Unlike horses and other farm animals, bicycles do not require any food, or water, or pasture, or daily care. They also don’t generate any garden manure and that could be either a plus or a minus depending on your situation. And a bicycle is ready to go the instant you need it, even if an EMP blast disables other modes of transportation. A bicycle can be stored for decades with just a little oil on its chain and on its other moving parts. In the event of a serious worldwide catastrophe, a bicycle may become extremely useful in two important ways: (1) transportation between locations, and (2) as a pack mule.
TRANSPORTATION: Depending on the type of worldwide catastrophe, transportation may or may not be necessary or even desirable. However, if it is necessary and automobiles are not available for some reason, then a bicycle will enable a person to cover distances easier and faster than walking. A person can walk about 3 miles per hour but a bicycle can easily cover between 10 to 30 miles per hour, depending on the road conditions (hills, etc.) and the physical fitness of the rider.
PACK MULE: When forced into service as a pack mule, an adult human male can carry about 30 pounds and still be able to walk 2 or 3 miles per hour. However, most bicycles will allow the rider to add about 20 pounds to the front wheel and about 30 pounds to the rear wheel for a total of about 50 pounds plus the rider. If the rider is willing to walk beside the bicycle and push the bicycle, then a typical adult bicycle could be loaded with 200 to 250 pounds of supplies and equipment strapped to the metal frame of the bike. [JWR Adds: When doing so fro more than a short distance, it is useful to lash a stout broomstick or a 5+ foot length from a sapling on to the handlebars, to provide a solid surface to push against with equal pressure of both hands, as well as leverage for keeping the front wheel pointed in the desired direction.]
Or a bicycle trailer could be attached to the rear of the bicycle and the rider could add about 100 pounds of supplies onto the bicycle trailer. You could purchase a special bike trailer or you could convert a two-seater child trailer into an equipment trailer by replacing the children’s compartment with a large lockable waterproof plastic storage box securely mounted between the two trailer wheels. If you use a rear mounted bike trailer to transport supplies and it is not lockable, then you need to be very careful when you travel through an area where there are other people. People will steal things off your rear bike trailer when you aren’t looking or while you are being intentionally distracted by one of their associates. This type of theft can be prevented by using a locking waterproof plastic storage box bolted to your trailer instead of just strapping things down to a basic flatbed trailer.
Even if you are walking and pushing a fully loaded bike, you can still occasionally stand with your RIGHT foot on the LEFT pedal and lean the bike gently away from you at a slight angle to maintain its balance, and then coast down a hill or incline while operating your hand brakes to keep the bike at a safe speed.
A bicycle will allow you to cover more ground with more supplies and equipment with less fatigue, and this could make a significant difference in your chances of survival. Even if you do not anticipate the need for transportation during a worldwide catastrophe, a bicycle would still be a good investment in the event you were forced to become a refugee for some unexpected reason and your automobile was not available. Anyone could be forced into the life of a refugee due to events beyond his or her control, such as forest fires, or floods, or drought that results in dry wells, or enemy soldiers with heavy artillery who are destroying all the homes they find.
Two or three-hundred pounds of supplies and equipment is not a lot but it could keep one person alive for one-year (or longer) depending on how wisely you selected your items and how successful you were at supplementing your food supplies with hunting, trapping, fishing, foraging, and growing simple vegetables from seeds such as corn and beans and tomatoes. Growing pinto beans or kidney beans is a lot easier than searching for wild edible plants. For some additional information on seeds, please see my article entitled “How to Harvest, Process, and Store Vegetable Seeds”
Bike Style: Any style adult bicycle is acceptable. This includes mountain bikes and road bikes. I recommend a bike with a fixed rigid rear wheel as opposed to a spring mounted rear wheel. The advantage of a spring mounted rear wheel is that it helps to absorb road shocks and not transmit their full force to the saddle. The advantage of a fixed rear wheel is that you can install a more substantial rear luggage rack over the rear wheel.
Folding bikes are also nice and eBay has them for $200 or less. However, unless you really need a folding bike, a normal fixed frame bike is probably a better investment and it will probably last longer before needing repairs.
