Cycle-touring: a vision of post-peak holidays?

This is a guest post from Robin Lovelace (email: www (dot) lovelacerobin (at) yahoo (dot) com), a PhD student in energy research at the University of Sheffield, UK.

This post was inspired by single bicycle holiday: an Easter cycling adventure around the Spanish Pyrenees. While the experience proved that cycle holidays can be fun (its primary purpose), it soon became clear that the single case study could provide a basis for practical advice and broader discussion. The former (stuff, planning, safety, money) may be of use to aspiring low-energy holidaymakers. The latter (energy analysis, viability) may be of interest to those who want to think about low energy futures.

Part 1: Practical advice


Deciding what to bring is important because the amount and type of stuff you carry will affect many aspects of your journey, including:

  • The range of places you can stay – a tent can expand the area in which you can sleep, as can quality clothing and gear. Food stuff ranges from simple and light (simply buying food along the way) to complex and heavy (cooking paraphernalia), also affecting your range.
  • The speed and ease of travel – influenced by the decision to pack heavy or light, although the suitability of your bicycle and your body for the job may be dominant factors.
  • Your ability to do things away from your bicycle – if you want to go on a walk, eat at a restaurant, or go for a night out, you may be encumbered by expensive, bulky equipment.
  • Being able to set-off far from home – use of some kind of motorized metal box may be needed to begin far from home (but have you explored your local area?) For this you may need to disassemble your bicycle[1], and alter your packing plans.

Organising your stuff into the following categories (bike, food, hygiene, and magical stuff) may help order your thinking, and the way you pack your bags.

All the stuff brought for the journey. Preparing to camp at 1400 m altitude just before entering the 3 km Bielsa-Aragnouet tunnel: a cold night.

Bike stuff

A reliable bicycle is a prerequisite. If your bike fails, your holiday could come to a premature end. Strength and durability make a good bicycle for touring, but unfortunately these traits are rare in the polarised new bicycle market[2]. Fortunately, there are three tried and tested options:

  • Old mountain bike conversions can be cheap and effective (but be sure to avoid the pitfalls of this option).
  • Second-hand touring bikes are more efficient, but may need to be taken to a workshop before they are ready for the job (as in the bicycles shown in the photos).
  • Established manufacturers continue to produce ever-improving off-the-shelf touring bicycles, some of which are virtually bomb-proof[3].

Once you have a voyage-ready machine, think about what you might need to maintain it on the road. Useful items to bring, in descending order of essentialness are

  • A bicycle repair kit (including tire levers) and pump capable of inflating to at least 40 psi.
  • The correct hex keys (Allen keys in the UK), screwdriver, and (adjustable) spanner to for your bike(s).
  • Chain tool (so if your chain snaps, you can fix it).
  • Oil, to lube the chain and prevent rusting in wet conditions

More advanced tools may be an unnecessary burden, but spoke keys, spare brake pads, and pliers may come in handy. The best guard against bike failure is to ensure it’s in tip-top condition before heading off. The same applies to your body.

Good panniers (containers attached to your bicycle) are near-essential cycle touring gear. Get a decent pair from your local bike shop, and ask to test them on your bike before you buy.

Food Stuff

When cycling a long distance for the first time, you may experience something extraordinary: the conversion of your body into a biological engine. As a result, you will require more food (~20 kcal/km or more, terrain and load depending)[4], so it is important to maintain a regular intake of food and water throughout. Ranging from simple to complex, the options are:

  • Buy food as you travel: if the places you pass through contain good food, it can be rewarding to check out the local cuisine.
  • Bring food with you: little snacks such as nut mix and dried fruit can keep you topped up, while bread, biscuits and local toppings can make for tasty meals on the road. Water 's high density means it may be best to collect as and when it's needed (environment permitting), but carrying at least a day's supply is recommended. Penknife: near essential.
  • Cooking your own food: generally not to be recommended due to the time, weight, and hassle of this option. However, a small gas stove can provide warming refreshment during cold nights, and hot food during expeditions into remote lands.

Get the right mix of these options and you could live like royalty.

Hygiene stuff

Obvious, but worth mentioning the basics: Soap (can be employed for clothes and body washing), towel (or woolly jumper), clean clothes (a pair of clean socks at the very least), toothbrush.

Magical stuff

These things do not have supernatural powers,[5] but have an unusual capacity to collect, store, process, and eventually transmit information. Useful magical items may include a camera, a diary, a GPS unit, a mobile phone and books (e.g. about the local language, history, or plants). Be warned however: you'll have plenty to do on the trip so some 'magical' items may magically convert themselves into useless dead-weight.

All the stuff packed and raring to go. Heading towards the mountains.


Cycle touring can bring back the holiday's sense of adventure that has been lost in so many gas stations and airport queues. Unlike in a car or a plane, you can pull over and stop practically anywhere: admire the view, take a rest, or set off on foot without worrying too much about parking tickets or theft (for the latter you may need a shabby bike and good lock).

However, a rough plan is near essential (detailed planning is covered here). Work out a feasible distance per day (30, 50, or over 100 km may be realistic, depending on fitness levels, the terrain, loading, and the suitability of your bicycle for the purpose) and see which features lie on your projected path. Camping ground, hostels and shops may be things to look out for; you may be able to guess the location of these things based on knowledge of the area. Simply jotting down where you want to arrive at each day may be enough – the first three days of the trip to the Spanish Pyrenees were planned as follows:

25th: Toulouse to Lannemezan (116 km)
26th: Lannemezan to Ainsa (100 km)
27th: Ainsa to Huesca (100 km)

While the plan was not followed exactly (less than 60km per day were covered after Ainsa, due to unexpected hills and distractions), it didn't matter because a 12 hour margin of error was planned for. The point is to make a plan.

