Bike Realities to Prep For

I bike a lot. Bikes have been my primary mode of travel for long stretches of my life. I didn’t buy my first car until I was out of college.  Hubby and I still share that car, and when one of us is gone to work with it, the other must run errands with the bike (and a toddler.) Let’s look at some of the realities you’ll face if a bike is part of your B.O. plan.

Endurance – Yes, you will need some endurance to get very far on two wheels.  Especially if you need to haul kids or food or both.  If  you have plans to bug out on a bike when the SHTF, you need to be biking every week, pulling weight. Beginning bicyclists can usually only bike a few miles at a time before needing a break. I can comfortably bike 20 miles pulling a trailer with 30 pounds of toddler and food.  The difference between the two could be the difference between making it to your B.O. location in 2 days or 4. Plus, if you’re not using the bike every week, routine maintenance could slip, leaving you without your back up plan when you need it the most. Speaking of which;

Routine Maintenance – Tires will need periodic inflation, most will list recommended pressures on the sides.  The chain will need oiling every couple of years, more if you bike a lot in mud or rain. Lights will need new batteries every year or two, depending on use. Brakes occasionally need tightening or straightening, it’s easy to tell when this is needed, they’ll drag against the side of the tires and you’ll feel it.  I love bike maintenance. Most of it can be done with a screwdriver.

Gear – I love lights for riding in the early morning or late eveningIf you don’t mind the weight and cost, there are lights that are really bright, practically a car headlight, and they run off of a battery pack that sits in a water bottle holder. I do just fine with the AA battery lights though. One bright white LED in front, and a multi-pattern red light in the back. Bags, I like the ones that velcro on to the seat bottoms, that way you have the whole frame free for water bottles.  You’ll definitely need a couple of those, bonus points for one with a built in filter. Trailers are really starting to have a lot of variety off the shelf. Think about what you want from your trailer, are you wanting to carry 60 pounds of kids and their gear? Or 200 pounds of storage food? Both are possible with the different  bike trailer options available.

Bike type – I’m a huge fan of mountain bike style bikes. This style has shocks on the front and back, and knobby tires. I find this allows me to handle things when the gravel trail ends, and to deal with roads that are less than smooth. Roads are really expensive to maintain, and I can’t help but think spring potholes are going to go a lot longer between fillings as cash strapped states whittle down their services.  The fancy commuter bikes and road bikes, with their small tires and low slung handle bars, just don’t handle as well if you’re not working with smooth concrete, they do tend to be lighter though. Your plans may have different variables, and you’ll need to match your bike to your style and needs. Just remember to be realistic about what you can pull, and keep in practice so those muscles will be there when you need them.

– Calamity Jane

33 comments… add one
  • Prepared N.D. August 30, 2011, 8:43 am

    I prefer mountain bikes too. Nothing else makes sense around here unless you like road rash and concussions. I wish I could ride more often, but since I live on a winding country road that has a high traffic volume (and speeders) it’s just too dangerous. The benefits of living on what the area views as “the shortcut” :-)

    Splurging a little bit and getting a lighter mountain bike makes a huge difference. Back in my early teens when we rode bicycles for what seemed like all day every day, I was the least physically fit compared to my friends but could ride faster and farther than anyone else. These guys could run the mile in half the time I could (without stopping). I was one of the ones at the back of the pack with the fat kids.

    • Odd Questioner August 30, 2011, 2:17 pm

      For those who can tolerate the eeevil big-box stores, you can usually get a serviceable little mountain bike for $150 at places like Wal-Mart, Kmart, and such.

      I paid $150 for mine, and it comes with the goodies like knobby tires, shocks in both front and back, and while the seat isn’t perfectly comfy, it holds my butt when I do sit on the thing.

      The one thing I noticed normal bikes have that mountain bikes normally do not? racks to store stuff. OTOH, aftermarket back-tire racks and handlebar baskets are cheap enough, and a decent backpack rounds it out. I figure I can stash 20-30 lbs of crap on the back rack, maybe 15-20 lbs in the front basket, and the backpack can hold 50.

