These are some of the things I wish I had known before my cycling trip, and some I think are just good advice...
- Waterproof panniers - 90% of long distance cyclists have Ortlieb panniers. They are the gold standard and easily fit on most bike racks.
- Kickstand - Some cyclists decide to avoid the extra weight of a kickstand but I highly recommend one. You can park your bike anywhere rather than finding a tree, or something else to lean on. There are cyclists who don't have kickstands but bring books. A book weighs about the same as a kickstand. How often do you use a kickstand versus reading a book on a trip?
- Toe clips with straps - I like to have toe clips with straps rather than the ones where you have to buy special cycling shoes for. This way, I can wear any normal shoes and only bring one pair of shoes.
- Bike computer - Though not important in the operation of a bicycle but I highly recommend one. There are three things I think are good to know: trip distance, speed, and total distance.
- Combination lock - U lock is overkill and too heavy. A chain lock with a combination is the best option. You just have to remember the passcode rather than having a key. Also, you just need to bring one lock. No need to carry extra ones to lock your panniers and other items. If someone really wants to steal your bike and your items, they will do it any way they can.
- Reflective vest - Definitely a good one to have so drivers can see you better. This is a safety issue. I also see a few cyclist have flags attached to the backs of their bikes. I think that's a bit too much and most long distance cyclists don't have them. Anything that is reflective is good on a bike, such as reflective stickers on panniers, but a reflective vest is the best.
- Bike lights - Mandatory for safety reasons. I was thinking why I would need them if I don't ride my bike at night. But I use them in the early morning and on foggy days. Make sure to have one for the front and the back of the bike. Blinking LED ones are the best.
- Start with 20 to 25 miles the first day of riding if you didn't train before the trip. - I rode for over 36 miles the first day and my back and legs were aching that night. Start off slow if you're not training before the trip. Add a few miles each day until you're comfortable with the distance. Most cyclists average between 40 to 60 miles a day. Some do 70 to 75 miles. Very few riders average 100 miles a day. Be aware that in hilly areas, such as Virginia and Kentucky, your daily distance is less than on flat lands.
- Rain gear - Some cyclists bring them and some don't. They add a little extra weight and don't always keep you dry due to the moisture that often gets inside the rain jacket or rain pants. I brought them along for short rain. If it's going to rain the whole day then I usually take a rest day. What about your shoes if they are not waterproof? You can deter the wetness by wearing plastic bags around your socks. But that's not completely waterproof. Unless you have waterproof shoes your feet will get wet in the long run.
- Granola bars, trail mix, beef jerky, and ramen - These are the foods I carry when I need the extra energy. I carry ramen in case there are no restaurants, cafes, or convenience stores and I really need a meal. That said, I also carry a MSR Pocket Rocket stove and a small MSR Alpine stowaway pot.
- Wool clothing - I have two wool T-shirts and three pairs of wool socks for the trip. They are great because they dry quickly, create less odor, and made of natural fiber rather than synthetic. I like the brand Woolly. There are probably others.
- Warmshower hosts - I highly recommend setting up an account on warmshowers.org. You'll meet a lot of interesting people along your trip. Plus places to take showers and maybe sleep in a bed!
- 15 degree sleeping bag - I thought I could get away with a thinner sleeping bag, that was a mistake. I'd rather be hot and not use my sleeping bag rather than be freezing and catch a cold. A 15 degree sleeping bag will be good for the mountains and the occasional cold spell.
- Bar ends - If your bike doesn't allow multiple hand positions on the handlebar, bar ends are great to have so your wrists don't get too sore.
- Mirror - I rode with a mirror attached to the helmet, but it wasn't secure. Then I attached it to my sunglasses, but it dragged my sunglasses down. I ended up ditching it because I couldn't see much from the one square inch mirror anyway. I rode without a mirror for a long time until another cyclist told me to get one that goes on the left side of the handlebar. That worked out great and I don't have to look back as much. My suggestion is to get a mirror that's about 2.5 inch in diameter that goes on the end of the handlebar.
- Dog repellent/Pepper spray - I was told to get one in Damascus, VA, as I was heading west to Kentucky. I used it only twice because I didn't shout at the dogs. Use the dog repellent as the last resort. When the dogs start to chase you, shout at them. Most of them will back off. If they get close, grab the spray and aim for their eyes. Kentucky is infamous for the dogs because the state doesn't have a leash law. I suggest keeping the spray on your bike for eastern Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, and western Virginia. "Halt!" is the most popular pepper spray for dogs.