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Bug Out Bike: Good Idea or Death Trap?

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As preppers, we are always looking for solutions to problems. The solutions we find can come in many forms; from a different mindset or viewpoint, to skills training and in many cases, simply acquiring gear and supplies needed for survival. In some respects, prepping could be reduced down to the most basic aspect of problem solving to stay alive. One of the main problems preppers seem to be drawn to solve is the very realistic potential of having to drop everything and bug out of your home in a moment’s notice. There is a wide array of considerations on this topic, but today I want to focus on one potential answer to the bugging out problem, the bug out bike.

The bug out bike is not something we have dealt with much on the Prepper Journal before, but I did mention it as a possibility to consider in an older post on the topic of the Ultimate Get Out of Dodge Vehicle. I recently got interested in this subject again when I purchased a mountain bike for myself. I will admit that part of my decision to do so was from the standpoint that this could be a viable method of transportation if cars/fuel were no longer available due to shortage or EMP effects. It also helped that my wife was on-board with this idea too.

In looking further at my mountain bike, I started to consider the potential for using this as a tool to help us bug out. Since my family all had bikes now, could we use these relatively simple machines to our benefit? There are some advantages certainly, but I wanted to explore whether this bike would be a good idea or could end up being a large mistake. As with most things in prepping, there aren’t many absolutes. You take the situation you are given and deal with it, but there is nothing to say that the situation you planned for will work out the exact way you want it to. Prepping is equal measures preparation and creativity. You prepare for one thing to happen, but you need to be flexible if all that goes sideways on you.

What is a bug out bike?

For the purposes of this article, I am not talking about a motorcycle. A bug out bike in this context is similar to what most of us are intimately familiar with already. As a child growing up, owning a bike was pretty much a given. Your bike is what conveyed you all around the neighborhood to see friends and test the bounds of your relatively small borders. All of my friends had bikes and we rode them daily in virtually any weather until we grew old enough to get our drivers license.

The bikes of my youth were great for zipping down the road or jumping homemade ramps out of scrap pieces of wood but a bug out bike is a little more serious in design. A bug out bike is meant to give you a way out of a danger zone when traditional methods of transportation are no longer available. Ideally, a true bug out bike would be designed to carry the additional weight of supplies or your survival gear and be rugged enough to make a journey over less than ideal terrain.

There are two main types of bikes I see repeatedly that are proposed as the best bug out solution. Touring bikes are routinely used by millions each day to get back and forth to work. They can be outfitted with panniers to carry additional supplies like your lunch, laptop and change of clothes. They are geared to help you climb hills more easily and offer plenty of features for the modern commuter who doesn’t or can’t rely on a car or other mass transportation.

Mountain bikes are the other side of the coin and they too can be outfitted with additional storage capacity just like touring bikes, but they are meant to be treated a little more severely and might give up some of the comforts a touring bike could give you.

Either one of these two options could be a great benefit to your personal well-being even if nothing ever happens. Owning a bike is an excellent way to get exercise and interact with your surroundings in a different way. Just like everything else in life, the amount of money you can invest in this potential survival tool can vary greatly what you end up with. You can find used bikes on Craigslist or you can spend well over $5000 on the lightest bikes with the best equipment. Cost aside, I do believe that any bike would be good to have for both the health benefits and potential bug out options. You don’t necessarily have to have anything fancy as long as the wheels roll and you are in the proper shape to use it. But when we are considering solving the problem of bugging out, we need to look more closely and see if that bug out bike is the best option for your situation.

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Does a bug out bike have any uses after SHTF?

When we go back to planning to bug out with the idea that we can ride to safety, let’s look at a few assumptions. First off, bugging out implies that you are leaving home or wherever you are currently located and traveling to someplace else. This could be to a remote bug out retreat, a friend’s house or out of the immediate vicinity of danger. Any bug out situation would ideally see you with the ready capacity to grab your bug out bag and go but travel by bike has just as many risks as bugging out by car of by foot.

