The Best Gear is Crappy Gear

In the Yucatán I met a couple of young American bicycle travellers, Lee and Jakob, who were on their way to Cuba. I’d just come from Cuba so they asked me for route suggestions and advice. What impressed me most about these guys was their gear, and not because it was good; it wasn’t. It was simply the best gear they could afford. Their bicycles were cheap-looking and prone to malfunction and their tent was basically a plastic sheet (I saw them stringing it up on the beach that night). But the best part was their panniers.

You know those large square plastic two-gallon tubs of prepared food, like potato salad or coleslaw, with re-sealable peel-back lids that they use at the supermarket deli? Well, Lee had somehow attached two of these to his rear rack for his panniers. Jakob had attached small folding cages to his racks; he had stuffed his clothes and gear into plastic grocery bags to keep them dry.

These guys couldn’t afford high-end, or even entry-level, gear. But it didn’t matter. They had cycled from Port Townsend, Washington to southern Mexico, occasionally stopping to work in order to keep their travel funds alive or to repair their gear, and they were having an amazing adventure.

And that’s the point I want to make. Not only do you not need the best gear, but having gear that never breaks will lessen your chances of meeting fantastic, interesting people who will give you insights no guidebook ever could. When you need help, people are at their most empathetic and generous.

I have had many such encounters. A broken brake lever in Cuba once resulted in a delicious dinner followed by a cozy bed and a hearty breakfast the next morning. A broken bike frame in Argentine Patagonia in the 1990s resulted in a week long holiday with vacationing Argentinians who have since become life-long friends. On both these and on other occasions, I was able to repair the bike more efficiently because I was with locals who knew where to find answers and what was available. It was also a great opportunity to practice my Spanish and learn more about the country I was in.

Many bicycle travellers tend to obsess over gear. It’s often the main subject of conversation when I meet them on the road and it’s a major theme of many bike touring websites. It often overshadows conversations about culture, geography, and other aspects of travel I consider to be more important. Personally, I’d rather save the money I would’ve spent on high-end gear and reinvest it into an extra month or two of travel. Sure, it might break. Good! I hope it does. Then I’m guaranteed to have an adventure, not just a tour!

Share a comment about your crappy gear!




gear: equipo m

cheap: barrato -ta

expensive: caro -ra

broken: roto -ta

bicycle: bicicleta f

frame: cuadro m

rack: parrilla f; portaequipajes m

(racks) front rack: parrilla f delantera

(racks) rear rack: parrilla f trasera

panniers: alforjas fpl

(panniers) front pannier: alforja f delantera

(panniers) rear pannier: alforja trasera

mini-pump, portable pump: bombín f

pump: bomba f de aire; inflador m de llantas/neumáticos


 Feature image (top of page): Lee (on left) and Jakob (right) display their touring set up. Puerto Morelos, Mexico.


© El Pedalero, 2012.



4 Responses to “The Best Gear is Crappy Gear”
  1. Olivia says:

    Haha, I totally agree! I remember when I first came up with the idea of buying a bicycle and touring Thailand on it, a lot of people kept discouraging me, telling me it would be extremely difficult, that I’d have to install different handlebars, that I’d need proper bike gear.. In the end, I threw their comments aside and just RODE! I remember my first day cycling out of Bangkok – I’d neglected everyone’s advice to take a train out of the city and as a result, spent 3 days biking on a dusty highway, my little backpack strapped to my bike with bungee cords, bags of carrots and other groceries dangling haphazardly from it, barefoot, sweaty, exhausted, but 100% ecstatic anyway. It really doesn’t take much at all!
    Now I’m back home, in Canada, and sometimes I feel so..underdressed, underprepared, even just biking in my own CITY! Seems like people might even frown upon me for not being decked out in spandex or riding with a trendy leather saddle – as I squeak along on my half-spray painted Thai MTB with a torn pink bandana tied around the handlebars… Ha!

    • El Pedalero says:

      That’s a great story – I love the image of the spray-painted Thai bike with the pink bandana (your bike’s got some serious mojo!) riding amongst the boutique-bike commuters .
      But it’s true though; all you need to do is start riding and figure it out as you go.
      Best of luck on your future tours!

  2. Marina says:

    Hi Gareth!
    Nice post hahaha such a cool picture of their bikes. I´m lucky I have at least panniers 🙂 but I bought them second hand. The only bad thing about them is that in some big holes they sometimes fall from my bike! not very good.
    I met a guy once biking to San Francisco and hes bike costed him like 20 bucks in a thrift store and he was biking with a big backpack. I met him because he had a flat and didn´t know how to fix it. I fixed it and then I saw him several days later in San Francisco. yeah he made it! Buen viaje!

    • El Pedalero says:

      Hola Marina!

      Yes, nice gear is great, but any gear is better than no gear and I wouldn’t let it stop me from having adventures.

      I love your blog, Bici o Mochila. Everybody should check it out.

      Cuidado con los pinchazos, amiga!

      Un abrazo fuerte desde Canadá,


Leave A Comment

Copyright El Pedalero 2016