Exploring South Korea by bike in late winter was a different journey of sorts. Bicycle travel through a land deep in hibernation was filled with crisp foggy mornings, temperatures sucking the mercury down to well below zero Celsius that until midday, and minimal precipitation. Most days, the sun was bright, the air was cold, and there was no snow or rain to speak of — thank goodness. Being off-season, following the Four Rivers bikeways, I usually had the bike paths to myself. It was pure solitary cycling bliss.
My journey in Korea is winding down. In a day or so, I’ll be boxing my bike and hopping a bird to Hainan island off the coast of mainland China. It’s been a great ride, even in the -8 degree Celsius temperatures I experienced when I first departed Incheon.
Outlined below is a follow up to my Taiwan gear post that includes what I’m currently running on my trip in South Korea and will in Hainan, save the cold weather gear.
I’ve also added a quick synopsis of what worked well on my recent adventures cycling through Taiwan and Korea.
South Korea Riding Conditions
Due to the colder temperatures and potential wet weather I’d be encountering riding in South Korea, coupled with the possibility of camping, I packed along a tent, sleeping gear, and some cold weather clothing and wet weather items. Nobody likes to be cold, wet, or both — especially me.
Most of the riding was to be on protected bike paths of the Four Rivers Bikeways, with some on open roads, and perhaps a foray or two onto dirt trails if the mood struck me.
This was to be a solo tour and the only cooking I was intending to do was brewing a morning Turkish to get the old blood flowing.
Unsure of the “coffee situation” in South Korea, a critical factor that must be seriously considered, I was bringing my own.
Little did I know, that South Korea is probably the “Coffee Mecca” of Asia, with decent coffee shops even in the smallest, most remote bergs. I’ve never ridden through an Asian country with so many coffee shops — sweet.
An Integrated Bikepacking Approach
The bikepacking saddle, frame, and handlebar bags have become an integrated part of my gear carrying modus operanti, which are added or dropped based on my immediate traveling requirements.
Without the camping gear, cold weather clothing, and additional spare tire I’d decided to bring, the standard bikepacking set up with saddle, frame, and handlebar bags were pretty much cubed out for space as it was. So, to get the additional space, I jettisoned the saddle bag and deployed a rear rack and small front panniers.
If pressed, I could’ve probably found a 29-inch replacement tire at a local bike shop in South Korea, as there are many well stocked shops in all the major cities. But I didn’t want the hassle of running one down or losing the time it would take to do so.
A folding spare tire is part of my standard “far away from home” long distance touring kit, along with a spare carbon belt, a Rohloff oil change kit, a shifter and a brake cable, a set of disc pads, a couple of spokes, a couple of 29-inch tubes — all of which would be potential showstoppers if needed on the road.
With these “essentail” spare parts I can pretty much resolve the majority of any serious breakdowns on the side of the road in short order and then keep moving.
Save for some sort of major damage, this kit covers all of the preverbal bases and it only weighs a couple of kilos, which is justified by the repair capabilities it provides.
Going with the smaller front Ortlieb Roller Plus panniers, I intentionally limited the bike’s carrying capacity and help keep the weight down. Totally kitted out, the bike and all the gear weighed in at about 35 kg (78 lbs), which isn’t too bad considering the camping gear, extra rain gear and cold weather clothing — weight weenies, move on there’s nothing to see here.
The additional kit didn’t necessitate a front rack or panniers, so they stayed off. Had I required more capacity, I could have went to the larger rear panniers first, and then to the front panniers and rack if need be, which is all based on the capabilities required for the journey.
The Revelate Designs Ripio frame bag, Sweet Roll handlebar bag, and assorted top tube and handlebar pouches stayed on the bike, as they form the core of my carrying system for essentials, such as tool kit, pump, layering clothes, rain gear, snacks, personal items, etc.
The Revelate Designs Gas Tank and Jerry Can hold personal items like lip balm, hand sanitizer, Imodium, Ibuprofen, business cards, headlamp, Leatherman Micra, spare camera batteries and SD cards, and other items requiring quick access.
The Porcelain Rocket Mini Slinger and Bedrock Tapeats pouches carry my compact cameras, notebook and pen, which mounted on the handlebar are at the ready whenever I want to make a picture or capture a thought.
The Revelate Designs Sweet Roll is where I carry most of my layering clothes and rain gear used to regulate body temperature and protect against the elements, such as gloves, beanie, windbreaker, or protective rain gear without the hassle of unrolling and burrowing into a pannier. As conditions change, I come to a short halt and remove or don additional clothing and move on.
Similar to the Sweet Roll, the Revelate Designs Ripio frame bag provides a similar quick access capability to electronics, tools, and personal items such as sunscreen, lip balm, toilet paper, ect. With just the pull of a zipper, I’m at my gear.
