When I started out in Spain there was just one shop in town which had a rack: a big heavy steel bastard, and just the one panier which was junk, it would come flying off at the slightest bump. Worse than that, the mechanic at that bike shop was truing my wheel and let me know why wheels "will not last much longer", due to substantial braking surface wear. Thanks a bunch Canary Islands! 😅
At first I hoped to find what I needed along the way, but not many bike shops have bike-packing kit, dynos, batteries, or other niche items, due to other priorities for stocking.
Ordering online is usually how you solve that problem, but how do you get things delivered when you are on the move 6 or 7 days out of the week? I gave up booking hotels more than 24 hours out, it's usually booked on the day based on how far I got in the morning, so... what to do?
I'm pretty lucky to have some friends spread about Europe. A few folks who offered me a place to crash got roped into helping out.
I was invited to speak at a computers meetup in Barcelona, so I shipped my bike packing bags to the organizers office and he brought them to the meetup! Bahahaha. It's cheeky but he understood, he'd done a similar trip in the past.
A friend came to Nice and we traded frame water-bottles, her small bottle which fit under my frame bag for my giant heavy insulated CamelPak, and I even gave her some bike parts and electronics I didn't need. My bags felt noticeably lighter!
I had a dyno front wheel built up in the UK and it was heading to my mate in Zürich, but it got really delayed due to the rims being out of stock. I could have stayed put for a week, but that seemed a bit excessive. Instead I picked a random town that was about a week away, emailed a few bike shops, and asked them if they would be ok accepting the delivery.
A few folks said yes so I picked der fahrradladen, and they were awesome. Not only did they not charge me anything, they looked confused when I tried to give them money as a thank you.
I don't understand. We did not to any work, we just signed for the package.
- Nice German Bike Shop Man
Got them to setup the wheel tubeless and gave them a big tip, job done!
In the States I pay $20 a month for an address with Traveling Mailbox, which gives me a NYC address that accepts letters and packages, and can scan, shred, or forward anything for me.
This was really helpful replacing the entire fucking wallet I lost somewhere in Spain, because some US credit card companies - and the Department of Motor Vehicles 🤦🏻♂️ - refuse to mail things outside of the country.
That covers getting things out of the US, but I needed somewhere to send things in Europe, preferably somewhere I could physically get the items! For that I use Clevver. First I had a mailbox in Madrid, then Milan, and more recently one in Prague.
While I've been riding around Germany and Czech Republic, it dawned on me I should be camping on the weekends to save money, so I ordered a cheap tarp/bivy setup and told it all to go to Prague, along with a replacement back wheel, air pad, waaaaay lighter rack, and another new tyre after needing to put two plugs in it in a month.
Picking up from this company can be a crapshoot, because they seem to just use random offices. The one in Milan was a shipping store, but in Prague it was a non-descript multi-purpose building with no sign of anything to do with ClevverMail or shipping, or anything else.
Two lovely Czech guys saw me loitering out front and let me inside. One of them found a mailbox saying ClevverMail and then they were intrigued. They helped me hunt the place down, wandering around a large multi-office converted warehouse knocking on doors and asking people if they had heard of ClevverMail. Eventually we found somebody with a big "Sigma Sports" box 🙋♂️, they cheered, and wandered off smiling.
Picking up can have other problems too. Just because something arrived on Friday doesn't mean you'll be able to get it on Friday. They require "At least one working day" to sort out the pickup, and that might mean two days, and depends what time you clicked things. I also set up "automatically scan" which fucked things up further, because items that are scheduled for scanning cannot be sorted for pickup... I had a lovely photo of my AlpKit bag but it added a day to my pickup time.
To avoid this, I just asked the back bike wheel FedEx guy to meet me at a cafe over the road from the ClevverMail destination, and I got smashed on coffee for two hours while I waited.
Where to Buy
I've been trying to order stuff from as close to the destination as possible, for sake of time, money, and environmental impact. Both Wiggle and Amazon really help here. Wiggle have websites for UK, Germany, Netherlands, etc., so you can order from them and have it quickly and easy get to wherever you are.
There might be a bit of translation involved, but that's ok as their checkout experience is consistent across sites. If you've bought something from the UK site before you can just fudge your way through the German checkout experience.
I was heading to Czech and it seemed like they didn't have an Amazon, so I used the German one (which has an English language mode!) to order some things, and they got it all on a van and sent it over pretty quick. Seeing as most stuff was shipped within the EU there was no duty to pay, but shipping from the States (or anywhere not EU) can get real expensive.
My back wheel came in from California (I'm sorry 🌎!) and FedEx asked for a whole lotta money.
Everything has been held up for silly reasons. FedEx person wanted to know what my wheel was made out of (brass nipples!) and sometimes shit just goes in circles for a while.
My platypus (2L water storage plastic bag thing so I can ditch a heavy 1l bottle) has been spinning around Germany for a week now, my headnet (keep bugs eating my face off when bivy camping) randomly went to the depo, and my camping quilt is a few hundred meters down the road but hasn't moved for days.
Keeping track of it all is mentally taxing, but there's an app for that.
Deliveries does a great job at aggregating everything, giving you an ETA, and even a map showing the items journey. They support DHL, Fedex, and all the other big players,but Royal Mail is not supported. It's probably Royal Mail's fault.
Right now I'm sitting in Prague waiting a few days for my new back wheel to get tubelessed, for those remaining camping bits, hoping to get a e-bike store to wire my dyno up, and shipping a bag of stuff home full of things I can do without, to lighten the load and make space for the camping stuff.
Logistics is fun! 🤓