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Introduction to adventure cycling

[+] Choosing a bike

[+] Carrying your kit

Camping gear

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Where to go

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PLANNING

"I've just cycled England to Thailand with almost no planning. I decided it was time to leave and left within 6 weeks. I left with no route or destination planned. No visas, whatever equipment was lying around at the time and no maps."
Hamada Shather, on the journey he did on a 40 bike.


How many of you? How far, how fast Research
Information Maps Money
Sponsorship Insurance Health

Adventure Cycling Guide Planning Travelling by bike you don't have to do much planning. In most cases, it boils down to drawing a line on a map and either getting on a plane or just setting off.

How many of you?

Going solo

If there is only one of you, don't let it stop you going. Some of the advantages of being on your own are: However, I suspect all solo cyclist go through periods were they tire of their own company. If you are on one of the more popular routes, e.g. Caraterra Austral, it's relatively easy to hook up with other solo cyclists for a while.

Two's company

"I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them." Mark Twain

I think two is probably the ideal number for a cycling adventure. It gives you someone to share the experience with, there's mutual support when the going gets tough and if one of you gets sick or has an accident the other can get help. On a more practical level, it allows you to split the load of the camping gear between you.
But be warned: one of you will be faster than the other, one of you will want to get up early while the other will won't understand what the rush is. One of you will be a camel, never needing to stop to eat or drink, while the other will be a humming bird, needing to stop frequently... You will need to sort out how you handle these differences so the trip is OK for both of you.

Three or more

It's quite nice to travel in a small group for awhile. For longer periods group travel involves a bit more effort logistically and the dynamics of the group and individual personalities may become an issue. Also you may be a little less likely to interact with the locals when you are travelling in a group.

How far, how fast

In planning your route you need a rough idea of how far and how fast you can travel. If you are not too fit and are cycling on reasonable, not too hilly roads and taking rest days every 5-6 days you can expect to manage 1,300km to 1,600km per month. If you are fit and can regularly do 100km a day, your monthly average will be 2,000km to 2,500km

Research

Key things you need to research before you go include:

Security

Travelling independently you are responsible for your own security. If you are going to a country where security may be an issue, e.g. Afghanistan, Columbia, Zimbabwe, it's down to you to do your homework and assess the risks. Check the latest Foreign and Commonwealth Office www.fco.co.uk advice for the country. Travelling to a country when the FCO has posted a notice advising against all travel there may well invalidate your travel insurance.
FCO warnings tend to err on the side of caution, for understandable reasons. So it's worth trying to get information from other sources, in particular travellers who have recent experiences of the country. Travel forums, such as Lonely Planet's Thorn Trees, are a good place to start.

Road conditions

So that you fit the right tyres and have a reasonable idea of your daily distance, you need to know whether you will be cycling mostly on paved roads or gravel tracks.

Weather

You need a rough idea of what the weather is going to like so you know what clothes and camping equipment to take, e.g. how cold/hot will it be and how much rain you can expect.

Wind direction

If you are doing a long A to B trip, as opposed to a circular one, it's worth checking what the prevailing wind direction is. If you are going into the mountains, don't bother - the wind can blow from every direction in a single day.

Cost of living

You need to have a rough idea of what your daily budget is going to be. Fnding out the cost of a night in a cheap hotel, a meal and a beer, will give you a good indication. Daily budgets can vary from 80+ Euros, staying in B&Bs in Europe, to less than $10 per day wild camping in Central Asia.

Sources of information

Internet

The internet has transformed planning a long trip. It is now incredibly easy to access a huge amount of information on any part of the world and any aspect of cycling. Wherever you are planning to go the chances are you can find an account of someone who as been there and send them an email. Forums such as Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree give you access to a huge community of travellers and cyclists. The most useful sites are listed in the Links section.

Guide Books

Guide books are quite expensive, so they are only worth investing in if you are going to be spending a few weeks in a country and/or it's off the beaten track. Lonely Planet, Trailblazer and Bradt are all good guides. It's actually quite liberating travelling without a guidebook.

Maps

In developing countries it can be difficult to get a hold of decent maps, so it's best to buy at least some of your maps before you go. In the UK, we have one of the world's best map shops- Stanfords www.stanfords.co.uk.

Visas & Permits

Visas are an expensive, time consuming hassle that you just have to put up with. Check the visa and permit requirements for your trip well ahead of your departure date. Most visas cost between $30 and $80, and only take a couple of days to obtain. Depending on your nationality and the political situation, there are still a few difficult ones such as Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, that can take weeks. The paper work you may be required to obtain for certain countries includes: For some countries, such as China, it's best not to mention you are travelling by bike.

For long trips, because most Visas are only valid for 3 months, you may have to get some or all of your visas en-route. For example, most people on the Europe to SE Asia route cycle to Ankara, then spend a week or two getting their visas for Iran and Central Asia. Thereafter, they try to work one or two countries ahead. Most tourist visas are for 30 days, starting when you enter the country. For a few, you have to fix the start and end dates in advance, which can make planning a long trip difficult.

