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Making cycling a part of your prepping

The average walking speed for an adult is about 3 to 4 miles per hour, or 1 mile in 15 to 20 minutes. Add on a 25 lb. backpack and chances are you’ll be moving even slower. Unless you’ve been training, in less than an hour, only 3 miles toward your destination, your shoulders and feet are going to be aching. Trust me, I know. Last summer I put on a 25 lb back pack and walked 3 miles several times a week. The first time was brutal. The second and third times weren’t much better. After a few weeks I was able to walk father, faster eventually hitting 12 miles in about 4 1/2 hours…but it still sucked. It REALLY sucked! My hands swelled, my shoulders ached and my feet were killing me! At that same fitness level, I was able to ride a very casual, easy 22 miles in less than 4 hours, and carry a much lighter bag but more gear. And this was on a $125 big box store bike.

Cycling is a great, low-impact workout to improve cardio, endurance, build leg strength, balance and coordination. With the right gear, you can carry far more than you could on your back. It’s environmentally friendly, quiet, requires no fuel and minimal maintenance and is a great way to meet people, hang out with friends and enjoy the outdoors. And honestly, it’s just fun. As more cities become bike friendly and gear more available, bikes and e-bikes as a part of prepping becomes a no-brainer.

But where do I start?
What kind of bike do I need for prepping?
How do I maintain and repair it?
What tools and accessories do I need?

These are all really good questions, and I’ll try to answer them as best as I can in this thread. But I also have a YouTube channel where I cover this topic and a lot more. Check out http://www.youtube.com/c/ReadyToDieFighting. I add videos every week and have a playlist dedicated to essential bike skills for preppers.

But where do I start?

If you have a bike, just start riding. It’s the fastest way to build your stamina and skill. You’ll also start figuring out what you like, need and want. Metroparks often have great trails to ride, but riding through the neighborhood or riding to run errands is a lot of fun and great exercise too. We often even bring the dog and people always stop and watch as she jogs alongside the boy on his bike. It’s adorable!

While riding, be on the lookout for shortcuts and paths you may need or want to take while bugging out. Make note of potential obstacles and areas or roads you may want to avoid. Build up your endurance until you can bike to your bugout location, then work on your time. get there faster. Find alternate routes. Learn how to efficiently go up and down curbs, bunny hop over obstacles and most importantly, safely navigate through traffic.

Look up the bike laws for your state and city. I found a pamphlet for my state called What Every Michigan Bicyclist Must Know. There is probably something like that for your state as well. Find it.
https://www.lmb.org/bike-mi/what-every-michigan-bicyclist-must-know/

Make friends with your local bike shop. Or even better, find a bike co-op. They often offer classes on bike repair, sell used bikes and gear and may even fix your bike for free. You may also meet cool people and learn about events, trails and other bike related stuff. I learned almost everything I know about fixing bikes from the cool guys and gals at the local bike co-op. Time well spent.

If you don’t have a bike, start shopping around. There are so many options, you should take your time and test ride several before making a purchase. Go to bike shops and see what’s available, read reviews online and consult friends who have been cycling for a while.

What kind of bike do I need for prepping?

TL;DR: A mid-range gravel, trail, or hybrid bike.

The best bike is the one you already have. Especially this year. New bikes are hard to come by thanks to Covid-19. But, you can probably find some nice used bikes. But, for simplicity’s sake, let’s say you can find some new bikes. What kind should you get? You have a lot of choices, but lets break it down into a few categories: road bikes, mountain bikes, commuter bikes, e-bikes, cruiser bikes, and lets group the others into specialty bikes.

But which is best for prepping? And what’s the difference?