Select and use the most effective method of mapping and route planning for your circumstances, and try to get a feel for the region before you set-out[6].

Checking a local guidebook to find abandoned villages 10 km west of Ainsa. It's fun to leave plenty of room in your plan to improvise.


It is difficult to hurt yourself or others when riding bicycles away from cars and cliffs. This is one of their main attractions; bicycles offer a level of tranquillity and quietness unavailable to motorized holidaymakers. Cars and trucks, however, pose a serious threat to anything that dares to stray near their path. For this reason, it is worth taking the following steps:

  • Avoid busy roads. Use bicycle lanes wherever possible, unless you are an experienced road cyclist.
  • Bring bright lights if you plan to do any cycling in dark conditions. Entering tunnels can be scary, but personal experience suggests it can be no more dangerous than road riding, if you have good lights.
  • Practice cycling fully loaded on roads before you head out. This experience may prove valuable if you ever need to hold your nerve in traffic.

Safe cycling involves feeling secure in the environment. Avoid situations you do not feel comfortable with. About to enter a watery tunnel between Bielsa and Ainsa.


Cycle touring can be the cheapest way of getting from A to B, especially if you factor in the cost of a car. It is extremely satisfying to spend fuel money that would otherwise have gone towards multinational oil corporations on your body's fuel: fine foods and drink. On one mini-tour, (from York to Sheffield) the exact saving from the train ticket was spent on a full-English breakfast, which more than compensated for the extra time.

To provide a general guide, the finances of the Spanish cycling trip were:

  • £150 return ticket, Sheffield to Toulouse, using Eurostar and Rail Europe.
  • £250 spending money, including food, 2 nights in hostels, camping, and restaurant meals.
  • £200 invested in stuff before departure: new wheels, brakes, tires, stem, bottom bracket, chain, cassette for the bike; new thermal vest, sleeping bag liner and book (David Strahan's razor-sharp Last Oil Shock) for the ride.

If you divide these costs (some of which will make the next trip cheaper) by the 10 days of travel, the daily spend amounts to £60 a day. It would be possible to do it much more cheaply if you set off from your house by bicycle, used a cheaper kit, and spent less time in hostels and restaurants.

Part 2: Discussion

Energy analysis

In an interconnected, complex system such as the real world, system boundaries must be drawn in order to conduct quantitative energy analysis (Smil, 2008). The following energy analysis uses two components of energy use (fuel and embodied energy of vehicle manufacture) to compare the energy costs of two alternative holidays: the 10 day cycling holiday outlined in the words and pictures above, and an imaginary 10 day holiday by car which covers exactly the same ground (maps below). The distances travelled by mode are 2500 km by train and 800 km by bicycle in the first holiday and 3300 km by car in the second. This gives us a start-point for analysis.

Maps of the two phases of the route.

Fuel costs

The fuel requirements for holiday 1 would be 1500 MJ for the train and 575 MJ for the 800 km travelled by bicycle[7]. This results in an estimate of 2075 MJ of energy for fuel for holiday 1. The fuel requirements for holiday 2 are estimated to be 5610 MJ per person, double those of holiday 1[8].

Embodied energy costs of vehicle

The embodied energy of vehicle manufacture can be included per unit distance by dividing energy costs by expected lifespans (Fels, 1975; Lenzen, 1999). In the case of holiday 1, total energy requirements increase by 150 MJ to 2225 MJ when we include the 3.73 GJ energy cost of bicycle manufacture[9].

Including the embodied energy of car manufacture (almost 300 GJ!), the energy requirements of holiday 2 increases by 0.5 MJ/km per person to 7260 MJ[10].

System-level energy costs

But what about the energy costs of road maintenance, advertising, money-hunting (in order to gain capital for car purchase) and social change brought about by our transport systems? Fels (1975) and Lenzen (1999) have had a shot at estimating the former of these costs, but the true extent of the latter are impossible to quantify. Let's at least visualize the energy costs we can estimate:

Estimated energy use from fuel and fuel and vehicle manufacture.

The energy analysis done so far illustrates that bicycle trips use relatively little energy, even when used in combination with trains. The inclusion of energy costs for vehicle manufacture affects cars more than bicycles. This is no surprise: cars (weighing ~1000 kg) require about 100 times more raw materials, and hence embodied energy, than do bicycles (weighing ~10kg). As the system boundaries are expanded, it is expected that the energy costs of cars will continue to increase, while the energy costs of bicycles may begin to fall (as bicycle use degrades roads slowly relative to car use and may encourage others to cycle). This expectation requires testing against reliable evidence, however, hence the blank “all” category in the graph. Filling this gap could be an interesting research direction.

A viable vision?

So bicycle holidays can be fun and energy saving. They use far less oil, which is the most rapidly depleting of the fossil fuel, than do car or plane-based holidays. But are bicycle holidays viable in a post peak future? This is an open question which I put to the readers. My only answer is I hope so.

The vision.


