Gear to Pack

Gear to Pack

What to pack when cycling around Korea.

Here’s the plan! Visit an outdoor store. Buy a 120 liter pack. Stuff everything you could ever want or need inside. Five jackets. Full-sized floor pump. Three-person tent. Pots and pans. Six-hundred kilometers, here we come!

Okay. Not a good idea. Let’s keep it light. Take everything out. Return the 120 liter pack. Visit a hip outlet and get a messenger bag. Drop it a bottle of water and thoughts and prayers. 

Uh oh. Flat tire.

Let’s find the middle ground. Here are some essentials for bike trips of all lengths. 

Let’s jump in!

A picture of a helmet, tubes, saddle bag, quick links, chain breaker, multi-tool, tire levers, air pump, lock, sunscreen, lube, hex wrenches.
From left to right, a good kit includes a helmet, tubes, saddle bag, quick links, chain breaker, multi-tool, tire levers, air pump, lock, sunscreen, lube, hex wrenches.

Core Kit

A picture of a hex wrench tool.
A folding hex wrench tool works with all bold sizes.

Hex Wrench Tools

Eighty-plus percent of bolts on your bike use some size of hex wrench (Allen key). These are the same six-sided screwdrivers Ikea gives you to build their bookshelves.

If you have a brake problem, need to adjust your seat, or tighten or loosen anything on your bike, you’ll probably need either a 4mm, 5mm, or 6mm size hex wrench.

Hex wrenches come in many forms: L-shaped, P-handle. We suggest buying a multi-tool style folding wrench set. It’s compact and will give you every wrench for your bike related problems.

Multi-Tool

A picture of a multi-tool.
A multi-tool brings versatility to your kit. It's hearty tools fix common problems.

What is a multi-tool? Think Swiss Army knife. But, we’re not talking about your wine-opening, cheese cracker spreading thingamajig you got for your seventh birthday. We suggest a hardier version.

A simple Letherman and Gerber multi-tool will give you all the extra tools you need to adjust limit screws or pull a cable tight.

Look for a multi-tool with pliers, slot and Phillips-head screwdrivers, and a tool with a sharp edge. Everything else is bloat.

A new multi-tool should be sturdy. You should struggle with it. If you can flick it open like a cheap pen, it might only be as sturdy as a Bic.

A picture of two bike inner tubes.
Keep an inner tube or two on you to fix flat tires.

Inner Tubes

A flat tire is the ultimate biking party-pooper. However, if you bring the right gear, changing a flat is super simple. (Tubeless tires are another story.)

First things first, you need an inner tube.

Because tires come in all shapes in sizes, inner tubes do too. However, inner tubes expand to fill the space between your tire and the rim of your wheel. That means inner tubes more or less conform to your tire.

Therefore, every inner tube has a range. For example, a typical inner tube for a road bike might say 700c x 18-25mm. The 700c (700mm) refers to the diameter of the wheel. 18-25mm is the width of the tire.

If your wheel is 700mm in diameter with 23mm tire installed, the above tube fits like a glove. Check the side of your tire for the exact size.

Tire, Tube, & Wheel

Tire, tube, and wheel may be interchangeable in the layman world. But, they have specific meanings in the bike world.

Tire (tyre) refers to the rubber that meets the road. The inner tube is the tube stuck between the tire and wheel. This is the part inflated with air. The wheel is all of the metal parts: the spokes, hub, and rim.

Read more on how to change a flat tire here.

Air Pump

A picture of a portable air pump.
There's no use for an inner tube if you don't have a pump to inflate it.

What good’s a new tube without air? Bring a portable bike pump.

There are more varieties than stars in the sky. Usually, portable pumps are around 16-24 cm (6-10 inches). Some come with a mounting bracket. You can screw it into one of the bottle cage mounts on your bike frame.

Get a pump with a solid feel. Forcing tons of air into a tire can crack plastic doohickeys on bottom-bin pumps.

Pressure gauges on portable pumps are a nice feature. But, sometimes they aren’t accurate. Just pinch with your fingers. Or, lean on the handlebars. If your tire pancakes on the ground, put some air in. If it feels like stone, let some air out.

Check the pump’s valve connections before you buy. Bike tubes of two valve types: Schrader valves and Presta valves.

Many portable pumps have both connections. But, double check. Imagine you’re on the side of the road with a flat. Speeding cars zoom passed. Your tubes are Presta. Your pump only has a Schrader valve connection.

A picture of portable phone battery, AA, and AAA batteries.
Keep a portable charger, AA, and AAA batteries to keep your devices charged.