Traveling by bike has numerous advantages:

No need to stop at the pump – You don’t require any fuel other than your own pedal power, but knowing this you have to also consider how much more physically intensive your day may be so food is an important factor. If you plan to cover 50 miles a day on a bike, you will burn though calories (unless you are going downhill) like crazy.

Flat tires should be less of a problem – Yes, bikes do carry a risk of flat tires just like cars, but it is far simpler to carry both spare tubes and patch kits for that eventuality. With a hand pump and a spare tube, you can be back on the road in minutes. Cars carry spares of course, but you would be hard pressed to carry multiple spares without losing valuable space. I can fit two spare tubes in a small pack under my seat.

Bikes can go where cars can’t go – Bikes do have a greater ability to squeeze into small spaces making any traffic jam easily navigated. Additionally, you can cut across wilderness using trails if you have that route mapped out.

Bug Out Bikes allow you to carry more gear – Or at least easily distribute the weight off your back. The properly outfitted bike can carry 40 -50 pounds of gear in bags and pouches. This weight isn’t free as you will still need to be responsible for pedaling it uphill but it’s hard to beat. Bug Out Bags themselves can cause injury to joints if you aren’t used to carrying that weight. When all your gear is loaded properly on a bike, even if you are talking about the same weight in gear, it will be easier to manage.

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Bikes are quieter and easier to hide – You can easily sneak through areas in stealth mode on a bike assuming that you need to do that. Even the quietest car is far noisier and if you need to hide your bike, that is far easier done than with a car. You can lay it down in a small depression and cover it with branches or debris gathered from nearby.

But the bug out bike is not without its drawbacks

Some of the same reasons I used above for advantages can also be the bug out bike’s most obvious weaknesses in a bug out scenario.

Your bike offers zero shelter – I don’t mean that you can’t pack a tent on the back but you are essentially exposed to all of the elements on a bike. Weather is one thing, but there is some comfort that the mass of a vehicle can provide. You can be easily knocked off your bike by someone who is panicked and sees your ride with all those supplies as a way out. The traffic jam you are breezing through could easily be the place where someone jumps out from behind a truck and smashes you in the face with a bat. You are out for hours while someone makes off with your way out of dodge.

You can’t outrun everyone – Bikes can go very fast downhill but loaded down with 50 pounds of gear, going uphill is a recipe for again getting trapped by unscrupulous people. You won’t be crashing through any barricades with a bike either.

Two wheels aren’t as stable as 4 – slippery surfaces or the potential of trying to bug out in winter could send you flying into a ditch. Bikes are best in optimal conditions and balance must to taken into consideration.

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Only one person can drive a bike – You are responsible for pedaling yourself and it isn’t like you can get tired and give someone else the wheel while you catch some sleep. I know this is the same problem a lone traveler by car would have but it is a factor. People riding bikes in the worst types of collapse could consider using night vision and only riding at night for somewhat safer travel.

Should you give up on your bug out bike dreams?

I think bikes offer so many possibilities that they should be considered as options. While I don’t necessarily plan to bug out on bikes, they are in my arsenal as a last resort. We can ride them to our hearts content now and get in better physical shape should we need to rely on them later and I am planning for a 21 mile ride myself this afternoon to further that goal.

Bikes don’t necessarily have to only be bug out options. Bikes could have extreme usefulness in a disaster even if you are staying put. Let’s say gas does run out or somehow the electric grid does collapse, you can still use your bike to get around. You could look at those as potential barter items for people who severely need an option to travel. They can make manning guard locations in an all-out collapse easier than walking. They make a lot of sense for many reasons.

Back to prepping as a way of solving problems. I view bikes as another way you can solve a few problems you might be faced with. They aren’t perfect, but I don’t think many other bug out plans are bulletproof. You try something and if that doesn’t work you have a back-up. Maybe your bikes are strapped to your bug out vehicle and you pull them out if you are unable to go any further with that truck. Options.

Are bikes a good survival option for you? They may be, or they could just be a great way to have fun, get outside and get in shape. Either way, it’s a win for preppers.

29 Comments

  1. Huples

    April 25, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    Great article Pat.

