Survival Bicycling: Part 1

Imagine walking at 15 MPH. That’s right, walking a 4-minute mile! Well, that’s exactly what a bicycle can do for you on a good day. There is no more efficient form of transport than the bicycle. And when it comes to carrying the most weight with the least effort, the bicycle again wins hands-down.

A well-tuned bicycle will transfer upwards of 99% of the energy applied to the pedals directly to the wheels.  Average humans can pedal along Get Out of Dodge Bicycleat 6-15 miles per hour with little effort.  Racers can exceed 30 MPH, and the world record for an unassisted bike is over 83 MPH!  So whether traveling about town, to your bugout location, or even across country, the bicycle is a force to consider.

The Modern Bike Store

A quick trip to the bike store will prove there are few traditions left in bike designs.  Two recent deviations from the conventional looking bike include freight bicycles that easily carry 200 pounds of cargo, and a fairly new but wildly conspicuous class of bike that has not yet found a common label.  The reason this latter category of bike is important is because it just might become the Ultimate Bug Out Bike.  General names for this genera of bike include “Superfat Tire” “Omniterra” and “You know, that bike with the huge tires.”  One company uses the appropriate moniker  “Moon Lander” for their version of this five-inch wide tire mountain bike.  Five inches!  A traditional mountain bike has a tire about two inches plus or minus.  A road bike has a tire between an inch and an inch and a half. But five inches wide?  You could ride over snow and sand.  And that’s the point.

Bug Out Bike Considerations

No matter what you ride, here are some considerations to keep in mind when the bike moves from the realm of exercise to that of survival.  The following observations are for the less-seasoned cyclists who may have little experience in the bicycle repair department.

First of all, if you don’t have a medium to good quality mountain bike, get one now.  Waiting until things go south before shopping for a two-wheeler is not wise.  Once the simpler life is pressed upon us, bicycles will be worth more than a Cadillac.  One does not have to shell out a thousand dollars for a good survival bike.  There are plenty of used mountain bikes that will work fine (Craigslist – Bikes).  Stick to the name brands, and have some extra tires, tubes, and cables on hand, and keep the moving parts lubed up, especially the chain.

The transient and homeless bicyclists riding around most cities are masters of putting the pieces together into something ride-able.  Kind of a pedal-powered Mad Max world, if you like.  While a “Frankenbicycle” is not the most desirable pathway to transportation, let alone a comfortable ride, it should be noted that there are plenty of examples of just how bad a bike can get and yet it’s still possible to roll around with relative ease.survival bike doomsday shtf plan

Be aware that if you haven’t ridden a bicycle in a long time, it’s going to hurt. And the next time you hop on the saddle its going to hurt worse.  But it won’t kill you.  After years or decades of non-riding you will have a sore butt, sore knees, sore muscles, sore arms, and a sore neck.  But not for long. Your body will quickly adapt to the riding position and only your butt will require more than a few days to get used to it. Give it a week before you complain.  Other people are much worse off than you.


Bicycles are the ultimate of simplicity, but still require maintenance.  The more weight you carry, the faster the tires wear out.  The harsher the climate, the more rust causes cables and bolts to break.  Also the more sunlight, the sooner the non-metallic parts disintegrate.

Bikes are elegant expressions of pure physics.  Every part has been honed down to minimal weight and maximum performance.  Each component does its job visibly and without magical computer chips or complex mechanisms.  What this means is that there are better ways and worse ways to fix a bike, but any way that gets you riding again is a good way.

Wheels are essential.  There is no denying the importance of the so-called spinning mass of a bicycle.  It’s the anchor to balancing, the key to minimal rolling resistance, and the main shock absorber between your planet earth and your butt.  The tires need something inside them between the rubber and the rim.  Air is preferable, but dirt, pine needles, tree bark, even old clothes can make do in a pinch.  Just don’t expect your usual rolling performance with grandma’s old dress substituting as an inner tube.

Broken rims are usually a deal breaker, but broken spokes are an annoyance.  Depending on the number of spokes, you may not need to replace the broken one.  In that case, a gentle tightening of the spokes on the opposite side of the hub from the broken one will true-up your wheel good enough to forget about it.  If the broken spoke was critical but cannot be replaced, then hopefully there is enough spoke left on each side of the break to bend into hooks that can be attached together with scrap wire.survival bicycle survival prep zombie apocolypse

The drive-train must work somehow even if the chain links are cobbled together with wire.  In a multi-geared bike, as links are removed from the chain it just gets shorter, but no less effective.  Fewer gear combinations will work, but as long as one gear works, you’re ahead in this game. A stick or other object can be wedged in the derailleur to lock-in a particular gear if the cables are compromised or the mechanism is bent. Think of gear skips, hops and miss-shifts as nothing more than annoyances. If you can pedal, you can move.