The new and improved YKK style zippers are a big step up and far better than the old coil design zippers that tended to jam or became hard to operate when dusty or dirty.
A Touring Crossover
Mixing the best of both worlds between the bikepacking genre and traditional touring set ups makes a lot of sense to me. I’m all about going with what works best for the individual on the journey.
I pick and chose what I need, owing allegiance to neither style, but adopting an eclectic approach to bicycle travel base on what works best for the situation at hand.
As gear is added, so must the means of hauling of carrying it on your bike. Available space in seat, frame, and handlebar bags quickly evaporates and becomes inadequate as gear is added.
Racks and panniers eventually creep in. It’s inevitable. Otherwise, you have to go without. It’s the nature of the beast and a fact I’ve come to accept, though graple with often.
Longer longer journeys generally require more kit. As remoteness of the journey increases generally so does the pausity of resources. Deciding what to take involves striking a balance between carrying additional weight and assuming risk.
So, I generally take what I need to provide most of my support and to keep me rolling down the road, accepting the fact I’m not going to be pedaling a wispy light rig — the much vaunted unicorn I doubt exists.
It would be nice to travel as light as many of those that race the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route do, but it’s just unrealistic for any self-supported long distance adventure cycling — in my humble opinion.
In my book, there is such a thing as going too light and leaving too much to chance. For me, it’s more about taking a common sense approach in striking a good balance between equipment and weight.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve pretty much defined my traveling style for long distance bike travel. I have a good idea of what I need and want to bring on most rides, to include the amount of weight I’m willing to carry.
For each trip, I try to match the gear to the journey’s requirements while trying to keep it reasonably light and let it go at that. If I brought it, I’ll carry it, and I’ll suffer with it if need be. If worse comes to worse, I can always cut ballast and post any extraneous stuff home.
Stuff That Works
First and foremost, the Co-Motion Divide Rohloff. This bike just continues to deliver. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Rock solid. No issues. Just keeps rollin’ on.
Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires. Over 15,000 km and only two punctures, a large shard of glass and a metal wire.
Pletcher Double Legged Kickstand. The kickstans is probably the most maligned, belittled, and unsung hero of the bicycle component world. It’s super convenient for standing the bike, while performing maintenance, breaking down and building the bike for boxing/unboxing, or loading/unloading the bike.
With a center mount kickstand, the bike can be parked almost anywhere, which is really handy around businesses and tourist attractions where leaning bikes against things tends to be viewed with a jaundiced eye by persnickety security personnel. Well worth the added weight.
Mirror. The rearview mirror is another piece of essential kit critical to maintaining situational awareness to the rear are motorized vehicles or other bikes on and off the road. It eliminates the need to constantly look over your shoulder.
Spur Cycle Bell. It is the best built bell I’ve seen. All metal, no plastic. Key to communicating to others on the road. Virtually everyone in Asia knows what a ringing bell means and acts appropriately.
Revelate Designs Bags. I can’t say enough good things about Revelate Designs’ gear. It’s quality stuff all the way around. Their ensemble of bags work as an integrated carrying system and all fit together. Internal pockets allow for added organization. And as I mentioned, the YKK zipper upgrade is a big plus. A couple of months on the road and there’ve been no jamming or dragging issues.
Porcelain Rocket Mini Slinger. Another piece of quality kit. Keeps my compact camera super handy for “shooting from the hip” at short halts. I wouldn’t get nearly as many shots as I do if I didn’t have a such immediate access to my camera. It’s not waterproof, so I carry a little dry sack stuffed in the bottom of the Slinger to stow the camera in in case of rain.
Bedrock Tapeats To Go Pouch. Great for holding my second compact camera, notebook and pen. The square pocket design accommodates them perfectly. The pouch sheds most rain but I carry a small dry bag at the bottom of the pouch to make sure.
Ortlieb Roller Plus Panniers. The gold standard in waterproof panniers. Ride with utmost confidence in the worst downpours. Laugh in the face of the nastiest monsoons and pedal on.
Planet Bike Cascadia 29er Fenders. Fenders may not make your bike look as cool as a stripped down, tricked out full suspension mountain cruiser, but they do one hell of a job keeping the rain and water off of your lower body when the wet stuff is pouring down. There’s no use in “looking cool” when you are soaking wet and miserable. The Cascadia 29ers are solid and take a beating. I’d probable remove them if I was going to plowing through a lot of mud though.
Ride With GPS navigation app. Excellent for navigation. Cell connectivity not necessary to run GPS app. Provides lots of data, such as elevation provide, distance traveled, average speed, time elapsed, etc. Two niggles: Internet access is required to make routes through the website, which is not possible via the app. In China, the tracking line of the route traveled is offset and doesn’t overlay correctly on the map, which appears to only be happening when I’m in China, but the location dot is spot on. It hasn’t been an issue in the other Asian countries I’ve traveled. In talking with the tech staff at Ride With GPS, they told me it was an issue with Chinese government skewing the GPS signal.