    I more see our bikes and transport after the majority have died off. Before then they are a juicy target. I’m walking out off all trails.

    If anyone is a cycle racer or tourist please do an article on tips long distance cycling.

    One thing that works well is sharing the heavily loaded bug out bike. One rides and one walks. You swap off frequently. If 50lbs or more of gear this slower method might get you further.
    It also allows for the walker to have security items ready to go immediately if trouble hits. The cyclist is at a huge disadvantage if sudden trouble occurs.

    For bug out I’d go for solid rubber tyres as changing tires is a pain and roads and trails might have debris.

    One type not covered is the City Bike. Cross between mountain and touring. Worth a look at as can handle rough trail but goes well on roads. Also cheaper than a full on mountain bike.

    I did a 24 hour spin once in running shorts. Get the best cycling shorts money can buy and Vaseline your never regions frequently! It was bloody painful 🙁

    • Pat Henry

      April 25, 2016 at 8:28 pm

      Thanks Huples!

      I haven’t purchased any cycling shorts yet and really don’t want to consider the skintight versions for mountain/trail biking anyway. I am still using those running shorts you mentioned but I did 22 miles today. No problem with chaffing but I definitely need a better seat. Ouch…

      I know we have some long-distance riders who read so maybe they will answer your request with an article.

      Pat

      • Chris

        April 25, 2016 at 10:14 pm

        They do offer mtb cycling shorts which have the padding but the loose fit like running shorts. Several varieties also have pockets. A few even have zip off legs so they can go from pants to shorts. You can also get gel saddle covers to put over the seat which will help a little. Don’t forget a good pair of cycling gloves as your hands will take a beating on a long or several long rides. Another possibility you could look at for your bike and those potential uphill situations is a small motor, they have both gas and electric options. Check with local cycling shops about training rides, lots of locals can give you great tips on riding and the best type of supplies to keep on your bike for your area.

        • Pat Henry

          April 26, 2016 at 8:52 am

          I haven’t seen those yet Chris. My local shop is great at gear, but too small to have a large selection of apparel. I think REI and other places online should have what you are describing though.

      • BobW

        April 25, 2016 at 10:28 pm

        go to a good bike shop, Pat. I bought the cycling shorts that had the skintights as a ‘liner’ for an almost bermuda style short over them. You get the benefit of cycling shorts without scaring old ladies and small children.

    • Bolofia

      April 29, 2016 at 5:03 pm

      “Before then they are a juicy target. I’m walking out off all trails.” I am firmly in your camp on this issue. If my 4WD becomes inoperable, packing it out is my method of choice. After the big die off, there will be a lot of unclaimed bikes.

  2. Zendelle Bouchard

    April 25, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    I have often wondered

  3. Z-Cat

    April 25, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    I have wondered why discussions about getting home in an EMP situation never talk about bikes. Carrying enough gear/food/water for a long hike is smart, but wouldn’t it also make sense to have a bike in the back of the car? I realize it could make you a target, but you’d be home before 99% of the people even knew it was anything more than a run of the mill power outage.

    • BobW

      April 25, 2016 at 10:54 pm

      Yes, I believe a dirt cicle is a great option. Choose a bike based on sound, not appearances. Honda XR250/400/500/600 or Kawi KLR 250/650 or ‘zuki DR models.

      The sexier the bike is, the louder it will be. The best bikes for a disaster should be stealthy. The Honda XRs were used by Army scouts for years to snoop and poop around the battlefield. Solid bike and quiet.

    • BobW

      April 25, 2016 at 10:55 pm

      Woops. Replied to the wrong post.

  4. Don Lowe

    April 25, 2016 at 10:14 pm

    Now that you mention it, would a small motorcycle survive an EMP, or do even they have too much computer equipment that would be fried? If it could survive, I would consider that a better option for a prolonged power outage than either a car or bicycle.

  5. BobW

    April 25, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    I firmly believe that mountain biking is as important an exercise as prepping skill. The bikes aren’t option 1, but should be securely mounted on option 1 in a bug out. Thule and Yakima make versatile bike mounts for cars, trucks and jeeps.