Brakes and gear shifting are nice but not essential. If you can get at least one gear working, and you keep your speed under control, you are good to go. In third-world countries, some of the bikes that are ridden daily are barely recognizable as bicycles to westerners. Sure there are two wheels and a frame, but while our options around here are carbon fiber bottle cages and integrated crank arm wattage meters, over there the options might be seats, a left handlebar, and two pedals.

In a pinch, knots can be used to tie broken cables together and tie-off punctured inner tubes. There’s no rule that says inner tubes must go all the way around a wheel. Cut the tube in half at the puncture; tie a couple of knots, and inflate as usual. Zip ties, twisted wire, and duct tape can also work and will recover much of the tube length wasted in a knot.  Be creative.  If it works, it works.  Just keep your speed down as the forces increase with acceleration.

Zip-ties can also replace lost or broken bolts, as can a few loops of wire twisted tight like a tourniquet.  And you could probably fabricate most bike parts out of duct tape and scrap metal when push comes to SHTF.

The 6 Essential Bike Tools

Ideally, proper bike tools should be on hand. The simplicity of the modern bicycle limits the reasonable number of tools needed for general maintenance to a pretty short list. It would be easy to argue that the most important tool is the one you need, but based on frequency of use, the must-have tools sort themselves out fairly quickly.
1. Hex wrenches of 4, 5, and 6mm.survival blog doomsday prep survival bike
2. Socket or open-end wrenches of 8, 9, and 10mm.
3. Slotted and #2 Phillips screwdrivers.
4. Small air pump that works with both schrader and presta valves.
5. Inner tube patch kit containing patches, rubber cement, and sandpaper.
6. Chain tool.  A nail and rock works too. Just don’t punch the pin all the way out!

3 General-use Tools

1. Adjustble wrench (aka: Crescent wrench). My favorites is the Snap-On ADHW6 because even though it’s only a 6-inch size, the jaws open larger than 1 ¼ inches.
2. Slip-joint pliers. A good choice is the Knipex 8801180. This particular plier weighs only 6.3 ounces, but has jaws that open up to one an half inches allowing it to grab many headset nuts. It is also narrow enough to tighten the 15mm pedal spindle.
3. A multi-tool like the Leatherman Wave with its accessory Bit Kit. It adds redundancy in some essential tools, adds a needle nose pliers, a metal file, a saw, and two knives.

A word about bicycle-specific multi-tools.  While many of them are handy, they can have significant shortcomings as well over workshop-level tools.  Many of the all-in-one tools seem to be designed more with artistic expression than functionality.  A few notable issues include the drivers being too short, the shape or size of the tool prevents it from rotating in the available space, the lack of leverage, and the inability to use two tools at the same time.  My suggestion is to supplement your tool kit with very simple bike-specific multi-tools rather than the 20-in-one Swiss Army type.  It’s maddening when the beer bottle opener on your bike tool impedes your ability to tighten the seat post.

A little knowledge of bike repair will make as big a difference as having the right tools, so thumb through a bike repair book to familiarize yourself with the bike parts and the adjustments.  We all know the old saying about using the right tool for the job… when the right tool is available.  But what if all you have is a rock? Well, most bike parts are made of soft metal so possibly the part could be bent or pounded back into service.  Of course the lifespan of the component is reduced, but it’s your life we’re worried about, not the life of the left crank arm.

Every bike on this planet is a card-carrying organ donor so with minimal engineering skills you can cannibalize parts from other bicycles breathing eternal life to your survival Frankenbike.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Photo’s by:
Carousel Design Works
Scott Stoll


Written by Doc Montana

Doc honed his survival skills through professional courses, training, and plenty of real-world situations, both intentional and not. Doc lives to mountaineer, rock climb, trail run, hunt, race mountain bikes, ski, hunt, and fish. Doc Montana holds PhD’s in both Science Education and Computer Science and currently teaches at a University in the northern United States. Read his full interview here. Read more of Doc's articles.