      Calamity does bring up a good point though… you’d have to practice a *lot* if you intend to haul stuff, and make damned sure your bike can handle the weight. My little example adds 110 lbs of stuff to the bike, including me, who sits at ~180 lbs. That’s 290 lbs of stuff on the bike frame.

      Doing it that way brings up a problem: both ultra-cheap and ultra-high-end bikes have weight limits, usually 250 lbs (though pro bikes will likely have a smaller limit). The cheaper bikes are, well, cheaply-made, so they can’t handle the stress – pro bikes are made as lightweight as possible, so their parts are too delicate for full-on hauling. I know I can push mine a little bit over, but I have to ride carefully to avoid blowing out a tire, bending the rims, or even cracking the frame (I’ve done the first two already).

      A bike trailer fixes a whole lot of this, but it has the disadvantage of restricting where you go by a bit, since you have to take the additional width and turning radius into account when/if you leave the roads.

      OTOH, a trailer is a far superior idea if you’re bugging out with more than just yourself (*especially* if kids are involved).

      • Michael August 31, 2011, 12:19 am

        Put 290 pounds of stuff on a Big Box Store bike and you wont make it very far before spokes start to snap, the frame starts to bend at the drop outs (the part where the rear wheel attaches to the frame, look close and you’ll see it’s a separate part from the frame ), the rear hub up gives up the ghost, and the chain snaps. And you’ll probably get a flat tire as well.

        You can get a perfectly serviceable new bike store bike that wont break down on you for $500. Put $50 into every year and it will last you for years. A lot of bike stores also have a small stash of used bikes. You might have to ask specifically about used bikes to be shown them.

        Mountain bikes have really short back ends, which make it easier for them to climb steep hills (stuff than 90% of riders will never go up!) which makes it hard to put all but the smallest pannier bags on them as your heel will hit the bag while you pedal.

        There are some mountain bike-ish commuter bikes out there like the Novara Buzz that would probably work fairly well.

      • Rhinehart Fox August 31, 2011, 11:52 am

        Dear fellow preppers,

        Be really careful about adding a medium to heavy backpack while riding. You will significantly raise your center of gravity (ie. become top heavy). All you will notice on the flat or climb will be the required extra effort to peddle, but wait until you start negotiating curves on a downhill. It could get you killed, literally.

        Personally, I’m a roady. Nothing against mt. bikes but I just use mine for conditioning. Anyway, three seasons ago I hit a dog on a downhill and did an over-the-handlebars flip at just under 40 mph. I lost a lot of skin and bruised a bone in my elbow. It could have been much worse. I’m an experienced rider with a couple of centuries (100+ mile) rides and a couple of races under my belt. Crashing sucks. Lower your odds. Paniers and the trailer are the way to move a load. I wouldn’t wear anything heavier than my tactical rifle on my back. Just saying……….

      • CollegeMech September 1, 2011, 9:31 pm

        I bent the frame on my mountain bike just lugging myself up a hill, and I only weigh ~135 lbs…

        • Calamity Jane September 2, 2011, 10:35 am

          hahaha, I think you’re doing it wrong.

  • sparrow47 August 30, 2011, 10:32 am

    ‘Bout time someone brought up this topic…

    I dont recommend a full mountain bike, simply because with 150 lbs of gear and/or child you arent gonna do much worse than grass regardless of what bike you have; either the trailer gets mired in mud, or the bike is unstable, path too narrow etc. A street bike is perfectly sufficient, as well as cheaper and lighter.

    Keeping the tires at full pressure makes all the difference; full pressure is 100% more efficient and youll go faster. Plus it protects the rims better than under inflated tires. I dont recommend fancy racing rims; sooner or later youll warp a rim, and better a 50$ aluminum one than a 500$ carbon fiber one. Likewise steel rims are contraindicated; poor stopping characteristics if you use rim brakes, and whereas an aluminum rim will warp, allowing you to still limp home, a steel rim will snap and your dead in the water. Always carry a multi-tool and a patch kit.

