Updated: Aug 23, 2022
Preparing to hit the road for long-term overland travel is proving to be a daunting task—so many decisions to make about so many things! Different people have different travel styles and goals, but for us, we don’t really plan to return to “regular life,” so our preparation process involves trimming down our material possessions to only the essentials we want to carry with us, as well as upgrading several of the things that we are keeping so they will be better suited to the demands of life on the road.
One of the many decisions we have had to research and discuss is whether or not we want to add an alternate mode of transportation on board. It didn’t take very long to conclude the answer was yes, we do want another way to travel—not just for recreation, but for practical purposes, as well.
In this article, we will cover:
Three Reasons Why a Secondary Transportation Option is Important
There are three reasons why we have concluded it is vital to have a reliable secondary mode of transportation along with us on our journey:
Convenience at Camp
Having a sturdy and capable travel rig is great for covering long distances and setting up camp in scenic boondocking locations, but when camping outside of town or anywhere public transportation is not available, it is good to have options. Rolling up the canopy, putting away the chairs, pulling in the clothesline, closing up all the tanks, and securing all the dishes every time we want to run errands or explore the surrounding area is not practical.
Having a Viable Plan B
No matter how carefully we maintain our travel rig and all its systems, at some point it will break down and leave us stranded. In remote areas, it is not always feasible to simply flag someone down for help. Having an alternate form of transportation is a great back-up plan for when it is time to self-rescue.
Even though our travel rig is no longer than a full-size, long bed pickup truck, it still isn’t a convenient vehicle in a city with narrow streets and it is really hard to park. Finding a parking space that is long enough is difficult and parking in a parking garage is impossible. We are just too tall. A typical overland travel rig is also a little too attention-grabbing for our style of city travel. We much prefer to park our rig somewhere secure and hit the town with something smaller and simpler—our own two feet if we have lots of time and everything is located fairly nearby, or on two wheels to cover longer distances more efficiently.
Three Options for Secondary Transportation
There are a few options to consider for secondary transportation. Each of them has pros and cons, and the conclusion you make to best meet your needs may not be the same one we have made. Here are the options that made the most sense to us:
A Motorcycle, Motor Scooter, or Moped
These are definitely a great option for a single overland traveler. They are fuel-efficient and fast, easy to fit into tight spaces and handy for hauling a small load of groceries or supplies. They do, however, have a few drawbacks, particularly if you are traveling as a couple rather than a single.
- If there are two of you, you will not be able to split up to run different errands, and if one person goes out alone, the other person is left behind with no options if a need for transportation arises.
- Assuming most overland rigs are not pulling a trailer, hauling a motorcycle or scooter will require that your rig includes some sort of lift system to get it on and off a front or rear rack, as this type of transportation is usually too heavy to lift onto a carrying rack.
- Then there is also the consideration of fuel. For us, we are sticking to one external fuel source—diesel—supplemented by the electricity stored in our battery banks from our engine and our solar panels. If we were hauling a motorcycle, we would need to keep two different sets of jerry cans for emergency fuel.
- Finally, if a couple is sharing a motorcycle or scooter, each individual will need to be able to ride it, possessing both riding skills and proper licensing, in case one is incapacitated by illness or injury. For us, a motorcycle or scooter just wasn’t the best plan for now, though we might consider adding one in the future.
A pair of electric bikes came so close to winning our quest for the best secondary transportation method as we set out on our overland journey. We researched them for months, in fact, and had narrowed down our choices to just a few models. We were almost ready to make a purchase. E-bikes have so many positive characteristics:
- They are lighter weight than motorcycles or scooters, making them easier to store on a front or rear rack—but might still need two people to comfortably lift
- They have a range, on average, of 35-50 miles on a single charge, which helps for longer rides (but batteries will die sooner with hills or headwinds)
- E-bikes are great for hauling you back up a hill at the end of a long day
- Many can be outfitted with cargo racks to carry your groceries, picnic, or gear
- Folding models are available for storing inside a lockable, dust-free compartment—away from prying eyes and potential theft
In the end, however, we decided against e-bikes for several reasons:
- First, they require a lot of battery juice to charge them. If we are boondocking for several days off-grid and the sun is not shining, we will need to conserve power. If we have gone for one long bike ride and our bike batteries are depleted, we will not want to expend what little electricity we have saved up on charging our bikes. Without their motors, most e-bikes (that we could afford, anyway) are just too heavy to be any practical good. We just wouldn’t ride them if they were not charged.