  1. If you disassemble, you will probably need some kind of bag to put you bicycle in. If you have somewhere to leave this bag at the beginning of the pedal-powered stage (e.g. a friend's house, or stashed in a tree), you have a wide range of options from expensive inflatable bike bags to the bike-sized cardboard boxes disposed of by bike shops on a regular basis (the latter works well with duct-tape). If you want the freedom of a portable bike bag, the options are more limited. You could buy a polythene bike bag (this particular model is cheap, but short lived), buy a hardier but heavier item (this ~2 kg item was a passenger on the Spanish trip, a lot of extra weight when climbing hills), or, if you are feeling inspired, make your own.
  2. New bicycles tend to be either super light, skiny racers that cannot hack panniers or gravel roads, or lumbering suspension-wielding tractors that are barely road worthy. However, you can get the best of both worlds if you search.
  3. The Surly Long Haul Trucker, Thorn Raven, and Dawes Galaxy are some of the legendary touring bicycles that you can buy off the shelf. Such high-quality tourers also make for sturdy commuters and all-rounders that will, if maintained well, last a lifetime. For a review of some of the better new options, see a bicycle touring guide.
  4. Coley, David A.: Emission factors for human activity, Energy Policy 30(1), volume 30, 3–5, 2002
  5. In his book The Long Descent, John Michael Greer sees magic in a broad sense. For example, the subtle power of marketing to influence your behaviour. It is useful to term such things as magical (or a different term if you prefer), to demarcate their ability to influence complex systems with relatively little energy input. A broad definition of magic is “has a mysterious quality of enchantment”, although clearer definitions must exist.
  6. Google maps offers a fast and effective route planner, and although it has yet to provide for cyclists (sign the petition here), the “walk there” function is adequate for most tasks, especially when on holiday in the countryside. Copying and pasting the maps can be a hassle though, and it is always advisable to get a decent map of the area (sometimes these are provided free in tourist information offices). For the sophisticated cycle tourist, a GPS may be desirable. The mapping community at have created an open source cycle map of the entire world. What is even more exciting for techies is that you plan your route online, and then save it as a gpx file on your gps as you go. This high-tech approach is extremely useful, especially if the location is well served by open-source maps (so if you have a GPS, you can improve the map yourself). However, low-tech maps, and asking for local knowledge may be preferable for low-energy travellers, and those seeking rustic adventure.
  7. The per-person energy requirements of a train can be estimated as 2500 km multiplied by 0.15 MJ per pkm (for TGV train) multiplied by 4 (assuming efficiency of electricity production is 25%)). The energy requirements of a bicycle can be estimated using the knowledge that approximately 30 kcal (0.125 MJ) of additional food energy are required per km cycled. Given that 5.75 units of primary energy are required by unit of chemical energy in food (Coley, 2002), additional energy requirements are 0.125(MJ/km)*800(km)* 5.75. If you eat good, local food on your travels, the energy costs may fall.
  8. Average fuel economy of the UK fleet is currently 8.55 l/100 km (3.4 MJ/km) (Mackay, 2009), and average occupancy is 1.6 (let's assume you travel with 2 on board). 3.4*3300/2 = 5610. This estimate would be slightly higher (~10%) if the embodied energy of fuel production and transport were included, higher you drive a bigger car (as many holidaymakers do), but lower if you travel with more people. Hills may also make your car drink more petrol, but let's stick with the estimate for now.
  9. The average lifespan of a bicycle is expected to be 20,000 km (this can be greatly extended by good maintenance practices and the replacing of specific parts rather than the entire bicycle when one part is broken). Under these assumptions, per km embodied energy is therefore 3.73 GJ divided by 20,000 km = 0.186 MJ/km. 0.186*800 = 148.8 MJ. The embodied energy of the train was expected to be negligible compared with the distance travelled, as it transports up to a million passenger kilometres each day (1000 km per day * 1000 passengers). The embodied energy of the nuclear power stations that power the train? That's a different matter entirely.
  10. The embodied energy of a car manufacture is estimated at 274 GJ (274*10^9 J) (MacKay, 2009:94), or a third of the vehicle's total fuel needs over a lifespan of 250,000 km. Assuming optimistically that the lifespan is 250,000 km, embodied energy costs per km increase by 1 MJ/km; total energy costs per person increase by 0.5*3300=1150 MJ.

yup, bike vacations are in the future. I have done a bit of biking and as an old man one of the most important considerations is shown in the vision photo. Notice the nice big comfortable seat on the bike on the right of the vision photo. Do not fail to get something plush. Also a pair of authentic bike riding pants can prevent lots of problems. Just saying.

In the Swiss Alps I go with a road bike with a lightweight titanium frame. The roads are all good and well maintained. I went on a stretch of road that the Tour de France followed and they had a clean crew removing fallen rocks. On certain routes you can hook up to an automatic timing system which keeps track of your pace. Its a different world and you can have a good time and find yourself exhausted and at the end of your rope but then find a train or bus and make your way back if you really get stuck. Timtoo timing system

It may be a case of "whatever works for you is best", but I find plush saddles to be uncomfortable, and worse the longer you use them. A good "anatomically designed" race-style saddle works for me, both on my commuter and on my road bike, and I never have any saddle-sore complaints or even think about it. I always figured if the pros who ride hours every day use them, they should be good enough.

But you do raise an important point anyway - many a bike trip has been ruined by the discomfort of the wrong saddle. There's no substitute for time spent on the bike getting used to things, and most all regular riders go through a period of sorting out which saddle is going to work for them. Ebay is great for that if you don't have a friendly bike shop handy - just buy and sell different options until you find the one that works for you.

I have the saddle problem too, pushing 70. The solution? Recumbents! Also the solution for weather-proofing too, if it's a recumbent velo. Too heavy? Take a look at the 11 kilo recumbent that Harald Winkler created:

For an absolutely astonishing, great-riding, cheapo, build-it-yourself (there are no professional manufacturers) peoples' recumbent, the Python, pioneered and launched on the world by Deutsche enthusiast Jurgen Mages, is my candidate for king. I'm one of the band of brother builders myself. Love those Pythons! Distance-proven, comfortable, load-carrying tourers. See here:

I can't ride diamond-frame wedgies any considerable distance any more...have problems not just with my ass, but with my shoulders, elbows, and neck. Solution is the same as you...recumbent. I ride a Sun Bicycles EZ-1 SC...20" rear, 16" front, and hang a backpack off the seat for storage, but I'm trying to figure out how to design a larger hard storage system which will also streamline a bit (it's an aerodynamic brick). It's slow, it's heavy, but the views you get are incredible - not just tire and asphalt. It, or a recumbent trike are the only thing I'd want to take on a long journey. Have you ever noticed that all of the old bicycles which people actually used to use for transportation were much more upright with much wider seats than most modern bikes?

