Whether you’re riding for one hour on the road or 12 hours in the woods, it is important to know what to take on endurance rides and epic cycling adventures. There are a small number of essentials you should carry on every ride. And, of course, there are the foods and fluids to take for rides of any length. The items you add to your endurance ride checklist depend on the length of your planned ride, the type of ride, and the resources that will be available (or not). To keep it relatively simple, we’ve organized the list into “everyday rides” and “epic adventures”.
What to take on everyday rides
In addition to food, water, an ID, and probably your phone, here’s what should be on your endurance ride checklist for every ride.
CO2 cartridges are lighter and quicker, but a pump can be used over and over again. It is better to be prepared for multiple flats than it is to get air into a tire more quickly once or twice.
Tubes (and Tubeless Tools)
If you’re running tubed tires, carry at least two tubes. If you’re running tubeless tires, you still need to carry at least two tubes. I love tubeless wheels and tires because they reduce the risk of flats and can run a greater range of tire pressures. But they are not flat-proof. If you’re just losing pressure and the tire bead is still seated firmly on the rim and you have extra sealant, you can try adding more sealant through the valve stem (you’ll need a valve core remover) and inflating. When the tire is no longer seated on the rim or has a cut sidewall, throw a tube in it and get on your way. If you go the latter route, make sure you have the hand strength or tools to remove the tubeless valve stem.
Tire boots and patch kit
Many a cyclist has been stymied by a cut sidewall. You can’t just put a tube in and go; you have to place a non-stretchable material between the tube and the cut. Wrappers from gels or bars work well, or you can use cash or spend cash on a tire boot that has adhesive on one side so it stays in place. A patch kit is also helpful in case you go through your supply of tubes.
Metal tire levers (2)
The reason I specify metal tire levers is that I’ve snapped my fair share of plastic ones. Even if you can technically remove and remount your tires without levers, still carry them because they are good for scraping tacky mud off tires and frame parts.
Multitool that contains a chain tool
I haven’t gone on a ride without a multitool in 20 years. Just make sure yours has a chain tool. You may need to remove bent links in order to piece the chain back together with a power link. If your bike has Torx bolts, make sure you have the right size wrench in your multitool, or carry individual Torx wrenches as needed.
I don’t take a rain jacket on every ride, but the weather changes rapidly in the Rocky Mountains. In addition to being waterproof, a rain jacket can be an effective wind barrier and help keep body heat from escaping as quickly.
What to take on epic cycling adventures (road, gravel, or MTB)
When your derailleur hanger snaps off in the middle of nowhere your choices are limited. You’re either going to make your bike into a single speed or walk, unless of course you are carrying an extra derailleur hanger…
Epic endurance cycling events like SBT GRVL, Cape Epic, Breck Epic, and Rebecca’s Private Idaho are supported, but the courses are in remote areas and aid stations are few and far between. If your bike breaks you either need to be able to fix it with what you have on you, settle in for a long walk, or call for rescue (if possible) and be disqualified. Essential tools and replacement parts are crucial to your ultra endurance ride checklist, but there’s also a balance between being prepared and being weighed down by too much stuff.
In addition to the everyday items above, the endurance ride checklist of parts and tools below will get you back on your bike in most situations. This is more stuff than the top competitors carry because they are willing to accept greater risks in order to lighten the load. For athletes who prioritize finishing over winning, and who are going to be out on course far longer than the top competitors, the added weight is a small price to pay for peace of mind and the ability to get yourself rolling again.
Here’s the pared down contents of a saddle roll and athlete might use for endurance events like SBT Gravel or Unbound.
The more remote the course and the greater the distance between aid stations, the more you need to rely on hydration packs in addition to bottles. If the wind shifts or you have a mechanical your time to the next aid station could increase by an hour or more. For truly remote adventures, take a water filter so you can refill from streams. Hydration packs also provide room to carry some of the gear below.
This is another very light, very small piece of equipment that could save your day. When it rains in the Flint Hills of Kansas, for instance, there’s enough clay in the soil to turn a gravel road to the consistency of wet cement. It sticks to your tires, jams the space between your wheels and frame, rips derailleurs clean off the frame, and stops you in your tracks. In mountain bike stage races, rocks can rip derailleurs off, too. It’s so easy to carry an extra derailleur hanger, and it saves you so many headaches if you end up needing it.
Set of extra brake pads
No matter what type of brakes you’re running (caliper, cantilever, disc), a set of pads is small and weighs next to nothing, but will be extremely helpful if you end up needing them. Why would you ever need them? Wet and muddy conditions can chew through brake pads much more quickly than you think, and during epic-length cycling events, burning through a set of pads can put you in a dangerous position.
