Three Letters Re: Survival Bikes

Hey James;
I just want to comment regarding the article just posted about survival bikes.
It was a generally good article, but I have a few points of disagreement with the author.
The first point where I would disagree is in regard to the type of tubes he recommends.  His recommendation is bikes with Schrader valves as opposed to Presta.  I believe Presta valves to be far superior and more durable than the Schrader valve.  His reason for using the Schrader valve tube is that it is more universal.  While that is true, generally, most bicycle pumps have Presta valve adapters, and it is also possible to buy a small adapter that screws onto the Presta valve, that you can keep in your patch kit.  Another reason for picking the Presta valve tube is that most quality rims are drilled for Presta valves, not Schrader.   Presta valves also come with a small nut that tightens down and holds the Presta valve in a vertical position in relation to the rim.  This is important, because Schrader valves will shift, especially if the air pressure gets low and results in the rim actually cutting the valve stem.  Finally, a Schrader valve requires a plastic cap that keeps dirt and debris out of the valve body (which can cause the valve to leak).  These are easily lost.  A Presta valve can have a cap but it is not required, as there is a small nut, built into the valve, that tightens down and creates a very effective seal that prevents inadvertent release of air from the tube.   To sum it up, there is a reason why high-end bikes use Presta valved tubes almost exclusively: they are just better.
My second point is regarding suspension.  While his point regarding simplicity is well taken (and that is my reason for not having a suspension bike as my bug-out bike), there are some definite applications for at least a suspension fork on a bike: comfort.  A suspension makes for a much more comfortable ride and aids in control of the bike on rough terrain.  Riding a bike over a long distance can be brutal to your hands especially.  A suspension fork does much to alleviate this problem.  I would suggest simplicity in the fork design however, and would go for a fork that uses springs or elastomers over air or hydraulic….which will eventually have to have extensive maintenance to continue to function.   For a survival type bike, if rear suspension is desired, I would go for a suspension seat-post over a rear shock.  Again, virtually all modern bikes with full suspension utilize some form of hydraulic or air shock for the rear suspension.  That is a maintenance problem in a SHTF situation.
When it comes to tires, if you can afford them, get tires with a Kevlar bead that are foldable.  They take up much less space and are much lighter and easier to mount to the rims. They are also generally a better quality product.
When it comes to the bike’s components, (brakes, shifters, etc.), middle of the road is the way to go here.  You don’t want the top of the line components  (too expensive and sometimes what we call “stupid-light”), but you don’t want cheap.  Cheap components do not perform well, aren’t durable, hard to adjust and keep working and are just a pain in the neck in general.
A quality saddle is an absolute must.  And while this may be counterintuitive, you don’t want a big mushy sofa cushion type saddle.  It’s best to have a saddle with a moderate amount of padding that does not restrict movement.  You won’t find many of these in the $20 range. The $50-$70 is more likely. This is an area where you don’t want to cut corners, trust me.  A poorly designed saddle can put you in agony and actually do some pretty severe damage if you ride the bike a lot.  An anatomically designed saddle is a must here.
He mentions finding bikes at places like garage sales.  Not a bad idea, but one must exercise some caution here.  Yes, Chrome-Moly bikes are outstanding.  But some people don’t take proper care of them and the downside to Chrome-moly is rust and this can be hidden. I is not readily apparent to the naked eye.  So while older bikes can be a bargain, I’d steer away from any bike that has even a hint of rust or corrosion.  And while we are on this topic…another thing to watch out for would be damaged components..such as shifters and brakes.  These can be costly to repair, and can make a cheap bike into an expensive bike very quickly.  Some older bikes have components that are almost impossible to repair or find and the bike’s design may not accommodate the newer design components.   Bike maintenance can be learned, but some aspects of it are almost an art, especially when it comes to the bike shifting mechanism.  Another thing that you have to watch out for are badly worn chain-rings.  And then there is the matter of the wheels and hubs.  Sealed hubs are an absolute must.  The author mentioned quality rims and he is correct.  Used bikes can definitely be a good deal….you just have to be careful and know enough about bikes to be able to spot problems that the bike may have.  A cheap bike can turn into an expensive bike very quickly if you aren’t careful.
And I totally agree that big box department store bikes should be avoided at all costs.
I guess what I’m trying to say here, is that when one is considering a bike for a survival vehicle….especially if one is looking to use a bike as a bug-out vehicle, then cutting corners on the quality and condition of the bike is probably not a good idea.  I would compare it to the purchase of a cheap firearm.  You don’t want your firearm to fail you at a critical time.  And you don’t want the bike to fail you either.  This is another one of those cases where you truly do get what you pay for.  It is not necessary to take out a second mortgage to get a quality bike, but I think a person should not be afraid to spend $400-$500 for a good quality, recent model bike with decent components.  I recently sold a very nice Bianchi racing bike and then turned around a purchased a nice Hybrid (or city bike).  This bike is extremely versatile and I can even ride it off road, since I made sure that the rims and tires were adequate and designed for that.  I purchased the bike on sale from a reputable shop and only paid about $400 for it. (Normal retail was $600).  The key was, I purchased a bike that was not a popular color (brown)…but it was perfect for me, since it wasn’t flashy.  I immediately upgraded the saddle to a Brooks leather, which are incredibly comfortable once they are broken in.  And I recently purchased a trailer that is rated for 200 lb. load capacity.  It is my ultimate bug-out vehicle. What I would resort to if I had to get out of Dodge and fuel for my car was unavailable.  A person in reasonable condition can easily cover 50 miles a day on a bike and trailer combination like this.  And no person on foot could ever carry 200lbs on their back.  I could pack a lot of gear and food on this .  Both the bike and trailer will go in the back of my pickup.  So if the truck fails, or travel in a motor vehicle is impossible, then still have the bike.