29 thoughts on “Survival Bicycling: Part 1”

  1. Good article, but may I add some things/ideals! One, a rack over the back tire is a good place to attach a BOB! Two, added weight should be attached to the bike frame not your body so the center of balance is lower and if you have to jump off in a hurry, a pack on your back will slow you down! Three, a bike trailer (more stable with two wheels) is a good way to add more cargo capacity! Four, add duct tape to bike tool list; besides being the eighth wonder of the world, you can make an inner tube (or patch one) with duct tape! Fifth, add a head-attached lamp to bike gear since the front head lamp doesn't shine to the side or at that elevated street sign! Finally, the pet peeve, OBEY the rules of the road, and drive/ride defensively because you won't win in a confrontation with a 2000+ LB vehicle! Stop signs means stop for everyone! Good Luck!

    • Hi Roger,

      Thanks, and great suggestions. I'll be covering them in depth in part two of Survival Bicycling, along with a handful of other topics.

      Stay tuned…

    • Roger-

      Check the laws in your state. Here in Idaho stop signs don’t necessarily mean stop for everyone. Per Idaho vehicle code, if there is no cross traffic and it is safe to do so, bicyclists may legally cruise right past a stop sign. Bicyclists do have to stop at a red light, but again, if there is no traffic then they can legally proceed on through the light. Most people think they know all the traffic laws, but often are operating on assumptions or hearsay. Be well.

  2. Bikes are a great tool for covering ground while hunting. Quiet and easily hidden. Not the best at hauling out larger game but for medium sized game like Turkey they are ideal.

  3. I ride too and from work on my bike. Best part is the city I live in has dedicated cycle lanes (usually running parallel to major roads, hidden behind barriers, fences, hedgerows, thru parks, behind housing and they are under utilised to boot!) 8 miles ride either way, takes me about 45 mins. If I was to walk that home in a SHTF senario, I would guess it may be a 2hr our more endeavour depending on what senario it was or what I would have to bypass (people). A Bike can get you ahead of the pack (people on foot) and give you some breathing distance especially when major roads will be clogged and have foot traffic from stopped vehicles. The dedicated cycle lanes I hope will come in very handy one day!

  4. I have been building to bicycle the SHTF and riding around as I have no other way to get around..If I could I would send a pic of it one thing I see is that the bike needs the frame should not have any shock absorber as it a makes it to hard to add your BOB or anything else I also have a trailer that I made I am go to try an add a address to see a pic of bicycle for SHTF

    hope it works

  5. Great article and good advice. Just have a few things to add:

    1. Those bikes with the 5 inch wide tyres – I would not recommend them. Have seen them on the trails over here in South Africa. I asked a very fit and buff bike shop owner and he said they’re a ^*$* to ride – very heavy. Not practical for bug out.

    2. Also focus on 26″ tyre bikes for now. The 29″ bikes are still relatively new and pricey. Understand the difference so if you have to scavenge parts you know what will fit and what won’t.

    • Thanks for the thoughts.

      There are better and worse 3.5 to 5 inch wide bikes. They are a rage around here and while slower, they can ride on surfaces unridable or at least very difficult to ride with regular tires including sand, snow, powdery dirt, gravel, and mud. Expect to drop a grand or more to get into something you can pick up with one arm.

      As far as 26" tires, I agree that they are the most common size and easiest to find replacements for. However, 29ers have gone mainstream now, and the new kid on the block is actually 27.5 inches. Seriously! Splitting the difference between the 26 and the 29. The 29 inch size is still best, IMHO, for hard tails and cross-county full suspension. If you want to huck off cliffs, it was a little to large so that's where the 27.5 comes in.

      Finally, some of the super fat tire bikes have dropouts that are either the same size as conventional mountain bike hubs or adapters that allow traditionally spaced mountain bike hubs to run in the same space.

  6. What is your opinion on folding bikes with 16in tires? For those of us who must use cars to get to work, but want some type of bike we can carry in a small package and have ready for emergency use. Appreciate your opinion on this. Thanks.

    • Folding bikes are great! No question about it. Of course by nature there are significant limitations due to the folding and the small tire size. Folding bikes are absolutely excellent choices for the city where the other option is likely no bike.

      They do have limitations with cargo carrying, and inherent weaknesses with folding joints and cable detachments, but with a little more care and feeding, folders can work miracles. The smaller tires wear out faster, so keep that in mind.

      I know a few folks who travel with one or two in their trunk, you know, just for fun….or just in case.

  7. Good article. Only two points.

    1) Everything works better the better you take care of it. If yo have to Jerry rig your repair by all means do so. However with a little preparation and proper knowledge will make life easier. Find your local bike club or an REI and take some FREE maintain es classes. Also buy some Fiberspokes. Perfect temp fix for busted spokes!