REI does a great job at providing an overview of the different types of bikes you can read here: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/bicycle.html

I don’t think I can pick one for everyone. It definitely depends on your needs, skills, terrain and fitness level and budget. But here are some things you should look for:

  1. The most important thing to look for, is to make sure it fits you. Buying from someplace like Wal-Mart, you don’t typically get much choice in sizing. But if you go to a bike shop, or surprisingly Dick’s, you can get a bike that is actually the correct size for you. This is based on the actual frame of the bike. Tire size can also make a big difference. I wanted a bike with 29″ wheels for myself because bigger wheels offer a smoother, more efficient ride. But I’m too short, to safely and comfortably ride 29″wheels. So I had to get 27.5″. Best way to know that is to go to a bike shop and try it out.
  2. Look for name brand components, especially with the drivetrain. Look at the shifters, Shimano or Sram are your two choices here. Some people prefer one over the other due to feel, but they are equals in quality and reliability. Shimano seems a bit more common especially on entry/midrange models. There are other brands, but chances are they are not going to very good quality. Which doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t buy the bike, but be aware of what you’re getting. My last bike had off-brand components and I rode it for a season without issue. But, had I needed to replace parts, they may have been difficult to find. And it was only $125. Don’t pay more than that for off-brand components.
  3. Make sure you test ride it. Ask lots of questions about the features and how things works. Make sure it’s comfortable and that it fits you. Make sure all the parts are tight and well lubricated and there’s no weird noises or clunkiness. Change the gears, slam the breaks. Hop up and down a curb or two. If anything feels off, find out what it is. It could be a really simple fix or sign of future problems (especially if buying used).
  4. Color! You wanna look good don’t you?

Things you should NOT worry about: grips, pedal, seat and seatpost. These are all relatively cheap and easy to replace. They are also very personal items. These are your contact points with the bike, so I would argue that you should replace them to get what is most comfortable to you regardless of which bike you get. If the seat is too high or low, the seatpost can be cut or replaced for around $20. Pedals can get really pricey, but you can get some really nice ones in the $50 range. Keep in mind, mid-level and higher bikes typically don’t come with pedals. Seats vary in price quite a bit and it is probably a better investment to buy padded biking shorts than spend too much on a seat, but that’s up to you. And locking grips can also be had for around $25, which will be much nicer than what come on most entry level bikes.

So what did I get for myself?

I bought my son a $200 Nishiki Pueblo trail bike (type of mountain bike) from Dick’s Sporting Goods in spring of 2019. We had 3 several color options, and even more sizes to choose from. It was easy to find one that fit my son perfectly. It had Shimano drive train, 26″ knobby tires, his favorite color and it’s very easy to work on. The sales person also did repairs in the store and gave the bike a checkup before we left with it. We’ve easily put hundreds of miles on it, gone on mountain biking trails, bike camping, and a lot of falls and crashes. With a few minor upgrades and regular maintenance/repairs, it’s held up remarkably well. The only issue we have is sometimes the handlebars loosen or chain slips, especially after a crash. But it’s an easy fix and is to be expected for the price of the bike. I definitely recommend it for people on a budget, who aren’t afraid to work on their bike.

We immediately bought him a kickstand (many bikes don’t come with them), upgraded his shifters from the twisting style grip shifters to smoother and more accurate trigger shifters. Here is where getting name brand components is a benefit, upgrades like this are easily and inexpensively done without having to worry about compatibility. Then I got him some nice lock on grips, far superior to the slide on grips that can scrunch and slide when wet or dirty. This year I added some reflective stripes as we’ve been doing more road biking and head and tail lights. If he were pickier, I would get him some nicer pedals, but he doesn’t seem to care, so I’ve left them as is. With about $100 worth of upgrades, this bike went from being decent to pretty nice. I rode it recently and was really impressed with the feel and control.

You can find it here: https://www.dickssportinggoods.com/p/nishiki-mens-pueblo-26-mountain-bike-15nisanshkpbl14xxrmb/15nisanshkpbl14xxrmb

For myself I found a clearanced Haro Subvert HT5 from 2017, brand new. I fell in love with it immediately. It had all the features I’d been looking for in a bike for a fraction of the price: plus sized tires for sand and snow, hydraulic disc brakes for effortless stopping, thru-axles, quality name brand components and my favorite color. I haven’t had it long enough to speak on the durability or what upgrades I may make. But so far, I am happy with my purchase, though I don’t think I would recommend it for prepping purposes. The bike is fun to ride, and definitely looks cool. But it is inefficient on flat pavement. This bike was built for the mountains, but I live in Michigan. Most of our biking is on flat pavement, or slight inclines. That means I’m working harder to go the same distance and speed as others. This became painfully obvious when I went on a ride with a friend on a road bike. She effortless floated over the pavement with her thin, smooth tires while I pedaled twice as hard to keep up worth her. The tables turned however when we went onto a gravel road. My fat knobby tires and suspension allowed me to ride on loose gravel as easily and with as much control as I had on concrete. My friend, however became slow, shaky and eventually got off and walked her bike until we got back on pavement.