All bicycles need roads or paths or trails or some other relatively smooth unobstructed surface to ride on. Therefore don’t buy a mountain bike simply because you think you will be riding through wilderness areas. If you are in a thick forest, you will be walking beside your bike and picking it up and carrying it over obstacles, such as fallen trees. Almost any type of bike works fine when you are walking beside it.
Price: You can purchase a bike at a specialty bike shop or at a store such as WalMart. If you make your purchase at a bike shop you may discover you are paying a premium for the bike because bikes, bike accessories, and bike repairs are the only source of revenue for the bike shop. However, a store like Walmart has a standard markup on most of its items and their profit on bicycles is not that much different from anything else in the store. At Walmart you can usually find a really nice selection of good bikes for under $200. If you look carefully, you can also find several below $100 and a few below $75. If you go to a bike shop, the bikes usually start at $200 and quickly jump to $300 or $400 and some are even priced at $800, $1,200 and $2,000. The final decision on how much you wish to spend on a bike is up to you, but I think you could get a very, very nice bicycle for less than $200. (Note: I have a $59 ten-speed bike that I purchased 10 years ago from Walmart and I am still very happy with it.) Many, but not all, of the accessories mentioned below can also be purchased at a very reasonable price at stores such as Walmart. However some items must be purchased or ordered through a specialty bike shop or purchased off the Internet.
Gears or Speeds: A bicycle with three or more speeds is highly desirable. A bicycle operates the same way an automobile does. If you only had ONE gear in your car, you would NOT be very happy with the performance of your car. With three or more gears in your car, the car can shift gears as you gain speed and improve the performance of your car. If you encounter a really steep hill, the car can shift into a lower gear. The same principle applies to bikes. Many, many years ago there were only single-speed bikes. To demonstrate the advantage of the newly invented three-speed bike a simple road test was conducted. An adult male racing champion was allowed to ride his favorite one-speed bike but a petite female was given a three-speed bike. The race was over a typical course involving some hills and some decent stretches of level ground. The young lady literally beat the socks off the professional male bike racer because she had three gears to pick from. She could pick the best gear for climbing a hill and a different gear for maximum speed on level ground. The professional bike racer only had one gear and he couldn’t keep up with the lady even though he had substantially more strength in his leg muscles. That simple two-person race resulted in the end of single-speed bicycles in professional bicycle races.
The Optimum Number of Speeds: Any number of speeds between 3 to 21 will yield good performance. The total number of speeds is not as important as a person might expect.
A three-speed bike has one front gear and three rear gears. All three speeds work just fine.
A ten-speed bike has two front gears and five rear gears for a total of ten combinations. However, each front gear works best with the three (or four) gears closest to it on the rear. So the RIGHT front gear works best with the three RIGHT gears on the rear wheel. And the LEFT front gear works best with the three LEFT gears on the rear wheel. Therefore, even though the bike has ten possible speeds, somewhere between six to eight speeds are used most often. The reason is chain crossover. If you use a front gear on the far right with a rear gear on the far left, then the chain is at a bad angle and the chain undergoes excessive tension and chain wear and other chain problems are more likely, such as chain breakage. Therefore, most bike riders use the three or four rear gears that are most closely aligned with the front gear currently in use.
A 21-speed bike has three front gears and seven rear gears for a total of 21 options. However, based on the previous discussion, somewhere between 9 to 12 of those options are high quality combinations that minimize chain wear.
Therefore, a three-speed bike has three good gear combinations, a ten-speed bike has about six really good gear combinations, and a 21-speed bike has about nine really good gear combinations. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with a good ten-speed bike. I have a ten-speed bike and I really like it. I also have a 21-speed bike and I like it too. I suggest that you select a bicycle based on factors other than the number of “total” possible speed combinations.