On long trips, it is a good idea to carry several photocopies of your passport data page (the one with the photo) and the visa pages. It's also good to have a CD with scanned images of these pages.


Money

Credit/Debit Cards

Using Credit/Debit cards is rapidly becoming the method of choice obtaining for money abroad and the availability of ATMs in out of the way places is improving all the time. It is important to check the charges your bank or credit card will make for cash advances overseas - some are really uncompetitive. If you are going for a long time it may be worth opening a new account to get low charges. In the UK, the Nationwide Flex account has a good reputation.

It's best to have at least two cards, in case a machine eats one of them.

Travellers Cheques

It is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to cash Travellers Cheques. Banks don't like them because of the high fraud risk and high processing cost. So, you may find some banks won't touch them with a barge-pole, while others will only let you cash a limited amount and will charge you a hefty fee for the priviledge. However, they still offer an attractive level of security, i.e. you can get them replaced if they get nicked. American Express Dollar cheques are probably the best choice. Make sure you take your purchase receipts with you, as many banks ask to see them as an anti-fraud step.

Cash

Despite the availability of ATMs it is still a good idea to carry a reasonable amount of cash for emergencies. Recent issue, high-value dollar bills, in good condition will get you out of a hole in almost every developing country. Euros are rapidly becoming as widely accepted as Dollars. Carry the bulk of your cash in a money belt, but hide a couple of hundred dollars in your luggage or somewhere else, in case the money belt gets pinched.

Long trips

On long trips it's best to take a mix of credit/debit cards, travellers cheques and cash, in the hope that wherever you are, at least one method will work.
In terms of managing your money on long trip (6+ months) there are a couple of other things that will help. The first is having an internet bank account. This means you can access your account, transfer money and pay bills from internet cafes. The second, is arranging for some one you trust absolutely to have have formal Power of Attorney (a formal document drawn up by a Solcitor) over your accounts. This means he/she can pay bills and deal with your affairs while you are out of contact.

Sponsorship

So, you have decided to do an epic cycle ride from Little Wittering on the Wold to Mongolia. You've jacked in your job, your about to let your house and you've started buying your kit. Now's the time you start thinking "Surely some one would want to sponsor me for such an epic ride". Well, sorry to be a kill joy, but sponsorship for long bike rides is notoriously difficult to come by. In terms of time invested versus cash obtained, it is usually better to go and work at MacDonalds. However, it's not completely impossible. In rough order of increasing difficulty the possibilities are: If you are approaching companies for sponsorship, you have to be able to offer them a benefit. The question is not what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. And the answer is publicity. You must be able to demonstrate how you are going to get their name seen and heard. Things that will help your case are: Interestingly some people who have sought sponsorship have commented that it is sometimes easier once you are on the road, e.g. replacements for stuff that gets stolen.

Anyway, if you go down this road, good luck!

Insurance

Health/Travel Insurance

The vast majority of adventure cyclists consider health insurance as an essential. However. there are a small number of cyclist who don't bother with it, on the basis that treatment in the 3rd world countries is cheap. Personally, I want the peace of mind of a policy that covers the cost of medical treatment in country and will get me back to the UK in an emergency. There are loads of travel insurance providers out there. Things to look for when you are comparing policies are: For my tours I use a policy from the British Mountaineering Council www.thebmc.co.uk. There is a joining fee, but even when you take this into account, the policies are very competitive and cover a wide range of adventure sports.

Bike Insurance

Just about all travel insurance policies have a single item limit of around 300, so they won't cover your bike (or much of it). Insurance that will cover your bicycle against theft while you are overseas is difficult to find and very expensive when you do find it (it's a small market and the risks are high). Also the policies have time limits of around 3-months, so they won't cover you for a world tour. Your home contents policy may cover your bike for the first couple of weeks. All things considered, most people on a long tours don't bother insuring their bike.

Health

Jabs

If you are going somewhere exotic, you'll need to get the relevent vaccinations. Some jabs have to be given a few weeks in advance, so a couple of months ahead of your departure date, consult your GP/MD to find out what you need. It's best to bring anti-malaria pills from home.
Rabies
If you are going to a remote area where rabies is a risk, you will need to decide whether it is worth having the expensive rabies jab. Do some research and take the advice of your GP/MD before you make the decision. This is my understanding of the situation: The jabs (you need a course of three) do not offer complete immunity. If you are bitten, you still need a course vaccinations to prevent the disease developing. However, if you have had the jab, you will have a little more time in which to get to a clinic and start the treatment (48 hours as as opposed to 24) and you will require a course of fewer, less painful vaccinations than if you hadn't had the jab (I have read of someone who hadn't had a jab and needed a course 14 daily shots to the stomach after being bitten by a dog in Sudan).

First Aid

You should take a basic first aid kit with you - plasters, a couple of bandages, asprin, antispetic cream... that sort of thing.
For long trips, we have found it very useful to carry a couple of courses of antibiotics with us. This means we can treat bad cases of diarrhoea ourselves. Get these under prescription from your GP.






Copyright © Tim Barnes 2007