Our planet is much larger than it looks like on the globe. Its surface with all the points of interest is so diverse. The faster you travel, the less you can see, touch, and feel. If you travel by plane, you can reach the other side of the Earth for 1-2 days, but you can see almost nothing on your way. By train, bus, or car you can see more things on the way, but traveling is not that fast. And traveling by bike is much slower, but you can enjoy many more things on your way. Besides, you can travel on roads and trails that larger vehicles can’t go. So, exploring the Earth by bike has its good sides, attracting many travelers. Let’s take a look at some important and basic cycling tips, to prepare for a great cycling journey.
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Traveling by bike essentials
Many people like cycling, but not all of them think about it as a way of traveling. In other words, some people enjoy cycling just as a sport. They can do it on a static bike as a fitness device, or just would circle a stadium for exercise or speed contest. Some cycling travelers do it too, but only as a preparation for a real journey. So, now we will focus on real biking travel. And it has its pros and cons. Let’s get into details.
Cycling has many features that attract travelers. They still focus on the travel, and a bike is only a tool for their trip, not the center of the trip. And it is a good tool that can provide a unique experience which no other way of travel can provide.
- Enjoying the scenery in more detail. By bike, you can travel with a certain speed which is slower than the speed of motor vehicles (in most cases, but not always!), so you can look around and see more things on your way.
- Discover new places. Cycling is a great way to explore new places. You can cover more ground on a bike than you can on foot, so you can see more of the country or city that you’re visiting. There are also many cycle-friendly countries, where cycling is a popular way to get around. Croatia is among the top of such countries and if you happen to be there, taking cycling tours around Croatia can be a great way to see the country and experience its culture and natural beauty. The challenging rides with like-minded travelers will be an unforgettable experience for you.
- You can stop everywhere, at any time (unless you are in a group, and have to follow others). Yes, while cars can’t stop wherever the driver wants, there are no road signs forbidding cyclists to stop, fix something, enjoy the scenery or just relax.
- Diving into the environment. While you ride your bike, you can breathe the fresh air, smell fragrant of forest, grass, village, food, and other sources. You can also touch and try everything on your way.
Enjoying the descents. Every cyclist likes descents. When you descend, you just relax moving faster than normal, focusing only on your brake to control the speed.
- You can go where big vehicles can’t go. Yes, you can ride on narrow trails and streets (just be careful about people), and even there is a sign “No cycling”, you can just push it for a while, then proceed to ride.
- You can do it in the mountain– if there is a rugged section of a trail, which is difficult for riding, you can just proceed on foot for a while pushing your bike, then proceed to ride as normal.
- Saving money. Bicycles don’t need petrol, parking fees (only with some exceptions), and toll fees. Yes, you may have some expenses, but in general, they are only for repair, or for transporting by train or bus if necessary.
- Exercise. Finally, it is a sports activity, good for your health. And instead of doing only inside a stadium, by travel, you can add a lot more around you.
Of course, not everything is great while you ride a bicycle. Otherwise, everybody would travel by bike. Here are the cons of cycling travel:
- Time. Traveling by bike is slow. Yes, slow traveling has its good side, but the problem is our time. Most of the people, including travelers have scheduled times, vacation time limits, visa expiration, etc. I would really wish to enjoy a limitless time, but in the reality, it is almost impossible. Even those who go on a biking expedition like crossing Europe from UK to Istanbul, still have to consider the seasons and be on time to the proper place during the proper season.
- Danger on the heavy traffic roads. This is maybe the biggest problem for bikers. If some bikers happen to lose their life or at least be injured badly, it happens on such roads. It is especially dangerous when the road is narrow and there is not enough space for the biker. You have to avoid such roads to protect your life. And even if you can’t avoid it, at least you have to think like a car driver.
- Bike stealing. It is probably not everywhere in the world, but in most cases, it is a real danger. If you want to enter a building- a supermarket, a restaurant, a museum, or something else, you have to lock your bike outside. But even this can’t guarantee 100% protection. Some smart thieves can use strong cutters that can cut almost every lock, and they can do it very quickly. It can be also a problem at the night. You camp beside the road, wake up in the morning and your bike has gone.