Thanks James for your blog site and what you are doing.  I listen to you every chance I get on YouTube.  And I especially look forward to hearing you on Alex Jones.  I think you’ve been one of his best guests. – Mark L.

Banjo gave a very good introduction to bikes as useful/usable transportation in an emergency situation by Banjo. The author is correct and covers most pertinent points well. Just a few additions from me:

If you can find one, a steel-framed bike is potentially preferable to an aluminum frame for several reasons, including greater flexibility and, thus, resilience on bad roads or backcountry. The most pertinent in a survival situation is that it is much easier to weld steel than aluminum. Aluminum is more prone than steel to crack at the joints (welds) and if you’re covering rough country, you may encounter an break that can be repaired relatively easily via welding, although soldering is preferred for steel — and that’s even easier than welding.

As someone noted recently on SurvivalBlog, bicycle tubing can be relatively easily dismantled. If you want to carry an emergency stash of silver dimes or quarters or cartridges, for example, you can wrap it in something to insulate it (keep it from rattling) and stuff it down the seat post, in the handlebars, etc. If it’s in the handlebars, it’ll be even easier to access. Put the same mass in each end so it doesn’t unbalance the bike’s steering.

If you plan to use a trailer, practice riding the bike with the trailer loaded, whether it’s with a child or supplies. And make sure some of the practice rides are done with the people you plan to evacuate with. I haul my daughter around in a bicycle trailer frequently. We live close to stores, my wife’s office and other necessary stops, so we commute by bike when possible. It’s free (now that I have the bicycle) and I get some exercise. Recently my wife and I tried to take a ride together to the grocery store and she repeatedly got in front of me and stopped quickly, not realizing that with an extra 60 pounds of weight behind me, I wasn’t able to stop as quickly as she could. Also, at times my 3-year-old has managed to unbuckle her restraints, open the front of the trailer, and attempt to jump out. Plan ahead, know what you’re getting yourself into, and remediate as necessary. I am currently working on a fix to the child buckle situation. That kid is ingenious.

One minor correction: Banjo says tire rubber “actually ages just from exposure to air, so if you are really serious you can put a bunch of tires, tubes, and rim bands in a 55-gallon drum or something with nitrogen (sold at car-parts places to fill tires with) or at least an oxygen absorber.” Actually, bicycle racers sometimes purchase a stockpile of tires and intentionally let them age in a dark, dry environment. Aged tires are much more puncture resistant and long-lasting. Some of their elasticity goes away and they may not have the same non-slick qualities as a new tire, but they last. On my most recent bike, for example, I left one old tire mounted and replaced the other immediately due to obvious damage. Since then, I have replaced the new one twice due to wear, and fixed about 12 punctures on tubes for it. The old tire, which was probably 15-20 years old, hasn’t had a problem of any sort.

If nothing else, a bicycle is good transportation. I’ve personally done up to 140 miles per day on one while touring, but that was 26 years ago when I was significantly older. But if all else fails, you can also use the chain drive much as you would the power-take-off (PTO) on a tractor, to power a grain mill or many other tools, as JWR mentioned in his novel Patriots. I’ve even seen one used to operate a blender, if that’s high on your list of priorities.

Best of luck. Buy something high quality if possible, use it often, and learn how to change a tire. If you live in an urban area, buy something ugly but mechanically sound so it won’t get stolen, then get out there and ride. – JDC in Mississippi

CPT Rawles,
Though I enjoyed Banjo’s article, I feel the article on survival bikes was a bit too narrow-sighted in scope. First, Presta valves are a completely viable option in a Shrader world. Bike shops regularly carry brass and aluminum (which weigh next to nothing) Presta-Shrader adapters. These cost upwards of a
dollar and can be left on the bike so that you’re never unable to fill at a gas station.
Secondly, Tire sizes (fat or skinny) have also come around. 29″ bikes have been making a hit the past few years. The extra few inches really seems to make a difference in the ride, especially over uneven
terrain. If availability is an issue, buy several and keep them around.

Finally, don’t overlook Craigslist. I’ve found plenty of deals (like my own hard tail 29″) for a third of the original price. Many people rushed out to get the latest 29″ bike, and it has sat in their garage

Thank you, – Jim in Wyoming