    BRAKES: cable disc brakes are utter garbage. The stopping power is comparable to V brakes, yet the mechanical headaches of disks is incredible. If your using disk brakes, buy hydraulic disk brakes or dont bother. Well adjusted V brakes are very powerful. Ceramic/non-ceramic in the brake surfaces (actually i think its rims not pads that have a ceramic coating) trade better wet weather stopping for worse dry weather stopping. Your choice, but i use non-ceramic. Always buy the largest, widest pads you can get; more surface area improves wet weather performance. I cannot stress enough the importance of using BLUE (blue comes off with a hard twist. Dont use the red stuff, which needs a torch to come off) locktite on the bolts holding the brake pads in place. If a pad vibrates loose, you will effectively lose the brake’s stopping power.

    Gears: you NEED a granny gear, which is basically a really large first gear. they are invaluable for steep hills that would otherwise burn out your knees. Otherwise it wont make a difference

    Saddle Bags; With front and rear saddle bags, you can load 100lbs of gear on a bike without a trailer. Backpacks will rapidly tire out your shoulders, so saddle bags are a very good idea.

    Food&Water: you go through lots of both. Always, especially for long rides, carry a good supply of both. When your at the absolute bottom of your energy well and desperatly need the power, always remember: “creamy ice cream is like an 120lb wet shot of nitro but for bicycles”.

    • Calamity Jane August 30, 2011, 11:25 am

      I’ve heard good things about saddle bags, but I’ve heard that front saddle bags can make a difference in your steering ability. I’ve got my eye on some saddle bags, backpacks do get tiring, but backpacks are what I have, and the saddle bags will cost money. :-D

      This does remind me, one thing I forgot to add, if bikes are in your Bug Out plan, make sure your BOB’s are compatible to bikes.

      • Jarhead 03 August 30, 2011, 12:44 pm

        I personally ride a mountain bike and use a trailer for some of my camping/fishing trips that aren’t accessible by vehicle saving my back and knees.

        With the trails being unimproved roads and switching to hike/bike trails I keep the saddle bags on the rear and not the front to maintain balance for quick turns, rocks, dips and washouts on the trails. (Personal preference)

        With a trailer and rear saddle bags I have enough storage space for a weeks worth of food water and compliment of gear.

        CJ I always look forward to your posts

      • Michael August 31, 2011, 8:57 pm

        We tried sewing up a few sets of panniers, but they never worked quite right. Then we got ahold of plans for food bucket panniers and they’re the bomb. Easy to make, sturdy, cheap, water tight, and they make a pretty good seat when they’re off the bike.

        Making a set would be a great shtfblog post.

  • Trekker August 30, 2011, 7:27 pm

    I commute 20 miles daily on my mountain bike and I also consider it my alternate bug out vehicle. My mountain bike is a Montague folding bike, which is perfect for storing in the back of my SUV. You mention the endurance and conditioning that comes with biking. Being in shape will be a huge factor to surviving when SHTF.

    • Joe or Harry August 30, 2011, 11:11 pm

      My wife & I each have a Montague folders also, we like ’em.
      But after reading some of the comments, I realize that, at least on our model’s that it’s short comings is that it only has suspension on the front fork &none for the rear tire.

  • Jarhead Survivor August 30, 2011, 8:34 pm

    If you’re looking to carry extra weight a touring bike ( is probably what you’re looking for.

    Personally, I’m a mountain bike guy. I dated a road racer quite a few years ago and she’d kick my ass on the street, but as soon as she hit even a little bit of dirt she was stuck. And don’t get me started about how often those skinny little tires go flat.

    I took the knobbies off my mountain bike and put on street tires, which are still pretty good off road, and found that helps when you’re primarily going over the road.

    My mountain bike is a 10 year old Trek that still kicks some serious ass! I love it.

    • Jason August 31, 2011, 2:11 pm

      Trek’s are very good bikes and it isn’t any wonder that you’ve had it 10 years. I’ll bet the frame is a bit better & stronger than today’s alloys they use.

      My current bike I bought 3 years ago & was vacillating hard between a road bike, which I had always ridden or a mountain bike. I went for the road bike because of the weight differential but now wish I had gotten the mountain bike.

