Bugging Out on a Bike

This compact foldable bike costs $200, has six speed gears, front and rear brakes, a load carrying platform, and weighs under 30lbs.
This compact foldable bike costs $200, has six speed gears, front and rear brakes, a load carrying platform, and weighs under 30lbs.

Your retreat absolutely must have bicycles.

There’s no better, low-tech, energy-efficient means of transportation than a bicycle, for when the grid goes down and gas for your regular vehicles becomes scarce or unobtainable.  We’re not saying rely solely on bicycles, but we are saying be sure to have at least once each (if you have additional ones left over, the chances are they’ll make great trade goods).

There’s another potential use for a bicycle, in addition to being used for transport around your retreat.  It may possibly also be used as transportation to get to your retreat – as a bug out vehicle.

Bicycles are light and maneuverable and can almost literally go anywhere, and as long as you can lift your bicycle, you can even climb over fences and other obstacles and manhandle your bike over them too.

A bicycle might not be your most desired or primary bug-out vehicle, especially if you live hundreds of miles and several snowy mountain passes and/or dry deserts away from your retreat.  But there may well become times when it will be your best remaining, and ‘least-bad’ choice.  (Your worst choice is probably just staying where you are!)

One of the big concerns when bugging out is that the regular roads may become jammed with regular vehicles – either jammed in the sense of very slow-moving, or in the sense of stalled/broken down vehicles on the road blocking the way for other vehicles.  Indeed, the first scenario inevitably leads to the second, as and when vehicles run out of gas and become immobilized.  Our suggested solution is to bug out early, but this is sometimes easier said than done.

Note – we’re unconvinced that simply using a SUV or other 4WD type vehicle would give you a solution to jammed roads.  If you’re on a restricted access freeway, with barriers protecting the sides of the freeway from the side of the road off the freeway on one side and the oncoming traffic on the other side, you’ll not be able to drive your SUV over/through those barriers to get around any stalled vehicles blocking the road.  And even if there was simply an emergency lane outside of the regular vehicle lanes, those will all quickly get jammed up with vehicles too.

Maybe it might be possible to drive off the freeway and onto the surface streets or whatever is next to the main highway, but that assumes you’re in the lane closest to the edge of the highway, and further assumes there’s somewhere you can drive onto from the highway.

There are better solutions if jammed traffic is your greatest concern (and depending on how far you have to travel to get to your retreat).  In particular, we are writing a series on using motorbikes as bug out vehicles, and they clearly present as a more resilient way of getting through jammed highways and of traveling on non-traditional road surfaces.  Even better is to fly to your retreat, but not all of us are fortunate enough as to have our own private plane, which also would need to be close to our normal residence, and able to travel to very close to our retreat.

The problem with a motorbike is that it is pretty much an ‘either/or’ decision you make before setting out on your journey.  But if you use a push bike, possibly supplemented with extra power as a moped, although adding the weight of a motor and possibly batteries does compromise the bike’s ultimate maneuverability and slightly increases your reliance on technology, you don’t have to necessarily make this decision up front.

Bicycles can be used as a back-up with a regular bug-out vehicle.  These back-up bikes don’t even need to be full-sized (and probably you’d not be able to fit three or four full-sized bikes into whatever your main bug-out vehicle is.

You can get small folding bikes, typically with 20″ wheels, still having multiple speed gears, weighing under 30lbs, and at a cost of under $300 (click the link to see what’s currently on offer at Amazon and see the picture at the top of this article for an example).  That’s a very sensible bit of ‘insurance’ to keep in the back of your vehicle if your primary backup transportation becomes ineffective.

Thinking Through the Issues if Using Bicycles

Talking about insurance, if you’re going to keep some emergency bikes in your bug-out vehicle, you’d also need to keep some essential repair/maintenance items with them.  A puncture repair kit and pump would definitely be prudent.

You should also consider the implications of what you’d keep with you or leave behind if you needed to transition from your bug-out vehicle to your bikes.  We’d recommend practicing bike riding with backpacks on, using the portable bikes you’d take with you, and get a feeling for what sort of load you can either hang off the bicycle frame or have on your back.

Have these things pre-packed so that if you need to transition from vehicle to bicycle, there’s no need for anything other than getting out of the vehicle, opening up your bikes, putting on your backpacks and saddlebags, and then cycling off, without a second thought.

Part of what you’d want to have in your bicycle based bug-out bags would be weather protection.  In the summer, protection against the sun, and in the winter, protection against the cold.  Possibly also wet weather gear.

Depending on distances, you might want to also keep some water, possibly food, and possibly even overnight shelter items too in these packs.  And, alas, probably some personal defense items too.

By the time you kit out your bags with the essentials for your bike-based journey, there might be little space/weight remaining for other things to bring with you to your retreat.

