Weight matters. Especially if you tour on your bicycle. To state the obvious - less weight means less effort. I’m yet to meet a bikepacker/bicycle tourer that likes to expend more energy at the end of the day. Yet, there is more to lightweight bicycle touring than just “less effort”.
Before I get into the reasons to prefer lightweight touring, let me be frank - I’m not trying to convert you. If you prefer to tour on a laden bike - more power to you. There’s no right or wrong way to tour and lightweight is not inherently superior.
I am religiously convinced - which means without evidence - that little weight reduces the number of mechanical problems, decreases energy requirements and fatigue and increases average speed, distance and enjoyment of cycling. It probably decreases off-bike comfort, but it is not me who will point out the disadvantages. ~ Ultralight bicycle touring
With that the disclaimer is out of the way, let us get back on track. There are a lot of reasons to keep weight down on your bicycle. A higher average speed, more energy to explore, and more fun on a winding mountain roads are just some of them. But If I have to sum it up, I can think of three important reasons to keep weight low on your bike -
First, a lightweight bicycle is less prone to wear and tear. More weight means more stress on your drivetrain, brakes, wheels, tyres and bearings. Anything that moves is under more stress. More stress leads to more breakdowns and frequent replacements. Frequent replacements are hard on the wallet and a breakdown in the middle of a tour is even less fun. So why put your bike through unnecessary stress when there’s an option to stay light?
Second, an overloaded bicycle is slow. Some may argue that to go slow is intrinsic to bicycle touring. Yet an overloaded rig doesn’t have the option of going fast. This means you can’t scoot through an ugly town or push hard to reach a landmark when the weather turns nasty. Having the option of going fast when needed is also safer.
Finally, a loaded bicycle is more ponderous and difficult to handle. Side-winds drag you along, descents are scary, braking distances go through the roof, handling takes a hit and twisty roads are no longer fun. This means you may do the distance but you will seldom enjoy the distance. Tourers are not looking to race, but fun on our bikes is high on our priority list.
Before we get into my tricks and tips for keeping weight down on a bicycle a word to the wise. Lightweight touring/bikepacking is addictive. Just like a drug addict, you will be constantly looking for your next hit - or a way to minimise your load in this case. So with that warning, let’s delve into techniques to minimise load, next.