Check it out here: https://archive.harobikes.com/mtb/2017-mtb/subvert-ht5-2017

My son’s bike, an inexpensive almost mountain bike performs really well on smooth roads. But he can also follow me just fine on dirt paths, gravel and even winding mountain bike trails over roots and rocks, pump tracks and little jumps. His suspension can’t handle anything too crazy, but it’s enough to give him a nice ride on bumpy roads. And I’ve loaded him up with gear when we went bikepacking. The little trail bike is an all around winner. If you want something similar, check out gravel bikes, hybrid bikes and trail bikes between $200 – $750. There’s really no need to spend more than that unless you just want to. The benefits to the casual rider are minimal.

How do I maintain and repair it?

Your most common and likely repairs are going to be fixing flats, oiling/changing chains and changing brake and shifting cables. These are all pretty easy and there are a ton of YouTube videos that explain how to do this, including my channel. If there’s interest, I’ll follow up this post with step by step instructions on how to perform some of these tasks.

What tools and accessories do I need?

  1. Helmet
  2. Bike lock
  3. Chain oil
  4. Tire levers
  5. Spare inner tubes
  6. Tube patches or tire plugs if tubeless
  7. Tire pump
  8. Lights
  9. Multi-tool
  10. Water

** UPDATE **

Here’s the kit I usually take with me. I own all but 1 of these products (KMC 3 in 1 Tool , but I’m ordering one) and have tested them out either at home or on the side of the road/trail.  So far, I’ve been happy with them all.

That’s it for now. Get out there and ride!

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  • Comments (27)

    • 5

      Agreee that bikes give you a lot more range than walking, although with training, and a propeerly fitted backpack, you can asily accomplish 15-20 miles per day, which might be enough.

      The downside to bikes is their comparatively greater complexity, with the possibility that they can become totally trashed, laving you on foot.  Always prepare for that ultimate possibility.

      You can carry more on a bike, which is good.  But somewhere in your cargo, one way or another, you should have a suitable backpack, in case you must hoof it….

      • 4

        I’ve yet to wreck my bike so badly that I couldn’t make it home. But you’re right, it could happen. When we go on longer bike rides qe always carry our backpacks. They are light, mostly water and first aid kits. But in an emergency I would likely carry a bigger a one.

      • 5

        Would be so awesome to see a kit with specific products that are “the essentials anyone should have to handle basic bike repair after SHTF”! Even if someone doesn’t have a bike now, it’d be a valid prep to have some of those basics around in anticipation of bikes being more prevalent after SHTF.

      • 4

        I can definitely make that happen for you. Give me a couple days.

      • 3

        I created a list of what I mostly carry. You may want/need more or less stuff depending on budget, preferences and type of bike.

    • 4

      Awesome contribution Kris! Thanks for taking the time to spell it out as so many people are getting into biking for the first time.

      I just bought a new one a few weeks ago after being out of biking for a decade. Took all day to find one in my size in stock, as most of the inventory is gone.

      Any tips on finding local bike co-ops?

      • 4

        I found my co-op through a friend who had been doing long distance biking for years. But I’ve found that some bike shops also offer classes or may have special programs. REI offers bike maintenance classes, most have a fee.

        Call around some bike shops, or see if you can find some clubs or groups on social media. Good luck!

    • 4

      Great article. I love the outdoors and tried cycling at altitude. Found I just didn’t have the wind for it so I tried an e-bike and love it. It gives me that extra boost to enjoy and DO the ride. Best of luck to everyone.

      • 5

        E bikes certainly have their place, especially in an emergency, but if you use E power constantly, you don’t get the training and cardiovascular benefits of pedal transportation.  Ideally, you would be able to pedal quite a distance, using electricity to get more mileage and deal with those step hills.