    One must always account for a legitimate option 2. Having the bikes mounted behind the car/truck provides redundancy.

    • BobW

      April 25, 2016 at 10:50 pm

      Panniers front and back on mountain bikes will allow you to reduce what you haul in the pack on your back. Extra tubes are cheap, have two in reserve at all times for each bike. Have one extra tire for each bike as well. They should be same size and tread pattern.

    • BobW

      April 26, 2016 at 12:10 pm

      Oh, bikes should be mounted on the back of cars and on tow hitches for trucks/jeeps. This reduces your vehicles profile. It also leaves room for that roof rack to store bags and fuel cans if you need.

  6. R. Ann

    April 26, 2016 at 7:10 am

    Training on bikes is at the very least a good way to cull what’s needed and not needed in an evac bag, and what type of bag we want – losing it on a bike in a heavy through-pack is bad news, and some types cause serious neck cramping depending on handlebar height.

    That said, it’s not mountain biking, but anybody who’s been to Mexico City, India, or the Far East can account for just how much stuff can get carried on a bike with a little skill, practice and can-do.

    Also not for off-roading, really, but there are jogging-style trailers and “copilot” hitches for biking parents who want to haul small children on rough-cut trails.

    I was glad to see the point about them used in an “after” situation, too.

    A lot of countries still have huge numbers of people who use bikes even for not-tiny commutes. They’re one of those things that can be had fairly readily and inexpensively now (along with spare chains, wheels, tires, tubes, brakes and baskets/panniers) that in a lot of the financially affected but not total-breakdown situation become very valuable, even just the suburban-stroll types that can be found off freebie/cheap sites.
    🙂

  7. RAIDER

    April 26, 2016 at 8:25 am

    In the UK with its congestion bug out bikes are popular with both urban and rural preppers, they often overcome the issue of flat tyres by using puncture proof tyres from the Green Tyre Company of Middlesbrough, I’m sure similar products must be available in the US

  8. BobW

    April 26, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    Good, new mountain bikes can be acquired for under $400. Brands like Specialized, and Trek. There are lots of other brands out there, but from what I’ve seen these are the two major brands that run from 24″ mountain bikes for kids down to about 7yo all the way up to super fancy full suspension units with 29″ tires.

    I would strongly discourage any of the bikes sold at discount stores like Target and Walmart. Just like a bargain basement AR, bargain basement mountain bikes skimp here and there to make a profit selling cheapo bikes. Cheap rims that bend, poor quality bearings and races that are often slightly out-of-true resulting in blown bearing packs and a bike left behind are bad investments.

    When I was younger, I bought what appeared to be a very nice mountain bike made by a reputable treadmill company. Yeah, I know, but I got it for half-off where I worked at the time. I went through two crank bearings in under a year. The shop eventually used a micrometer to determine that the crank housing was out of round. Luckily I was able to return it and bought a GT mountain bike in ’91. 25 years later, the seat has a small crack in the seat fabric, but is STILL fully mission capable for anything I want to do.

    Mountain bikes are an investment, not an expense. While things are good, use them to, well…mountain bike. Recon trails in your area, test/time evac routes, and improve your fitness. When things go bad, you’ll be in better shape for the actual evac, if it comes to that.

    • Pat Henry

      April 26, 2016 at 1:18 pm

      I agree with you on all those points Bob. Additional cost almost always means better quality and lighter materials.

    • Huples

      April 27, 2016 at 3:16 pm

      Bob the last time I bought a bike new it was snowing and 11am on a Tuesday.
      Went to a real bike shop, took my time, and got two thirds off.
      My point is this is Spring, buy now and pay top dollar. Bet you can get more bike for less money in the Winter months.
      You are exactly correct about discount bikes. In SHTF you don’t wanted rusted spikes Year Two!

      One thing is Fat Tires are the latest fad in biking. Can use the bike on snow and ice with fair ease. As I said I’m walking out avoiding trails and roads but I have a few bikes just in case and for transportation well after the event. I see the point if you have a group and open roads but around cities leaving on a loaded bike would be very tempting to anyone who sees you or sets up road blocks.