      Oh, well – I guess I’ll get one in the distant future. The problem is I go for quality & you always pay for that choice.

      • Jarhead Survivor August 31, 2011, 2:37 pm

        My bike is easily twice the weight or more than a road bike. It will never win any road races (at least with me riding it!), but it’s a solid bike and I’ve had to do very little to it over the years.

  • Michael August 31, 2011, 12:00 am

    Great post!

    Glad to see you were up front about conditioning. If you’re not biking a lot, biking wont work for you WTSHTF. Same with the maintaince, gots to keep up on it. My bike’s in the shop getting it’s yearly tuneup right now. I’m a terrible mechanic and I’m happy to support local small businesses!

    Bikes that are designed to cary a load up front do just fine with a load up front. My Trek FX can cary a light load up front, but put more than, say, 15 pounds up there and things get a little interesting. With much of a load on the back of the bike I like to add some weight to the front to balance the bike better. A fully loaded touring or expedition touring bike would let you cary a bigger load up front.

    They’re a bit spendy but Old Man Mountain makes great racks that can fit on the front of suspension bike. As long as you don’t put something too heavy up there the steering should be fine.

    As people are using bike more for transportation “Fat Tire” road bikes are coming back into vogue and would be a good thing to look at. They’ll let you cover way more miles and with less effort than a mountain bike. But really, the bike you like and works for you is the best bike for you.

    Road bikes that can take fatter tires do just fine on hard packed dirt roads and aren’t prone to flats, like the road racers are. I do OK with 32mm tires and just fine with 35mm tires, as long as it’s a hard packed road.

    My top TEOTWAWKI bikes, in no particular order.

    Jamis, Aurora
    Surly, Long Haul Trucker & Cross Check
    Salsa, Casseroll, Vaya, & Fargo
    Masi, CX
    Novara, Safari
    Kona, Ute, MinUte, & Sutra
    Raleigh, Sojourn & Port Townsend
    Madsen, Bucket Bike

    If I had to pick just one for a dedicated TEOTWAWKI bike, I’d probably go with a Long Haul Trucker with 26″ wheels.

  • Jason August 31, 2011, 9:59 am

    Jane, great article – I’m totally into cycling & have been forever. To me the greatest high on the planet is a reasonable, long ride – by reasonable I mean my days of cranking up hills & speeding down are growing extinct for me – road rash heals slower on this old body!

    The only thing I’d like to add is a tip I got from a very good friend who was a professional road racer. We would ride together & he rode next to me & coached me in how to change gears during distance riding. I mean he literally rode parallel to me and told me when & why to shift gears. He said the key to longevity & enjoyment was to keep your legs pumping at a constant rate just the same as you would do for a long walk. He said forget about the macho routine of sweating like a pig until you burn out. 

    He said the elevation of roads is always changing, sometimes barely perceptable but always shift gears to keep your leg speed the same. I swear it seemed as if we were always changing gears but it worked. 

    Over time I was able to ride long distances without much huffing & puffing & the recovery time was far easier. Even today, 35 years later, I ride the same & the habit is so strong that I don’t think about it & can ride 20-30 miles without much thought. If I were to use it for a BOB, which be a last resort, I’d probably  initially use a smaller backpack & if the load was heavy, I’d use a trailer like the tot one you have pictured. The ride gearing would be the same principle but slower & steady. 

    Thanks for the article. Now if you’ll excuse me I hear a Big Mac Cancer Burger & the 20 year shelf life French fries (after cooked) & a 64 oz cup of brown sugar water calling my name. I am so funny & love to get a rise out of the ill informed. :-)

    • Calamity Jane August 31, 2011, 10:12 am

      Oh yea! That’s a great tip, like you I do it so often that’s just second nature now. Use the gears the engineer gave you folks! A steady pace will get you further every time.
      A bike is not my top pick for a BOV, but it sure will be nice as main transportation when gas gets to 5$ a gallon.
      Just using it to run errands around town, I put over 80 miles a month on the bike. (I have an odometer, great little gizmo, if you’re a numbers person like me.) That’s 80 miles that I didn’t have to pay fuel prices for. And hours worth of cardio that I didn’t have to pay a gym for. :-D

      • Prepared N.D. August 31, 2011, 11:20 am

        Just wanted to tell you that you gained SHTFBlog another reader – my wife. She has always been supportive and enjoys coming up with ideas and crunching numbers with me (she’s also an engineer) but never has been willing to read any of the blogs. She’s recommending the blog to several of her coworkers who are in to preparedness.