        100 miles a day is perfectly possible on a conventional bike..

      • 5

        I finally got an ebike recently (a electric front wheel kit from hilltoppergear, which I love so far).

        It changed the calculus for bike commuting from “takes an hour and 20 minutes+ and I arrive exhausted” to “takes under and hour and I arrive with plenty of energy left”.

        Under the previous model, I made maybe 10 to 20 one-way trips to/from work a year via bike. With the ebike, if/when work reopens I anticipate being able to ride to and from work pretty much every day, unless the weather is nasty. I’ve already practiced by riding round trip (there and back without stopping) a couple of times, which would have been knee-injury-inducing without the electric assist.

        I use the epower mostly to aid in acceleration and hill climbing. I agree e-power could be a crutch, but I’m also getting a lot more exercise having an ebike. Maybe in a year or two, as a result of biking regularly I won’t need the electric assist anymore! Don’t underestimate the power of ebikes to get people on a bike who otherwise wouldn’t be.

      • 2

        What kind of ebike did you get and are you happy with it? Have you felt any limitations? (Other than the points @hikermor brings up)

      • 3

        I got the Sprinter electric front wheel kit from Hilltopper, and added it to my existing bike:

        Sprinter Electric Bike Kit

        It’s $550, which makes it one of the cheapest kits out there, but it feels very solid and well-designed. The company has been around since 2008, which also gives me more confidence that I will still be able to get a replacement battery and the like from them in a few years.

        I’ve only had the kit for a couple of weeks, but I am really enjoying it. They say it takes under an hour to install it; I’m fastidious about how I set things up, so it took me a whole afternoon (I also had to file my front fork cutouts about 1 mm wider). The battery looks like a large water bottle and fits on a water bottle mount, and the front-wheel motor is small enough that the hub doesn’t stand out as unusually large. The motor is also fairly quiet. This makes it a fairly ‘stealthy’ ebike, which I appreciate, as the laws regulating ebike use are still fairly haphazard and sometimes self-contradictory. So, I’d rather just not advertise that I’m using an ebike and avoid getting harassed or restricted from using it some places.

        This ebike kit has a much smaller motor (250 watt) and battery (~200 watt-hours) than most of them, and tops out at 16 mph instead of the ususal 20. I haven’t found that it’s lacking in power or capacity for my needs, but keep in mind this kit assuming you will still be pedaling the whole time. It can move the bike on it’s own, but it’s much more useful as supplemental torque, and that’s how I use it.

        It functions off a throttle, not a pedal assist (which adds power in proportion to how hard you pedal). I wasn’t enthusiastic about a throttle, but having tried it, I actually like it better. Using the throttle, I can independently control and vary what proportion of power is coming from the motor vs. pedaling in real time. So, I can conserve battery and only use motor power exactly as and when I need it.

        OK, how does it feel to ride? Your pedal-power goes to the rear wheel. The motor is on the front wheel, so it changes your bike from rear-wheel drive to all-wheel drive essentially. I don’t notice a huge difference there, but I do think it handles slightly better in sketchy situations (more traction on terrible pavement, mud, gravel, etc.). As I mentioned earlier, it adds tremendous torque. My top speed isn’t much different than before I added the kit, but I can accelerate out of a stoplight way faster than the cars without much trouble. It also means that hills where I used to shift down from gear 8 to gear 4 I can take in gear 8, and hills where I used to get off and push I can take in gear 4. I feel like the ability to accelerate also adds safety, as I can escape if I am about to be boxed in or put in other dangerous situations by the cars around me. When I want max acceleration, I just jam down the throttle, when I am trying to maintain top speed on a slight hill, I just feather it a bit periodically to keep from slowing down. Again, I really like the throttle (it really helps that it is a gradient of power, not just an on-off switch). As for range, if I’m somewhat lazy and lean heavily on motor power it runs out after about 20 miles, if I’m more stingy with the electricity I can make it last significantly longer. It would also be quick and easy to swap batteries on the road if you are willing to shell out for spares.