Batteries

You’re phone’s dead. You can’t find where to eat, where to sleep, or where you are on a map.

Bring extra power.

You won’t be scrolling the Gram all day. You’ll be gripping handlebars for the majority.

However, your phone might drain quicker than you think. You’ll be taking pictures, checking the map, running a cycling tracking app in the background.

A portable phone battery is a need, not a want. Average use will drain your reserves at least twice from sunup to sundown.

If your phone has a 3,000 mAh battery, double that with a 6,000 mAh external battery. Round that up to 10,000 mAh for good measure.

Bring a few AAs and AAAs, too. Something electrically powered will use a pair of either: bike lights, bike computer, headlamp.

Bike Lights

A picture of front and rear bike lights.
If it's night, turn on the lights. No lights? Say goodnight.

Legend has that when night falls two tons of nightmare metal roam the roads of Korea. They’ll creep up on you at unnatural speeds and force you into the bushes.

A pair of front and rear lights will ward off these beasts. Let them know you’re there. By the time their headlights swing on your dim silhouette, it might be too late.

A front light with some real power (500+ lumens) will help light up dark paths. If you’re stuck on a rural farm road, a fading headlight won’t spot that fallen limb across the path.

In cities, set your lights to strobe. This will distinguish you from the many other traffic lights littering the streets.

If your fashion allows, wear reflective clothes or stick some reflective decals on your bike. When those demon headlights bear down on you, you’ll light up like a rolling Christmas tree.

A picture of a bike helmet.
Shake a bowl of jello. That's the consistency of your brain. Protect it. Wear a helmet.

Helmet

Your brain is 1.3 kg (3 lbs) of tofu. Your skull protects it the best it can. But, It’s no match for an immovable slab of concrete at +20 km/h.

Helmets help. They aren’t the law in Korea. But, forget that! The only law you need to worry about is the law of physics.

Bike Lock

A picture of a bike lock.
Korea is safe. But, don't tempt the dark side of humanity. Pack a lock.

Korea is a safe country. The crime rates are some of the lowest among industrialized nations. However, don’t risk leaving your bike unattended for a long time.

You don’t need a 2 kilogram (4 lbs) monster lock. A simple, but hearty cable combination lock is enough to deter.

If you really want to protect your bike gangs of bicycle thieves with welding torches, lock your bike to a thick pole with a U-lock. Then, wrap your wheels with a looped cable and slip it into the U-lock.

Extra Clothes

Whichever season you cycle, you’ll need the right clothes. You can go with shape-hugging cycling spandex. Or, you can go with civilian getup.

What to Pack

Pack for utility and weight. Don’t pack for a dinner party. Two to three sets of outer-layers should be enough for any cycling trip. However, bring a fresh pair of socks and underwear for each day.

If you’re worried about the stench, go to a local laundromat (빨래방) after your ride.

What Kind of Clothes

Clothes made for cyclists have advantages. They cut down on wind resistance. They strap down anything that can flap like a sail. Cycling shorts might have padding sewn into the crotch and butt.

However, you can make do with general exercise clothes. If you’re heading out in the summer, look for breathable layers. A hat or collar will keep the sun off your neck and face. Remember to slather anything exposed with sunscreen.

For colder months, wear light layers under a windbreaker. A few long-sleeve shirts under a rain jacket might be enough to keep the wind out and warmth in.

If you ride thirty seconds without gloves in winter, you will regret life choices. The wind will gnaw and tear at any exposed digits.

Beware of the hungry chain. It will gobble up any loose pant legs. Bring some ankle-hugging pants to stay out of your chain’s teeth.

We discuss more about clothing for the seasons in here.

First Aid

A picture of ibuprofen, band-aids, gauze, face masks, and sunscreen.
Life is dangerous. Keep some basic medical supplies.

Crashes happen. They aren’t fun. But, you can treat most with some simple first aid supplies.

Ibuprofen

If you flip over your handlebars or feel sore from yesterday, pop a few ibuprofens. Two of these suckers will blunt sharp jabs from the pain stick.

During the summer months, you’ll grip your handlebars from dawn to dusk. The sun will blast your exposed arms.

Sunscreen

If you have fair skin, you need sunscreen. Slather layers of high SPF on any exposed patch of skin. Don’t risk a deep burn that will haunt you for hundreds of kilometers.

Band-Aids and Gauze

In case of cuts and abrasions, bring some band-aids. Small, adhesive strips are good for arms and legs. However, they’ll fall off on body parts in constant motion. Bring some gauze for knees and elbows.