P.S. I'm not sure I'd want to take a low racer on a tour due to visibility concerns.

Hi Substrate,

I'm trying to figure out how to design a larger hard storage system which will also streamline a bit

If you look at my collection of photos down thread, you will see that my panniers are mounted in the middle under the seat. This may not be the most aero dynamic but it sure is stable - my Volae is rock solid at 40 mph downhills.

I'm not sure I'd want to take a low racer on a tour due to visibility concerns

This is the advantage of a high racer -

I am completely happy with my Volae.

There are actually racks built specifically for my bike which locate panniers under the seat and a wire basket available that hangs off the back of the seat. I want something that will improve the aerodynamics a bit along with giving me hard storage, so I've been looking into making a fiberglass aero-trunk. I'm having trouble figuring out how to make it so I can still access all of the mechanical bits and get around the seat supports.

"Upright" recumbents like mine are great for visibility and comfort but they're aerodynamically draggy so you have to settle for going a little slower - however, someone with no time on a recumbent can jump on it and not kill themselves (the more laid back ones require some practice) and I've let a number of people ride it...always puts a smile on their face.

edit: It also makes a nice chair while stopped.

Very good point Substrate - the bike I ride is not really ideal for me, or for touring (hence riser stem added recently and v. high saddle). Still I've covered a load of miles on the thing and still feel great - is this age related? I don't know. I just bought it cheap 2 years ago and like it too much to replace. I've tried swept, upright bikes before and they are much more leisurely for cruising.

Recumbents are the way forward for comfort and efficiency - thanks for pointing this out and sorry for not mentioning it in article.


Well, I'm not that old especially considering the majority on this site, but I used to do a lot of hard core mountain biking, weight lifting, etc and have obviously done some bad shit to myself. Longer rides on diamond frame bikes leave my neck sore for days and constant pounding leaves me with symptoms of tennis elbow. The recumbent leaves me with none of those problems and after I've gotten back from a ride I feel tired, but good tired whereas with a diamond-frame I'd feel like shit - neck would be aching, shoulders, elbows hurting.

Hi daxr,

I find plush saddles to be uncomfortable

Totally agree - I've done many 500 mile tours and seldom have seen wide, soft saddles. When I was riding upright bikes I found a model from Selle Italia to be the most comfortable. It was not a really hard, narrow racing saddle but it was fairly narrow with strategic gel pads.

From an efficiency POV you would want to ride on the edge of a knife blade (ouch) to reduce any friction on your legs. From there you develop a compromise that is the most narrow but still provides support.

Of course, the real answer is a recumbent.

Notice the nice big comfortable seat on the bike on the right of the vision photo.

It was a while before I could see a bike at all in the top picture ;-)

There was a bike there? Weird. There was another photo where she was standing on tip-toe reading a guidbook...didn't see any bikes there either...

I did my first bicycle holiday in 1972, Alabama - Georgia - Florida. Other than dodging the occasional beer bottle thrown at me, it wasn't bad. Unfortunately I had to give up cycling when I migrated to NZ in 2005. As NZ has the world's worst drivers - incompetent, drunk, stoned, high on meth, aggressive and mean - plus the worst roads in the OECD, it isn't worth the risk. You would think that $1.80 per liter petrol in a low wage country would keep the hoons off the roads, but it hasn't yet. The welfare agency, WINZ, gives beneficiaries additional grants to buy petrol over and above the free housing, free food, free medical, and regular dole.

So I am still waiting for peak oil to make bicycle touring safe for me, if that ever happens. My fear is that when things are so dire that petrol consumption here becomes significantly reduced, the rural gangs will be preying on vulnerable travelers with impunity. As it is, NZ has several communities where one would not want to travel thru unless surrounded with two tonnes of steel armor.

I cycle-toured NZ fairly extensively in 2007, and had only one incident with a truck driver honking a couple of times before effectively forcing me off the road onto the stony hard shoulder.

Large numbers of visitors still do cycle tours, although recent events such as the death of German cycle tourist Mia Putsch, and several others, may reduce the number somewhat.

NZ's car-dependency is a disgraceful state of affairs though, and the upheaval peak oil is likely to cause may not be pretty.

So I am still waiting for peak oil to make bicycle touring safe for me...

Or not. Depending on how electric cars do or don't work out, there might indeed be lots fewer cars. But if it comes to that, we may well be looking at some new kind of two-tier "third world" economy that will make today's OECD GINI coefficients seem like some utopian never-happened aversion of Communism. In a situation like that, expect the remaining cars to be driven arrogantly and recklessly by high mucketymucks, as often happened in the Communist countries, and as can happen in poor countries now. It will be very dangerous for any peon to be in their way.

great piece, thanks chris & robin. another way to ease into bike touring is to join a group ride. last summer i took amtrak out to omaha/council bluffs and joined the RAGBRAI (register's annual great bicycle ride across iowa). 7 days and 450 miles later the group (15,000 riders ??) arrived in burlington. then got amtrak back home. no car! it was an absolute hoot. beautiful country, nice people along the way, a truck carries all of the camping gear so you can ride without the extra weight. there are group rides like this all over the place. after riding for a week you will feel very good.

Yet the RAGBRAI has support vehicles during the ride itself.

