The French Foreign Legion lived by a multitude of mottos and expressions, but one particular phrase stood out: “Move forward, one step at a time…”. Essentially, this meant that regardless of the distance, one could reach their destination by simply walking. This principle will endure long after the world depletes its reserves of crude oil, although there exists a more efficient alternative: the power of pedaling.
While horses, mules, and camels can carry the burden of walking for you, they demand constant nourishment and care. On the other hand, a bicycle only requires minimal maintenance and can transport you from point A to point B much more swiftly than walking alone. Additionally, bicycles can traverse terrains suitable for pedestrians and enable you to carry more than what can be accommodated on your back.
However, it’s important to note that not all bikes are suitable for navigating chaotic environments or venturing down neglected roads, much like not all cars are appropriate for rapid escapes. In other words, the sleek, lightweight carbon-fiber road bikes designed for winning races like the Tour de France may not be the optimal choice when faced with unexpected circumstances.
The old trusty bike
In contemporary times, many individuals may dismiss bicycles as mere toys for children or tools for couriers. However, bicycles have served as a reliable means of transportation for soldiers for nearly 150 years. Surprisingly, bicycles were utilized by military forces even before the advent of automobiles or airplanes, although it took some time for them to be embraced by the military.
The credit for building a two-wheeled device that laid the foundation for the modern bicycle generally goes to German Baron Karl Von Drais. In 1817, he created an inline contraption that relied on the rider’s feet for propulsion. Unfortunately, this horse substitute aimed at the affluent didn’t gain popularity.
Despite subsequent attempts by other inventors and tinkerers, it wasn’t until the 1860s that Frenchmen Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lallement introduced a pedal-driven system that revolutionized bicycle technology and propelled riders forward.
Interestingly, the French were the first to employ bicycles for dispatch riders and scouts during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. However, this war also spelled the demise of the nascent French bicycle industry. Nevertheless, it marked only the beginning of bicycle innovation. Soon, the British, Austrians, Germans, and eventually the American military all experimented with bicycles.
In 1891, the First Signal Corps of the Connecticut National Guard established the first military bicycle unit, utilizing bicycles for messengers and relay riders. In challenging conditions, a relay team carried a single dispatch from Chicago to New York City in an impressive four days and 13 hours, including rainy weather.
During World War I, elite Italian units employed bicycles, and they were also used by the Japanese in World War II and later by the Viet Cong. Remarkably, the Viet Cong utilized bicycles to transport supplies along the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, pioneering this approach more than a decade before the popularity of mountain biking.
Ironically, the belief that bicycles could conquer rugged terrain extended beyond the Japanese and Viet Cong. Switzerland, a prominent neutral power in Europe, possessed a long-standing history of military cycles and introduced the Bicycle Infantry in 1905. This unit was eventually phased out in 2001.
For nearly a century, Switzerland’s bikes, renowned for their exceptional quality and durability, provided opportunities as the highly resilient “Swiss Army Bicycles” (akin to the famous Swiss Army Knife) were made available for private purchase.
Picking the right bug out bike
As mentioned earlier, not all bicycles are suitable for rugged off-road riding. However, even an old-fashioned “10-speed” bike can serve as a viable mode of transportation when other options are limited. The suitability of a bike depends greatly on the terrain and the intended riding style.
In the present day, a quality mountain bike can be obtained for a few hundred dollars, equipped with suspension forks that absorb shocks from bumps and rocks on the trail. Hybrid bikes, often marketed as a middle ground between road bikes and mountain bikes, have been available for a while and promoted as suitable for both trails and roads.
However, these bikes tend to be heavier, lack the durability of mountain bikes, and are not designed for hauling. They also lack suspension forks, making them comparable to crossover cars that lean more towards being cars than SUVs. For those seeking a combination of speed and durability, a specialized bike used in the sport of cyclocross can be a viable option.
These bikes resemble road bikes, like those seen in races such as the Tour de France, but with off-road tires and a more robust design. If having two bikes is an option, having a cyclocross bike for speed and a mountain bike for versatile and durable rides may be the ideal choice.
One downside of most mountain bikes is their weight, attributed to their durability. However, despite considering weight, mountain bikes still top the list when choosing a reliable form of transportation. Their design is optimized for stability, and they can be ridden on roads as well, unlike true road bikes that perform best on paved or compacted surfaces.
As with many things in life, higher quality often comes with a higher price tag. In the case of mountain bikes, increased cost can also mean lighter high-end components. The material and origin of the bike can impact its cost, although it is worth noting that there are still plenty of decent bicycles manufactured in America. Weight considerations are influenced by the frame materials and attached components.
Suspension forks, for example, increase weight but provide stability on rough terrain. If the bike will mainly be used on trails, forgoing such a feature will reduce weight and cost. Gearing is another factor to consider. Modern mountain bikes often boast 24 or more speeds achieved through multiple chain rings at the front and gears on the cassette at the rear wheel hub.
In contrast, the traditional “10-speed” earned its name due to its two chain rings and five gears on the cassette, totaling 10 speed options. This wide range of gears caters to recreational riders, offering low gears for uphill climbs and high gears for faster speeds on flat ground. However, it also requires regular lubrication and maintenance. For riders on predominantly flat terrain, a single-speed mountain bike could be a viable consideration, as it entails only one gear and less maintenance.