- Atmosphere. Breathing fresh air, smelling the fragrance of the environment is nice, but the atmospheric conditions that you are exposed to are not always friendly. First, if there is a strong wind, it can be a problem. Yes, if you ride in the same direction as the wind, it is a pleasure, because the wind helps you. But when you ride against the wind, it can be exhausting. Cold weather, especially with rain or snow can make you feel freezing unless you are well equipped. Also, riding on snow and ice is very difficult, in some cases impossible.
- Vulnerability (and dogs). When you ride a bicycle, you are more vulnerable than in a car, bus or train. It is especially true about dogs. Dogs have such an instinct- they often chase after fast-moving objects. Sometimes they chase passing cars, but you are protected there. They can attack hikers, but if hikers know what to do without panic, usually they can avoid biting. However, bikers move fast, and they are unprotected.
- Falling. It is seldom, but still possible. Falling can happen if you stop too quickly, or if you have problems with your brakes. Also, descending by bike is exciting, but if the slope is too steep and rugged, you can fall badly. And when you fall, you can easily break your arm. This can’t happen in the car or a normal hike.
Luggage limit. You can’t bring too many things with you. Yes, you can travel by bike supplied with a rack or saddlebags, and it can allow bigger luggage. But at the same time, it makes your bike heavier, and you can especially feel it when you ascend on a slope.
- Exhaustion. Finally, when you cycle, you use your own energy. And it is not limitless. Sooner or later you can feel too tired to proceed and would need a rest, especially if you have to “fight” against a strong wind or a slope.
So, as you can see, traveling by bike can be a very exciting experience, but not without problems. And you would always try to avoid these problems to increase the pleasure of it. You can make just a short bike trip in a city or nature, or you can go on a long expedition crossing a continent.
Three types of cycling travel
In general, there are three types of cycling travel, depending on where is your cycling route. You can cycle in a city (or a village), on a road, or in nature. These places are different and the challenges you face there, are different too.
This is the easiest place to cycle. Or at least, the place with the least requirements. You can travel by plane, train, or bus, stop in a city and find a hotel. Then you can just find a rental bike company, take your bicycle, and cycle around the city. You don’t need to bring your luggage, as it can stay in the hotel. Also, most of the time you will ride slowly. And you even don’t need a special bike- a simple city bicycle would be enough. In fact, almost every bicycle would be ok to use.
Today, many big cities in the world provide public bikes that you can find everywhere in the city, use their payment system, and ride them wherever you want. Yes, in many cases, the most difficult part is how to make the payment to unlock the bicycle. Once you do it, it is very convenient, because you don’t need to worry about stealing. When you have to enter a building (a supermarket, a museum or other), you just leave it on the street, and when you go out, just find another bicycle. In fact, if the city you visit is on your long-distance biking route, you should better leave your bike in the hotel and use only public bicycles.
But out of the city, things are different.
Here I mean cycling on paved roads out of the cities. If you need speed, here is the place. You still can’t cycle faster than the cars, but you can be much faster than the bikers in the city, or those on a mountain trail.
You can do it with every kind of bicycle, but only one kind can provide a good speed- the road bike. It is lightweight, with thin tires. So you can reach a good speed, reaching 40, even 50 km/h, and you can maintain this speed for a long time. Thus, you can travel about 100-150 km per day, even more, without a problem. And you have to be careful about cars.
Of course, you can travel on a paved road with a mountain bike or even a simple city bike, but just you can’t develop such a high speed. Your average speed would be 15-20 km/h, with a city bike even lower. And for one day you would pass 70-80 km, only sometimes 100 and a little more.
Cycling in nature
This is my favorite place of cycling. Here I mean dirt roads or trails. It can be in a plain area, on hills or deep in the mountain. Speed is much lower, the terrain is diverse and sometimes you may need to stop and push your bike.
For this kind of terrain, you need a mountain bike. Its main feature is the thicker tires, designed for dirt, mud, stones, and other kinds of rugged roads and trails. City bikes would be very improper- they are usually with thinner tires, and without shock absorbers. Road bikes are improper too- their thin tires would easily sink into the dirt or mud and it makes cycling difficult.
However, the best kind of bike that can be used for long-distance travel, although not such passable like the mountain bikes, are the touring bikes. By touring bike you can travel in a city, on a road (but just slower), and on dirt roads. You can ascend and descend. And most importantly, you can load much more luggage than any other bike.
