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Bike Touring Survival Guide

Packed with practical advice and tips for life on the road, from over 50 experienced bike tourists.

Friedel & Andrew Grant

About The Authors We’re Friedel & Andrew - two Canadians who fell into bike touring while living in London. We were searching for an adventurous way to go around the world. That was in 2006. It was three years and 48,000km later when we returned home with a new passion for discovering the world on two wheels. Our love of bicycles brought us to the Netherlands, where we live, work and write about bike touring. We still take off on our bikes for a few days or weeks at a time, and we’re planning more big adventures. We welcome your bike touring tips for future editions of this book, and your ideas for changes or additions. Share your thoughts by emailing

A Note About Copyright It’s taken over a year of hard work to produce this book. Selling it helps us to continue publishing free information on our website, and to pay for IT costs such as server maintenance. Please don’t pass it around the internet, put it up on file-sharing sites or make copies in any form - print or electronic - to sell. In other words, this book is © 2011 Friedel & Andrew Grant. If you’re writing a review of the book, feel free to quote brief passages and thanks for reviewing it! Creative Commons material can, of course, be reused according to the license for each object. Rights to photos from our contributors stay with the photographer. 1


Bike Touring Survival Guide By Friedel & Andrew Grant With Contributions, Editing and Inspiration By: Aaldrik Mulder & Sonya Spry, Adam Thomas & Catherine Mojsiewicz, Aitor Zabala, Alastair Humphreys, Alicia Ackerman, Alvaro Neil the Biciclown, Amaya Williams & Eric Schambion, Ann Wilson, Anthony Atkielski, Chris Leakey & Liz Wilton, Chris Meyer, Chris Roach, David Piper, Doug Nienhuis, Emma Philpott & Justin Hewitt, Fearghal O’Nuallain & Simon Evans, Frederike Ramm & Guy Moodie, Gayle Dickson, Grace Johnson & Paul Jeurissen, Geoff Stanley, Heather Burge, Ian Hincks, Jim Langley, Jim Wood, Josie Dew, Keith Bassingthwaighte, Kent Peterson, Loretta Henderson, Marten Gerritsen, Matt Picio, McNett, Michael Meiser, Mike Boles, Mirjam Wouters, Oli Broom, Peter Gostelow, Peter Lypkie, Primus, Quantum Cycles, Ray Swartz, Rebecca Hogue & Scott Drennan, Richard Masoner, Rob Moir, Santos Bikes, Sarabeth Matilsky, Sarah Luttio, Scott Stoll, Shane Little, Simone & Trevor, Stephen Lord, Steve Fabes, Steve Langston, Stijn de Klerk, Steve Willey, Tara Alan & Tyler Kellen


Contents Introduction You Can Do It! Keep It Simple

7 9

Part 1: Life On The Road Getting Ready For The Adventure Is it safe and fun to bike tour, even on my own? 13 Will this cost a lot? I’m not rich! 16 How much do I need to plan? 19 Mapping out a route? 23 Bikes on planes, trains, buses or boats? 29 What to pack? 37 Getting sponsors or riding for charity? 41 Advice for women planning to bike tour? 43

Daily Logistics Navigating my daily route? 50 What to eat? 56 Where to sleep? 67 Getting a shower? 77 Doing laundry? 79 Finding water? How much to carry? 82 Help! Where’s the toilet? 86 What if my day starts going wrong? 88

The People You Meet Why do all these strangers want to meet me? Weird questions people will ask me? Should I accept offers of hospitality from strangers?

92 96 98

Staying Connected Keeping in touch with friends and family? Which gadgets and electronics to carry? Finding electricity to power these gizmos? Getting internet access? 3

102 104 107 110

Challenges Dealing with traffic? Will I be robbed or hassled? Making sure my bike isn’t stolen? If dogs chase me? Coping with bad weather? Staying healthy? Wanting to quit before my tour is over?

