Getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible is one of the most important things when disaster strikes. When crap hits the fan, speed means survival: getting out of harm’s way as fast as you can, as soon as you can. A motorized vehicle can conveniently accomplish this, but when the roads are jammed and fuel is scarce, what will you do?
In ideal conditions, with clear roads and light traffic, bikes will always eat the dust of motorized vehicles. But during a calamity with widespread damage, conditions will be less than ideal, and there may be instances when a car will be ineffective, especially if you’re in a densely-populated area. Gridlocks will be likely, and routes could be littered with obstacles and debris your vehicle may not be able to maneuver around. People will be lining up at the pumps and there may not be enough fuel for everyone. And as one of the most vulnerable links, public transportation will also be out of the equation.
You need to have a mode of transport that requires as little resources as possible to take you and your supplies out of harm’s way. Bicycles, simple machines that we have often assigned as recreational rides for weekends, could be the answer.
The biggest advantage bicycles have over motorized vehicles is fuel — specifically their lack of the need for it.
Bicycles are human-powered, and their range lasts for as long as you have the will and strength to move. In situations where fuel becomes scarce (or worse, completely runs out) pedal power trumps motorized engines.
Of course, you can always hike to your destination. But between walking while carrying your gear at an average speed of 3 mph and cruising on a bicycle at 9 mph, for the same amount of energy, the choice is clear.
Availability of Parts and Maintenance
The average internal combustion engine isn’t serviceable by the average Joe. In addition, today’s vehicles are increasingly moving from mechanical to digital links with advances like drive-by-wire technology and smart connectivity, even experienced DIYers will find it hard to diagnose a check engine light, much less repair a fried ECU.
Even if you have an older and simpler car, parts availability may become an issue when something malfunctions, and it won’t be as simple as replacing them with found items. Purchasing spares may be expensive and storage will be a problem, and you can’t possibly purchase multiple spares for every mechanical item in your car.
Bicycles, on the other hand, are one of the simplest modes of transport: two wheels and a chain connected to steering and braking devices. Bike parts are abundant, easy to find, and easy to store. More importantly, they’re easy to maintain too. On older bikes with simpler mechanisms, you may even make your own parts from junk. You can also buy a couple of old bikes from the same period for cheap and their parts will usually be interchangeable, and they’ll only take up a small corner of your shed.
Keeping a bicycle in good running condition is so simple that almost anyone can do it. Some of the tools needed (e.g. adjustable wrench and Allen keys) are so commonly found that you probably already have them in your kit. What little special tools bikes do require, like chain breakers or spoke wrenches, are typically cheap and small enough that they won’t require much extra space in your toolbox. Finally, regular maintenance consists of lubricating moving parts, tuning stretched cables, and truing the rims and takes only an hour or two at most, and stretches the bike’s lifespan for years, even decades.
With racks and panniers, a bicycle can carry up to 150 pounds of gear, way more than the average person can lug on foot. For bigger loads, you can simply dismount and use your bike as a pack mule, while bulk items can be carried in a trailer.
A trailer can increase a bicycle’s carrying capacity, and will enable you to pull larger and bulkier loads or other members of your party.
As for carrying the bike itself, there are folding models that can be stowed in a car trunk. For regular bikes, you can take off the front wheel to make them fit in your trunk. This makes them ideal back-up options in case your car breaks down or gets mired in the exodus out of the city. Bicycles can easily maneuver around large obstacles, filter through traffic, and handle rough terrain; handy in case there’s too much traffic or if you need to take alternative routes.
Aside from transportation and hauling gear, it’s also possible to convert a bicycle into a power generator for small electrical items. In some parts of the world, bikes are being used for other purposes such as sharpening tools, pumping water, and helping process food. With a little inventiveness, you can transform a bicycle into a multi-purpose tool that will require just you and your legs to utilize it.
But even with its many advantages, a bicycle is still far from being the perfect prepper-mobile. Aside from their limited speed, bikes leave you exposed to the elements. You can use a waterproof shell or winter clothing, but these won’t get near the comfort provided by an enclosed and climate-controlled vehicle. In a pinch, you can even use your car as a temporary shelter, which is something that you can’t really do with your bike.
Security while riding a bicycle is also a big issue. In cases where you need to defend yourself, whether against aggressive wildlife or other people, a bike provides little in the way of protection. With a car, you can lock yourself inside and buy time to get away. With a bicycle, your only choice is to dismount and try to protect yourself with a weapon or pedal harder — just be aware that it won’t work all the time. Even on a racing bicycle without load, the average cyclist can manage 30 mph for a couple of minutes. while a charging bear can run up to 40 mph).
Lastly, a bike’s range and load capacity is only as good as its owner: you. Unless you happen to be an Olympic cyclist, your bike’s endurance and cargo carrying potential is greatly limited by your physical abilities.
A bicycle won’t be able to replace a motorized vehicle, especially in the onset of a disaster, but it’s also a bad idea to dismiss it altogether. In a prolonged survival situation, the value of a bicycle increases.
Aside from transporting people and goods, with the right amount of ingenuity, it can be used as a multi-purpose tool that can assist in providing basic needs. A bicycle can be converted into a generator for charging batteries and charging electrical equipment, and even as a basic mill for creating and maintaining tools.
While a bike is no match for a car, it can be a good alternative in SHTF situations. Keep the car running, but keep a bike or two just in case.