Part of the fun of biking is knowing you can get in trouble and having to use your wits to get yourself out of a jam. (Anyone ever tried to use a AAA card for a bike with a mechanical problem? Doesn't work) These kinds of group rides must take a lot of the drama out of the experience.

The AAA card won't work, but their competitor, Better World Club, offers a bicycle service membership option.

Great, thanks. I will likely sign up as I discarded my AAA a few years ago. Is it less than $100 a year?

I don't know much about traveling on bicycles, but I spend a lot of time in odd places doing things where I might have to make simple repairs with whatever tools are in my pockets.

I wouldn't think about starting out on a bike trip or hike without a top quality multi tool of the sort widely known as a leatherman, which is actually a brand name.

A really good one, the kind that won't let you down, will cost about sixty or seventy bucks and up US but it will last forever or until you lose it, whichever comes first.

Such a tool will actually pay for itself within a short period in terms of time and avoided expenses if you are the sort of person who has things to look after.I use mine every couple of days for some little job or another, and it has saved many a trip back to the house or shop to fetch a tool.

Yes, a useful suggestion.
I took specifically for the bicycle a little light-weight chain link extractor on my last long distance cycle tour - in Brittany, France - from England - in my fifties. Also took my eldest daughter who was still a kid; she spoke better French than me, which was also practically useful when in a cycle spares shop.
Good memories.
Nice people and out of the way places.

Hi Mac,

top quality multi tool

Although the Leatherman is a great tool, there are compact tools (somewhat like the Leatherman) that are bicycle specific - chain breaker, just the right Allen wrenches, tire irons etc.

I'm pretty paranoid about this issue and carry a fair amount of spare parts - cables, chain links, tubes, folding tire, and an assortment of zip ties (very useful). The tiny channel locks made for working on a car ignition system is a good all purpose addition to a tool set.

I've saved many a tour by fixing someones bike on a back road far from any town.

Dave, I have to agree with Mac on that. In unsupported bike touring trips and weeklong backcountry backpacking trips, I've had many times that a good small pair of pliers were the grace of God. However, I've never needed a chain-breaking tool on the road. The only time I've ever had a chain die was about two miles from home, because I tried to put on a Shimano chain like a regular riveted chain. Maybe the Sachs chains I've always used except for that one are just bomb-proof.

The pliers on a multi-tool have a dozen uses on their own, from helping to fix our backpacking stove (actually bent a tent stake to fit the nut), to pulling a broken shift cable far enough (and then tighten the nut) to get you to a store, to tightening spokes. I have a bike-specific multi-tool in my panniers for commuting to work, but I'd never go backpacking or loaded bike touring without a multi-tool with pliers.

Hi kjmclark,

small pair of pliers were the grace of God

Yes, I agree. The small channel locks I mentioned to Mac are really just pliers - but very compact and (I believe) more versatile than regular pliers.

Sachs chains

If I get a bike with a Shimano chain I take if off and throw it away. I only use Sachs chains because they are very tough and have that neat master link. The master link is what I carry for a spare. And, I have had to fix a chain on route several times - not because of the chain itself, but due to a derailleur problem that twisted and bent a chain link. I can fix a bad chain in 15 minutes and be on my way using my little chain tool.

multi-tool with pliers

I confess to carrying what amounts to a miniature Leatherman tool - but it is very small and lightweight compared to a regular Leatherman - but it has the usual stuff. Mostly, I have used it to cut a cable (not the best way to avoid fraying) - but it gets the job done.

As an aside, my wife talked one of her girl friends into cycling with us in the Loire Valley. She had seldom done any air travel. She worked as a factory electrician - so, of course, she had her very expensive Leatherman with her when she got to airport security. I thought I was going to see a grown women cry when they confiscated it - forever gone!

Hi Dave,

Im glad to see you made it thru the winter-I can't remember your posting any thing lately.

I'm sure you are right about the specialty bike tool kit being a top priority.

But I still would be willing to pedal another half pound in order to have my general purpose tool along if I were camping out or bike touring in remote areas.Camping gear needs the occasional little fix or tweak just like bicycles.

Spring has just arrived in all her glory here in the Blue Ridge.The world is the emerald most people associate with paintings of the Emerald Isles; and today I saw my first covey of nubile young women out for a group ride.

Even five years ago, I would have been greatly suprised to see a sight of this nature in this area.

I find this utterly depressing in one respect.It's just more proof that we have been discovered, and that our little paradise is changing, irrevocablly, for the better, or for the worse.

But otoh, I must admit that such a sight gladdens a dirty old man's heart, if only because it reminds him that he was once young and fairly good looking and actually an object of considerable interest to several of these nubile young bikers grandmothers. ;)

I must admit that such a sight gladdens a dirty old man's heart, if only because it reminds him that he was once young and fairly good looking and actually an object of considerable interest to several of these nubile young bikers grandmothers. ;)

I resemble that remark!

Good point oldfarmer. A single blade is a cheaper, simpler option and better for food purposes though: imagine getting loads of soft cheese in a leatherman.

Multi-tools in general are awesome though. Not tried the integrated pliers variety (just chuck a pair of normal pliers in panniers), but many bicycle multi-tools are extremely useful. Maybe should have mentioned it in main article.


How do you handle inclement weather on a trip like this? It seems like you might have to spend an extra night or two in a hostel.

One option from personal experience: if you're young and poor, you sometimes just suck it up. In 1993, I biked with a buddy from Wisconsin out to Glacier Park in northwestern Montana. I still recall one late afternoon in Page, ND, when we found ourselves debating whether to pay for a room for the night in the Page Hotel, where we had already splurged on lunch. A storm was approaching fast from the west, and the quoted rate for a room for the night had increased from $7 to $9 (seriously) as the thunder had grown audible. We ended up deciding to swallow the extra $2 and get a room, a rare luxury, but the fact that we were actually contemplating striking out directly into a summer thunderstorm on the plains to save $9 has lodged into my memory as a sharp reminder of how closely we were watching our spending. More than once, we rode through heavy rains and spent the night in the same.