        The only feature that I’m sad it doesn’t have is an ability to charge via usb (there’s usb on the battery, but it’s output only). If it could do that, I could throw a large folding usb solar charger in the saddlebags and have a really superb plan B bug-out vehicle.

      • 3

        Oh, also, if you’re curious, this is basically the bike I put it on (my model is a few years older). I really like hub shifting because it’s faster and easier to shift, and you can shift while the bike is stopped.

        http://www.bikesdirect.com/products/gravity/swift-flatbar-hybrid-8.htm

        These bikes do require some basic knowledge of bike maintenance to assemble when they arrive.

    • 3

      I own a specialized StumpJumper 29er. It is big, but I can ride pretty fast. The tires are slim and made for packed earth. You can replace them with road tires too.

      I’ve been considering 29inch tires as not a good idea because they would be harder to replace post SHTF. That being said my tires did last me several thousand km. I used to ride to the office and back everyday is about 20km total. So I guess if you have spares that’s ok as they will last several years.

      Another good upgrade is to install Mr.Tuffy tire liners. My first year I got 6 flats from tiny rocks or glass on the road as I pump my tires pretty hard. After installing the liners I’ve never gotten a flat again.

      • 3

        Did you notice any difference in the way the bike rides with the liners on? I think it’s a smart prep, but I’ve always heard that they kinda deaden things if that makes any sense?

      • 3

        I didn’t notice a difference, but it’s possible with road tires you would.

        Some road tires are lined with kevlar or mixed with other materials so they wouldn’t need any liners too.

      • 3

        Good to know. Thanks, man!

      • 2

        I’ve been reading the 29″ tires are becoming more popular and may even push 27.5’s out. You may not have such a hard time finding them afterall. Still, better to have some extras laying around just in case.

    • 4

      https://www.bafangusadirect.com/

      I had a Bafang mid mount motor installed on an existing bike.  There are basically two choices on motors,  mid mount between the pedals and rear mount in the rear wheel hub.  Price are coming down dramatically and you now can get a new bike with battery and motor installed for $1600 +- which was what I paid to have the battery and motor installed on an older bike.  The battery size runs from 250-1000+ watts.  There are two modes on the controls.  A throttle mode which does not require you to pedal and a pedal assist mode that requires the pedals to be moving.

      Many states have regulations on battery size that require bikes over 1000 watts to be registered as a motor cycle\bike.  Some states and national parks have or are planning regulation to limit trail access based on power output.

      • 3

        Why do you think the prices are coming down? Just a natural drop over time? Seems like the only thing falling in price right now haha

    • 2

      Ebike with a BOB trailer https://www.bobgear.com/accessories-bike-trailers  would be a great combination to eliminate the backpack burden on the body.

      • 3

        In the first place, you don’t need to wear a backpack while riding a bike.  Panniers and bike bgs are much easier on the body and carry the center of gravity lower..  A trailer can be useful, but it adds complexity (more tires to go flat, a wider track, etc).

        When bike touring, the most I carried on my body was a medium waist pack, low on the belt line.

         

      • 3

        For bike touring, I agree, panniers make the most sense. But for wooded trails, I like to keep a thinner profile so a backpack makes the most sense to me. Also, we’re talking about an emergency scenario that involves bugging out by bike. As someone else mentioned, you may need to abandon your bike if it is damaged too bad to repair and walk. That’s going to be easier to do with a backpack.

        Personally, I consider carrying the backpack as part of my training and I like having the hydration bladder.

      • 2

        Here’s a convertible pannier-backpack. I only just now found it (decades ago I had a different version). https://www.twowheelgear.com/products/pannier-backpack-convertible-lite-and-plus

      • 1

        Good find!

