Six Letters Re: Bicycles as Bug-Out and Utility Vehicles
Firstly I wish there were at least as many bicycle articles and questions on SurvivalBlog as gun posts. As a gun maker, gunsmith, firearm owner, and combat user I still put a fancy semi-auto combat rifle below a decent bicycle for most people’s survival purchase priorities. Let me offer a contrarian viewpoint on the priority of complete firearm battery in your survival shopping list. Obtain some snares, a quality .22 semi-auto, and a few thousand rounds of ammo, a few months of food and cooing fuel, basic camping/shelter gear and then get a decent bicycle. It is quite possible to hunt for meat and drive off most random bandits with a .22, just remember when money becomes available that you can do much better once you have other very important categories squared away. As I usually try to squeeze into all of my posts, survivalism is not being a Navy SEAL, a SWAT team, or even a gun collector, it is about surviving. Someone that confuses their gun, ham radio, equestrian, medieval weapon, or other hobby for survivalism leads to misplaced priorities and funds that are better spent on important preparations.
When cruising bike shops, thrift stores, and police auctions consider the following:
Don’t worry about the state of the tires, since you will probably replace them even on a new bike. Learn how to recognize a good set of rims and a well built wheel with good spokes, this is a major failure area, they should be round and when spun roll freely and not move to the left and right(small deviations can be fixed by an expert adjusting the spokes). Road rims are often too light for survival use but are quite nice if you know you will be touring on well paved road, for our purposes though stick to the more universal 26-inch heavy mountain rims. Unless you are an expert on servicing shock absorbers go for a hard tail and solid forks, the majority of discount bikes have junk springs and no oil dampeners and are a weak point in the design. Good long life shocks for big guys can be around $300 or more in my experience (I weight over 200 pounds), anything less has left me with blown seals even in moderate to heavy utility use.
Handlebars are more important than most leisure riders would think, long rides will make you want more hand positions than a straight mountain bike handlebar offers, rams head bars or at least wrapped ‘horns’ give you a place to reposition and rest your hands on long rides. Good bike gloves really help here too. Some conversations with bike mechanics, test driving bicycles, and visiting bicycle nut boards (just like gun nut boards) will help you know which types of brakes, shifters, cables, dérailleurs, and other components are good and which are junk. Especially examine the rear dérailleur and dérailleur hanger on used bikes for breakage and the front dérailleur for chain wear, replace and stock quality brake pads and cable. You will be replacing any used chain, keep your chain clean and oiled with proper oil, carry and learn how to use a chain breaker tool, stockpile quality chain and bicycle chain oil; these are big barter items.
A worn chain will wear down the sprockets, look for saw tooth shaped sprocket teeth and if present replace the gear cassette. In flat country a single speed bicycle with coaster brakes is the best choice since it is nearly maintenance free, but consider a good gear range set if a bug out to mountainous territory is a possibility, remembering that once gears are involved, even the best expensive internal hubs are less reliable than a simple single speed. There has been a fad of fixed gear, a web search will tell you more, my opinion is that it just moves the mechanical stress to your legs an knees, fine if you are 16 years old but not if you are 40. You will be repacking all of the wheel and crank bearings with quality bearing grease on a used bicycle, I use marine grade grease hoping it will be more waterproof.
Check the frame for stress cracks and dents from accidents, especially aluminum or exotic frames. Steel frames can be welded or brazed especially in a low stress area, Aluminum and exotic composition repairs are best left to experts or thrown out. Buy and have spares for your bicycle saddle, get a performance seat not a lazy-boy fat seat, test out several but remember that your butt will get used to a performance seat after a while, but a far comfort seat might make it harder to aggressively pedal. Men be sure to get something that protects your ‘family’ anatomy. A seat that is too hard and regular pressure can damage your tissue and circulation leading to dysfunction, especially on bumpy roads. It is possible to rebuild a saddle with full grain cowhide, especially if you find someone skilled in shoe making, I don’t like rear shocks because of weight and cost but I do use a spring saddle to protect my spine from big road shocks. I always stay away from the cheap toy/department store bicycles and their dismal components, there is no realist upgrade path for this junk other than replacement so avoid it unless you have no alternative, any bike is better than no bike, if you are stuck you could always make it into a one speeder coaster brake bike, eliminating the cheap unreliable gears.