Of course, there are still some places on the Earth that no bike can be used. If these places are small, in some cases you can just push your bike to cross such section, then proceed cycling. But usually much practical would be if you just leave your bike and proceed in another way through such an area.
So, let’s back to the roads and places where you can cycle, and focus on the proper bikes that you should use.
As you can see, in general, there are three types of bikes that you can use for travel. But only one of them can be proper for all kinds of cycling travel, and even this type is not perfect, according to the table below:
So, let’s take a look at the first type of bicycle- the city bike.
City bikes are the best for a big city on a plain. In such a city you would need to stop often on crossroads, waiting for the green light, or you need to ride slowly. Many cities in the world today are supplied with bike lanes, where you can ride faster, but again, you don’t need to be too fast.
These bikes are usually lightweight. They can be designed for men, for women, and kids, with various wheel diameters accordingly. There are bikes with one speed or with a multi-speed system. If the city you ride is flat, you don’t need a multi-speed system, but if the city is built on a mountain, there are sloped streets that you have to ascend, and changing the speed would help you.
Below you can see some of the best city bikes:
So, all these bikes are great for exploring a city, but slow for long-distance trips (yes, those with a multi-speed system can be faster, but still not the best), and quite improper for dirt roads in nature.
Let’s see the second type of bikes- road bikes.
Road bikes are designed for speed. To achieve it, they are made as more as possible lightweight, with narrow tires. Another feature of the road bikes is their rudder, usually bended downward, so the biker should be more inclined ahead. This is to increase their aerodynamics and to decrease friction. Thus, you can reach a speed of 40-50 km/h, even more. They are best if you want to travel the world on paved roads.
All of these bikes are designed with a multi-speed system, so you can easily ascend on sloped roads. In fact, you can climb a mountain (but again, only on paved roads), then descend from it. You can pass long distances within a day, even if you ride against the wind. And again, they are designed for men, for women, and kids.
Let’s see some of the best road bikes for 2020.
Of course, you can ride such a bike in a city (and most probably you have to leave a city to reach another city), but since you have to stop often or ride slowly, it would be not the best, compared to the city bikes. As for dirt roads, as I mentioned above, road bikes are not proper. They would not only sink deeper in soft ground but also can be easily damaged if the trail is covered by stones.
For such terrain, you need a mountain bike.
Mountain bikes are designed for rugged terrain. Their most essential feature is the thick tire. With such a tire, you can’t achieve too high speed, but in the mountain, you actually don’t need it. But you can ride on various kinds of trails and dirt roads- on a soft muddy surface, stony surface, grass, dirt, dust, and of course, on normal paved roads too.
Again, these bikes are always supplied with a multi-speed system. They are a bit heavier than the road and city bikes, but that’s not a big problem. Another important feature of the mountain bikes is their shock absorbers. You would definitely need them on a bumpy surface, not only for your comfort but also for the protection of your bike.
Mountain bikes are usually more expensive than the other bikes. But there are still some cheaper examples. Let’s see some of the best cheap mountain bikes below.
However, if you are looking for really the best (and inevitably expensive) mountain bikes, take a look here.
Mountain bikes are good for a short biking expedition because only by such a bike you can ride on dirt roads and rugged terrain, at the same time you still can ride in a city, and on the paved roads (just with lower speed). Although they are called “mountain bikes”, of course, they can be used on dirt roads in plain fields, along the sea coast, in plain forests, etc. But there is another kind of bike, especially designed for long-distance trips- the touring bike.
If you want to cross a continent, and don’t want to ride only on roads, you need a touring bike. Like the mountain bike, it has thick tires, but its design is different. Here you don’t seek speed as the road bikes, don’t seek simplicity as the city bike, and don’t seek high passability as the mountain bike. But you seek an opportunity to bring as more luggage as possible, for a long time journey.
For this purpose, touring bikes are designed with frames which allows installing more luggage. Normally, touring bikes don’t have shock absorbers. Yes, they are lightweight, but when you load all your luggage on such a bike, it will become heavy. These bikes are supplied with a multi-speed system, so you can ascend and descend without problem, but with all the luggage on them, it would be difficult to ride on rugged stone terrains and mountain trails. Instead, you can travel the world on paved roads, dirt roads, even grasslands and other relatively smooth kinds of surface.