Depending on your bike setup, this means carrying a long derailleur cable, a long eTube wire (Shimano Di2) or an extra battery (SRAM eTap). Basically, you want to have a backup for whatever is controlling your rear derailleur. These are small and light, so there’s really no good reason for not carrying one.
Quick links (2)
You’re not going anywhere without a chain, and if yours breaks a quick link is the best and easiest way to put it back together. You may need to use your chain tool to remove damaged links, so afterward be careful about shifting into your easiest gear, as the repaired chain may be too short now. Quick links are so small that I carry them in my saddle bag for all rides.
Set of cleats (2 cleats, 4 screws)
Cleats for the bottom of your shoes are small and light, so just put an extra set in the gear you’re carrying as insurance.
Duct Tape or Zip Ties
You don’t need a whole roll of tape, but wrap about three feet of duct tape around a piece of cardboard and add it to your gear. It has a variety of potential uses, but the ones that are most relevant are booting a tire or taping a tire to the rim in the event of a blown tire bead. In the latter case, tightly taping it around the tire and rim can prevent the tire from jamming in the frame and hopefully hold together long enough to get to the next aid station.
Zip ties can be used to hold a tire together, as seen below in a post from CTS Coach Josh Whitmore. In this case, the repair involved a tube and a tire boot. However, the hole was so big that the boot started to push out through the hole. The zip tie provided the added support to keep the boot in place and the tube from escaping. This fix held for another 2+ hours of trail riding to get back to the trailhead.
For events, I put the tubes, tape, tire levers, cables, and patch kit into a saddlebag, and put the small parts on the endurance ride checklist (derailleur hanger, quick links, tire boot, cleats, brake pads, multitool) into a small plastic bag. That way, I can fix most flats with just what’s in the saddle bag. Then, the bag keeps essential items together so I can quickly transfer them to a new jersey or new hydration pack if necessary.
What to Pack in Drop Bags
This is a bonus addition to the endurance ride checklist. While centuries and Gran Fondos might have aid stations every 10-15 miles, epic cycling adventures typically have fewer aid stations farther apart. Some gravel events, for instance, only have aid stations every 50 miles. And it’s not the mileage that counts so much as the time between aid stations. When the ride time between aid stations is 3+ hours, you have to plan accordingly.
How you pack drop bags for aid stations depends heavily on whether one bag will be transported from station to station or whether you need to pack multiple bags because they will be delivered to specific locations and stay there.
I have ridden the Leadville 100, Unbound, La Ruta de los Conquistadores, and Trans Andes a few times each, and my philosophy on drop bags is to have clothing and parts to handle almost any contingency. This means:
Depending on logistics and the crew you have available, an extra set of wheels is a good option if possible. If it’s not possible, then at least have a set of tires in your drop bag. You can boot a tire to get to the next aid station, but once you get there it’s wise to stop and replace the tire completely. I save old tires for this purpose.
While carrying cleats is easy because they are small and light, I don’t want to carry an extra set of pedals. But in the off-chance your pedals explode, having a set in your drop bag can save your race. This is especially important if you have traveled a far distance to participate.
Chain or chain segment
If you snap a chain between aid stations and have a power link and chain tool you can get going again and get to the next aid station. But if your chain has additional damage and likely to snap again, take advantage of the opportunity to change it out. This is also a good time to remind you to refresh drivetrain parts before major events.
At Unbound and the Leadville 100 my drop bags always contained four extra tubes. It might seem like overkill, but one experience with multiple flats will cure you of that notion.
Sometimes I’ve carried this with me, but I always have it in drop bags. If you are on a dusty course, ride through a rain storm, or ride through creek crossings, you will want to re-lube your chain. I forgot lube during one Leadville 100 and my squeaking, screeching chain nearly drove me nuts and made me worried my chain would snap any minute.
My coaches made fun of me for packing winter cycling gear in my drop bags for the Leadville 100, until the year a cold rain soaked the race for the first 40 miles. My drop bags always contain what we used to call a “rain bag” in professional cycling. It includes a replacement cycling kit (shorts/jersey) as well as warm gloves, a skullcap, long sleeved jersey, rain jacket, knee warmers, and arm warmers. Better to have it and not use it than not have it in the first place.
The second year I raced Unbound I suffered a flat tire within 50 yards of where Neil Shirley, a former professional cyclist and then Road Bike Action editor, ripped the rear derailleur off his frame. We were 25 miles into the race, and Neil rode the next 175 miles in one gear because he didn’t have the parts to fix his bike with him or in his drop bags. Epic events call for epic preparations, and packing the right gear from your endurance ride checklist can mean the difference between a small inconvenience and a DNF-inducing mechanical. Your training prepares your body; now make sure you have the gear to reach the finish line!
Founder and Head Coach of CTS