Buy the best tires and tubes you can afford, this is where the rubber literally meets the road. Since I switched to Schwable Kevlar tires I have not had a flat in 3 years of hard urban commute, even using other high quality brands I usually needed to patch a tire at least once every other month over ten years of heavy rural and urban high mileage cycling, Schwables are also very long wear life tires. Knobby tires might sound good for mud, but they rob you of much rolling momentum on roads, Specialized brand Cross-Roads tires are a good compromise with knobby sides and a center strip for dry dirt, hardpan, and paved roads.
For a good example of a nearly ideal survival bicycle research the old Swiss military bicycles. If there is a possibility of hitchhiking there are tough quality folder bikes available, never discount the utility of grabbing a free ride over your own muscle power, even in TEOTWAWKI. Try to stick to a bike with quality standard components which can be improvised or scavenged from junked bicycles if required. After doing some solid research you will still need to invest some money to get a good bicycle most of the time, new expect to spend a minimum of $300 list price, do not waste your money at toy or discount stores, either buy quality used and have service done at a competent local bike shop or let them help you pick out something new, just like buying a firearm.
You will need to carry a repair kit at all times including a good pump, quality patches (I use Rema Tip-Top), a spare tube in case the valve stem is damaged or you cant patch the hole, tire levers, and a folding bike tool I like the Crank Brothers multi tools which include spoke, chain, hex and screwdrivers and more. Swap in your good tube and patch the hole when you are in a comfortable place. If you are really in the rough carrying a folding tire in your pannier might be worth the weight versus walking, tubes, patches, and tires are serious stockpile and barter items. Buy a quality helmet, ankle strap, gloves, and lights, since in most scenarios you will be sharing the road.
There are many more considerations and much research is required to buy, build, or rebuild a good survival cycle, there is plenty of info on discussion boards to help you but start at http://www.sheldonbrown.com/ Sheldon Browns bicycle mechanic web site, he is no longer with us but his genius will continue to help cyclists.
Since this is SurvivalBlog we must discuss firearms carry on a cycle, this is my personal experience and YMMV. Handguns should be worn high and tight just below the kidney area of the back, I use a belt pancake holster just behind where the hipbone sticks out, it is most comfortable on long rides and probably the safest place for a large handgun in a fall. Rifles are best carried in an ATV handlebar gun rack pointed forward mounted on the handlebars. Any other attachment of AR-15 family or larger rifles that I can think of would just get in the way anywhere else, although the US military mounts rifles to the top tube with their Montague full-size folding bikes, I have never used a mount like this. A slung rifle will fall forward and/or rub. For those readers with access to full-auto pistol style SMGs like the mini or micro-Uzi in some sort of holster attached to the handlebars might be an option to spray bad guys in a surprise ambush.
Many of the readers will consider their bicycle either a vital part of their bug-out-bag or even a secondary bug-out vehicle so carrying cargo is important to discuss. BOB trailers and kid carriers are good for open roads, but an overly wide trailer can make moving a bicycle onto sidewalks and between cars difficult to impossible even in normal times. Cycling with anything past a light comfortable backpack leads to fatigue. Panniers and rack and handlebar mounting is the best option for gear, let your bicycle shoulder the weight, there many options available on discussion boards. It is important to remember that your loading should not get in the way of quick defensive firearms access.
For those who are considering adding a small motor I suggest buying a scooter or dirt bike instead. Battery and gas assist motors add to the weight of the bicycle, get in the way, and are quite expensive, not to mention the lack of electricity or fuel in a serious society collapse. one exception would be that initial bug out would be accomplished by gas motor add on and then remove it for utility uses, this would not cause the long term stress on the bicycle wheel and might be reasonable. – David in Israel
I’ve admired your site for a while. It is very informative.
In response to your listed article about bug-out bicycling, It would greatly benefit anyone following that strategy to investigate GreenTyre. They sell poly-ply, airless tires that last for years. A little hard for the novice to install, but very much worth it without sacrificing ride quality.
Just an FYI from a blog reader. – JHF
I saw the article on bikes on the blog. Thought I’d toss the web site for AirFreeTires into the mix. They make great tires–I have them on my Specialized mountain bike, a couple of 1960s vintage Schwinn bikes, a couple of my wheelbarrows, …you get my drift. If I could, my farm tractor, garden tractor, etc. would be equipped with these things Take care and God bless you and your family. You are doing good work. – Tom S.