Sadly, printed maps are going the way of the dodo. I’ve had a running love affair with maps as long as I can remember, but they are rather limited in comparison with the detail and information GPS navigation and tracking technology can provide. Paper maps are great for the coffee table but I rarely carry them with me anymore.
Shimano XM7 SPD Shoes. Great adventure cycling shoes. A solid, secure fit. Not too stiff like traditional mountain biking shoes, yet not squishy on the pedals either. I can walk around in them all day and can still apply pressure on the pedals without the soles flexing into inverted bananas. The Goretex lining keeps the spray out. Their appearance is similar to a pair of low cut hiking shoes. They look even better now that I’ve got a few miles on them. They’re an upgrade from my beloved Mavic Alpine SPD shoes.
Vaude Poncho. It’s a sleeved poncho that covers you and the bike’s cockpit and keeps the overhead H20 rolling off you and your bike like water off of a duck’s back. The hood has a visor and fits snuggly over a helmet.
The poncho has access points allow your hands to grasp the hand grips while the poncho is draped over the handlebars which protects your hands from getting wet. An internal waistband keeps the poncho low and snug on your body.
The open bottom allows for ample ventilation to reduce condensation from body perspiration. The poncho protects you against the rain overhead while the fenders deflect the spray from the road.
The poncho is easy on and off and stores effortlessly in the handlebar bag for speedy deployment. It’s been much more efficient than struggling in and out of rain pants, booties, and a jacket when the wet stuff starts to fly. I can put it on or take it off and stow it in a minute or so.
Draping ponchos that cover the cockpit are der rigueur for most motorcyclists and moped riders in rainy Asia. The Vaude poncho is similar in design but with the added sleeves, access slits, and waist belt. Plus, it’s constructed of a lighter weight coated nylon.
Topeak iPhone Cover. It’s a waterproof pouch with a combination ziploc and roll-top closure that allows me to ride with my iPhone mounted regardless of the amount of rain falling. The phone’s screen is clearly visible and the touch feature are fully operable. It works great in dusty conditions as well.
ROK Tie-Down Straps. These handy elastic straps are excellent for cradling and snugging up the handlebar bag. The does a great job of cinching down the rear panniers (no rattles) against the rack and for lashing on ancillary items to the bike, such as water bottles, food, an additional dry bag. The straps are great for securing the bike to rails and crossbars on trains and in the cargo holds of buses. ROK straps are available in several thicknesses and lengths.
Charging strategy. Pluggting into an external cache battery stowed in the framebag kept the iPhone fully charged for several days in a row. Not sure a dynamo is the answer for as a future option, but I’m exploring the possibilities.
China Southern Airlines. Reasonable rates. Bike box checked as standard luggage with no additional charge, though only one piece of checked luggage allowed. There’s a $70 (450 RMB) for an additional check bag, but that still beats the $200 bike charge levied by other airlines. (Note: On the return flight from Seoul and the flight to Haikou, there was no additional charge for a second checked bag — woot!).
Lighter is usually better, especially on the hills. The climbing is definitely easier, and so is lifting a loaded bike up and down flights of stairs. If you can take less, you’ll probably thank yourself later. I know I do. I am continually trying make things lighter cull them from the gear least completely.
Consider bikepacking setups to travel lighter. Limited storage space keeps the weight down. Bikepacking set ups are not “the way” but “another way” that you can add to your tool bag.
More gear means more bags. It’s just the nature of the beast.
Don’t bring the kitchen sink. Truth is, you don’t need most of the stuff you bring. At the end of your next ride, identify all of the stuff you didn’t use, and unless it’s essential, leave it out next time. Chances are you won’t miss it.
You can assume more risk in bring less by starting with a quality bike and gear in tip top shape before you go.
Frame bags block water bottle mounting points. Improvise. I strap a couple bottles on the saddle bag or rear rack. If I need more water, I hand a dromedary bag off of the handlebar. I’m not at all a big fan of wearing a backpack unless I’m day tripping around the local area. Death before backpack.
Last December on the way from Ho Chi Min City to Siem Reap, a girl passed me headed the other direction riding a hard tail mountain bike and was wearing a full-on, fully loaded large backpack. I kid you not.
It’s generally better to have a carrying system that expands or contracts to meet journey specific hauling requirements.
Gear selection is situation specific. It’s about building capabilities and assuming risk when deciding what gear to bring and how to carry it. Go with what makes the most sense to you. Don’t be afraid to assume a little risk. Just be sure to apply the “common sense” test before you do.
Please let me know what you think. Leave your comments below. Share and like me on Facebook.
Thank you for stopping by my blog. Much appreciated.
Updated Gear List and Basic Load Plan
My packing methodology is pretty simple: Store the most used on top and the least used on bottom. Try to organize and pack gear by activities as much as possible, such as camping, hygiene, maintenance, laundry, etc.