Thanks for the post, Robin. I haven't done any cycling to speak of for too long, and it's a good reminder that it's time for me to get back in the saddle!

The options for bad weather are to ride through it or to stay put in tent or hotel. It is up to the rider to decide, based on their available time, itinerary and budget.

With good waterproof gear, cycling in the rain is really not so bad.

The options for bad weather are to ride through it or to stay put in tent or hotel. It is up to the rider to decide, based on their available time, itinerary and budget.

No no...what's THE silver bullet. There MUST be ONE single solution for EVERYONE - like the solution to peak oil.

/sarconol ;)

Hi Gail,

If you cycle in Ireland, all day wind and rain is just something you plan for. Good, light weight rain gear is a necessity for us old folks. The young people often just tough it out.

However, there are conditions that force you stay put (or should, anyway). Very strong wind, hail, lightning, ice, etc. But, these conditions make any mode of transportation difficult.

A little bit of rain gear goes a long way. You can always pull your tent groundcloth or fly over you and the bike if you're just stuck in it on the side of the road. However, *don't* go touring without lights. Even if you don't expect to be biking at night, you'll need them if you get caught in an unexpected rain and can't find shelter quickly.

I've always found a small bottle of tri-flow to be more valuable on long trips than a chain-breaking tool. (I don't understand the fascination with chain-breaking tools. My chains almost never die until I recycle them.) If you do get caught in the rain, the water will lubricate things for a while, but will completely wash out the rest of the lube. You'll want something to re-lubricate with when things dry out.

Hi kjmclark,

little bit of rain gear goes a long way

I wager that the time will come when you invest in really good rain gear :-)

small bottle of tri-flow

I carry a small bottle of WD-40 to drive out moisture and dirt - plus a small bottle of lube. I prefer Pro-Gold as it does not stain clothes like tri-flow.

I am a hiker. I have walked many a time in snow or rain mainly to get where I was going faster. Not everywhere you travel can you avoid the weather. Having weather proof gear helps a whole lot. There have been a few times when I didn't have any rain gear with me, and just had to tough it out. It has happened a few times walking in the city, Once you get wet, all you have left to do is keep walking in the rain.

I don't do a lot of biking anymore, but I have a 3 wheeler that has been in the family for about 37 years that I need to get from an aunt's house and fixup and use it to get back in gear, though I am not sure my knees can take biking again.

One of the advantages to wearing sandels is not worrying about getting my feet wet, I found that a great pleasure a week ago while hiking in Huntsville Ala, while crossing a creek, nice ice cold water.

Though I know the topic is bike tours, I am partial to walking tours, or long hikes around places you can get to by bus or train, or hitchhiking/shared rides. I usually strip down a few MREs and pack my own munchies. The heater packs in the new sets of MREs are very light weight.

I only wish there were a way to make water lighter.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed future.

PS, Thanks for the post, its nice to know some of this info even if I don't do bike tours.

Hi Gail. The answer is with guts. I slept alone over 1000m in the wild mountains and it was cold and scary. But well worth every second. One girl I met described such occasions as "near life experiences". Think outside the metal box, sell your car (and join a car-share club if you need one), quit flying and travel in your local area. That's my advice. Peace,

I've done a lot of cycling in general, and a fair amount of cyclotouring going all the way back to the 70's. Your experience is always enhanced if you can be as flexible as possible in your schedule. This is a tough tightrope to walk sometimes, especially if you are touring in an area during high season. You risk being left in the cold, literally. With that said, in my experiences in the US and Canada, you can almost always find a place to pitch your tent if needed. I have slept in picnic shelters, backyards of houses, in the back lot of bars, on football fields, in hostels, hotels, commercial and forest campgrounds. It is a wonderful way to travel, *if* you are in shape to ride, and that includes your nether regions. The only way to get ready for a bike tour is to actually ride your bike. Riding a stationary bike, or running, or hiking or doing any other type of exercise just won't get you ready. How do you get ready for a bike tour? Ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike.

Also, get your bike ready before the trip, not during the trip. In addition to the obvious knowledge of fixing a flat tire, you should understand the gear mech, and know the basics of truing a wheel. It isn't that hard, really it isn't.

As a final thought, I highly recommend touring on a tandem, especially with someone you love, BEFORE you marry. If you survive a week long trip on a tandem, you will almost certainly survive marriage!

Good advice! We have 5 terrific years on a tandem out of 29 years together and wish we had found our Soft-Ride Co-Motion sooner. At 57 we work out every day from 30 to 100mi. With a little practice old smoothies can really rock.
It is helping as an alternative to despair about the PO/debt quagmire too.

Agreed, agreed, and almost agreed. We went backpacking, since she wasn't really interested in a tandem (she already had a better touring bike than I did.) If you have someone who can stick with things for a week of pouring rain in the mountains of West Virginia, soggy and stinking for four days straight, you have a real keeper!

Heh. After getting engaged, my better half and I went on a tour of Belgium and for one afternoon in Brugge we rented a tandem. We got along fine, so long as she was steering.

Yup. Good preparation for marriage.

In my youth I rode a bike everyday. I even rode one to work for a couple of years before moving to a rural area too far from my job. A bike ride makes you feel wonderful when you're healthy. It is a thing of joy to be young on your bike with the wind in your face. How I miss being young.

