Published on the Doomstead Diner on April 3, 2016
Discuss this article at the Bugout Table inside the Diner
The Bicycle Option
In the prior articles on Bugout Bags, I discussed the choices of bags that are reasonable in terms of volume and weight you might be able to handle on a basically pedestrian foot level, utilizing the public transportation means of boats, buses, trains and planes to GTFO of Dodge when TSHTF in your neighborhood, to a hopefully better nabe to set up shop and survive and thrive a bit longer inside industrial society, or at its margins. The analysis assumes you no longer have access to a "bugout machine", aka an SUV or even perhaps an RV in which to make your escape from oncoming collapse in your neighborhood. Having any kind of motorized vehicle and acees to the fuel necessary to run it vastly multiplies the amount of Preps you can carry, you have 22 Billion Energy Slaves at your disposal there to help yank the shit around to wherever you wish to go, assuming of course there are negotiable roads to the destination, no roadblocks and borders you can cross with the vehicle.
In the pedestrian version of such a bugout, for the most part you are limited to about 3 bags if you expect to be on the road for any length of time, although if the bugout is short and has a defined destination, you can probably up that to 5 bags. You have a weight limitation as well, which may vary some by idnividual depending on your size and what kind of physical condition you are in, but is overall circumscribed by limitations the bags themselves have, as well as limitations that airlines have if you will be including any air travel in the bugout. Overall, a weight limit of around 150 lbs is the most reasonable, although you might push it to 200 in well defined short bugout scenarios.
Bicycles provide an intermediary between the pedestrian based bugout and one utilizing the power of an Internal Combustion Engine (or electric motor if you have an EV). Here you get the benefit of having 22 Billion Energy Slaves to help you haul around all your preps, so you can vastly increase what it is possible to carry with you on a Bugout. The disadvantage of course is that you are dependent on the availability of gas and you can't take the car with you on an airplane if you want to get somewhere really far away from where you are at and TSHTF.
The bicycle eliminates those disadvantages for a car, while at the same time giving you increased range and speed for your self-propelled bugout. As a pedestrian, to walk 5-10 miles isgoing to take you a few hours, on a bicycle you can over the same territory in under an hour. You also never have to worry about running out of gas, and traffic problems are for the most part resolved as well. For the fast bugout situation like Katrina where everyone is trying to GTFO of Dodge at the same time, while all the Carz drivers are sitting at a dead stop or in 5mph bumper to bumper traffic, you can be cruising along the shoulder at 10-15 mph, with no worries about whether the next gas station up the road has any gas left.
Bikes also provide the advantage that unlike a car, you can take them on and use them in conjunction with public transportation. When I moved out to Missori back in the 90s, it came right after my car was stolen and I took the bike on the airplane with me, in checked baggage. You have to box it up and check it, which is going to cost you extra money, but you can bring it along for the ride. In NY Shity back in my youth, you could bring your bike on the Subway, and then the Long Island Railroad also offered a Bike Pass which allowed you to bring your bike on the trains, as long as it was not during Rush Hour. So on the weekend if I wanted to go to Fire Island, I could ride down to the Jamaica Station hub, get on a South Shore light rail train with my bike for 50 miles, then get off and ride another 5 miles to the beach!
Another advantage for bikes is for the City Dweller who may not have access to good parking, or the money to afford a car anyhow. You can keep a bike and all your preps in even the smallest apartment, hang your bike on hooks on the wall and keep all your bugout bags ready in the front closet for a fast bugout. All your valuable preps are kept safe (at least as safe as any apartment is from burglary anyhow) and you have immediate access to them in an emergency bugout scenario.
What about disadvantages? There are a few. Because you need to pack your preps in smaller bags that distribute around the bike and on a bike trailer, this places some limitations on what you might pack and carry. Weight is also an issue. The bike has it's own weight that you are hauling around with all the preps, and even if well geared with a 21 speed drive train, trying to bike up even a medium size hill fully loaded up with 150 lbs of preps is going to be difficult. Similarly, going down any long incline with that much weight is going to put a lot of strain on the brakes, so you better have good ones. Then you have the issue of mechancal failures. While there isn't a whole lot that can go wrong with your feet or a wheely bag, bikes have chains and cables that can break and of course tires that can go flat. While you can carry around some stuff for on the road repairs, if you try to carry too much in the way of spares and tools to fix things, you are going to be adding still more weight and bulk. So you are going to be dependent on finding still operating bike shops if you rin into a real mechanical problem. On the upside here, if you figure your Bugout is basically a one shot deal and your bike is in well maintained condition at the start, your major breakdown likelihood is low. A couple of extra inner tubes, patching kit and maybe an extra chain is going to be enough to keep you moving under most circumstances.
The final disadvantage is the theft problem. While you might lock up the bike to a pole or bike rack of some type while you drop in a store to do some shopping or use the bathroom, all those bags are EZ targets for thieves. So if you are traveling solo, once you get out on the road with your full setup engaged and packed, you pretty much have to stay with the bike and gear 24/7 until you arrive at a destination where you can unload it and safely stow all the gear and lock up the bike and trailer. You'll be able to do this in a motel room, or you might lease a storage unit for a month if you expect to be in a location for a while doing some job hunting. You are much better off if traveling this way in pairs or in small groups, because then one person can be left guarding the bikes and preps while others go use the public bathrooms or do some shopping.
OK, now that we have looked at some of the advantages and disadvantages of the BBB, what kind of bags do we need and how do we distribute the preps? Also of course, what kind of bike do we want here for this purpose?
