Friday, March 15, 2013

Bug Out Bikes

I did an interview over the phone today about the many considerations of using a bicycle as a primary or  back-up bug-out vehicle and the discussion ranged from the whys and whens of using a bike vs. various motor vehicles to the specifics of how to choose the right bike for the job and how to equip it.  This interview will be available as a series of articles soon and I'll post links to them when they are up.

Those of you who have read my Bug Out Vehicles and Shelters know that I have a chapter devoted to bicycles in the book.  As a long-time cyclist who enjoys riding for fitness and exploring backroads and trails by bike, I am interested in many different types of bicycles, but if I could have only one, it would invariably be a touring-specific bike.  When asked in the interview today why I would choose such a bike when mountain bikes are usually the first kind that come to mind as bug out bikes, I explained that it is because bike touring has been constantly evolving and developing as adventurous riders take these machines literally to the ends of the earth.  Such bikes are designed to withstand abuse, carry heavy loads, negotiate rough roads and even some off road conditions and perhaps most importantly, be comfortable so that you can cover serious miles day after day.

The difference in these touring-specific bikes begins with the frame, usually built of rugged and forgiving Chrome-moly steel rather than aluminum or carbon used on more performance-oriented bikes.  The wheels are also stronger, built to carry heavy loads and to fit wider tires when conditions require them.  Touring bikes have a wide range of gears to handle long climbs while carrying heavy loads, and the frames are fitted with brazed-on eyelets for mounting sturdy racks to carry panniers and additional gear lashed on top.

While some touring bikes look much like road racing machines to the casual observer, these differences are apparent upon closer inspection.  Because of the popularity of long off-road trips, such as the Adventure Cycling Association's Great Divide Route, many bicycle manufacturers are building truly capable touring machines that have most of the desirable attributes of mountain bikes combined with the long-distance capability of road bikes.  It has been interesting to see what they have come up with.  For example, the Surly Long Haul Trucker is a proven road touring bike I mentioned in the book, but the newer Surly Troll has a lot to offer as a bug-out machine to those inclined towards mountain bikes but needing real traveling ability:

The orange paint job might not be the best choice for this service, but you can see that this is a bike that could do the job.  To give you an idea of it's potential, check out this site: While Out Riding.


  1. Bicycles surely need serious thought in grid down - no petroleum fuel available conditions. The difficult part for urban dwellers now is finding locations to safely ride them. We are lucky that a large university is nearby, a bicycle friendly environment. My brother throws his bike in his truck bed and drives 12 miles (one way) to this location to get the exercise.

    Our city does have a few bike lanes scattered about. I've noticed the city is cutting back on sidewalks in commercial zones, forcing riders to use the street. Not that safe - a distracted driver will mess you up!

    Great way to exercise, bond with your family and get some fresh air in the bargain, bikes are great!

  2. Safety is a major issue with riding, especially now with so many distracted drivers talking and texting on cell phones, etc. Anytime you're mixing it up with traffic on a bike, you have to ride as if you're invisible and never assume drivers can see you or will give you any quarter.

  3. Most of these posts boil down to biases between the really nice but very expensive $5000 bikes and the really cheap but poorly made Walmart $85 bikes. The problem is there isn't a decent bike that costs less then $200. Walmart does sell an "old style" frame bike for under $100. If you bought 2 or 3 you could probably keep one running for years at a much lower cost then the really expensive racer bike. Cost is everything.

  4. The kind of touring bikes I'm writing about here are far less expensive than those $5000 racing machines. You can buy the Surly new as a complete bike for around the $1100 range, or as a frame set for less than $500 and add your own components. Other less expensive options are the $800 Novara Safari from REI or the Windsor Tourist from Bikes Direct for $600. If you want to spend less, you can find good quality older bikes on Craigslist for anywhere from $100-$500.

    It's true that there's not much out there for under $200. But we're talking about a serious means of transportation here, not just a toy. If you put it in perspective compared to other prepping gear such as quality firearms, then $800 to $1500 or so for a bike that won't let you down is not unreasonable.

  5. $1100 ! $1100 !!

    That's the point! I can buy a car for $1100. I can buy a years supply of food for a family of four for $1100. These are good bikes, I agree but for the most part they are marginally better then a cheap bike and not 10 times better. The story title is "bug out bikes" not bikes to make you look rich or bikes to ride with the elite, or bikes for the tour de France. What is needed is a cheap bike to help you carry more and cover distance easier and faster. Not race at breakneck speed on the open road or jump rock in slickrock country. All of these things are "toys" but some are grossly overpriced toys and price alone does not make them better. The high price "excludes" them from consideration.