        Maybe one of these days I can convince her to take the time to comment ;-)

      • Jason August 31, 2011, 2:22 pm


        One other quick tip is I bought a small roll of reflecting tape, which adds about 10 grams of weight (ha, ha), and I put it on my rims (below the breaking surface obviously) and on many parts of my frame where car headlights catch it.

        At night I may look like a well lit Christmas tree but can be seen for miles. The rims look pretty cool having the 10 hash marks spinning & reflecting. What can I say, I have pretty goofy tastes.

        Also, I’m past having my bike look like a million dollars & the worse it looks the less likely it gets stolen. Besides, bike performance is not related to how it looks!

        • Jason August 31, 2011, 4:21 pm

          I should have told you the reflective tape is black (shines white) & my bike is a very dark gray so, it’s not too obvious.

          • Suevonne September 10, 2011, 11:03 am

            A mintue saved is a minute earned, and this saved hours!

        • Jason August 31, 2011, 4:23 pm

          Jane- I should have told you the reflective tape is black (shines white) & my bike is a very dark gray & rims are black so, it’s not too obvious.

        • Jaelyn September 10, 2011, 12:08 pm

          What a joy to find soomnee else who thinks this way.

  • Briar Rabbit August 31, 2011, 2:34 pm

    Ah, a useful, simple and cheap topic that has become overly complicated and expensive.

    As a retired bicycle messenger who has commuted to a “invisible” camp spot for a few decades, I feel qualified to add my 26 cents.

    First off, any bike is better than none! Riding always beats walking.

    As for bike style and carrying heavy gear, a long-wheelbase touring mountain bike is the best.

    A touring bike will have front “dropouts” that allow you to bolt a front rake to your fork. About front wheel weight and downhill riding… Keep it light! A sleeping bag and a map bag on your handle bars is a heavy as you want… Otherwise you get “wiggle” and the tendency to over-react.

    I find those “shocked/bouncy bikes” to be too short and wobbly! They are comfortable, but I choose stability.

    The best thing about using a bike to “camp” is the lack of a trail. You can cover your tracks easy. If you can drive a car there, so can anyone else!

    Even if you have a one-speed schwinn with iron baskets you are still better off than a backpacker! You will have the extra strength/energy to fight off, whatever. Also, carrying a long (4foot) stick, in a plumbing pipe, will quickly train mean dogs to leave you alone!

    Bike repair tools are very expensive! (Apx $200-$500 ttl.) However, once you buy them, then you have them! (You can’t just use a cresent wrench…) Hence, the high prices that bike-shops charge.

    When choosing a bike get COMMON style parts! Where you gonna find “hydrawlic” brakes parts post doom? Common parts are everywhere.

    Trailers, look up, bike +”cargo trailers” there’s some out there that can haul freezers/couches! When choosing a bike trailer read the reviews! I once bought a used wobbler for $50. It still works…

    Bike bags… Panniers. Are often a very expensive investment! However, they usually last 10+ years! = Worth buying the best you can afford!

    The last main thing is, the weather… Bikes hate being left out in the rain/snow/sun! Bring them inside and allow them to dry and they’ll last for decades!

    Besides good gloves and sometimes a face-mask, you’ll need to wear good shoes and socks in the winter..

    A good (cro-mo) bike costs as much as a good handgun, therefore take care of it and it will last you a long time!

    • Anonymous August 31, 2011, 9:01 pm

      “Ah, a useful, simple and cheap topic that has become overly complicated and expensive.”

      That’s what the internet’s for!

    • Michael August 31, 2011, 9:02 pm

      “Ah, a useful, simple and cheap topic that has become overly complicated and expensive.”

      That’s what the internet’s for!