But, truly, that shouldn’t be a problem because your retreat should always be ‘ready to go’ without the need for any last-minute top-up supplies.

How Far Can You Travel in a Day

This is an essential question for you to consider, but almost impossible for us to answer in general terms.  You’ll have to do some experimentation to get a better feeling for your likely range of travel per day.

Some obvious things to consider are how efficient and ergonomically friendly your bikes are.  Lightweight portable bikes will probably not be ideal in this regard, and adjusting them correctly is essential.  You might want to get a specialty bike-shop to help you fine-tune the various adjustments to make them best suited for the lengths of your arms and legs, etc.  Put marks on the various adjustable parts so you know exactly where to set them when deploying your bikes.

It also depends on the amount of gear you’re carrying in your backpacks.  And on the weather.  And on the type of road surface you’ll be traveling on.  And on any hills along the way.  And also on how fit the least fit member of your group is.

As regards this last point, while – short of ridiculous obsession – there’s no such thing as being ‘too fit’, in this case your situation is a bit like the group of people being chased by a bear.  You don’t need to be able to outrun the bear, you just need to outrun the other people with you!

With the biking, the main focus of fitness training will be on the least-fit people in your group.  Obviously you’ll also balance out the pack loads so the less fit people carry less than the more fit people, particularly if there is any up-hill travel involved.  But your group’s ability to travel, as a group, will be limited by the least fit members, and this is the aspect you most need to optimize.

In ‘average’ conditions and on sealed roads, people travel anywhere from 30 to 100 miles a day.  Switching to dirt trails will probably at least halve this, and maybe reduce it even more.  Yes, that’s a big range of distances, isn’t it – clearly anything you can do to move your capabilities closer to the upper end of this range, the better you’ll be.  Even if your retreat is only 50 miles away, the range of your daily travels makes the difference between getting there, still refreshed, in half a day, or struggling to make it in two days.

The further you can go, and the faster you can cover the distance, the less time you’ll be exposed to all the risks and uncontrollable factors out there, ranging from weather to wild animals to unpredictable encounters with other people.  The less food and water you’ll need to carry with you, and the sooner you can be occupying your retreat (and defending it against anyone else who might stumble across it, empty).

We shouldn’t have put that last comment in brackets, because it has to be a major consideration.  No matter how secretive you think you’ve been, people know about your retreat, and more people will find out about it in the future (see our article ‘Is it Realistic to Expect Your Retreat Won’t be Found‘).  If society crashes in a heap, and the rule of law fails, then anyone who knows about your retreat may choose to go and take it for themselves, particularly if they see it empty when they get there.  Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and so you do need to get to your retreat as quickly as you can to head off such unpleasantnesses.

On a single day, you could probably push yourself and go a greater distance than the 30 – 100 miles we mentioned above, and of course, competitive cyclists on their many thousands of dollars bikes go much further.  But probably, for you, on a multi-day journey, these sorts of distances represent a fair range of sustainable capabilities.  On level ground with no head wind, it is reasonably easy to cycle at close to 10 mph without expending too much energy, so 30 – 100 miles becomes 3 – 10 hours of travel a day.  Sure, there might be daylight for more of the day, but your legs will be complaining somewhere in this sort of range.

Unfortunately, if you’re bugging out, you might not always be traveling on the best roads, and not always in a straight line.  Plus you may detour off the route, sometimes considerable distances, to avoid dangerous areas, and to find safe places to camp at overnight.  So 50 miles of travel may not be the same as getting 50 miles closer to your retreat.

There’s no substitute for actually trying it out, for real, to see how well you do and how far you go, and to determine who needs the most training to bring them up to the capabilities of the other people in your group.

Oh.  One more thing.  Please also remember to do this during weather extremes – when it is stormy, raining and pouring.  When it is scorchingly hot.  And freezingly cold.

Don’t Give Up

You might find that the weakest person in your group can only manage 10 miles a day, and that due to extremely difficult travel conditions, even a best case scenario sees you only traveling 15 miles a day, with your retreat being 150 miles distant.

Many people might decide, at that point, that a ten-day cycling journey to your retreat is impractical and impossible.  It would have to be either by motorized vehicle, or not at all.

You’d be dead wrong if you thought that.  Or, possibly, you’d just simply be dead.  If you need to bug out, you need to bug out.  You need to get to your retreat, or die in the attempt, because the alternative, if you do nothing, is also death.

