By Maggie LaCoste
I pack very frugally when I go biking in France, but there are a few items I would never leave home without. Since it is the gift giving and gift receiving season, I thought I’d share these favorite things with you, in case you would like to add them to your list.
Patagonia Lightweight Merino Wool Half-Zip Top
Hands down, my number one, never leave home without it item. This one single item got me through a week of cold and rainy weather along the Atlantic Coast route last May. Even when I travel in the summer, I always find room for this top, because if I encounter cool weather, it is the perfect thing to have. Merino wool is amazing: it keeps you warm in the cold weather, and cool in the heat. It’s soft, extremely breathable, keeps you warm even when it’s wet, dries extremely quick and it is great at regulating body temperature.
I have two of these merino shirts, my favorite is the one by Patagonia. I just discovered that they have changed the fabric of this shirt to a new blend that professes to keep you dryer and more comfortable than all wool. So it looks like this new item will be going on my Christmas list! Called the Patagonia Merino 2 Lightweight Zip Neck, it retails for $85. You can purchase it directly from Patagonia or from any outdoor store like REI.
Several other companies that manufacture great merino wool products for athletes include: Icebreaker, which has a great short sleeve merino wool half-zip shirt for cyclists, Smartwool, that has a women’s patterned zip neck that is definitely going on my list, and Ibex‘s Woolies 150, another one of the most popular baselayers for athletes. No matter which brand you choose, you can’t go wrong. Buy one, I think you may find that it becomes of of your packing favorites too.
Fun Bicycling Jerseys
I love fun bike jerseys. To begin with, they are great conversation starters with other cyclists. In addition, they can add a light touch to a long day of riding or a bad day of weather. One of my favorite places with the best selection of novelty bike jerseys is Retro Image Apparel.
Whether you are a fan of Dr. Seuss, Gumby, Star Trek, Felix the Cat, Microbrew Beers, or Vintage Racing Posters, these guys have it all.
These are one of my favorite things to ask for and to give. It always makes me laugh to follow my husband when he is wearing his Thing One, Thing Two jersey! My Christmas wish list will include the Green Eggs and Ham jersey and the Smiley Face jersey!
Digital Camera with Megazoom Lens
I bought the new Panasonic Lumix with a 20x telephoto lens before my spring bike trip this year. This new camera replaced my 2 year old Lumix with a 12x lens, and the change was unbelievable! I love the Lumix because it is small and lightweight, very easy to use without reading a manual, has a Leica lens, and zooms into 480 mm, just what I need to capture castles, monasteries and quaint villages from afar. There are a number of other options to choose from, including the Canon Powershot and Sony Cyber-shot. For a great review of the best in the field, here is a link to C-Net’s review of the top digital megazoom cameras written November 20.
A bicycle trip to France is an opportunity of a lifetime. Make sure that you have the best portable camera to record your bicycling adventure! Prices on the Panasonic Lumix run from $240-$350, so be sure and shop around for the best price.
A Great Bike Handlebar Bag
Even though I rent bikes in France, I always carry my own Ortlieb handlebar bag. It’s where I keep everything that I want to have easy access to during the day: my camera, wallet, snacks, my maps and touring information, hopefully some chocolate and a bottle of wine for lunch. With a waterproof map case, a good handlebar bag is an indispensable item for a bicycle vacation in France, or anywhere else. My bag of choice is an Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Plus Medium.
Considered Ortlieb’s premium waterproof handlebar bag, it has 427 cubic inches of storage, perfect for me, but it also comes in a larger version with 549 cubic inches of storage. The cost for the medium Ultimate 5 Plus with map holder is $115.60 and with the map and GPS holder, the cost is $145.35. All prices are from The Touring Store, one of my favorite resources for all bike bag related needs. If you need help or advise, Important note, if you are planning to use this bag on your bike at home and when you travel overseas, be sure to purchase an extra mounting bracket.
In addition to the Ortlieb handlebar bag, other popular choices are Banjo Brothers Quick Release bag, the Topeak Tourguide and the Avenir Excursion QR.
A Bicycle Multi-Tool Kit
Basically a survival kit for bicyclists, this tool is an essential for any touring bicyclist. They come in many shapes, sizes and functions, and every cyclist has his or her own favorites. If you have never done a lot of repairs on the road and aren’t quite sure what to look for, I suggest that you get some advice from your local bike store or a large outdoor store that carries bikes like REI.
Two of the more popular options are the Topeak Hex Mini 20 which is designed to handle any road or trailside bike repair. Another Topeak option is the Alien II. I bought my husband the Alien II last year for Christmas and it saved us numerous times on the road this year already. Estimated prices for the Hex Mini is $35 and for the Alien II is $50.
If you are in the market, another very popular option you may want to look at is the Crank Brothers Multi-Bicycle Tool. At $33 this option is lightweight and seems to have just the right number of basic tools for most on the road repairs.
Topeak AlienLux Green Tail Light
The AlienLux Tail Light is a perfect fun gift for any bicyclist in your life. It will be one of my favorite gifts in my husband’s Christmas stocking this year! The Alien is fun, it’s extremely portable, so it’s perfect for traveling overseas. It’s perfect to have in case you get stuck out on the road as darkness approaches, and best of all, it only costs about $10!
The Alien may not be the brightest tail light, but it’s two bright LED’s with constant or blinking modes are visible from 20 meters away. So if you are late returning back to the hotel from dinner or simply want to be sure that your bike is visible to traffic, this is a perfect, easy to use solution. The Alien is available at many local bike stores and online. You can enter in your zipcode on the webpage for the Alien to get a listing of local retailers in your area that carry the light.
So that’s it, my top can’t-do-without bicycling Christmas gifts! If you have an item that you would like to recommend, please send along a note to share.