Beginning with the bike itself, most often bikers who do bike camping over paved roads select lightweight bikes with fairly thin wheels, not quite racing bikes but much thinner than the wheels on an off road bike. For the bugout bike, you probably want to choose something intermediate here, a tire that is wide enough and robust enough to handle a dirt road, but not so wide as for use on off road trails. You're not going to be able to pull a full load of preps on an off road trail with the bike anyhow. When you get to that point in a Wilderness style bugout, you're going to have to shift to humping it in mostly on foot.
Weight and price are another issue. The lighter the bike, the more it costs, so you have to look at your own budget on this one. Consider also that since you are going to be loading up the bike with a lot of preps, it's not going to make that much difference to the total weight if the bike weighs 25 lbs or 35 lbs, and the 35 lb bike will come in a LOT cheaper. Its the difference between spending a few hundred for a bike or a few thousand.
Then there is the hardware the bike comes with, the shifting apparatus and the brakes mainly. The more gears a bike has, the more sensitive the shifting apparatus is, so for a robust system you would want fewer gears (like my old 10-speed), but for greater ability to negotiate hills, a 21 speed would be better. You have to decide where the best balance is on that for yourself, and there are of course a wide variety of choices of manufacturers for these things at the moment, with a huge variation ien quality. Go to bike websites to review what is out there to make an informed decision on this.
For a bike that is hauling a lot of weight, as I indicated above brakes are extremely important. Most bikes have the typical rubber caliper brakes that grip the wheel itself, but for a bugout bike hauling a lot of gear I would recommend metal Disc Brakes front and rear that are miniaturized versions of motorcycle disc brakes. They have the issue of added complexity and they are more expensive, but you'll want that stopping power on any decent size hill you have to descend with a full load.
Once you have your bike, you should get to know it well and be able to do most common repairs yourself. So practice taking the wheels and chain off and on, tuning the gears and and brakes, fixing a flat etc. You don't want your first trial with this to come while you are on your bugout!
Now that you have chosen your bike, you need to pick your bags and distribute out your preps accross the bags that are attached to the bike, as well as those that are on a bike trailer if you really want to maximize your prep cargo capacity for the BBB. At the top of the page you see a fairly typical example of a well loaded and distributed touring bike with front and rear pannier bags. These specially designed bags just for bikes are the ideal, but they are also relatively expensive as bags go for the size range you are looking at here. For instance, the rear pannier set pictured at the right goes for $240. You can get basically the same volume with the same material by picking up a couple of school size backpacks at Walmart for $25 each, even less sometimes. With a few carabiners and some bungee cord, you can strap them on the rack just as well as the custom pannier bags. To really make it secure you can sew on some additional velcro attachement points to the rear carrier and customize how you like. Instead of spending upwards of $1000 for your bag arrangement for the bike, youcan cut the cost to 1/2 that or less, leaving over a lot of FRNs from your bugout budget for buying more good preps to stuff in those bags.
In terms of weight, if each of your front panniers has 15 lbs in it and each of the rear ones has 25, you are already up to 80 lbs of gear, more than half way to your limit of 150 lbs. On top of the rear carrier you can ad bulky items like a sleeping bag, tarps and tent, say another 20 lbs and you are now at 100 lbs on the bike itself.
To really max out here, you add a bike trailer. I like the Maya single wheel trailer for its narrow profile and the fact it can be converted to a hand pushed or pulled wheelbarrow.
It's rated to carry up to 66 lbs (although I think it would carry more) and weighs about 13 lbs for a total now on the bike of 166 lbs of cargo, and around 45 lbs for the bike and trailer, putting you well over the 150 limit so you would not want to stack all these bags to the max, unless you are Lance Armstrong with an extra dose of steroids. LOL.
All the preps listed for the pedestrian bugout bags will fit in the BBB setup. For air travel, you will have issues of course in terms of number of bags and the cost involved, by the time you pack up the bike and trailer and then all the ancillary bags, it will probably cost you as much or more than the original plane ticket to drop all of this stuff in the baggage compartment of the airplane. It might be worth it though for a one time bugout.
Insofar as using trains, whether it is Amtrak her in the FSoA or the Interrail in Europe, most of this will have to go in the baggage compartment, unlike the pedestrian setup you can't throw it on the train in the passenger compartment. You may or may not be able to fit the bike and trailer into the baggage compartment of an inter-city Greyhound style bus, you almost certainly will not be able to bring the arrangement onto a typical commuter bus, which can be managed with the pedestrian bugout bag arrangement.
So which is better, Pedestrian or Bike for the Personal Carry Bugout? There is no definitive answer to that, because they both have advantages and disadvantages. Pedestrian is cheaper and more flexible as well. The bike provides you your own personal transportation and the ability to travel greater distances in a shorter time than pedestrian. In the end, it depends a lot on the type of bugout you have to make and what the surrounding situation is. For the Syrians for example, since they have to in many cases ride on inflatable boats from Turkey to Greece, a bike is pretty much a non-starter. Not to mention all the dicey public transport mechanisms they need to access along the way. They also are mostly limited to just 2 bags, no big 3rd bag for them either. For the ones trying to stowaway on trucks crossing to the UK from Calais, they can't even carry that, just what they have on their person.
For most of us here in the FSoA, we're not going to have to make the same kind of bugout as the Syrians. Most bugouts will be within the confines of the NA continent, from Panama up to Nunavut. The continent is well crisscrossed by roads that bikes can function on, and there are no water crossings that do not have bridges or tunnels that you have to negotiate. So NA bugouts are much more suited to BBBs than bugouts from MENA to Europe. The geographical obstacles there are a big reason for why the cultures are so different and why there has been relatively little intermingling of the populations up until the industrial era and the advent first of trains, then automobiles and planes. As time goes by here and borders are progressively more closed, the ability to make these migrations will diminish. This will however take some time, and meanwhile the Refugee crisis in that neighborhood looks set to escalate in the coming years.