    • 3

      I thought I’d add a comment about bike maintenance because I fix a lot of bikes. (I collect used bikes, repair them and donate them to a local charity for distribution to good homes.) Below is a list of the repairs and adjustments I do most frequently, starting with the most common. So learning how to do the things on this list will cover the majority of the repairs you will need to do over the lifetime of your bike:

      1. replace a tube or tire
      2. lubricate a chain / put it back on the gears
      3. adjust the brakes & brake pads (not referring to disc brakes here)
      4. adjust the rear derailleur
      5. replace/adjust seat
      6. replace handlebar grips / re-tape handlebars
      7. replace the chain
      8. straighten/tighten handlebars
      9. replace/tighten the kickstand
      10. replace twist-style grip shifters
      11. replace the brake and/or derailleur cable
      12. front derailleur adjustment

      None of these are hard. They just require patience. Kris covers some of these things in her YouTube channel and Park Bike Tools (www.parktool.com) has lots of excellent instructional videos as well.

      In addition to the equipment Kris recommended, I would add a couple of other things:

      • A quality floor pump with a pressure gauge and both “Presta” and “Schrader” ends on the inflation hose. A floor pump is faster and easier to use than a mini pump, especially for high volume or high pressure tires. Mini pumps can be awkward to use, although certainly better than nothing.
      • A couple of tools will be helpful. Consider adding these to your toolbox, if you don’t already have them:
        • metric hex keys (used on brakes)
        • #1 Philips and 1/8″ (or 3/16″) regular screwdrivers (used on the derailleurs)
        • small adjustable wrench
        • a strong, sharp pair of diagonal cutters (for cutting cables and cable housings)
        • regular pliers
        • a set of small metric wrenches (box on one end, open on the other) will also come in handy
        • a spray bottle of SimpleGreen cleaner/degreaser.

      Personally, I’m not a fan of patch kits for tubes. In my experience patches don’t last long and they are slow to use: remove the tube, pump the tube, find the hole by listening for leaking air, apply the patch, wait for the glue to dry, delicately reassemble the patched tube back into the tire, re-inflate the tire and hope there wasn’t more than just one hole. The patches always seem to leak eventually and I wind up having to replace the tube in the end. So I just carry a spare tube of the correct size, along with a CO2 inflator.

      Lastly, I wholeheartedly agree with Kris’ comments on the importance of getting quality drivetrain components. This is one area where you definitely get what you pay for. The derailleurs and shifters on a “cheap” bike are not durable: the plastic in the grip shifters wears out quickly, and the derailleurs bend and go out of alignment easily. Two or three years of average use is their realistic lifetime. In contrast, the mid-level (not expensive) Shimano components on my mountain and road bikes have been in use for thousands of miles. They still run smoothly and quietly, and have never needed anything more than cleaning and minor adjustments. So good components will keep your bike working reliably for years, make your ride more enjoyable & are definitely something you’ll want if a bike is part of your bug out plan.

      – WS

    • 2

      Great article! and thank you for posting this, I hope that it inspires more people to ride.

      The only thing I would chime in on is that one should “not” worry about seat/saddle. The saddle is the single most important piece of equipment on a bike that can make or break your decision to keep on riding or let the bike collect dust in your garage.

      I am an avid cyclist and have competed in triathlons at a high amateur level and still compete in bike races. If I had to take a stock bike from store and could ONLY change one thing about it, it would be the saddle. No amount of padding will save you from a purely uncomfortable seat, and even then, the many ways cycling shorts can be padded can also change your relationship with the saddle and with your bike.

      Unfortuantely, saddles are also the hardest thing to get right since there is no singular saddle that works for most. Even the latest innovation with split nose saddles that don’t put pressure on the nether regions are still widely variable in comfort for each user. But for potential prepping (which would require being comfortable in the saddle for multi-hour rides), they are absolutely worth getting right. If one lives in a flatter area or doesn’t plan on riding towards the mountains, then get a heavy and nicely padded saddle (but try a few!) but if weight is a concern, it is defintiely worth spending more on the saddle. And to make things worse, if you’re a woman, you have to thumb through hundreds of types of saddles that were designed for men. Only specialized makes women specific saddles (like truly designed for women, not just “shrink & pink”) and even then there is only 1 type, though I have seen many women praise it.

      So in all, I strongly, STRONGLY recommend that everyone try different saddles and get one that works best for you. Most bike stores will allow you to try out different saddles and some of the more fancy stores will have a machine that allows you to try it and switch them out in a matter of seconds but whether it takes 10 minutes to change the saddle or 5 seconds, do make sure that saddle works for you.