Hi Lineman,

How I miss being young

The great thing about touring by bicycle is that really old people can enjoy this type of vacation. It is really just a matter of picking the right bike/trike, the right places to tour (avoiding heavy car traffic on narrow roads), the right accommodations (B&Bs for us folks that have too much arthritis for sleeping on the ground in a tent), and the right friends (a young folk or two does help to have along).

My wife and I are now slightly above and below the 70 mark. Wife has had MS for over 20 years and can only walk with a cane. I have "after market" parts and all sorts of stuff that doesn't work quite right any more. However, either of us would consider any kind of vacation tour except by bike (and the occasional rented car or taxi along the way).

All that is needed for us old folks is the right kind of bike to match your fitness- trikes are great:

Take a young friend along (Mike is a young 50 yr old who climded Mt Ventoux):

Or a bunch of friends is even better (Atlantic coast of Ireland):

Get direction from the locals:

Enjoy the scenery:

For solo cycling - pack light:

Take the scenic roads:

For any old folks who want to join us on a tour, please contact my assistant:

Our days of touring in Ireland and France are probably over as it is hard now to justify the FF and carbon footprint of the air travel. But, we will continue to vacation on our trike in our home state. What I will miss about Ireland and France is the short distances between villages and great B&Bs - here, one often has to travel much further to find accomdations. I will also miss the the kinder attitudes of motorists in those countries.

Traveling by car or bus is great way to isolate yourself from nature, local people, and fresh air. Not sure why anyone wants to vacation that way.

Have you found the recumbent's visibility in traffic much of an issue or do the flags seem to do the trick?

Hi Luke,

Recumbents come in a variety of configurations. Most of the more common 2-wheel styles provide as much or more visibility than a regular upright bike. Some recumbents, like trikes, are very low to the ground and have visibility issues in places like heavy car traffic and parking lots - I strongly recommend very visible flags (we use what are called mini lawn sails). We actually get compliments from motorists because we have made a real effort to be highly visible.

Very aerodynamic recumbents like my Volae are high enough, but the profile from behind is very tiny (why it is aerodynamic) and I think a flag is prudent - I have friends who disagree and say the bike is visible enough without a flag.

Where I live, the major impediment to cycling is fear of motor vehicles. I'm a very defensive rider and believe in bright clothes, helmets, flags, loud horn, whatever. I've learned that it is pointless to debate this strategy as folks get quite polarized about this stuff.

"Have you found the recumbent's visibility in traffic much of an issue or do the flags seem to do the trick?"

I've been commuting in traffic on a recumbent for ten years, and when I started out I had one or two flags mounted on it because I was concerned about being visible.

But I came to think them unnecessary, and within a year after I started I removed the flag(s). In ten years I've not had an accident or problem. But I am very careful and observant.

Do what you feel comfortable with. Also, different localities do differ in bike-friendliness.

Great pictures, Dave, but um, you forgot to leave the phone number for your assistant. ;-)

I agree with your visibility concerns (below). I commute all year round using three lights in front and three in back and the outerwear is brightly colored too. I'm fortunate to be able to get to work on a bike trail with only a short bit on the road and a handful of street crossings, but I want the drivers to be able to see me. A couple of years ago I installed a mirror on the handle bars which has been a great help in being able to see what's coming up from behind.

Hi Escape Artist,

a mirror on the handle bars which has been a great help

It is a mystery why people who use 3 mirrors in their car, jump on a bike without mirrors - and mirrors on a recumbent are especially important as your upper body is usually not as free to turn. I confess to not using a mirror on my upright bike for a number of years - but, once I got a good mirror that did not rattle or fall off, I found it very helpful.

I have mirrors on both sides - helps in group rides were cyclists come up on either side. And, of course, any place where the English drive on the wrong side of the road you don't have to bother switching the mirrors around (just kidding - no hate mail please).

I'll send you that phone number as soon as I can find it :-) And, I apologize to the women reading this thread for my boorish behavior with this feeble attempt at humor.

"It is a mystery why people who use 3 mirrors in their car, jump on a bike without mirrors - and mirrors on a recumbent are especially important as your upper body is usually not as free to turn."

Amen to this.

The first thing I did when I got my recumbent was to add a mirror to it. I also have mirrors on each of my two uprights.

I would strongly suggest adding a mild antiseptic emolient cream to the essential items to be used before getting sore - have to keep riding with chafed nether regions can quite ruin the enjoyment of a cycling holiday! Otherwise a most enjoyable way to holiday, at least in countries where cyclists are respected.

Rain handling can be simple if the temperature is not too cold - just keep riding - if you use quick drying materials, a rain shower can be a non-event. So long as your panniers are waterproof, of course.

Thanks for the nice break down. One little item that I'm not sure was taken into account:

This is no surprise: cars (weighing ~1000 kg) require about 100 times more raw materials, and hence embodied energy, than do bicycles (weighing ~10kg).

You have to be careful with this. The car will generally travel close to ten times the km a bicycle will in its lifetime, that reduces the embodied energy to ten times that of a bicycle per km. In addition the per km embodied energy in a car gets divided by how many occupants that car is carrying on a the given trip being considered. Unless a bicycle is a tandem that is not done for the MJ/km calculation of bicycle travel. That's related to why a single commercial jet passenger gets 50 mpg per traveling unit while as family of four flying on the same jet only gets 12.5 mpg per traveling unit since whole the family is a single unit but they are responsible for four times as much of the fuel use as the single passenger is.

The car will generally travel close to ten times the km a bicycle will in its lifetime

How far does a bicycle go in an average lifetime?

Indicative figures for bicycles are 15kg mass and 20,000km ridden in the bicycle's lifetime if well used. This corresponds to embodied energy of 0.075MJ per km, rounded up to 0.08MJ for clarity.