113 116 118 121 123 126 132

Far Away Places Do I need many vaccinations? Is it safe to go there? What about getting visas? Getting and exchanging money? Bribes, bargaining and beggars? Communicating without speaking the language?

135 137 139 145 149 151

Coming Home I’m home. Now what? Will I ever get a job again?

154 156

Part 2: Bike & Camping Gear Maintenance Repair Kits & General Bike Care What goes in my repair kit? Keeping my bike running smoothly? What’s that funny sound? What if my bike frame cracks?

160 167 170 172

Wheels, Rims & Chains Fixing a broken spoke? Truing a wobbly wheel? Straightening a severely bent wheel? Cracked rims? Chain problems?

175 179 182 184 187

Flat Tires Unusual causes of flat tires? Out of patches and tubes? 4

190 192

Tents, Sleeping Bags & Mats Pitching and packing my tent? Cleaning my tent? Holes and water leaks in my tent? Fixing broken tent poles? Caring for and cleaning my sleeping bag? Protecting my sleeping mat from dirt and failures?

194 197 198 200 202 205

Stoves How to keep my stove working well? Making my stove more efficient? Where can I find fuel? How much do I need? Making an emergency replacement stove? Flying with a stove?

208 213 216 219 221

Water Filters Do I need a water filter or purifier? Caring for my water filter?

222 224

Clothing Caring for waterproof clothing? Keeping shoes from falling apart? Fixing failing zippers?

225 226 227

Closing Thoughts Last But Not Least


Appendix Packing List Insurance Recommended Equipment Additional Reading Acknowledgements


230 233 234 238 239


Since life is short and the world is wide, the sooner you start exploring it, the better.� Simon Raven


You Can Do It!


his book will help you live your dreams. Think of it as your personal cheerleader, here to guide you on your own bike touring adventure. We wrote it because it’s exactly what we would have liked to read when we set out to pedal around the world. It’s a book full of tips and practical on-the-road advice, and a book that focuses on the emotional side of the journey, as well as the physical. Everything on these pages has been learned from our own Get on your bicycle and go explore the world. There are so many wonderful 55,000km of cycling (often after adventures waiting for you on the road. racking our brains for days to come up with a solution), or is wisdom generously shared by dozens of other adventurous bike tourists. Does that mean you’ll agree with everything? Of course not. We offer ideas, suggestions and hints but you may well find a better way of doing things. If you do, share it so others can learn from your experience. The book begins by tackling the concerns that so many people have in the planning stages of a tour. What should I pack? Will this cost a lot of “It is difficult to relate the money? Can I go alone? profound pleasure of bicycle Next comes life on the road and touring; it’s a pleasure that everything that a long bike tour takes root deeply in the entails. As you read, you’ll find out soul. To feel the land rising how to deal with challenges like a and falling under the power broken campstove, heavy traffic and of your own legs, to take bad weather. immense joy in every bit of food that you consume...” You’ll learn to expect the Ian Hincks and Geoff Stanley unexpected, and you’ll become excited to discover new cultures, landscapes, foods and sensations. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll learn how a bike tour can help you discover not only the world but also a bit about yourself. We also touch on coming home after a bike tour. What’s it like to 7

return after an extended period on the road? Can you find a job again? Will a bicycle tour change you? The answer to the last question is yes – in more ways than you ever imagined. All of this is organised not by chapters but by groups of questions. They are the questions that we once asked ourselves, and that hundreds of other bike tourists have asked us over the years. Read the questions in order, or flip through the pages randomly. No book can cover everything, of course, and what makes this book a little different from other “how-to” bike touring guides is that we don’t go into great detail about exactly which type of bike or equipment to buy. That’s not to say that we’ve elimated discussions about gear entirely. Over a third of the book is devoted to maintaining and fixing things we all take on a bike tour - stoves, tents and, yes, your bicycle. We’ve also included a chapter on what to pack and several equipment lists. If that’s not enough, throughout the book you’ll find tips that will help you choose between the many makes and models competing for space in your bike bags. For specific equipment recommendations, such as brands of bicycles, sleeping mats and tents, check out our totally free Bike Touring Basics book ( If we were to distill the message of this book into a single sentence it would be this: YOU CAN DO IT! Forget what others say and remember that you already have everything you need for a successful bike tour. You just don’t know it yet.