  6. It's a tool. Like any other tool you get what you pay for, and price is all a matter of perspective. The point of the post is that there are some really capable high quality bikes out there that are well-suited to the purpose of bugging out, dependably carrying a heavy load over long distances and in rough conditions.

    Again, as I mentioned in the last comment, these are not racing bikes or bikes designed to "jump rocks" or do stunts. They are made to travel and carry a load an not break down when you need them most.

    An $1100 dollar bike is not an "elite" bike that makes you look rich. Entry-level aluminum-frame road bikes start at that range, but most halfway serious cyclist who train hard and do some racing are on carbon framed machines costing anywhere from $2000 to $5000. Some much more. Go into a bike shop and be prepared for sticker shock. And even those prices are not even close to what a bike that could be competitive in the Tour de France would cost.

    But again, as I said before, you can buy a cheap and strong bike that will do the job, and the best way to do that is to buy used. They come up on Craigslist all the time, because most people who spend big money to buy nice bikes never ride them. Much better to buy a used bike that was built well in the first place than any department store bike that truly is a toy.

  7. Great post Scott. In my book, bikes are a REALLY good bug out option, ESPECIALLY if you:

    1) live in the city
    2) live alone or perhaps just with your spouse or 1 roommate
    3) are in decent shape.

    Bikes are real prepping. Perfect for gridlock. Perfect for fuel shortage. Strong believer. I live in the Rocky Mountains now so I don't have a bike, but when my wife and I lived in San Diego, we both had bikes. Our bug out plan was bike to boat--since we were just a couple miles up the hill from the harbor.

  8. Dan,

    You are absolutely right about those three reasons for incorporating bikes in a bug out plan. For those concerned about the costs as in the comments above, I want to stress again the idea of finding a quality used bike rather than a cheaper new bike that will fall apart with hard use. Deals are out there. I just scored a Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike on Craigslist in like new condition for far less than a new one. A bike like that will last a lifetime with proper maintenance.

  9. Thanks for the info on the bike as a bug out vehicle. It really makes sense to have something that is powered by your own efforts. Kind of like a sail boat perhaps. No gasoline required.

  10. Thanks for the comment George. Yes, especially in a long-term event, human or wind-powered vehicles have lots of obvious advantages.

  11. That orange bike could do with some hearty suspension and off-road tyres. I think the viability of a bike as a bug out vehicle would largely depend on your location. Definite advantages in the right situation. Great read, thanks!

  12. Thanks Sean. One good thing about most of the Surly bikes and especially the Troll pictured above and the Long Haul Trucker is that the frames will accommodate wide, off-road tires. There are lots of options for good tires that will fit these. The problem with suspension is that it adds a lot of weight and takes away some of the energy transferred to the pedals. Good for some situations, but all around, I prefer rigid frames. You can always stand up when the going gets rough. But as you said, it all depends on location and situation.

  13. Husky offers this airless foam tire. It is a tire --- not a foam tube that goes inside a bicycle tire. I use airless tires ...

  14. I've had a "Specialized" brand touring bike now for going on 13 years, and it's been absolutely perfect! I think I paid around $350-400 for it back then and it's still going strong. Of course I don't put 1000 (or more) miles on it every year like some do. I've got tires with, umm, what's it called, puncture resistant gatorskin type inserts. I don't try to go over glass, but on occasion it happens, and so far so good. I've got a panier in back and a basket in front, and can carry a whole lotta goods from the farmer's market or grocery expedition. I think it would do nicely in a pinch as a bug out vehicle! Thanks for the good idea!

  15. Having reliable transportation that wont require fuel will be a great asset after the SHTF. Having a working bicycle and being fit enough to ride it over distance may be your best option to get out of dodge.

  16. Good article. However $1100 is a bit costly. Plus that surly has disc brakes. not as easy to repair or replace as say, calliper brakes. Best thing is to get a cheap steel frame bike and mount your own components on it as you see fit. The advantage over higher priced aluminium or carbon based frames is anyone with welding equipment can repair it. especially important I think in a survival situation. Cheap in this case is good.

  17. See my artical in the latest Prepper and Shooter magazine. My son and I Bugged Out on or Bicycles!



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