Brakes: Hand operated braking systems are really nice. Rubber brake pads and disk brakes both work well in my opinion. Don’t let a bike salesperson talk you into a bike with disk brakes unless that bike also has all the other features you really need. You should also purchase a spare set of brake pads for your front and rear wheels. There are two basic sizes so look at the ones on your bike before you purchase your spare brake pads. Bicycle brakes will wear out before the other parts on your bicycle, just like the brakes on your car will wear out and need to be replaced several times during the life of your car. Spare brake pads cost between $4 to $6 for a set of two rubber pads.
Tire Size: A 26-inch tire is a very good choice for adults. Some individuals prefer a 24-inch tire and that is also a very popular tire size. A 27-inch tire is also an option but in a disaster situation it may be very difficult to find replacement parts for a 27-inch tire.
Tire Design: Any standard tire design will be okay. Smooth tires and knobby tires each have certain advantages but your choice of a good bike should probably be based on factors other than the design of the tire tread. All the different tire designs work reasonably well in most situations, although some are superior for specific applications.
Bike Comfort and Riding Fatigue: When selecting a new bike there are two related issues that should be considered: (1) comfort, and (2) riding fatigue.
Most of us grew up riding a bike and we already know what feels right and what doesn’t. To evaluate a new bike you should sit on the seat and then lean forward slightly and put your hands and some of your weight on the front handlebars, with your arms slightly bent at the elbows. If you feel comfortable in this position then the bike is worthy of further consideration. Remember that the seat height is adjustable and if you need to move the seat up or down to improve your comfort then that is really easy to do on today’s modern bicycles.
Don’t let a thin skinny bike seat influence your decision about comfort because you can easily replace the seat for about $20. It is the rest of the bike that can’t be easily modified. The seat design issue will be discussed in more detail below.
Some individuals, such as professional racers, prefer a really low set of handlebars so they can lean forward to an almost horizontal position to minimize wind resistance. However, in this position you must tilt your head and neck backwards so you can see ahead. This position is not comfortable for many people.
When you are standing upright astride your bicycle with both feet on the ground the center bar should not make contact with your groin area.
Most new bikes have the adjustable seat in a low position so the prospective customer can sit on the seat and put both feet on the ground to stabilize the bike. This is the seat position from which most of us learned to ride and it is the way we teach our children to ride. It is very easy to start and stop a bike if both of your feet can touch the ground when you are stopped. There is nothing wrong with this seat position and it works well for short riding distances when there are frequent stops. However this low seat position will result in your becoming tired more quickly if you are riding a long distance.
To find the best seat height to minimize long distance riding fatigue you will need to sit on the bicycle seat and extend one leg straight down to one of the pedals in its lowest position. When you are sitting on the seat the pedal in the down position should allow you to fully straighten your leg. This means you will have to get OFF the seat when you stop so you can put your feet on the ground and keep your bike upright. To minimize fatigue and maximize power while riding your legs need to be straight when each pedal is in the full down position. Adjust the height of the seat by trial and error until you find the optimum seat height that is just right for you. However, unless you anticipate long distance bike rides, there is no need to raise the seat and you can leave the seat in a low position so both your feet can touch the ground when you are stopped.
Seat or Saddle ($20): If your bike comes with a standard slim style racing seat, I suggest you consider replacing it with a Wide Bottom Gel Seat. Your rear end will be spending a lot of time on this seat and those thin seats are not comfortable for an extended ride, in my opinion.
Kickstand: The kickstand should be long enough to support the bicycle in an almost vertical position when on level ground. If the kickstand is too short then the bicycle will fall over when a front wheel luggage rack and saddlebags are added as an accessory.
Pedals: Most bikes have good pedals and you will probably not need to replace them. This is one area where an upgrade is definitely not recommended.
Gasoline Engine or Battery Power: I have looked at adding either a gasoline engine or a battery powered motor to my bicycle many, many times during the past five years. Each time I decided not to invest in either option. Their range is usually 30 miles or less and their speed is usually 30 mph or less. Both types of motors take up space and weight behind your seat that could be used to store other more useful items. Instead of motorizing your bicycle, I suggest that you use the power in your legs unless: (1) you are unable to do so, or (2) you intend to use your bike for daily commuting back and forth to your current place of employment to save a little gas money.