Keep It Simple


s you research, plan and dream about your big bike tour, you’ll soon discover just how easy it is to get bogged down in the details. You can labour for weeks over which route to take, whether to get the big tent or the small one, panniers or a trailer. Even with more than 1,100 days on the road, we still debate these types of things. It is surely a human condition to always be curious about the other option. There is one rule, however, that often helps us make a decision, no matter what the dilema: keep it simple. Life shouldn’t be too Take equipment, for example. It’s complicated on a bike tour. Great pleasures are found in nice to think that when things go simple things and moments. wrong, you’ll always be within spitting distance of a bike shop or camping store. Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law says you’re more likely to be in the middle of Outer Nowhereistan and the next town, bus stop or bike shop will be very far away. When that happens, you want to be able to fix the problem on your own, or at least engineer a temporary patch job. You can vastly improve your chances by repeating ‘Keep It Simple’ to yourself when picking out equipment. What does this mean? In a nutshell: if you don’t understand it and can’t repair it in the field, it’s probably best to look for a simpler option or leave it home. Keeping It Simple doesn’t mean forgoing high-quality equipment. Many of the best expedition-quality products are also designed to be fixed in the field. There’s a lot to be said for a good product that will pass the test of time and prevent you from dealing with breakdowns in the first place. It also doesn’t mean that you shun every high-tech gadget you can’t fix yourself. Obviously, sending emails from a small netbook that fits neatly in your panniers is preferable to going back to the very simple (but now barely used) post restante, which was the main form of communication for travellers until the internet became popular. Even when picking out 9

the latest gizmos, however, keep simplicity in mind. Go for brands that are known to be reliable and have a good battery life. Try not to buy anything that ties you into expensive contracts or that is so pricey that you’ll be constantly worrying about it being stolen.

Questions to ask when buying gear: 1. Is this product known to be reliable? 2. Do I understand how it works? 3. Can I fix it in the field? 4. If I can’t fix it, how easy will it be to find someone who can? 5. Are the components commonly available? 6. Are the related batteries or tools standard and easy to find?

Go Multi-functional Keeping It Simple also means buying things with more than one function. A Swiss Army knife can replace several kitchen utensils. Trousers that zip-off and convert to shorts can be used in warm and cool climates, allowing you to carry one piece of clothing instead of two.

Stay Open To Change Keep It Simple is a state of mind as well. One of the great joys of Try not to complicate your life by obsessing bike touring is stopping you like. Photo © about daily distances, setting deadlines or wherever Steve Willey. deciding to cycle every mile, no matter how difficult those miles turn out to be. These self-imposed pressures are sometimes invigorating challenges but they also run the risk of being more stressful than fun. It’s better to stay flexible and, when you feel like a change, look for ways to make life easier or more enjoyable. If you feel tired, take a shortcut, stop and read a book or treat yourself to a hotel and a really good night’s sleep. When you’d rather be somewhere else, don’t feel guilty about using public transport to jump ahead to the next region. The bottom line is that it’s your tour – not anyone else’s. It’s certainly not a race or a quest to prove yourself to the world. Make sure you’re enjoying the ride.    10

Getting Ready:

packing, planning, finding a route...


Bike Touring Survival Guide  

A practical guide to bike touring, with tips on getting ready for a big bike tour, the daily routines you will encounter and what to put in...

Bike Touring Survival Guide  

A practical guide to bike touring, with tips on getting ready for a big bike tour, the daily routines you will encounter and what to put in...