    2) I am SO glad someone else has seen the benifits of the Fatbike! Last year I built a Surly Moonlander for trail touring / bike packing. At least that was the excuse to build the most [email protected]$$ Apococycle. 4.8″ tires, custom OD green (non gloss) powdercoat, ultra low gearing. Yes it’s steel and has some weight but also strength, that and try to welding aluminum post SHTF. Frame bags, front harness, giant saddle bag all keep the gear (= weight) low and centered.

    I can’t wait to read part two, thanks Doc!

  8. I love the bike idea! Great article. Have you guys heard of the solid rubber/fome inertubes? I have them on my mountain bike and there great? I think they are called “No More Flats” and they mean just that. Again, great article! Keep it up!

    • I've run solid core tires, but not solid tube replacements. Both are a viable option as long as the roads are smooth and the speeds are low. And that second point about slow speeds is pretty easy to obey because the rolling mass and resistance are so high that speeds stay low due simply to physics.

      Shock from bumps, rocks and curbs are transferred up stairs through the rims, spokes, frame finally to the rider. Some solid core users report more broken spokes.

      Sharp turns can cause the tires to roll off the rim causing an instant crash. The chance of this happening changes with temperature. Colder equals rigidity and increases shock, and the hotter the greater expansion of the foam and it softens.

      With all that said, they might be the best option for glass-filled streets, or a gentle urban commute.

  9. @All; Well, the title of the article is "Survival Bicycling". First, just from a logical point of view, a mountain TYPE bike will ride on the road, BUT a road or touring bike absolutely will not work off road. Mountain bikes can have racks and can carry a load. Road/touring bikes are not made to do so. So, basically, the type of bike is pretty much decided by the application you are using it for, survival in SHTF. As far as using the bike to "truck" a load from point A to point B, it is certainly a viable modality. As far as actually riding the bike, down the road, with a SHTF load of survival gear on it, pfffhhtt! Can you ride down a SMOOTH, OPEN, UNOBSTRUCTED, LONG stretch of road at 10-15 mph, sure. Can you shoot a pistol, while maintaining control of steering, all the while trying to pump a bicycle with 100+#s of crap from 15-22 mph to "evade" an attacker? I doubt it. In any other situation, I'm with you. But in a SHTF type situation, on a bike, you are a TARGET. An easy target at that. As far as the BOB being on the bike rack….if you have to abandon the bike forthwith, sans BOB, where are you then. BOB or your life, for right now. Anyone with a modicum of acumen at hiding can ambush you, whether on the road or even easier, on an off road trail. Using a bike FORCES YOU onto the "trodden path", whereas anyone that has ever been on patrol in a hostile environment "knows" you don't necessarily walk down the easiest path….which is required on a bike. Your path is VERY "predictable" and therefore susceptible to being subject to interlopers, probably of the NOT VERY NICE kind. In the RIGHT situation a bicycle is a boon, and I have them for my family…just in case. However, in most SHTF situations, unless 95% of the population is dead, then a bike would prolly be the quickest way to get killed…..or worse! Be well.

  10. Hi TripodXL (interesting name. Want to share what it means?),

    I guess the SHTF scenario one dreams up will dictate the imagined success of the bicycle as a mode of transport. Here in MT, if it was free-for-all battle for BOBs, most folks would be quickly picked off while as green glowing characters viewed through night vision scopes. But I'm choosing to believe in a more positive outcome.

    Since the roads will take years to decades to disappear, almost any rolling wheel will be useful. While mountain bikes are the best off-road pedal powered machines, you can ride about anything off road as long as 1) you have traction, and 2) your tires are inflated enough to avoid pinch flats.

    In fact, cyclocross racing is experiencing a popular resurgence once again highlighting the fact that a quality thin-wheeled bike can perform well on dirt, gravel, grass, in mud, and everything in between. When traction is lost, the cyclocross rider just shoulders the bike and takes off running. I raced cyclocross in the pre-mountain bike days, and it was a hoot. There is also a famous road bike race called the Paris Roubaix that pushed the limits traditional road bikes, often to the breaking point. It is one the hardest road races in the world to finish.

    I'd beg to differ with you on touring bikes not being designed for racks and weight carrying. I believe that is exactly what they are for. I still have a high-end touring bike back from my touring days in the 1980s, and it is loaded with brazed-on mounts for front racks, back racks, three water bottles, and even a place to carry extra spokes. That bike can certainly hold more weight than I would ever want to pedal around.