Bike Tool ($13)): The bike mega ultra-tool is a special bike tool that includes all the tools and accessories needed to perform minor (or major) repairs to your bike if it should require service while you are on the road. At a retail price of about $13 this tool is a real bargain.
Tire Patches ($2): For emergency repair of a flat tire.
Air Gauge ($3 to $25): A dial gauge is usually more accurate than a stick gauge. However, they are also more expensive. If money is an issue, a simple automobile tire gauge will do the job. A bicycle tire requires a LOT more air pressure than an automobile tire because the surface area of the tire that actually makes contact with the road is very small.
Small Storage Bag That Fits Under the Seat ($7) (or attach it to the front handlebar): Use it to store your special bike tool, a Leatherman type tool, a 6-inch adjustable crescent wrench, an air gauge, tire patches, a small can of Three-in-One oil inside a small plastic freezer bag, a small LED flashlight, a good folding stainless steel pocket knife, a butane lighter, a small good quality first aid kit, and any special tools such as little hex wrenches that come with any accessories you install on your bicycle.
Air Pump ($8 to $25): A necessity, in my opinion. The hand pump model that attaches to the side of the bike frame is really nice. I also have a smaller more compact air pump but it does not work as well as the mid-size air pump that attaches to the side of the bike frame. Some bikes have predrilled threaded holes for attaching the special air pump holder and some bikes do not. If your bike doesn’t have the predrilled threaded holes you can attach the air pump holder to your bike using two Velcro straps.
Rear Luggage Rack ($20 to $35): My suggestion is to avoid the rear luggage rack that mounts ONLY to the seat post. However, if you have a spring mounted rear wheel bike then this may be your only option. My preference is a rear luggage rack with TWO downward metal supports on EACH side that attach to the frame of the bicycle just above your rear axle. It will support more weight than a seat post mounted luggage rack. These luggage racks can be mounted to the rear frame of most bikes using the pre-threaded holes just above the rear axle. The holes are generally either 5mm or 6mm and when you add a lock washer they eliminate the need for an inside nut to hold the luggage rack to the rear frame. An inside nut could get in the way of the chain when it tries to make contact with the outside rear gear. If your bike has a rear hole that it is not threaded, then you can add threads by purchasing one or two extra bolts of the correct diameter and screwing them into the opening to thread the hole. This may damage the threads on those bolts but if they are extra bolts then you can simply toss them in the trash when you are done. Or you could use a tap and die set to thread the holes. Luggage racks can be purchased at your local bicycle shop or they can be purchased over the internet.
Front Luggage Rack ($15 to $30): Adds about 20 pounds of extra storage capacity to the front of your bike. It can be used for any item, but it is best suited for bulky light weight items such as extra clothing and a blanket or a sleeping bag and a small pillow. Do not put too much weight over your front wheel or you may find your bicycle difficult to steer. Some bikes have mounting holes just above the front axle. Neither of my bikes had those holes so I used 3-inch long predrilled braces to mount the rack on the front of each bike. (Necessity is the mother of invention.) If you are looking for a new bike then I suggest that you examine the front fork to see if it has the predrilled holes just above the front axle for installing a front luggage rack. After you mount your front luggage rack and put a few things onto it, you may discover that your bicycle falls over. This is because the kickstand that came with your bike is too short. Install a longer kickstand and you will solve this problem.
Luggage Rack Design: The front and rear luggage racks are each uniquely designed for their specific application and you should not buy two of the same type in the belief that you can simply turn it end to end and make it fit on the opposite end of your bike. It won’t work. Each rack has it own special mounting hardware designed specifically for one end of the bike. You will need one rack for the rear and a different but similar design for the front.
