most cases)
Take a few standard best-quality long-handled metric Allen wrenches that will fit every Allen bolt on your bike like the seat post, rear derailleur etc., you may need one or more like I did (I like Sears Craftsman); also include a small lightweight chainbreaker; you may need that too as I did; a small roll of electrical or duct tape is mighty handy too. These are emergency side-of-the-road repair tools to enable you to ride your bike to the next stop; otherwise you may have to wait for a sag wagon (BRAT is well-supported); BRAT will also have a good bike mechanic who can work wonders (like one did on my bike last year).
Have a spare tube and patches w/new unopened glue and a tire pump that you know works okay (I had a flat, and turns out my frame pump really SUCKS. I bought a Topeak Road Morph the day I returned) with you on the bike, and extras in your luggage; if you install new tires (like I did) be sure to install new tubes (obvious but important) also (like I did not, and both failed from old age at the Presta connection to the tube).
Otherwise, the rest of it is common-sense stuff. Might consider having a TN roadmap with you, and ideally a TN Gazetteer or similar showing all the secondary roads if you are not really familiar with the day’s route; Brenda and I got off the day’s route one time and found ourselves scrutinizing both our daily BRAT route map and a highway map before we figured out our error.
A blinker-type taillight (you’ll sometimes need to ride to dinner or such after dark) is a good safety addition in case you get caught out late.
Don’t count on your cell-phone working everywhere on the route (count on it not working), count yourself fortunate if it works anywhere; take a phone card if you need to maintain daily family communications etc.
Good luck, remember: "This is not a race", and enjoy!
FROM DAVID I AGAIN, it keeps getting better…
Glad you found my experience of interest. You might email the Rivendell folks and see if they have rings that will fit your triple so you won’t have to change out everything. Fenders are a good idea to minimize the miseries of riding in the rain, as well as a rear blinker light to help traffic see you. We were blessed with no rain (we were too in 2005) last year but you can’t count on luck like that.
I used a smallish trunk bag bought at Target several years ago; I carried the aforementioned 3 or 4 metric Allen wrenches, spare tube, patch kit including a square of old denim to use as a get-me-home tire boot in case a tire got cut, a spoke wrench, 3 good tire levers, good pump, roll of electrical tape, and that’s all for tools; no need to load yourself down with more (last year I tore the rear derailleur off my 1981 Miyata touring bike, two of us converted it to a single speed by the side of the road and I managed to ride it the next 15 miles or so on into Cookeville where the BRAT mechanic managed to make repairs). Take some cash (take plenty), some identification, and some quarters for a payphone just in case (BRAT will provide you with emergency phone numbers). Take a few granola bars if you like but no more; there will be enough roadside markets and rest stops along the way. I think we found enough restaurants along the way for lunch stops (usually markets with sandwiches); don’t think any of us lost any weight! Focus more on staying well hydrated with a couple bottles of Gatorade or similar on the bike.
I carried a small autofocus autowind Olympus Stylus Epic 35mm camera with ASA800 film, plus extra film and battery, and got lots of good photos; I also kept a daily ride diary (in a ziplock bag for rain protection). I’ve been much impressed lately with results from digital cameras (take as many pictures as you want with digital) but haven’t used one yet.
I’m not much of a camping enthusiast like Brenda is, and I’m sure she can offer lots of wisdom there. I do have a generalized list of camping gear items that I’ve compiled from different sources; it’s a nice list to look at as you consider what you might want to take. I strongly recommend the minimalist approach and get it down to just one duffel bag, ideally with wheels on one end, as you likely will have to carry/roll it a considerable distance from the baggage truck to your campsite. Tie a bright red flag (this is a good idea) or something else distinctive to your duffel bag so you can spot it quickly among the 100’s that will be dumped on the ground by the baggage truck each evening (Brenda’s idea and it works). Biggest problem I’ve had with camping is how to dry out wet towels and clothing; still don’t have a good answer for that.
First of all, the BRAT was a GREAT experience and everyone who has the time and interest should definitely do it! One thing I gathered from talking to other riders last year who have done many week-long rides all over the country, is that the BRAT is probably the best deal cost wise and is also one of the best, if not the best, supported rides there is. (Yeah for our TN State Parks folks!) If you can ride 30 or 40 miles without dying and don’t mind huffing up a few hills, you can do this ride.
You do need a headlamp (this is handy for many things) on your bike that you can also use for walking around. REI (Brentwood) and other stores have really neat camp towels now that dry quick, are very light and don’t take up much space, an absolute must unless your going to pay Bubba’s Pampered Bicylists for the comforts of home. In fact, a lot of the backpacking paraphenalia helps you keep down on the volume of stuff. A hanging shower bag (you’ll need this – trust me) is great if you have one, keeps all your necessities together. I agree with keeping it to one duffel bag if at all possible. If not, maybe a bag plus a tent or a bag plus a sleeping bag. I am somewhat of a minimalist when it comes to stuff since I grew up backpacking.
You won’t regret a trunk bag on your rack, it will help you keep all the important stuff in one place and gives you a place to dump the jacket and/or arm & leg warmers. You only need one set of street clothes to wear each night but it probably needs to include a pair of shorts and something long as it can get quite cool. (You get a long-sleeve T-shirt at registration.)
You don’t need to carry food unless you have a special diet need (diabetic), we all gained weight! Although Danny does say the stores are little further apart this year, there’s plenty rest stops.
David probably doesn’t know this, but my thin pillow (hey, it’s a SAG ride!) was the first thing in my duffel and the last thing I would eliminate; sleeping on wadded up clothes gets old real quick.
My last advice is to socialize and talk to people (that’s what it’s really all about). I don’t normally do that a lot but did last year. Hearing about why others bike is soooo inspirational and makes you realize how anything is possible when you make up your mind, like maybe that cross-country ride some of us dream about! Have fun! I hope to be able to join you but have to "get it in gear" as they say.