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

  • May 11, 2011 at 7:10 PM
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    Actually I disagree with several oof your myths. 1) You do hve to be tougher than many people both mentally and physically not just to weather the environment which at times is a buisy highway full of bad drivers, but when it is 100 degrees F and tha asfualt is raidiating hotter and you are up agianst a strong wind and the need for respite but you must remian calm and serene. even when a large truck swipes yo off the road without stopping 10 miles from help. 2 the proper gear is essential for the safe and physically unstrenious trip. You can do a lot of damage to your body without proper fittings and measurments and even then you can screw your body up if you do not have the right understanding of how your muscels develope and work with or against your bones. Case in point I saw two fellows rolling down a mountianside with loaded bikes to afriad for their own good gong to fast around and down blind corners and obstructing trafic to boot. Not only do they give cyclists a bad name but they help angry drivers get madder at cyclists in general. And the oldr people get the more nutrients will be needed and depleted on long physically demanding travels. Thus extra care and extra money are required to keep up the proper nutrients and wellbeing of thier bodies. There is a lot of stressful situations you can get into on the road, bycycling in a safe and defensive mannor requires an alertness most drivers don’t even use and driving itself can be incredibley stressfull. In some areas people are not at all welcoming or helpful and this also can add to the overall stressfulness of the situation, and that stress inhibits muscel preformance a can cause strain that is just plain un-nessisary.
    I speak from the expieriance of 12,000 miles of touring and have used both ceap and expensive gear and I can tell with certianty that both my saftey and my physicall and mental conditon was greatly improved by the use of more expensive and worthy gear.

    Reply
    • May 11, 2011 at 7:26 PM
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      All valid points. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

      Reply
  • May 24, 2011 at 1:27 AM
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    hello from egypt …. let me tell you 1st how u do inspire me especially after this post 🙂
    i’m planning on going from cairo to halaieb the far south east corner of egypt taking the road to suez city down with the coast through the gulf of suez & the red sea coast down to the Sudanese border 😀 i feel like i’m in heaven with sea, desert & mountain all together in the same place … okie here’s the thing i dun know how many kilos it is exactly but my guess it’s nuthin less than 2000 km. i dun have a good bike my goal from this journey is to take as much photos as i can & i’m waiting for my 1st dSLR to come in September god welling. can i do it & how long well it take ? what are my chances to go a little deep into the mountains ? can i do it alone ? is it gonna b deadly boring going the same road back for like 400+ km so i can go deep into the mountains to a place called shiekh shazly area take some pix & the cycle my way to aswan & take the train from there 😀 i dun think i wanna cycle my way down the river 😀 i think it’s gonna be more than 3000+ km total if i could do it like i want to .. how long is it gonna take giving my physical condition & not that good bike (nuthin fancy just urban 26″ no speeds)
    i’m a 26 yo male & i dun work out alot but used to play sport & i like physical torture.
    sadly i smokenow 🙁 soon to quit inshalah 😀

    Reply
  • September 15, 2011 at 11:50 AM
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    never get on a truck bus train!!! Bike it! Never give up!!!

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    • September 17, 2011 at 3:13 PM
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      I absolutely agree with “never give up,” but hopping on a bus or train may be the only way to keep your sanity in some cases. I say, do what’s right for you.

      Reply
  • June 5, 2012 at 7:35 PM
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    Hi I am 73 and have the desire to cycle to Europe from Pretoria in South Africa, I am looking for advice on necessities to carry and keeping things light also in these times need some advice on the safest and best routes. I am interested in going via Botswana, Zambia and taking the shortest from there on, is it possible to route following the Nile from Lake Albert to Cairo or would it be better to go a more Easterly route, maybe even suggestions on a West coast route Any advice would be welcome

    Reply
  • September 3, 2012 at 11:11 PM
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    With just $500 a month, how much/where did you stay overnight? I am planning to do some touring in the US. The cost of campsites and budget motels runs $20 – 100 a night. Any suggestions on how to keep this cost low? Thanks

    Reply
  • October 6, 2012 at 4:40 AM
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    the problem with bicycle touring is that you can’t do any hiking because you are too tired and you can’t leave the bicycle unatended at the trail heads due to theft. To see the best scenery, you have to leave the road behind. All the bicycle travel diaries online use words like “beautiful” and “breathtaking” a lot, but the photos are anything but beautiful, why would I want to spend weeks and months staring at the pavement?

    Reply
    • October 6, 2012 at 9:39 AM
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      Having just spent 5 horrific days biking from Broome to Port Headland into a headwind while gazing at the pavement I understand your sentiment completely. But trust me…there are days of sublime beauty and that’s what keeps me pedaling.

      Reply
  • October 6, 2012 at 4:56 AM
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    there’s a lot of claims about bicycle travel being the most efficient and also the cheapest…First…the cost of food is going to always be much higher than fuel, so public transportation (buses, trains) are always going to be more cost effective than pedaling cross country while saving loads of time too…

    And as to the efficiency of a bicycle, its really about aerodynamics…and there isn’t a single form of transportation with worse aerodynamics than that of a bicycle….Essentially, a bicycle and rider have the drag coefficient of a flying brick…even a gas guzzling SUV has a Cd of at least 0.5, meaning it is twice as efficient as a bicycle. Add on the aerodynamic inefficiency the fact that there is no protection from the weather, a forward pronated posture forcing you to stare at the pavement, next to no luggage space and extreme in compatibility with other forms of transport means that bicycle touring is all about suffering pain…

    Reply
  • October 7, 2012 at 5:22 AM
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    thanks for your honest answer…I know, i’ve done a lot of bicycle touring as well…I’ve riden half of the PanAmerican highway, from Fairbanks Alaska to San Jose Costa Rica…..but enough was enough…I found out I missed all the best hikes because I didn’t have anytime or the energy for them. it seems at the beginning, bicycle touring is a good novelty, but the reality of it soon sinks in….

    Reply
  • January 6, 2013 at 7:28 PM
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    I am planning my second bicycle journey in 2013, I don`t know how much money i need to have. But I think only when I be on the road I will find out how much money I need. I will like to pedal from USA to Europe & to Israel and around others countries. $5,000 will okey..? I don`t know it till i be on the road. My journey is not about just passing by or looking like a traveler. My journey is Spiritual, I am a Christian. I am not searching for more faith but for more spiritual encounters with other people on my way. If i experience & listen other people I may learn more about myself & the needs of other minds & hearts. Sometimes I will like to form a group or different believers & may be atheist people to come along. I don`t care who you are as long you are a honest heart willing to explore and learn…..I will like to create documentaries with my GOPro camera…and pictures…… Thanx… Juan …

    Reply
  • January 16, 2013 at 1:16 PM
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    If you have your health and the wish to do it , age is no barrier. My wife and I bought a tandem at age 72 and since then have done self supported tours of US west coast, 3000km tour around France, Transam, 3500 tour of Europe crossing the alps north to south and then back the other way. Trust me, there is simply no way to better see the country. We are planning an East to West Northern tour route this May when we will both be 80. Its better to wear out than rust out

    t

    Reply

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