    Tis true that a bike rider would likely follow smoothness, which equates to roads, but after the dust settles, mobility will be essential, and anyone expecting to make their living by picking off the rest of us would quickly be unemployed thorough either lack of business in their area, or thorough a neighborly induced case of lead poisoning.

    Even fully laden, a bike, any bike, can easily tootle along at a respectable 10 mph which is more than three times faster than walking even unloaded. That means you arrive three times sooner, you move away from trouble three times faster, and you have three times less worry when out and about.

    Of course your mileage may vary…..wildly!

    Stay tuned for Part 2.

    • @DM; I wouldn't want to re-invent the wheel on anything if I didn't have to. I have seen "touring bikes" (though I don't think that term is very contemporary these days) with racks, I think the "fattER" tires of mountain/off road bikes are more versatile and can carry more cargo. The NVA certainly managed to move a bazillion tons of equipment, food and munitions down the HCMT on fat tired, single speed bikes. Walking them a lot of the time. So I am familiar with the concept and it DOES work in the correct circumstances. Just a fine point on capacity, not an argument. I guess the definition of touring is the issue. The thin tired "racing" bikes with the "3" speeds (back then, kinda old) is what I'm calling a touring bike. I seem to remember a lot of pictures of European bikes that refugees used during/after WW II were very heavy duty and certainly carried a lot. If that is the touring bike then I certainly agree. And I would agree with everything in your reply, except the roadway life span. My main point was that if it is a TEOTWAWKI SHTF situation, tactically, you are a sitting duck without a point and overwatch, just not the best situation to ride a bike in. You are just an easy target, IF, there are still a lot of hungry, predator type, people around, IMHO. And, like I said, I have them too, just in case, but only as a last option. So, really I guess the only thing I would otherwise disagree with in the reply is that of the roadway lifespans. Unused roadways will actually deteriorate quicker without traffic on them. If you live in ground frost, heaving zones, they will deteriorate quite rapidly. And then the plants will grow through them in short order, regardless of frost heave. I don't think concrete IH roadways will last much over 20 years and paved roads…..ten tops (combat engineer). I am like you, I do hope for better, though I do prepare for what I KNOW of human nature. Waiting for part 2. Be Well.

  11. Good replies all, food for thought! I think all roads are likely to become traps/ambush sites after SHTF, but are you better off traveling at 65 MPH (car, truck, etc.) or 10-15 MPH (bike) when someone shoots out one of your tires, or a road block of junk vehicles is suddenly there on the other side of the hill or curve! No perfect solution exists, but I do think a bike, trike or two is a smart backup plan, even if you are forced to push it at least the weight is on the bike. Another possibility especially for urban areas might be the common shopping cart (check for squeaky wheels first), there are literally millions of them around and all those homeless people can't be completely wrong! Maybe a clamp-on swivel rifle mount would increase your defensive/offensive capabilities (cart or bike), and the contents of your cart may provide some protection from high-speed projectiles! Also waiting for part 2!

    • I think all roads are likely to become traps/ambush sites after SHTF

      Convoy systems can be used with larger spacing than on foot. 30yrds between riders will make ambush hard to spring. Bicycles are naturally stealthy and are often gone before they are recognised.

  12. You should consider frame material as well. Steel can be welded, but carbon frames need a bit more of a process. Aluminum is somewhere in the middle. It'll be a heavier ride, but high performance is high maintenance otherwise.

    And how about tandems? Two good riders can absolutely fly on a tandem, not to mention carry a lot more.

  13. Ha! SHTF shopping carts with, “Maybe a clamp-on swivel rifle mount”,… I never considered it.

    Ya, “all those homeless people can’t be completely wrong!”.

    This two part series on bikes was an interesting read. I learned a bit tonight.

    I only wish I could zoom in a bit more on the photos.

  14. I would love to be able to bug out when the time comes , but due to age and major health issues it isn't a choice for me and my companion, So bug in is our only option. We have a decent stockpile, but sorely lack any weapons, mainly due to our lack of knowledge on the subject. if anyone knows of a link to educate us please post it for us.

    2 old farts

  15. I like this article! I think a step through frame for easier mount-dismount when rear is piled high with gear, Ashtabula cranks with easily replaced bearings available from plentiful donor bikes, reversed and flipped drop bars for a more upright riding position for more control handling a handgun while riding, all should be explored. I have done much experimentation and put lot's of thought into my own bike preps and that is where my personal BOBike design has evolved into.


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