Motorcycles as Bug-Out Vehicles Part 1

Sometimes a motorbike will get you to your retreat more certainly than a car. And sometimes, not.

If you are as fortunate as to have a retreat location somewhere, one of your concerns is how you might get there at a time when everyone else is leaving the urban region you normally live in, too.  If you don’t already have a retreat, one of the factors that will influence where you choose to buy/build/join one will be how practical it will be for you to ‘bug out’ (also termed GOOD – Get Out Of Dodge) to your retreat WTSHTF.

Happily we generally predict that you will not encounter a terribly congested crush of people all rushing to leave your city at the same time, for the simple fact that people won’t all simultaneously choose to evacuate, and even once they’ve chosen to do so, they’ll take varying amounts of time to get prepared, into their vehicle, and to start driving.  If you act swiftly, you’ll have anywhere from an hour to a week of head start over the main crushing exodus of people.  We discuss this in detail in our article ‘Bugging Out – Easy or Hard?’.

None the less, you didn’t become a prudent prepper by only hoping for the best.  You are a prudent prepper because you consider less than optimum conditions and outcomes, and for sure, one of these would be traffic congestion that interferes with your ability to conveniently get where you need to be.

For example, if for whatever reason you end up delaying your own departure until the crowds have all started to leave, you can be sure to expect all the roads away from the center of the urban area will be clogged full of traffic, no matter where the roads go to.

The main roads out will be clogged by people heading for the major highways.  The secondary and tertiary roads will be clogged by people thinking themselves to be clever and avoiding the primary routes, but they’ll almost certainly find traffic just as bad on the secondary/tertiary roads as on the major routes.

Unless you follow our earlier advice and consider a (float) plane as a bug-out vehicle, you’ll be stuck in the same ‘parking lot’ traffic as everyone else.  Not only will this be frustrating, but it will be dangerous too.  What will people who are fleeing for their lives do when their own car runs out of gas?  What will they do when the nighttime temperatures drop way low and they’re only in shirtsleeves?  What will they do when they are hungry and thirsty?  And there you are, stalled on the road right next to them?  Or perhaps, there you are, driving slowly past the stalled traffic, a tempting target for people who have had their own transportation fail.

Furthermore, what will happen to the traffic as cars gradually run out of gas while stopped in the center lane of traffic.  Stalled vehicles – even if pushed to the sides of the road – will further block traffic and make the process even worse.

People have come up with all sorts of imaginative alternatives to using the regular family car, or even a seemingly more capable 4WD vehicle.  But few of them are practical, depending also on the weather, the terrain, and the distance you must travel.  Assuming a worst case for weather, and hoping you’re putting at least 100 miles between you and the urban area you formerly lived in, and you’ll know yourself about the terrain issues you’ll encounter along the route, it is probably the case that for most of us, walking or pedaling are not going to be appealing or feasible solutions.

SUVs and 4WDs

Many people believe they can best ensure successfully bugging out to their retreat by using a SUV/4WD vehicle.

Let’s quickly consider the popular myths about SUVs and 4WDs.  They are not go-anywhere and go-everywhere vehicles.  They’ll get bottomed out in soft snow.  They’ll slip on the ice.  They’ll get stuck in mud.  They can only travel through a foot or two’s depth of water.  They can only climb over a certain limited height of obstacles on the ground (probably less than 10″ – even a Hummer H1 only gets 16″), and they need sufficient width of clear track to drive on (seven feet, plus or minus a bit – try finding that in the bush or forest).

Most of the time, they can’t drive through fences or even knock down fence posts and gates.

Some type of 4WD/SUV can be helpful if you need to make brief excursions off the sealed road such as driving on the shoulder around a crush of stalled cars, but for true off-roading, forget it.  You need some sort of specialty vehicle, and even if it has good traction, it still needs substantial width and clearance to get around obstacles, between trees, over boulders, and so on.  Even the mighty M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank can be stopped by a tank-trap.

But there is a vehicle that suffers from very few of these constraints, and costs very much less than an M1 – less even than a well used 4WD.

Motorcycles as a Bug-out Solution

And so, after all that build up, our suggestion.  How about using a motorcycle.

The obvious downsides to a motorbike are the limitation on the stuff you can bring with you, and your exposure to the elements (and possibly to hostile nearby citizens too).

But there are two huge upsides.  The first is the ability to get through stalled vehicular traffic.  The second is to engage in some reasonably extensive off-roading if there is no easy way to get where you need to go via regular surface streets and routes.

In this first part of our series on motorbikes, we look at some of the key things to consider.  Subsequently we’ll look at some innovative ways to make motorbikes more practical and useful.


You don’t need nearly as powerful a bike as you may think you need.  You’re not going to be wanting to set any speed records while bugging out (and you’ll probably not need to worry about being chased as part of the process).  Getting a more powerful bike does not mean you are getting a more reliable or useful bike – in fact, it means quite the opposite.

A more powerful bike will have a bigger engine, which means it will be a heavier bike.  If the bike falls over, it will be harder to pick up.  If you’re having to man-handle the bike to maneuver over and around obstacles, this will be more difficult.

A more powerful bike probably has more cylinders, and from our perspective, added cylinders don’t add to a vehicle’s redundancy and make it more reliable, they add to the vehicle’s complexity and make it more likely to have a maintenance issue at the very wrong time.

More powerful bikes might need a reverse gear (another complication) and an electric starter (another complication).  Oh, they’ll also cost you more money, too.