- Second, e-bikes are highly sought-after, making them theft magnets. Locking them up when they are attached to our parked vehicle or while we run into a store would require significant effort. Even the models with anti-theft systems like keys and removable batteries are targeted for theft. As such, riding e-bikes would garner more attention than we want, whether we are in the bustling city or in rural or small-town areas.
- Third, we remembered two crucial facts—a) our legs still work just fine and b) we really enjoy riding regular bikes. Our previous bikes were non-motored. They were heavy vintage cruisers that we bought more for looks than performance, but even so, we used to ride them five miles to work each day, and only found them insufficient if we were going uphill or into a headwind. If we had better bikes with sufficient gearing for hills and wind, we would really still prefer to remain analog and not be dependent on electrical power. That brings us to our third and final option.
After considering all of our options for alternative transportation while overlanding, we finally decided to just get new bicycles.
- Bicycles are small and lightweight
- They are easy to navigate in tight places
- They are more common and don’t draw too much unwanted attention
- Bicycle parts are easy to find and they can be fixed all over the world
- We can each have our own ride for independence
- We can add cargo racks to haul our treasures, groceries, and supplies
- With a wide enough range of gears, we can still conquer hills, as long as we plan extra time for a slower pace.
- Most importantly, bicycles don’t require a specialized fuel or power source; they can run on pasta, papayas, or pancakes.
Narrowing Down Our Bicycle Options
Our decision had been made; we would carry bicycles for our secondary mode of transportation—at least for now. There is great variety in the bicycle world, however, so our research and decision-making was still not finished. Here are some factors we considered as we narrowed down our options:
First, we knew we needed a wide range of gears. We are in pretty good shape for people in our fifties, but still—we are middle-aged and only getting older. Schlepping heavy loads of groceries up a long dirt road to get back to our boondocking site on a hill outside of town is not going to be easy for us. We need to be able to go low and slow. Even though it might mean more maintenance, we decided to go with at least a double crankset in the front, possibly even a triple.
Second, we needed the bikes to be lightweight—not only for comfortable riding, but also for easy lifting in and out of the external locking storage compartments on our rig, built just for them. We know from experience, the easier they are to lift, the more apt we will be to ride them. We weren’t willing to spend $5,000 each for an ultralight carbon fiber bike, but we aimed for no more than 30 pounds, preferably less.
Third, we wanted to be able to ride in a somewhat upright position to feel more in control on unfamiliar terrain and also make it easier on our aging backs, but we also wanted to ride with a somewhat forward, aggressive stance to distribute our weight well between seat and wrists, and to aid in climbing hills. Drop bars and other racing styles found on road bikes, then, were probably not good options for us.
Mixing it Up
Fourth, we wanted bikes that could do a little bit of everything. We need to be able to ride city streets as well as logging roads, long stretches of black top as well as sketchy loose gravel, potholes as well as slick wet pavement. These would not be specialty bikes designed for bombing downhill or hopping boulders, nor should they be streamlined long-distance speed machines on skinny little tires. These bikes needed to be all-purpose workhorses, pleasurable to ride in most any conditions.
Making it Fit
Fifth, we knew we absolutely wanted to store our bikes in lockable storage compartments on our rig, not out in the open on a rack where they would be vulnerable to road grime, rust, and theft. Because of that essential requirement, we needed bikes that would not take up too much space when they are stowed. We looked into handlebar stems that can fold flat, removable pedals, etc., anything to take the minimum amount of space. We even considered folding bikes, though we weren’t confident of their build quality.