      You also need to consider wildlife if bugging out on a bike. Silent approach means you can come right up to moose and cougar and bear on trails. Of course people the bigger threat

  9. XILA

    April 27, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    Missed cargo bikes and recumbent.
    A cargo bicycles are utilitarian road or city bikes built for hauling cargo, they are very common in Asia. Generally they have a longer wheel base and a beefier frame, and can carry the rider plus a couple hundred pounds of cargo. The down side is they are slow even for bikes. (And if you think you’ld be a juicey target with 20pounds of supplies straped to road bike…..)
    My own back up bug out bike is a recumbent, so I’m biased. But, for distance traveling nothing beats a ‘touring ‘bent’ (Longbikes Slipstream, or a Bacchetta Giro ATT would be two very different examples). Recumbents are also better for situational awareness, becouse your in a reclined position, even if you are pushing hard, you’re head can remain on the swivel, instead of getting focused on the front post of your bike and three feet of concrete in front of you.The biggest downside is that becouse almost all ‘bents are built by small shops they tend to be very very expensive. Also, it’s critical to test ride a bent (or any bug out bike for that matter) before purchaseing, no point adding a tool to your kit if you can’t or won’t use it.

  10. Bolofia

    April 29, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Pat, Good article, as always.
    Your selection of title (Death Trap?) is interesting, but I think all would agree that the benefits of bugging out on bikes far outweigh the negatives if common sense is applied. The question of whether a bike might be a death trap is really dependent on the circumstance of a chosen route, including timing, distance, proximity to large and potentially dangerous crowds, etc. Bikes are certainly quieter than any motorized vehicle and probably make less noise than an average hiker in off-road locales. The biggest drawback I can think of is the inherent inability to defend oneself while on a bike. That includes defense against weapons fire as well as someone that might rush you with a club from an unseen location. In fact, it is probably more difficult to maintain situational awareness on a bike than in a vehicle. The added benefit of being in a vehicle is that you probably have a second set of eyes in the front seat and that person could easily bring to bear a rifle of shotgun if needed.
    Although I haven’t incorporated a bike into my own bug out plans, I’ve tried to visualize the conditions under which one would be advantageous. I may be wrong, but it seems that back roads in less populated areas would be the best route selection. I think it would also be important to hit the road early, rather than find yourself in the middle of the Golden Hoard. Otherwise, you may find yourself surrounded by people who covet your mode of transportation.
    The most significant drawback that I can think of is that you would be limited to using existing roadways (paved or not) and/or existing trails. I say this in the context of my local geography, where the terrain is rough, vertical and contains very few roads and even fewer established trails.

    • Pat Henry

      April 29, 2016 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks Bolo!

      Yes, titles are funny things aren’t they? In some cases the are overly sensational but I do get people reading who would have passed it by under a tamer description.

      You have listed a lot of my thoughts too. I don’t think it is a perfect solution, but given the right parameters as you mention, it could work in a lot of situations. I guess the thought in writing this was from the standpoint of your Plan A. The bike wouldn’t ever be my Plan A for a lot of the reasons you mention. Could it be B or C or D or Z, maybe. I do think in the very long run at least they will be still valuable.

      Pat

      • Bolofia

        April 29, 2016 at 8:57 pm

        Plan “B” at best, more likely plan “C.” Given my particular locale, the notion of roof mounted bikes just wouldn’t work unless I was willing to stop and remove/remount them every time I encountered a low hanging tree in a wash or primitive trail. Roof mounted radio antennas are a problem as it is…

  11. GhostColts141

    April 30, 2016 at 11:25 am

    just mount a gun on a fatbike along with a few biking bags and your good to go

  12. Realist

    May 22, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    The bike is a great item to bug out with however this is plan B. I plan on having one in the event I have to go without a vehicle. The thing I like about them it they can carry so much. I am not talking about me but equipment. I can carry a lot in my truck and in the event of breakdown I will not all my things to go to waste. During the Viet Nam war the VC would carry 200 pounds of equipment and push the bikes. This is my plan in the event I have a lot of equipment to move. If nothing else I will ride it.