Keep the weight down as much as possible but don’t let it become a neurosis.
Consider carrying components or special items, that if they failed, would result in a showstopper and pretty much end the journey due to availability or replacement time.
Gear Added for South Korea:
- Ortlieb Roller Plus front panniers (on rear)
- Tubus Cargo Evo rear rack
- ROK straps
- Arkel Trailrider trunk bag
- Coffee Kit (grinder, ibrik, cup, alcohol stove)
- Cold weather clothing, rain jacket, rain paints
- Folding spare tire
Gear Ommitted for South Korea:
- Revelate Designs Viscacha saddle bag
- Bike: Co-Motion Divide Rohloff 29er
- Headlight: Cygolite Centauri 1000 Headlight
- Taillight: Serfas Superbright 1000 Headlight
- Bell: Spur Cycle Bell
- Rearview Mirror
- Fenders: Planet Bike Cascadia 29er
Instrumentation & Video (handlebar mounted): Delorme Explorer. IPhone 6 Plus 128 GB (with Ride with GPS and Earthmate for Delorme.) Garmin Edge 800 (legacy from road bike but great for seeing speed, dist., etc.) GoPro Black.
Mini Slinger: Sony RX1R compact camera and dry sack.
Tapeats Stem Bag: Sony RX100 IV, Moleskine notebook & gel pen.
Gas Tank: Reading glasses, lip balm, Ibuprofen, Imodium, floss, business cards, SD cards, camera batteries. Magnetic compass (backup).
Jerry Can: Black Diamond headlamp w/one battery flipped to prevent accidentally turning it on. Allen Key set. Hand sanitizer (Dirty hands and dirty water are the two biggest causes for getting sick.)
Variable clothing for regulating body temperature and protecting from the elements (gloves, arm warmers, beanie, light rain jacket, etc.) on the left and rain gear (poncho, jacket, pants, gloves, etc.) on the right.
Handlebar Bag Pouch
Passport, cash, documents, credit cards, spare pens, extra passport photos, etc.
Left Zip: Cache Battery, Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard, Right Upper Zip: Topeak Mtn Morph Pump, Nicad batter for headlight, Inner Tube, Tool Roll, Seat Rain Cover, 8mm Allen Key (for pedals) Right Lower Zip: windbreaker, small cable lock, toilet paper, snacks, etc.
Coffiee Kit: Coffee beans, raw sugar cubes, grinder, ibrik, titanium cup, spoon, alcohol stove, alcohol bottle, lighter or matches.
Left Rear Pannier
- Synthetic Jerseys (1x)
- Synthetic T-Shirt (1x)
- Exoffico Boxer Briefs (1x)
- Cycling Briefs (1x)
- Shorts (1x)
- Smart Wool Socks (1x)
- Synthetic Liner Socks (1x)
Cold Weather Clothes
- Soft Shell Gloves
- Neck Gaiter
- Nano Pullover Jacket
- Down Pullover Top
- Cold Weather Tights
- Long Synthetic Pants
- iPod Nano
- Ear Buds
- SIM Card – Taiwan/Korea (in phone)
- 6 Plug USB charger and cables
- Electrical Outlet Adapters
- Antibiotics (blood and gastrointestinal)
- Prescription Meds
- Lip Balm
- Talcum Powder
- Crotch Towel
- Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss
- Razor, Blades, Shave Cream, Brush
- Shampoo, Soap
- Schwalbe Mondial Tire
- Inner Tube (1x)
- Gates Carbon Belt
- Spokes and Nipples (6x)
- Disc Pads
- Rohloff Oil Change Kit (1x)
- SPD Cleat and Screws
- Fender Parts
- Miscellaneous Rack Bolts and Screws
- Zip Ties
- Duct Tape
- Super Glue
- Sewing Kit
- Tenacious Tape
- Waterproof Patch Kit
- Lacing Wire
- Nylon Cord (25 ft)
Right Rear Pannier
- Tent: MSR Hubba NX. As light or nearly as light as a bivy sack but with a lot more room which is handy for reading and writing at night or being stuck the tent during inclement weather. Comfort and capability out weigh the marginal weight gain.
- Sleeping Bag: Western Mountaineering Apache Down 15 degree bag or summer bag.
- Sleeping Pad
- Exped Inflatable Pillow
Clipped on Bike
- Baseball Cap
- Sunglass Case
- Bern Macon Carbon Helmet
- Outdoor Research Arm and Hand UV Sleeves
- Tissot Touch Expert Titanium Watch
- Wrist Sweat Bands
- Giro Mountain Bike Gloves
- Synthetic Jerseys
- Synthetic T-Shirt
- Cycling Briefs Shorts Wool Socks with liner socks
- Shimano XM7 SPD Shoes