WebMD doesn’t recommend applying peroxide or rubbing alcohol to fresh wounds. They’ll kill bacteria, but damage to raw tissue. They recommend cleaning with water.

Face Mask

Before your ride, download a pollution app. If the pollution hovers above 150 US AQI (Air Quality Index), slip on a face mask. Your lungs will thank you.

Korea blames China for its yellow dust problem. They are half-right. The other half is coming from inside the house.

Water & Snacks

Let’s make a list of food to pack for your cycling trip across Korea.

  • Water

*And maybe some snacks.

Bring water. Lots of water. If its winter, you’ll sweat into your layers. If it’s summer, you’ll drown your clothes.

Korea tucks convenience stores into every nook and cranny. So, you’ll never be too far away from sustenance. But, don’t risk the one-two punch of sun and heavy exercise.

Plus, if you get into a bloody confrontation with the road, water is the recommended method of cleaning the bacteria and grit out of wounds.

Bring snacks, too. Whatever your diet, it’s good to keep something to munch on. Protein bars, carb bars, nuts, or fruit. Hungry friends won’t judge if pull out a bag of gummy bears. Energy is energy.

Extra Kit

A picture of a chain breaker tool and quick links.
Broken chain? There's only one way to fix it. A chain breaker tool and quick links.

Chain Breaker & Quick Links

If you have a broken chain, you don’t need a full kit. You just need a chain breaker and quick link. This small little tool will punch out the broken links. The quick links are the two parts that come together to form the outer chain links.

We’ll discuss how to fix a broken chain here.

Chain Lube

A picture of bike chain lube.
A bottle of lube will keep your chain and gears spinning.

Also, you might want to bring chain oil or lubricant. This’ll keep your chain running smoothly throughout your trip.

If you use a dry lube, apply every 80-150 km (50-100 mi). On the 660 km trip across Korea, that’s four to eight applications. More if it’s raining or snowing.

We also discuss chain maintenance here.

A picture of a saddle cover.
A cushy saddle cover helps your rear after hundreds of kilometers.

Saddle Cover

Manufacturers build some bikes for speed. They trim away any extra bloat. Translation: rock hard seat. After a few hundred kilometers, you’ll feel the results in your butt.

A saddle cover (seat cushion) will add some forgiveness to a hard seat.

You can choose from endless shapes and padding levels. Look first for a saddle cover that holds firm to your seat. You don’t want to squirm all day trying to maneuver the cushion under your tailbone.

A picture of a saddle bag.
A saddle pack is a small, light solution to keep extra tools.

A simple saddle pack is a great solution to store your tools. You can easily fit a few spare tubes, hex wrench set, multi-tool, chain breaker, and quick links inside a small pack.

If you never remove the saddle pack from the bottom of your seat, you’ll always have tools with you.

With light loads, a hiking backpack might be enough to carry clothes and essentials. But, as discussed here, the weight of camping gear on your shoulders multiplies as the day grows long.

A set of panniers shifts the weight off your back and onto your wheels. If you pack well, you can divide your stress in half.

For a detailed guide on how to pack for larger loads, check you this post from REI.

A picture of a set of tire levers.
Tire levers save your hands and fingers when changing a flat tire.

Tires fit snuggly over the rim of your wheel. So, you’ll often struggle to get a tire on and off with bare hands. A set of hard plastic tire levers make the job a lot easier when fixing a flat.

Never pry your tire off with a screwdriver or metal tool. You’ll damage the rim. Shards of metal might poke into the newly installed tube. You’ll soon be wondering why you’re getting a flat every fifteen minutes.

Water from heaven perpetuates the cycle of renewal on earth. It’ll also destroy your smartphone. No matter how sealed you think your bags are, rainwater will creep in and soak your cash and ruin important documents.

Keep pesky rain at bay by bringing a few resealable plastic bags. If the air gets dense, drop your phone and passport into a Ziploc. Everything else might get wet. But, your essentials are safe.

When my rear derailleur hanger snapped and I could not remove my chain, I wrapped everything to the bike frame with electrical tape. I couldn’t pedal. But, I could use my bike to coast down hills.

You never know when a small roll of electrical tape comes in handy. This versatile tape is strong, sticky, and somewhat waterproof. From holding things in place to wrapping a wound, you won’t know why you need until you need it.

Gear to Pack

A list of gear to pack, including simple tools and safety equipment.

Prepping Your Bike

How to prepare your bike for comfort, durability, and safety.

Quick Fixes

A few simple fixes for common bike breakdowns.

Renting a Bike

Renting a bike for afternoon rides or cross-country journeys.

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