Sixth and finally, we wanted to make sure that the bikes we chose could be maintained easily and we could find parts all over the world. No odd sizes, no obsolete components, no special tooling required.
How We Arrived At a Final Decision
Having decided that we wanted a new pair of bicycles, we began to research them and quickly concluded that we are not experts on bicycles. We figured it would be worth our time to gather some good advice from people who are.
From my experience in retail sales, I understand that the sales staff at any store is going to steer you toward the brands that they have in stock and, if they are commissioned salespeople, they will likely recommend brands that have nice, fat margins built into the price. With those things in mind, we decided to visit every bike shop in town, all in one day, so we could take a bunch of test rides, hear about a wide variety of brands, and compare notes on what recommendations the various sales people made and why.
It was a great day. We rode some really nice bikes and learned a lot. As expected, each shop pointed us toward the brands they carry, but we began to see some patterns in what was recommended.
At the last stop of the day, with only twenty minutes before the shop closed, we talked to one more salesman, a young man who was clearly passionate about bicycling. He had experience in touring and mountain biking and quickly understood our needs for an all-around workhorse bike that we could take along on our travels.
He thought for a moment about the available options, then he looked around, leaned in toward us, and lowered his voice. “What you really should get is folding mountain bikes.”
We had heard that same thing earlier in the day and we mentioned the brand that had been recommended to us at one of the other stores.
“No,” he shook his head and again glanced around, “if you really want well-made folding mountain bikes to meet all your needs, you should get Changebikes.”
“Change bikes?” we repeated back to be clear.
“Yeah. Changebike is the brand name,” he murmured quietly, “We don’t sell them here. Nobody around here sells them. Look them up online.”
The store was closing, so we thanked him and left, curious to learn more. A salesman had just pointed us away from his own shop and toward a bike he cannot sell. In the world of retail sales, that means something.
We went home and researched Changebikes. We watched videos and read reviews. We exchanged several emails with Bob Forgrave, the owner of a small bike shop called Flatbike--the only distributor of Changebike in the United States. Bob is an avid biker from way back and is passionate about bikes that are easy and secure to store, as well as convenient to transport. He started Flatbike with folding stems and pop-off pedals, allowing standard bikes to store flat, then later added Changebike to his offerings, for people who need their bikes to be even more compact.
We were impressed enough that on our next road trip we detoured to the Seattle area where Flatbike is located so we could try the bikes for ourselves. We found the Changebikes to be sturdy, lightweight, simple to break down and stow, built with quality components, and best yet, the ride quality felt every bit as smooth and solid as any of the other bikes we had ridden. We went back home to think and research some more, then, convinced that these are the right solution for us, we bought a pair of Changebikes, each customized to the specific needs of its rider.
The bikes arrived a short time later, shipped free to our home in Montana. As we hoped, they were easy to set up and we were up and riding in no time. Just like our test ride, we found that they handle so smoothly. You would never know they are folding bikes, just by the ride or the basic appearance. Everyone we have shown them to so far has been very impressed. What a great design!
For us and the lifestyle we are anticipating, we feel like this is one of the best purchases we have made yet. We considered our options, researched the pros and cons of each, and came to a decision. Now that we have secured our secondary mode of transportation for our overland travels, we are freed up to finalize the dimensions of our external storage compartments so we can finish building out our rig—our beloved Walter Mitsubishi (a Fuso 4X4) and then hit the road! There are many more decisions to make, but we are on our way.
BONUS TIP FOR SAVING MONEY
If Changebikes sound like a good option for you, or even if you just want some tips and accessories to flatten your existing bike for easier storage, head over to flatbike.com. You can get 10% OFF anything on the website, by entering the code CHIDWICK at checkout. This is not an affiliate link and we receive no compensation from you clicking on it. We just really believe in this product as a solid solution for the serious overland traveler.