    You can armor your tires by filling them with slime. I have puncture resistant tires and carry and extra.

    • BBumble

      March 3, 2017 at 1:44 pm

      1.) If I have to walk out, I will load specific gear on the bike primarily to push. To avoid it becoming a target, I will likely remove the pedals and pack them for later…not many folks want a bike without pedals. Even if abandoned termporariily, a thief might get on one left aside, then get right off…human nature. Pedals easier to hide than front wheel or handlebars…

      2.) I would load packs and water (heavier stuff) on a book rack, off sides and hang off handlebars. I would have a quick release capability (think one pull rope knots) for quick removal. Alternately, what I would carry are my defensive ‘supplies’, flashlights, comm (if it survived), and various other lighter things I would want if I had to run away…think loaded vest.

  13. lumberjake

    March 27, 2017 at 4:29 am

    I see a bike as being a very good BOV.
    In the majority of SHTF situations ,the first images you see on the news is clogged traffic arteries . At least in all major population areas.
    The motor vehicle and the infrastructure used is one of the first things used and manipulated in any SHTF scenario and would surely become an immediate target for those either in power or wishing to gain it which is why I see fossil fueled vehicles as being a liability in nearly all but the most rural of situations.

  14. elleryjk

    March 27, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    tl;dr ahead… you been warned.

    As a seasoned cyclist I can tell you no one is going to be on a bike during SHTF. They will all be jam packed like sardines in their cars, bumper to bumper going nowhere, quickly running out of fuel, right in the path of harms way. To the average adult American, bikes are those things they rode as kids that now hang in their garage – kids’ toys that are collecting dust. Even if they did hop on, a bike wouldn’t get them very far anyway since they are either out of shape or not in cycling shape (being a gym bro or even a runner does not make you fast on a bike), and don’t know about shifting and cadence. Effective cycling – especially in a disaster situation is as much about technique as being in shape. Most of those bike shaped objects (BSOs) purchased from wally world don’t even shift and have rubbing brakes, suuuuper low, squishy seats that will crack your knees and rub your butt raw in a couple miles, they have loose cranks and headsets because the same dude built it up as who builds the patio furniture. So yeah, go to a real bike shop and start riding. A lot – you’ll need to be bale to push somewhere in the area of 15-18mph average moving is you want to get out of a major metro area at less than a snail’s pace. I see the cruzzee crowd meandering to the bars at about a walking pace.

    All this is exactly why my gf and I will be on our frame bag equipped bikepacking rigs fully outfitted, taking empty bike paths, canal paths, tunnels and bike boulevards out of town, hopping fences, rolling dry washes and drainage where necessary for a direct route. Our bikes handle dirt roads and singletrack just fine, even loaded up with enough gear to last weeks. That’s what bikepacking is about! …why would you overload a bike and walk it when you could just backpack the same amount of equipment? If you want to go slow and carry more than that, just get a shopping cart – at least it stands up on its own.

    Maybe a bike is a target way long after everything has gone down and all the cars and gas caches have dried up, but don’t underestimate America’s love affair with sedentary lifestyle and conventional thinking. A car truck, motorcycle, van, scooter…moped will all be more attractive options because they all think “a bike is slow, it’s a kid’s toy”. A nice bicycle will be a target only to those few who are capable of actually getting one from point A to B on one: those who have trained and understand gearing, cadence, mechanics and have good cycling legs (which it sounds like a few of the commenters above actually do). Unless you shot me off my ride while I roll 19 mph amidst foliage and building where your car can’t go (so you won’t be there anyway), then I could probably walk right up to you and push you off my bike if you’re not the sort who rides. *Not a brag* – that’s just kind of the difference between a trained cyclist and someone who doesn’t ride, even someone who migh be in good shape otherwise. I think the general comments reflect inexperience with cycling, except a few knowledgeable posts. It also showcases the odd motor addicted culture we have (even in an EMP, no gas apocalypse, someone asks if a motorbike would work as a preference to a bicycle!). I rest my case.

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