Keep Your Bicycle Running in Tough Times, by S.H.

A lot of times you’ll hear folks say that doing some activity is like riding a bicycle; once you know how to do it, you’ll always remember. Well, it’s true that no matter how long it’s been since you’ve ridden, you can get back on your bicycle, but only if you remember you have one! One thing I’ve noticed in a lot of posts regarding times post-after the Big Schumer hits the fan is the gap that bicycles could fill for transport needs.

Notably, bicycles were employed by a few characters in the book Patriots, so kudos to Mr. Rawles. They’re conspicuously absent from much of the other fiction out there. Horses are of course great if you have the means and knowledge, but they need to feed and have some care.

I’ve personally always enjoyed my time on a bicycle. From the day I got off training wheels, it’s been a pass-time for me personally. I raced a few times, and whether for fitness or with the children, I love being on a bike.

Hopefully, I can impart some useful bicycle knowledge that you can use.

The fastest known human, Mr. Usain Bolt, has been clocked during part of his sprints at up to 28 miles per hour. Now for most people, it’s going to be less than that, and the fastest sustained time runs in the 23 mile per hour range. So it’s safe to assume that most of us are sub-twenty-mile-per-hour runners. A bicycle doesn’t get you a lightning fast start (unless you’re a track speedster), but once you’re going it sure would help.

Imagine you needed to clear away from a pedestrian goblin or goblins in your travels and you got clear of the initial contact by bicycle. It’s reasonable to assume that with a modest 15 mile per hour bicycle travel speed, after half an hour’s ride against an eight minute mile goblin, you’d put 3.5 miles between you and them.

Now I know a lot of folks have SEAL team six backing them up against said goblins in their mind’s eye view of post-Schumer life, and that’s exciting, but I unfortunately don’t. So I’d engage violently in some circumstances and train to prevail. That couple miles is a good starting investment toward not seeing that goblin again. Travel by bicycle can also be fairly quiet.

I travel a fair amount for business, commonly 2000 miles or so. Having thought it through, if there’s no mechanized travel, like planes, trains, motorcycles, and automobiles, a bicycle would make a good option for me, and it would be on my day one SHTF “shopping list” near the top, along with some helpful gear. Under favorable conditions, I can ride 100 miles in a day, but with variable conditions and security concerns it could be 50-60 miles. While I’ve done a 20+ mile hike in a day, the same challenges that could be present that might make 15 miles a good day fortunate. You likely already know the concerns: hunger, water, security, safe travel routes, weather, and so forth. Consider this; you could get home in far less time.

It is a fair consideration as well that cycling moves you further with less effort, so when calories may be limited it makes sense to conserve energy where possible.

So what are some considerations for preparing for a long bicycle ride? Others may have contrary recommendations, but here are some of mine.

Think about what type of bicycle is most suited to the type of riding you’ll be doing. A road cycle is fast if you thought you’d be on great road surfaces but is less than ideal overall. I find that a mountain bike will typically do most jobs well. You don’t have to buy a top of the line mountain bike to do the job. I like mid-grade name brand mountain bikes for a “utility bike”. To me, the utility bike is the scout rifle of transportation preparedness. I have a couple of them, more as a hobby of repairing bikes, and I might even be convinced to barter one someday.

I live near a college town and have been able to pick up a couple of good utility bikes. With a professional grade tune-up (I used to work part time in a bicycle shop during college so I do it myself, but if you are not a do it yourselfer, it’s a good starting point), many used mid-grade bikes should give you a lot of mileage with little problem. If you buy the least expensive big box special, you’re likely to get less reliable components on your bicycle, assembled by someone who doesn’t care.

As far as tires, if knobbier tires are available, these may be helpful in winter months or muddy travel. I like a mid-sized “cross country” mountain tire. Bigger tires do translate to more effort and reduced efficiency.

If you have any choice, try to find a bicycle that fits you. Again, if you go to your local bike shop, they’ll fit a bike for you typically at no cost. It’s appropriate to have some clearance between your crotch and the crossbar (and by the way, unless SEAL team six is covering your six until their helo extracts you, it doesn’t much

matter if it’s a ladies bicycle in practical terms), that’s called stand over height. The next adjustment you should look at is the seat. The seat should be adjusted, in my experience, so that when your leg extends to the bottom of the pedal stroke, it is not quite completely straight. A longer pedal stroke will be rough on the knees, and a shorter one doesn’t capitalize on leg strength.

Suspension may be a point that’s arguable. From my opinion, a front suspension cross country mountain bike with a “hard tail” (sans suspension) will get you there with economy, lighter weight, and less wearable parts.