Saddlebags or Panniers ($30 to $200 per pair): Bicycle side saddlebags are called panniers. I have three different brands, including Jandd and Ortlieb. Ortlieb was the most expensive of the three brands and I bought a pair of them due to their most excellent reviews on the internet. However, they are NOT my favorite panniers. My personal preference is the Jandd Economy Pannier. The Jandd Economy Panniers have good quality workmanship and materials, they attach quickly, easily, and securely to either the front or the rear luggage racks, they have a zipper closure, they are rain proof, they are really easy to open and close, and their design makes it easy to store and remove items from the panniers. If I purchase any more panniers they will all be the Jandd Economy Panniers. Panniers can be special ordered through your local bicycle shop or they can be purchased over the Internet. The Jandd Economy Panniers can be purchased at this web site:
Bungee Cords and Cargo Nets ($2 to $6): Saddlebags can be used to store items on both sides of your luggage racks. However, you can also secure items to the top flat surface of each luggage rack using elastic bungee cords and/or cargo nets. They also make specially designed panniers for use on top of these racks, but I prefer the flexibility of being able to secure my own personal survival backpack onto the top of the rear luggage rack and my sleeping bag on top of the front luggage rack.
Water Bottle (Optional): Attaches to the frame in the center of the bike. I bought one out of curiosity but I only bought one. In a refugee situation the small amount of water in the bottle would NOT last very long. A person would be far better off with a quality water filter such as the Swiss Katadyn Pocket Water Filter. It will process up to 13,000 gallons of water for drinking purposes and it is about the same size as the water bottle designed for bicycle mounting. If you should become a refugee, then one of your most important problems EVERY day will be a fresh supply of safe drinking water. The Katadyn Pocket Water Filter will easily solve this problem for several YEARS. There are LOTS of other cheaper water filters available that are advocated by a wide variety of individuals, but they will only process a few hundred gallons of water before they wear out. If you should become a refugee, then your family will be depending on you for EVERYTHING, and water should not be one of your daily problems. In my opinion, everyone should become as educated as possible about water and its importance. I suggest you review the information available on my web site about “How to Find Water and Make It Safe to Drink.
It is a very long read but it contains information that could save your life one day.
Speedometer: I prefer a non-electric speedometer. However, the one I purchased would only fit on one of my bikes. Although a battery-operated speedometer would have worked on my other bike, I decided I really didn’t want one of those. You need to make your own decision on whether or not you need a speedometer.
Shoes: Most bike shops sell special bicycle shoes. You may buy a pair if you wish. However, your normal walking shoes will do just fine if they do NOT have a flat smooth sole. Your normal walking shoes should have ribbed or tread type soles for traction while walking. This type of sole will also make positive contact with the pedals on your bike and prevent your foot from slipping off the pedal when in motion. Since you will not be riding all the time, a quality set of footwear will need to function as walking shoes in addition to riding shoes. Your shoes are a VERY important consideration because the shoes you are wearing when you first become a refugee will probably be the only pair of shoes you possess for several years. I suggest you research the shoe issue very carefully and purchase a really good pair of quality walking shoes instead of an expensive pair of high performance bicycle shoes.
Helmet: If you like the bicycle style helmets, then buy the one that appeals to you. However, a motorcycle helmet is a better investment, in my opinion. Just walk over to the automotive section and they usually have nice motorcycle helmets for $90 or less. During the past 50 years I have had occasional rare accidents with bicycles and motorcycles and, in my opinion, a helmet is an absolutely NECESSARY piece of safety equipment.
Other Safety Equipment: You may invest in other typical bicycle safety items, such as elbow pads, knee pads, and gloves as you believe appropriate.
Rain Gear: A good rain suit is a nice thing to have. It consists of a waterproof upper, usually with an attached hood, and a waterproof pair of pants. You will need waterproof pants if you intend to ride your bike in the rain. If you already have a good waterproof jacket of some type, then waterproof pants will complete your outfit.
Bicycle Lock: Always take your bike INSIDE wherever you happen to be and lock it securely so it can’t be stolen. If you leave your bike outside, even locked to a bike stand, you will eventually discover that there are some people who will intentionally disable your bike or steal stuff off your bike. You really don’t need those kinds of problems.
Headlight: I have a battery-operated halogen headlight on one of my bikes. It uses two standard C cell batteries. I was NOT impressed with the headlight so I did not install one on my other bike.