These bikes are not designed especially for men, for women or for kids, and there is no need for that, so you can just look for a better functionality and quality.
So, all these bikes are great, especially the mountain and the touring bikes which can be used everywhere (where bikes can go). Some of these bikes are hybrid, with features of other kinds of bikes. But there is an important question- how to arrange a long-distance trip or an expedition by bike?
How to arrange a long-distance expedition with bike
Here is the problem. You want to explore a country- let’s say France. And you want to make it by bike. You are from the USA, you have a good touring bike, but the only way to use it for a France bike tour is to transport it somehow to the starting point in France. It is not so cheap, so probably a better option is to rent a local bike.
Transportation by plane
If you anyway want to ride your own bike, you can do it. Most airlines allow transporting a bicycle, but there are various conditions. The cost can be very different, depending on the airline and the plane’s route. Besides, they have packing requirements you have to follow. Bike that can be folded have a better chance to be accepted by the air companies.
Transportation by train or bus
You can also transport your bike by train. Again, most trains allow transporting bikes for some cost, and it would be cheaper than a flight. By bus, the options are usually more limited, depending on the passengers and their luggage, as well as the bus company’s policy. In general, you can transport your bike in this way, but it can be a bit unpredictable because not all train and bus tickets include bike transportation fee in advance.
Transportation by car
You can rent a car, but the problem is that you would need a transportation rack for your bike. Unfortunately, rental car companies usually don’t offer racks (although you can ask, there could be some exceptions), and it would be too inconvenient and costly to bring your own rack. So, an option could be to find a local rental bike shop and hire only a rack from them (if you are coming with your bike). The problem is that again it is highly unpredictable.
Transportation by ferry
This is much easier. All ferries transporting cars allow transportation of bicycles too (at some coast). But it is not the same for speed boats, especially if they are smaller. So again, the best thing you can do is to ask in advance.
Now we are coming to the most complex type of traveling- a combined expedition which includes various ways to travel- planes, boats, trains, buses, cycling, kayaking, and walking. If you are lucky and prepare in advance, you can bring your bike (along with all of your luggage) by plane, then if need, you can transport it by ferry or by train to a certain point. Then you start cycling on the local paved or dirt roads.
The problem comes when you reach a point where cycling is not possible- a steep rugged mountain, a sand desert, or a thick jungle. Now you have to leave your bike at this point and start walking, kayaking or climbing. At this moment, you have two options. First- to find a transportation logistics company and to send your bicycle by their service to the address at another point, from where you can proceed cycling. And second- to find a friend who can do it for you. Many explorers like those crossing the Amazon Rainforest, Sahara Desert, Atlantic Ocean, or another extreme place on Earth have arranged it in this way.
You may think: “It sounds like a bicycle will be more like a burden than a tool for traveling”. No, if everything is arranged well in advance, cycling can be a great way of traveling or at least a part of an expedition.
Finally, let’s see something more. Just arranging a bicycle is not enough, you need some additional things. Even if you don’t bring your own bike but rent a local bike, you would need some accessories.
Some accessories are always necessary- for repairing, for luggage or safety. Yes, it can be an additional weight, but it can help a lot. And actually, things are not too many.
Tire repairing tools
The most common problem with the bike is tire puncture. It can be caused by thorns, broken glass, nails, or stones when your tire is too soft (without enough air). In such a case, you need a tire repair kit. It includes patches, glue, sandpaper (or something else for tire surface treatment), and plastic levers.
You can buy these things separately, but usually (and most conveniently), it is best to buy a patch kit. Let’s see some good patch kits below:
Besides this, you would definitely need a spanner (at least one). It can be sold as a part of a kit, or you can buy it separately too. Let’s take a look at some spanners below.
Sometimes patching holes on the tire is not enough- if there are too many holes, a better option is just to change the inner tire. I would advise you to buy at least one, or better two durable tires with better quality. When you buy it, have in mind the following: 26″ is the classical size of a tire. However, there are smaller and bigger size tires. For more information, see this tire size table. And there are two types of valve: Presta and Schrader- have in mind that Schrader is the valve used by cars, so you can easily pump your tire by compressor for cars, if need.