Clearly if there is an enormous disparity in abilities among the different people in your group, you might have to make some difficult choices.  Yes, that is a polite way of saying ‘leave someone behind’ when your vehicle fails.  If a person is too frail and infirm to make it to your retreat, you have to dispassionately determine just how much value they’re going to add to your survival once you get to the retreat.  You can of course politely pretend that the traffic blockage may get resolved, and you can politely laugh that the person you’re leaving behind will get there first (and you should definitely keep in radio contact with them just in case this proves to be true!), and these polite fictions will make it easier for everyone, but when you are faced with this issue, you need to do what needs to be done.

While the thought of leaving someone behind sounds dreadful and uncaring, what is the alternative?  Three people go to the retreat while leaving one behind?  Or all four people sacrifice themselves and stay behind?  How does anyone benefit if you commit gratuitous group suicide?

If the less-strong person/people is/are children, that probably also means they are light rather than heavy.  By the time they become heavy, they also have become able to ride a bike.  But while they are young/small/light, you can validly consider carrying them in a backpack style carrier, or in/on a bike trailer (less desirable and more unwieldy) or something.

Even if you are all very fit, and you still find yourself confronted with what seems to be an impossibly difficult journey, you have to ask yourself – what is your alternative?  You either stay behind and risk probable death, or you struggle to your retreat as best you can.

Maybe you can make your journey easier by advance identifying some overnight places to stay on the way.  Maybe you can cache some supplies at some of these places so you don’t have to carry everything with you.

Or maybe you need to rethink your entire ‘where do I normally live and where is my retreat’ equation.

Do what you have to do, but whatever you do, do something!  Surely it goes without saying that having a retreat but not the matching very high probability of being able to reach it WTSHTF is an exercise in self-deception and foolishness.


Few people would find a bicycle an ideal primary bug-out vehicle to travel to their retreat when it comes time to ‘Get Out of Dodge’.  But small portable bicycles can be stowed in your primary bug-out vehicle and if something prevents you continuing the rest of the way to your retreat in your primary vehicle, you then have an alternative means of travel that is still massively much better than trudging there on foot.

Because they are affordable and easily used, we urge you to keep bikes for all probable members of your bugging out group in your vehicles so you have this emergency alternative.  Don’t just have the bikes.  Have pre-packed loads of necessary gear and equipment in backpacks so if you need to switch to bikes, you can quickly load on your backpacks (and possibly saddle bags) then continue on your way.

7 Replies to “Bugging Out on a Bike”

  1. Grampa

    The bike idea is great.

    I had a bike growing up and often needed to repair tires and tubes. I saw my grandson using a screwdriver to pry off the tire and told him he would ruin his tube. He did. After we got him a new one I gave him some tools to get the tire off safely.

    I also got him a tire pump. He said we have a compressor!! I asked how will it work with no power? I think I need to teach him how to think.

    How many will be in the same boat? They won’t always have a grampa around to show them how. Some good clear step by step lessons for the people who are not bikers would be nice and the things needed to repair a tube and good sources and which ones work the best and fastest.


    • David Spero


      You raise a good point, and we’ve seen it many times before. People who somehow still obscure a faulty assumption in among their preps. In your example, the prepping point was the puncture repair kit, but the obscured assumption was the electric compressor. Ooops, indeed.

      We don’t have a great deal of experience repairing punctures, and just use a cheap generic kit that probably cost $10 when we bought it some years ago. We also have spare inner tubes and of course the tire removal tool. The generic kit seems to work perfectly well and quickly.

      We can comment about pumps, though. We have the hand held pumps on each of our bikes, because they weigh almost nothing and take up no space, but we also have the ones that you stand on wings that fold out and then vertically pump up and down. They are massively better than the hand-held pumps – much faster and much better at getting the pressure up to fully optimum.

      We’re not sure, but we do know there is an appreciable difference in rolling resistance between a bike with fully inflated tires all the way to the high end of the suggested pressure range, and a bike with under-inflated tires somewhat below the low end of the suggested pressure range. It does make a difference to keep your tires fully inflated.

  2. gino schafer

    I have a bike rack on my truck. I can easily load 2 bikes on it and do it all the time. Racks are available that hold 5 bikes. So you don’t need folding bikes, which by the way, suck. Get a good trail capable bike, and get on it and ride! Mountain bikes are heavy and you have to exert a lot more energy to ride them. Road bike tires are totally unsuitable for riding anywhere but on a road. You need a bike that can do both.

    You should also practice changing and repairing tires. The time to learn how to do that is not when you are in a hurry.

    • David Spero

      Well said. I’ve a three bike rack on mine (but can only readily fit two bikes!), and high quality bikes to mount on it. And I do agree that good sturdy bikes are massively better than lightweight portable ones.

      On the other hand though, ‘the excellent is the enemy of the good’. Any bike is better than no bike, and if – for whatever reason, valid or invalid, you are thinking that you can’t include bikes as part of your bugout plan, then lightweight portable bikes are better than no bikes at all.

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