trueorfalseRecently Chris from Vermont e-mailed us about our bicycle tour.  Before signing off he wrote, “I would love to do what you’re doing, but at my age it’s just not possible.”

This type of email is typical.  People writing to say they would like to set off on a bicycle tour but can’t for any number of reasons.

Now, I don’t know Chris from Vermont’s age.  Perhaps he’s pushing 90.  Maybe he really is too old for a long-distance bicycle tour.  But more likely than not, he just thinks he’s too old.  He’s bought into a myth about bicycle touring.

There are all sorts of myths about bicycle touring flying around.  Here are a few of my favorites:

French retirees Andre and Danielle take on South America.Myth 1: Long distance adventure Bicycle Touring is only for the young. Sure we all know granny and gramps can trundle around Europe on bicycles.  Pedal 40 kilometers, plop down at a café for a leisurely lunch and then check into a comfy B&B for the night.

But retirees bicycle touring in 3rd world countries?  Camping in the wild?  Cranking out 100+ kilometers per day.  Not possible most would say.

Wrong.  Danielle and André, a French couple well into their 60s, passed us up as we were fighting headwinds on our way to Ushuaia.  They camp.  They ride through developing countries like Peru and Bolivia.  And they collect social security.  Who says adventure bicycle touring is just for the young?

Myth 2:  You must be super-fit to set off on a bicycle tour.   Nothing could be further from the truth.  If you’ve got two functioning lungs, you can go on a bicycle tour.  The beauty of bicycle touring is that you can start out slow and build up gradually. There’s no need to be able to crank out 100 kilometers on your first day.  In fact, many bicycle tourists are comfortable puttering along at around 60 kilometers per day.

Olivia and Bhinti from Crazyonbikes.com on what they call a 'turtle tour' around the world. Cycling slowly and loving it.
Olivia and Bhinti from Crazyonbikes.com on what they call a ‘turtle tour’ around the world. Cycling slowly and loving it.

Myth 3:  Bicycle Touring requires a major investment in gear.  Nah.  That’s just not true.  Way back in 2004 when Eric and I set off on our very first bicycle tour, we looked more like a couple of homeless people on bikes than serious cyclists.

I was riding an old Schwinn we’d picked up at a garage sale, Eric had a mountain bike he’d bought back in the 80’s, and instead of sleek-looking Ortlieb panniers, we’d strapped a backpack on the rack.

cool-bicycle

We were a sight.  But it didn’t matter.  We made it 767 kilometers through Alsace and had the best vacation ever.

It’s easy to fall prey to all the marketing hype around high-tech gear.  Sure, I love my sturdy, long-suffering Koga Miyata.  When it rains, I’m thankful for waterproof bicycle bags.

But could I bicycle tour around the world without all the great gear?  You bet.

Myth 4:  A major long-distance bicycle tour is expensive. Unless you’re keen on walking, Bicycle Touring is the absolute cheapest way to travel.  Since we set off in June 2006, our total expenditure has been around $55,000.  Total expenditure.  Gear, bicycles, airline tickets, insurance, healthcare costs, food, clothing, accommodation, electronics, EVERYTHING.

$55,000  for two people in four and a half years is really not a lot of money.   That’s less than the average US family income for one year.  And we were travelling.

When you break it down, that’s $500 per month per person.  Probably what some of you fork over each month in car payments.

Admittedly, we are rather frugal.  There are times when I could do with a little more comfort.  But the point is, if you don’t mind camping and Couchsurfing, self-catering and keeping an eye on your budget, a long-distance bicycle tour is probably within reach for you.**

Myth 5:  You must be ‘tough’ to set off on a bicycle tour. We cyclists like to write a lot about how much we suffer on bicycle tours.  We whine about headwinds and climate extremes.  We go on and on about steep mountain passes and bone-jarring backroads.    We spin tales about cycling through the desert lugging around a week’s water supply.

While there is some truth to all this talk of suffering, a lot is pure hyperbole (the winds in Patagonia excepted).

Bicycle touring can be as comfortable as you want to make it.  If you’ve got a generous budget, there are plenty of companies that will organize a tour for you and even arrange for your luggage to be transferred from one destination to the next (check out Biciklo for lots of listings).

Southeast Asia is a popular bicycle touring destination because distances are short, food is delicious and towns with comfortable guest houses are so close together that carrying a tent is optional.

Finally, if you’re not too proud to hop on a truck, suffering is almost always optional, no matter in what part of the world you choose to cycle.

Sometimes it's best just to swallow your pride and hop on a truck.
Sometimes it’s best just to swallow your pride and hop on a truck.

What’s your opinion?  Do you agree/disagree with these popular bicycle touring myths?  Maybe you’ve got your own myth to add.

**disclaimer  “You” refers to the average reader of this blog–an English-speaking individual living in the US or Western Europe.  Obviously, for those living in the developing world even $500 is a huge sum of money.

5 Popular Myths about Long Distance Bicycle Touring

46 thoughts on “5 Popular Myths about Long Distance Bicycle Touring

  • Doug
    January 4, 2011 at 8:20 PM
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    Is bike touring really that cheap? Sign me up. My car payment is MORE than $500 per month. Maybe bicycle touring is actually a way to save money.

    Reply
  • fubek
    January 4, 2011 at 11:37 PM
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    The best thing is: if you have saved up $200,000, you can bicycle tour indefinetly (12*$500/3%, with a safe withdrawal rate of 3%).