Another thing to consider is the thickness of the inner tire. If you have a mountain bike, your inner tire has to be thick, and if you have a road bike, the inner tire is thin. Let’s take a look at some inner tires
Inner tires for mountain bikes
Inner tires for road bikes
Finally, needless to say, you must bring a pump. There are convenient small pumps that you can easily attach to your bike, or just put in your luggage. Let’s see some good pumps you can use (have in mind the two types of tire valves- Schrader and Presta):
Then, it is more seldom, but other damages can occur, on the multi-speed system, on the chain, on the wheel (it can bend by a hit), or on the pedaling system. In most of these cases, you still can cycle, although much harder and more inconvenient. For example- you can temporarily eliminate the speeds and just cycle with one speed only. Or you can help yourself by leg if your pedals break- at least until you reach the first possible place to fix it.
For this, you would need another repairing kit which includes more accessories. It can be combined with the patching accessories, or you can buy separately. Let’s see some good kits:
For your convenience and safety, you can bring more accessories that would be always useful. They are not too many, and you would not need to bring all of them in your backpack.
Bike luggage carrier
This is something that you have to install on your bike before your trip. Yes, you can bring your luggage in a heavy backpack, but it makes you more unstable and easier to fall because the weight is on your back, i.e., not well-balanced. But if you attach your luggage on a carrier, it will make a better balance, and your back will be free. So, let’s see some good bike luggage carriers (racks) below:
Bike side bags (panniers)
Bike side bags are what usually long-distance bikers bring on an expedition. They are installed on your back wheel, on both sides. So you can put there a lot of your luggage. It is very convenient and also contributes to a good balance of weight. Let’s see some good side bags below:
These bags are located under the seat of the bike. They are the best place to put your repairing tools and other useful small things, so they can be easily reached. Some of the saddlebacks are small, proper for your repairing tools and other small things, while other saddlebacks are large, so you can put a significant part of your luggage inside. Let’s see some good saddlebags below:
Drinking water is always important during a biking trip. So, it is important to put your water bottle in a convenient place. Usually, the bikes are designed with a bottle holder on their frame. You can put various kinds of bottles on it, but there are bottles specially made for bikers. Let’s see some of them:
This is an important accessory for protection. It happens seldom, but if you fall from the bike, it can save your life. Yes, usually when you fall, you will most likely hurt your arm, because you instinctively try to use it to protect yourself. Your arm could break, but it is still better than if your head breaks. However, if you hit your head, it can be fatal, especially if you fall during an accelerating descent. And here is the helmet’s role.
Today, there are a lot of helmet choices. Helmets for bikers are different from other helmets (like helmets for climbers, or military helmets). They are prolonged, designed mainly for protecting from hits by falling at a higher speed. The best helmets are those which are light, comfortable, with good ventilation, and at the same time enough strong to protect your head. There are helmets for men, for women, and kids. Let’s see some examples below:
Honestly, many bikers don’t wear helmets, including me. Long-distance bikers on an expedition usually don’t wear helmets too, mainly because they are not looking for speed, and also because they have too much luggage. I can’t say whether we are right or not, I have fallen from my bike, but I have never hit my head, only have injured my arm. That’s why there is still a debate about the usefulness of bike helmets. Of course, one more protection is never useless.
Biking pants with pads
Many bikers know it, especially if they ride a long time. When you ride long, you can feel pain on your butt, from the long monotonous movements of your leg and the friction caused by them, between your butt and the seat of the bike. Finally, you arrive at your destination for the day and feel uncomfortable. At the same time, you know that you have to proceed with the same exercise the next day.
A good solution can be just installing a soft and comfortable seat on your bike. This can help a lot, but for some people, it is not enough. So, another option is to buy biking pants with pads. They are specially designed to reduce friction, no matter what is the seat of the bike you are riding. At the same time, the good biking pants are comfortable, help against sweating, and breathable. Again, they can be designed for men, women, and kids. Let’s see some examples below:
In general, that’s most important for the bikers, and what they have to prepare, especially for those who want to use their bikes for a long-distance expedition (or at least, biking as a part of it). Again, cycling has its pros and cons, but there are various ways to reduce the effect of its cons. And if you prepare well, you can enjoy cycling as a great and exciting way to explore our planet.
Get some inspiration from the video below:
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.