What about helmets? Can you live without one? If necessitated, yes, but having witnessed the outcome of people suffering brain injuries, I have to advocate in favor of helmet use in terms of your best chance of remaining fit for survival. If you do have SEAL team six with you, they may lend you one of theirs with the high speed NVG apparatus.

There are a few ways that you can fasten additional “luggage” to your bicycle for transport. Trailers like you’d use to carry toddlers are one way, but without going into great detail, it’s possible to fashion a cradle to support a medium-sized backpack (in the way that baskets can be fastened) from the handlebars. Also, it shouldn’t be too challenging to create a rack above the back of the rear axle to stow something akin to saddle bags on, if you do not already have one.

To keep your bicycle rolling, you’ll want to ensure that the chain retains some semblance of lubrication. If it gets rusty, that’s inviting a break, which could be a fatal problem for your bicycle. Ditto for other moving parts. Also, a well-lubricated bike is a quiet bike. Check the recommendations for your bike, but consider that some moving parts with bearings may fair better with grease. This includes the axles, bottom bracket (where crank arms connect to the frame), and the pedal spindles. If you’re desperate, consider using motor oil. In some situations, you may be able to harvest this, if there’s a disabled vehicle.

As far as spare parts and tools, there are a few things that are helpful to have extra of. First is inner tubes. The valve on the inner tube is worthy of some consideration. If you’re into trail biking, you may find that it’s helpful to use Presta valves, in case you need to borrow someone else’s pump. With some newer rims, they’re exclusive to Presta. If you go with presta, it wouldn’t hurt to have more than one pump and an adapter to the ubiquitous Schraeder valve.

In terms of a SHTF situation, I highly recommend you have some inner tubes with a Schraeder valve handy. The Schraeder is the valve that you see on vehicle tires. So it’s reasonable to assume it will be easier to find a Schraeder compatible pump, when the Schumer has hit.

It’s worth keeping a spare chain compatible with your rig available and knowing how to repair/replace a chain. Youtube is a good resource for this fairly easy task. Along with this, a chain cutter repair kit and chain tool are good to have. One “Hillbilly repair” I made that worked adequately was on a trip a ways from a bicycle shop. I found an appropriately-sized nail and aviator snips and crafted my own chain pin. This experiment survived an additional two days of hard riding before getting back to “civilization”.

Flat tires are an issue you should not fear but should be prepared for. Like most things, prevention is a good bet. When I moved to Colorado as a young lad, I had several frustrating experiences with the omnipresent fruit of the tribulus terrestris, or the “Goathead thorn”. It seemed there was nowhere I could go on a bike ride without flatting out. Then a friend recommended tire protector liners, and riding became fun again. These liners go in between the tube and the tire and do a great job protecting from flat tires. Also, maintaining good tire pressure will prevent “pinch flats”.

Tire patch kits are fairly inexpensive, so they’re worth having several spares. Changing a flat is not that difficult. Having an extra tube gets you back on the road/trail more quickly, but unless catastrophically damaged or dry rotted, tubes should be patched and reused whenever possible. Tire levers are a good product to have on hand, polymer ones will minimize the risk of bending a rim or damaging a tire/tube, but if you have to a screw driver will work.

Quick steps to change a tube when your bike tire runs flat:

  1. Remove the wheel, ensuring that brakes allow clearance.
  2. Check for what caused the flat. If there’s a thorn, nail, or glass, it needs to be gone before you fix the situation.
  3. Using your tire levers or other prying device (bonus points when you teach yourself to break the bead with just your fingers), “open” the tire. I usually just open one side for a quick change.
  4. Gently pull the tube out a bit at a time.
  5. Slowly run your finger around the inside of the tire, checking for debris. (Note: Do this slowly, so you don’t wind up with glass or any debris cutting you.)
  6. With the tube fully removed, add a bit of air. I do the soapy water leak test to see where bubbles come out. By “soapy water,” I mean “saliva works well”.
  7. Dry and patch the area, if possible. (Note: This is straightforward. If you can’t figure out the patch kit instructions, you’ll likely not need much survival skillset building; just enjoy life now.)
  8. Pump just enough air into the tube for it to take shape. Insert it into the tire as you removed it.
  9. Using tire levers (or your thumbs), work the “bead” of the tire back inside the rim, beginning at the same spot and working your way around.
  10. Once you’ve restored the bead, pump the tire to appropriate pressure and ride on.

This wouldn’t be a good place to brag about the age of some of the tubes I’ve used and number of patches, because my belief in Murphy’s law runs strong. However, let’s just say there’s a lot of use in a quality tube.

Along with these tips, it will benefit you to learn more about brakes, gears/derailleurs, and other minor maintenance.

I hope this gives you some ideas about how to keep your bicycle rolling in good times and bad, and the Lord blesses you and keeps you safe in your travels.