The more powerful bike will probably also have lower fuel economy, which leads to the next consideration.


This can be a constraining issue with a motorbike.  Whereas with a car or truck, you can load up the vehicle with extra fuel and not greatly impact on the vehicle’s driveability, it is harder to add extra petrol tanks to a motorbike.

Assuming you have a smaller sized bike and moderate sized engine, you can realistically expect, after exercising a bit of care in model selection, to find a bike giving you 40 – 65 mpg.  Some give even better performance, including, strangely enough, the classic old British Royal Enfields (now made in India) which offer about 80 mpg.

Four-stroke bikes are more economical than two-stroke bikes.

The second issue that determines your bike’s range is how many gallons of gas does its tank hold?  Many bikes seem to hold something like 2.5 gallons or so; some bikes will hold as little as a gallon, and larger bikes will hold 4 – 5 gallons.

It is usually possible to have the standard tank on motorbikes with small takes replaced with a larger sized tank, which will typically increase its capacity up to 4.5 – 5 gallons.  And if you wanted to pay for a custom designed tank, you can probably increase this capacity even further.  A gallon of gas takes up 231 cubic inches – think of a cube measuring 6″ on each side, and that holds about a gallon inside it.  So even adding just an inch or so in some of the dimensions of the gas tank can have a significant impact on its capacity.  Another way to think of a gallon is to think of the large 2L bottles of soda or water in supermarkets – they are almost exactly half a gallon.

You can of course carry external extra tanks of gas, either in a backpack or attached to the bike in some appropriate form.  A gallon of gas weighs just over 6lbs (plus container weight); so a 15 lb container will hold about 2 gallons of gas.  Carrying 2 – 4 gallons of extra gas with you is neither too bulky nor too heavy, although of course, if you are carrying extra petrol, you probably should transfer it into the bike’s tank at the first opportunity so as to unburden yourself from the extra bulk and weight of carrying it.

So, with 4.5 gallons or more in the bike’s tank to start, and another say 4 gallons in additional fuel carried with you, you’ve conveniently got 8.5 gallons of gas, which at somewhere from 40 – 80 mpg will get you 300 – 650 miles.  In theory.

But note that, for most bikes, the fuel economy figures assume driving down the highway, at a nice constant untroubled 50 – 60 mph or so.  Struggling up hillsides in first gear will get you massively less economy than cruising on the seal.  Being jammed in stop and go traffic (not such an issue on a bike) will also drop your economy appreciably.  In the case of a bike, you’ll not be so much stuck in the stop and go traffic as very carefully driving between cars at maybe 10 – 20 mph, and that’s usually a less economical speed than at 40+ mph.

So you’ll need to adjust your theoretical perfect fuel economy and range for the reality of what you think it will take for you to get where you need to go.

Which leads to the next point.

How Far to Cover in a Day

Driving a motorbike is much more physically stressful than driving a car.  In a car you are in a comfortable air-conditioned and quiet vehicle, you’ve no wind or rain blowing in your face, few bumps, and you can turn up the stereo and relax away the miles for a full day.

On a bike you’re experiencing some degree of discomfort at the best of times, exacerbated by the wind pushing back at you, flying things getting in your face, mouth, eyes and everywhere, possibly rain and mud, loud noises, and temperatures that are inevitably too hot or too cold.

You’re also working much harder mentally as well as physically.  On a bike, you become magically semi-invisible to regular motorists, and you need to always be in a heightened state of alertness, ready for the cars around you to do incredibly dangerous things because they just didn’t notice you.  The motorcyclist’s mantra is that ‘On a bike, you pay for other people’s mistakes’.

If we further assume that you’re riding your bike in otherwise stalled traffic, you’re going to be slowly passing between stalled vehicles, terrified of doors suddenly opening in front of you (either by accident or deliberately by jealous frustrated annoyed motorists who hate to see someone else enjoying more success leaving the city than they are).  When you’re not doing that, you might be doing some uncomfortable, difficult and physically stressful off-roading to detour around impassable or dangerous groups of cars.

So you can’t go nearly as far as you think you can in a day when riding a bike.  Even in the most optimum of conditions, you should plan on riding less distance than you’d drive ‘normally’.  In a G.O.O.D. situation, perhaps you might find that 200 – 300 miles a day is close to realistic.

If your retreat is 400 miles away, we’d probably encourage you to try to get all the way there in a single day, depending on time of year/weather/traffic.  But if it is 500 miles away, you may need to plan on spending a night somewhere – even out in the open – as part of your journey.  Such a consideration has suddenly massively increased the inconvenience of traveling by motorbike, if you need to carry with you not only extra fuel but also equipment to camp out overnight, too.

On the other hand, see your glass as half full, not half empty!  You’re using a bike rather than car because a car might not be able to make it at all.  At least the motorbike will get you where you need to go, whereas the car might fail totally.

Note – the preceding comments are generalities.  You should adapt them to reflect the reality of the driving conditions you anticipate experiencing.  If you have a couple of difficult mountain passes to cross, and if you have several major cities you’ll have to drive through on the way, then by all means low-ball your daily driving.  If it is mid-winter with snow, drop your estimate still further (see our discussion on weather in part 2 of this series).  But if you expect to be racing along nearly empty and flat straight warm desert roads, then you can push out the amount of driving you will do to a much greater distance.


This is the first part of what will be a three part series.  You should read on to parts two and three (when published) to get further advice and suggestions as to how to plan to use a motorbike (or motorbikes) as part or all of your bugging-out strategy.

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