    Reply
  • Karen
    January 5, 2011 at 12:30 AM
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    Those are the words I like to hear! We can all make excuses for why not to do something… even those with kids don’t really have an excuse look at the cycling families out there (e.g . Family on a Bike). You just have to make it happen, and Amaya you raise a good point, there are so many types of touring, you don’t have to do the world, or a continent, it can be what you want it to be. And I really doubt if it’s ever really about the cycling, rather than the actual point of travel itself. Don’t fell like pushing a headwind? Hop a plane, train or a lift you are still living life to the fullest and traveling in a way that a very small minority choose, and it’s really just that easy.

    On another note, $55,000 really?? I’d be interested in knowing more details about this. Looking at insurance alone for our upcoming trip it looks like it will cost $8,000 alone for five years and we haven’t even left yet (World Nomads quote).

    Reply
    • World Biking
      January 5, 2011 at 2:31 PM
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      Hi Karen,
      Thanks for the suggestion of providing more details about how much a bike tour costs and where all the money goes. Insurance can take a big bite out of the budget. World Nomads has become very popular and is no longer the most economical insurance on the market for certain age categories. You may want to check out http://www.avi-international.com/biz/cgi/inscription_gt.pl?508
      Their site is not very well put together, but prices for travel insurance are very competitive.

      Reply
  • Tom
    January 5, 2011 at 9:38 AM
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    $500/month? Luxury!!! My first 5 months cost me 700 Euros 😉

    Reply
    • World Biking
      January 5, 2011 at 2:53 PM
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      Hey Tom,
      Thanks for sharing your budget figures. I know this will be reassuring to cyclists worried about not having saved enough for their tour.

      Your budget works out to about $6 per day. I think that’s definitely do-able in most parts of the world.

      In developing couintries, our daily expense budget for food and accommodation hovers around that figure. Even in places like the US, Western Europe and some more expensive South American countries like Brazil, Chile and Argentina our daily expenses budget never gets above $10 per person per day.

      But when I factor in additional expenses like health insurance, 4 international round-trip flights, 4 computers, misc. gear and so on, our average daily budget goes much higher. Obviously those are are extras that can be easily be cut out.

      Reply
  • nicolaus
    January 5, 2011 at 6:05 PM
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    Completely agree with 1-4. Cheapest month for me was in Northern Pakistan, coming in from China: one month @ USD 220 (rope beds included).

    On your point5, I still think long distance cyclists have a certain mindset not everyone has or wants to have. Many of my friends cannot understand how one can be at ease and at peace getting up in the morning and not knowing where the next night will be spent, whether it’s camping or in some guesthouse. Where will you get food, water? How do you know where to go…etc.? The continuous uncertainty (or perceived at least) is what I found puts most people off. It’s exactly that which makes the beauty of a long-distance cylcing trip…you just know you’ll end up somewhere ok, so no need to worry about it.

    Good luck with the headwinds (by the way, Murphy’s law: you will head back North the day the winds change direction:-))!

    Reply
  • Sonya
    January 5, 2011 at 6:40 PM
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    Hey agree with everything here Amaya
    And was interested to discover that in the years 2007 thru and including 2010, we spent $67,500 and we don’t live frugally at all. This was also including two European visits, Japan and Korea, Canada and the States. It really doesn’t cost much to cycle tour at all!

    Reply
  • Ash
    January 6, 2011 at 8:45 PM
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    Amaya and Eric thanks for sharing this with us. Amaya your points are wll said. We have become, to put it mildly, lazy. Our travels are usually associated with luxury. In bike tours there is luxury but not the type of luxury understood by many. It is a luxury and previledge to ride every day through different countries for such a long time. What you two got to see is something people with lots of money do not even know about. The super rich don’t even dream of this. You are an inspiration for many of us. I for one might not be able to ride 4 years and go to such exotic places for different reason(s). But I do plan to take a sabbatical (1 year) to just ride my bike. Africa is what come to my mind for now. I am in my fifties!!

    Take care and be well. I

    Reply
  • Imran Khan
    January 14, 2011 at 2:25 PM
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    Spot on!
    Everyone we cross here, without exageration, says these exact words: “I would never do that!”. I especially liked the disclaimer at the end, how sensitive. That’s a very sad reality: I’m telling everyone at home that everyone can do it, I can’ say that to even the wealthiest people I’m meeting in West Africa. I just read that the first black man is attempting to cycle from Tangier to the UK, which has been done countless times by Europeans!
    This reminds us everyday how lucky we are to be able to be cycling.

    Reply
  • Randy Garmon
    January 26, 2011 at 1:28 AM
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    “Well into their 60’s … ” Imagine that!

    Having recently “eased into my 60’s” I agree with what you are saying that the bike touring is not for the young only. Some of the seemingly most contented tour-ers I have met on my travels are older than I … and their “old age” experience seems to allow them to travel at an easy and graceful pace.

    As always, your thoughts are well presented and greatly appreciated.

    Randy

    Reply
  • Ron Desjardins
    February 16, 2011 at 8:07 AM
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    Yep, I can vouch for Randy Garmon.He is a great bike companion…I was lucky to ride a few days last summer on the Northern Tier with him…..Over 60 ??? go for it!…now you’ve got the time and can really enjoy the trip!..
    Ron ( Bikerguy 73)

    Reply

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