Oil: I normally use whatever I have available, such as motor oil or Three-in-One oil. I put a little oil on the chain, the gears, and the axles before I put the bike in storage. This consists of hanging the bike on a bike hook from the ceiling of the garage. This may not be the best way to store a bike but it has not caused me or my bike any problems for over ten years.
Child Carrier Seats: There are several different types of child carrier seats. Let’s look at three different models.
The first child seat ($40) mounts behind the rider’s seat and it replaces the rear luggage rack. Therefore I don’t recommend this type, unless you have two small children and for some reason you must install Two child seats on one bike. If you have two children then the third option below is a better choice.
The second option is a child seat ($45) that mounts between the front handlebar stem and the rider’s seat post. This puts the child where you can see the child at all times and it positions the child so the child can see where you are going, regardless of whether you are riding or walking beside the bicycle.
The third option is a two-seat child carrier ($110) that attaches to the rear of the bike.
If you are forced into a refugee situation and you have small children then a bicycle would allow you to travel relatively quickly with your young children. Young children cannot walk very far before they become tired and they need to be either carried or transported. Carrying children is not a good option if it can be avoided.
The best solution would be to have one front mount child seat per adult or teenager bicycle. However, in an emergency, one adult could transport up to four small children on one bicycle and the adult could either ride or walk beside the bike. One child could go in the forward child’s seat (mounted between the handlebars and the rider’s seat), one child could go in a child’s seat mounted behind the rider’s seat, and two small children could fit in a child trailer attached to the rear of the bicycle. If one person had to transport four small children using one bicycle then there would be very little space left over for food, supplies, and equipment, but your primary responsibility in this type of emergency situation would be the immediate safety of your children.
If you perceive a situation where you would need to transport several children on one bicycle, then you should also consider installing a quality set of heavy duty children’s rear training wheels on each side of your bicycle to help keep your bicycle upright at all times.
Different bike enthusiasts have different opinions about the advantages and disadvantages of every possible type of bicycle and bicycle accessory. I am not a bike enthusiast. I am just an ordinary person who has ridden bicycles for more than 50 years, beginning with a single-speed bike, and then a three-speed, and then a ten-speed, and then a 21-speed. The above is just my opinion and it is nothing more than my opinion. Before you invest in a bicycle you should research this topic very carefully and collect a variety of different opinions and then make your own decision based on what is best for your particular situation and your anticipated riding conditions.
Before you spend any money on a bicycle you should first make a list of the different bicycles that are available along with their prices, and a list of the different options and accessories you wish to purchase for your bike. Then add up the total cost and determine whether or not you can afford it. If not, then reconsider the bike, the options, and the accessories based on need and not simply desire.
Finally, I strongly recommend the purchase of the following book: “Bicycle Maintenance & Repair,” 5th Edition, by Todd Downs. I suggest you place this book inside a two-gallon plastic freezer bag and store it inside one of the rear saddlebags on your bicycle. Bicycle maintenance and repair is not complicated if you know what to do. A typical bicycle has a variety of different simple adjustments that can be made and knowing the correct sequence of adjustments is very important. This book, plus your bicycle multi-tool and your Leatherman type tool and your 6-inch adjustable wrench, will help you keep your bicycle operational until it eventually wears out from old age.
One place where you can begin to acquire additional knowledge about bicycles is Sheldon Brown’s web site.
His web site contains a lot of information and you should read the articles that are of interest to you. When you are finished reading you will be able to make a superior choice about the type of bicycle that is just right for you.
I truly hope you will never need your bicycle except for recreational purposes. However, if world events should unfold in an unexpected fashion, then your bicycle would allow you to take your most important survival possessions with you if you were suddenly forced into becoming a refugee and your car was not available for some unexpected reason. In my opinion, the best option would be not becoming a refugee, if it is avoidable. However, if the choice were between certain death or life as a refugee, then I would select the life of a refugee. A good bicycle would significantly improve a person’s chances of survival in that type of situation. Respectfully, – Grandpappy