  • Briar Rabbit August 31, 2011, 3:01 pm

    Oh yeah…

    If you get a bike don’t forget irreplacible spare parts for storage…

    Extra tubes/tires store well inside sealed trash bags…

    Extra cables are a must-have item…

    Never buy those cheap thin tubes! Get TR (thorn-resistant) that sometimes can be patched with ONE DROP of superglue!

    Those self-repairing tubes are pretty good…

    Always, carry a repair kit… Spare tube(s), air pump, and tools to fix a flat!


    Bikes and guns… While it’s hard to shoot anything from a bike. Having a gun is better than a stick when it comes to car-driving jerks!

    Chances are you’ll be semi-weak and tired (less tired than a backpacker!) and you will not have the energy to fight weaponless. Having a pistol sure helps!

    Cops and bikes…

    I once was in Tx near the border. And the border patrol stopped me. (That was way back when they were nice guys!) They warned me about bandits! I told them I had some pepper spray! And they didn’t check me!

    When you ride a bike you become harmless-looking! (Grayman-ish)You are not worth robbing and/or harassing! Why? It’s not like they can’t catch you later!

    It’s a drawback and a plus. All in all, it’s cheaper to have a bike and parts, than to TRY and maintain a car. Sure you’ll be a slow and easy target, but you’ll eventually get there.

    Sorry for the double post. I guess it’s not that simple/easy of a topic…

  • the Jonas August 31, 2011, 4:06 pm

    Ok, I have questions. One, biking out of my area off road is simply impossible, but road conditions warrant a mountain bike usually. I’m seriously thinking “horses” if it comes to that. My home is pretty much right where I’d want to be, but there’s always the what-ifs.

    The other problem I have with bikes as BOV is weight. I run 225-235 in my best shape. Which doesn’t leave much carrying capacity for a bike. Don’t get me wrong, I do love to ride. I’ve just bent more rims than is normal and cracked the frame of the one Walmart bike.

    I could buy a very expensive heavier framed bike, but biking out of my place is definitely a last resort.

    • Michael August 31, 2011, 7:55 pm

      Sounds like you need a trailer.

      Mountain bikes are for mountain biking. They’re slow, inefficient, and built for going up and down trails that are way steeper than any road. Still, some people like them and they work out just fine for them. Whatever.

      Take a look at some of the flat bar commuter/city bikes, they’re built burly, geared low, and come with really fat tires, which should be able to hold you and a little bit of stuff on the bike just fine. New, you’re looking at $400-$800.

      I like this one, the tires are an inch and a half wide.

  • Tomskillit August 31, 2011, 7:36 pm

    Riding long distances on bicycles is not as tough as one would think. A good bike, and a few rides a week make a big difference. A full suspension bike is cool if ur riding into the back country, but if ur sticking to roads, then all that bounce robs energy that could be giving u more speed n distance. If ur mixing road n trail then its better to use a hardtail bike ( no rear suspension). It’s also better if ur carrying weight, not to have suspension.
    Knobby tires also rob u of ur energy on pavement. Check out the tires used on new bmx bikes. They roll much better on pavement n hard packed dirt. Just my 2 cents. Thanx

  • Jamie August 31, 2011, 9:06 pm

    Since I became disabled biking was out, but I got an adult trike and a huge basket on the back . It’s kinda weird going back to a trike as my body/mind wants to try to balance and lean like on a bike. Don’t work on a trike at all. You won’t fall over but I forget you have to actively steer or end up against the curb. LOL If you get a trike instead of a bike don’t think it’s easier to ride. You’ll have to practice and learn all over again.

  • Kathy September 2, 2011, 12:09 pm

    Great article Jane! Big fan of biking and thanks for all the tips and such. And great posts from everyone else. I have an old Trex (about 20 years old) that I have taken good care of. And I used to use it when doing road biking (never once had a blow out or wipe out!) I never finished any events in 1st place, but I always finished. I have seen too many bikers wipe out on those skinny road bike tires and was more than happy to stick to my knobby mountain bike tires (Texas back roads were not all perfect) . Tires that can take a beating will help when the STHTF.


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