A reminder to make sure to bring your lock for your “bug out” bike. Some young guy rode off on my husband’s bike a few years ago, and he had to run after him, and jerk him off the back of the bike to get it back. Then some other guys hollered at him to ask what was going on, so he yelled back that the guy was stealing his bike, and the guys then laughed and forgot about it. At the time, there were no emergencies going on, and it happened a few years before the “recession”. So if there’s no gas available, or the limited gas is really high priced with long lines like it was when we evacuated in advance of Hurricane Rita, bikes will look pretty good to those without transportation. (Yes, we both had locks on our bikes for the Hurricane Rita evacuation).
I should mention that our truck had two tire blowouts during the evacuation, so we now have an extra mounted tire available to throw in the bed of the truck if we have to evac/bug out. Those inflate-a-tire cans won’t do much for shredded tires. And my husband checks [the two spare] tires every spring when I do hurricane prep[aration checks and supply refurbishment].- Sheila
I just read the article on Bicycles as Bug-Out and Utility Vehicles. I’ve been on vacation by bicycle in Italy several times.
Always keep at least one spare tire and at least 4 inner tubes with you on multi-day trips. Buy the tubes on different occasions at different stores. I once had a batch of four inner tubes that all leaked! Tubes are made in production batches and sometimes a production run goes terribly bad.
Also remember the experience in the Netherlands in the Second World War. Everybody was cycling around with wooden wheels [or even on bare rims] since there were no tires left. They are the hardest part to get in a SHTF scenario. Most other parts you can get by breaking apart other bikes but tires completely run out after a year. I have at least four tires of every type I need at home. I also have a 80 year-old very strong transportation bike which has tires that are extremely durable. Some postmen use these tires. (Called “transport, extra heavy”)
They cost a bit more (about 30 Euros per tire) but last easily 5+ years and for some reason they simply cannot get leaks in their inner tubes. I never had a flat in 15 years, only one tore apart because the inner tube was too old (!) and the bike was standing parked in full sun (so don’t do that ;-))
I use different types of tires for different types of functions. For everyday Utility I use my extra heavies, for speed racing I use very fast but fragile tires and on longer trips I use road touring tires. These are thicker and less fast but a flat tire will bring your daily speed down too. Don’t “save money” and buy bargain-priced tires because the more expensive ones are really worth it.
For parts: well, just use a bike with less parts for everyday use. After a long period they all run out, even yours. The best Utility bikes are in my opinion so called strong old quality “dutch bikes” with no gears, no handbrakes, no headaches. For inner city everyday use this is just perfect. On vacation I of course use a different bike. Light, strong and with 21 gears. I use and maintain it often. Grease is a good friend. If you use the bike often it pays back to initially spend a bit more on them. On vacation I take with me extra brake shoes, a gear cable and gear connector. With good gear I never had real problems. Also a basic multitool and bike gear (Allen keys, wrench 10, 12, 15, practice what you need). Install quicklock systems to have less nuts & bolts and to work faster and with less tools. I have hydraulic brakes which are very strong, reliable and never let me down in 10 years.
A mountain bike for bug-out is nice but heavy, not very fast and not very useable for long distances. You will get tired faster. Typical mountain bike tires offer more resistance and are far less fast. A mountain bike is of course very good to stay off road and for special ops. It depends on your situation, but I have very good roads everywhere, also on places were you will hardly meet anyone. I prefer asphalt roads along waterways for example. Speed is more important for me. Stay in front of the hordes and get out fast! I have a very light racing bike to keep me in shape which is part of my prepping. Maybe getting in shape is the first and far most important reason for having a bug-out bike at all.
I also keep a little bug-out bag stored with my racing bike with essential light weight survival gear (knife, Micron stove, Maglite, Katadyn water filter, etc.) and three days of preps. That should get me out 450 kilometers at least. Enough cash will buy me a place to stay and eat after that. If you go on vacation on a bicycle you will find out that there are always helpful people around when you arrive somewhere with a friendly face when I arrive sweaty and very tired.
I have respect for your blog! It has taught me a lot. I hope to do something in return by writing. Regards, – Jeroen in Holland
Be aware that AirfreeTires.com offers polyurethane microfoam tires that cannot go flat or blow out. I prefer these two varieties of tires:
They have little rolling resistance under my 280 lbs. I have used them since October, 2001. IMO the ride is comparable to Michelin Wildgripper Sprint 26×1.95.
Regards, – Vlad