Choosing the right type of mountain bike is another factor to contemplate. Some bikes feature “dual suspension” with front and rear shocks. Initially designed for downhill races, these bikes tend to be heavier due to the assumption that racers would not pedal uphill, often opting for ski lifts instead. While they provide optimal comfort over bumps at high speeds, they can be cumbersome for everyday riding.
Another niche category gaining popularity is the “fat-tire” bike, characterized by oversized tires capable of conquering extremely rough terrain and handling snow and sand with ease. However, these bikes also tend to be heavy, and their unique parts and tires may not be readily available everywhere. Consequently, unless one plans to stock up on extra tubes and tires, owning this type of bike could become quite inconvenient.
Frame options for your bug out bike
When it comes to bicycles, the choice of frame material plays a significant role. Essentially, a bicycle consists of a frame, wheels, and a few other parts, with the frame serving as its “bones.” Here are several material options to consider:
Steel: Steel frames are robust and relatively easy to repair if they crack or dent. However, steel is a heavy material and prone to rusting.
Aluminum: Aluminum is lighter than steel and resistant to rust. Many mid- to high-end mountain bikes and road bikes are made of aluminum. Some serious riders argue that aluminum doesn’t offer as comfortable a ride as other materials, but unless you engage in intense mountain biking, this may not be a major concern. One drawback is that aluminum is more difficult to repair, and significant dents can compromise the structural integrity of the frame.
Titanium: With the end of the Cold War, titanium became more readily available and found its way into various commercial products, including knives, golf clubs, and bicycles. Titanium was the favored high-end material in the 1990s and early 2000s, with professional cyclists endorsing its performance. Titanium combines the lightness of aluminum with the strength of steel. It offers a forgiving ride, thanks to its ability to absorb bumps. Repairing titanium is more challenging than steel, but the longevity of the material has made used titanium bikes quite affordable, and they can still feel brand new.
Carbon fiber: This space-age composite material is commonly used in modern high-end bikes. However, in the long run, it might not be the best choice. A small crack in carbon fiber can lead to significant failure over time. Few vendors possess the necessary skills and equipment to effectively repair carbon fiber. While carbon fiber is lightweight and popular among serious cyclists today, opting for a metal frame is likely a better choice when venturing off the grid.
Tire size selection for your bug out bike
Another important aspect to consider when it comes to mountain bikes is tire size, which has become a significant factor in recent years. This is not limited to specialized fat-tire bikes but applies to the overall range of mountain bikes.
Traditionally, mountain bikes featured 26-inch wheels for several decades. However, in a clever marketing move, 29-inch wheels were introduced to enhance off-road stability. The drawback is that frames designed for one wheel size are generally incompatible with the other, and tubes or tires cannot be interchanged. This issue has sparked extensive discussions among recreational riders but should be taken into account by those planning to have one or two bikes for their off-grid travel needs.
In many cases, opting for 26-inch wheels might be a preferable choice due to their longer history and wider availability of parts. Moreover, these bikes tend to be slightly lighter. However, it’s worth noting that taller individuals often find 29-inch wheel mountain bikes more comfortable, adding another factor to consider when selecting a tire size.
Ultimately, the decision on tire size should be based on personal preferences and the availability of compatible components for repair and maintenance during off-grid travel.
How to maintain your bug out bike
Bicycles, much like cars, require regular maintenance to keep them in optimal condition. Similar to auto shops, bicycle repair shops possess specialized tools that may be unfamiliar to non-cycling enthusiasts, such as a “pedal wrench,” “headset wrench,” and “chain breaker.”
Although these tools are relatively affordable, they can be essential for performing minor repairs on a bicycle. However, there is a notable distinction between bike tools and automotive tools: bicycle tools are typically thinner and lighter.
In general, there are several key components that require regular maintenance on a bicycle:
Chain: It is crucial to keep the chain lubricated and clean. Accumulated dirt and grime can accelerate wear and negatively impact shifting and pedaling efficiency.
Tire pressure: Regularly check the maximum tire pressure indicated on the side of the tire. Adjusting the pressure slightly can provide cushioning on bumpy or uneven roads. However, underinflated tires can lead to small “snakebite” holes and potentially result in a flat tire.
Cables: The brakes and gears are controlled by cables that run alongside the frame. Over time, these cables can stretch and require adjustment to ensure smooth gear-shifting and reliable braking.
Frame inspection: Scratches or chips on a steel frame should be covered to prevent rust. All frame types should undergo regular inspections for cracks, as they can lead to catastrophic failures, accidents, and injuries.
Lubrication of moving parts: It is not only the chain that needs to be greased and kept clean. The headset (where the handlebars meet the frame) and the bottom bracket (where the axle resides inside the frame) should also be regularly cleaned and lubricated to prevent seizing over time.
Bug-out bikes offer a versatile and reliable means of transportation during emergency situations or off-grid travel. Their ability to navigate various terrains, carry essential supplies, and provide faster mobility than walking make them valuable assets.
When choosing a bug-out bike, factors such as durability, suitability for rough terrains, and ease of maintenance should be considered. Materials like steel, aluminum, titanium, or carbon fiber offer different benefits and trade-offs in terms of weight, strength, and repairability.
Regular maintenance, including chain lubrication, tire pressure checks, cable adjustments, frame inspections, and lubricating moving parts, is crucial to ensure optimal performance and longevity. By selecting the right bug-out bike and taking proper care of it, individuals can rely on this practical mode of transportation for their emergency preparedness needs.
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