Which I got from here

The author of this post uses 10 kg for the mass, and I wouldn't doubt a bicycle's frame will outlast the rest of its components by a fair amount but the relative weight of the rest of the components to the frame and the relative weight wearing of components on a car compared to the overall weight make it a relatively complicated calculation, since much more of the bicycle must be replaced multiple times throughout its life but that may all go into the maintenance numbers. You basicly have to take it on faith that those who generate the tables most of us use took sufficient care with their calculations.

Current bicycle has 81,000 mi/130k km and has original frame,fork,
headset,wheel hubs,brake calipers/levers and seatpost. Original Al
handlebar was replaced with recycled steel one for safety consid.

I don't know the statistics, but its not really a fair question anyway. Even if you say a car goes 100,000 miles and a bike a tenth of that, it has more to do with the people's habits than the durability of the machines themselves. Most bikes could last a hundred thousand miles without much trouble, and at a maintenance cost far below that of a car driven the same distance.

The bike I commute on has 9,000 miles now, cost $300 new, has consumed about $100 in tires, tubes and brake pads, and shows very little sign of wear. Try to get the same economy out of a car!

What kind of jobs will one have to be able to afford the kind of repairs that come about in a car vs a bicycle? I'm confident, a bicycle is far more easier to maintain or even buy with lower incomes or abilities to get raw materials. Of course, I don't have numbers - but my gut instincts and common sense tells me a car must be hopelessly difficult to maintain without the kind of infrastructure we've built up today for the same.

My clusters seem to start to shred after a couple thousand miles, but late shifting in the hills and lots of high dirt conditions probably have some effect. I wasn't saying bikes weren't cheaper but more giving a heads up that when using tables to figure embodied energy you must remember cars are calculated in vehicle mile while all public transport (trains, planes, buses) are done in passenger miles. The block quote I started with was more of a convenient lead in.

Life-cycle efficiency of transport modes
Mode Energy
Component Energy use
(MJ / pkm)
Low High
Car Operating 2.7 3.7
Manufacture 0.5 1.0
Total 3.2 4.7
Train Operating 0.04 0.18
Manufacture 0.004 0.01
Total 0.05 0.2
Bus Operating 0.28 1.1
Manufacture 0.03 0.3
Total 0.3 1.4
Tram Operating 0.15 0.6
Manufacture 0.02 0.17
Total 0.17 0.8
M/cycle Operating 1.6 2.3
Manufacture 0.2 0.5
Total 1.8 2.8
Bicycle Operating 0 0
Manufacture 0.08 0.08
Total 0.08 0.08

This table (well it was one in the page I linked up thread) confirms your point nicely. The first number is the low energy use MJ/km and the second the high end.

Five people in a low energy embodied car (3.2MJ/km) are still are still accountable for .64 MJ/km each. It takes forty individual bike riders to be accountable for the same amount of embedded energy as a low energy embedded car since the bicycles only account for .08 MJ/km each.


I looked at the PTUA website, and I can't figure out where they got their embedded energy figures.
They use a figure of 1MJ per manufactured kilo, and just assume that this can be applied to cars, bikes, etc. This seems remarkably imprecise.

They refer to " the RTA study mentioned above", but I can't tell what they mean. They also say that "Figures comparable to this are found in many sources", but I haven't been able to find them.

Have you seen better data?

Sorry best I could do, a refinery turnaround is sucking up about all my time for now. The whole embedded energy thing is remarkably complex and so non standardized that tables and especially comparing numbers between different tables will be a very messy thing to sort out for a while.

Hi daxr,

not really a fair question

Some statistics (especially for safety issues) are based more on the amount of time on a bike versus the miles traveled.

could last a hundred thousand miles without much trouble

The real issue is maintenance and it always amazes me how many people think their bike should run forever with zero attention. Lots of people don't even know how to pump up a tire or change a flat on the road.

If I am diligent, I can ge a chain to last almost forever. A reliable bike is usually a clean bike.

Hi VeloVol,

How far does a bicycle go in an average lifetime?

A few years ago, the President of Trek Bicycle spoke at our club meeting. I don't recall the exact numbers, but it went something like - of all the bikes they sell:

50% get ridden about 50 miles before being retired in the garage.
30% about 100 miles or so.
18% a few hundred miles
About 2% actually get ridden thousands of miles.

So, it is somewhat difficult to come up with good statistics for your question. I ride around 4K miles a year and have only changed bikes because the needs of my body required a different style of cycle. I have friends that ride 5K miles a year and have had the same bike for 20 years.

50% get ridden about 50 miles before being retired in the garage

That sounds about right. Those bikes are probably disproportionately w-mart jobs, and I know you can always find them selling used at garage sales and craigs list for practically nothing here (which is about what they're worth) with no discernible wear on the tires. There are way too many bikes around that were built to be the cheapest, rather than to be ridden.

Hi daxr,

built to be the cheapest, rather than to be ridden.

I suspect that a lot of negative attitude for cycling relates to poor experiences with these cheap bikes - not only are they generally inefficient and poorly assembled/adjusted, but they often have repair issues very early on. So, new riders quickly lose interest.

When I mention that my friend and I rode, for example, 50 miles earlier today - I get looks of wonder/disbelief. The average person just does not realize the tremendous efficiency of a modern, high quality bike. Of course, paved roads are a big factor and we may see a significant loss of that efficiency as the roads deteriorate.

But now switch these enquiries to China: How long does a bike -- a proper work-horse bike -- run there? How many thousand kilometres? How much sensible, regular maintenance? Same questions yield similar replies in India. (I've seen it at close quarters there. Very economical and recyclish)

Those unlucky people are currently starting the same gadarene rush to car use that we stupid Westerners started just under a century ago. Peak Everything, and all the other Synergising Global Crises seem likely to ensure that the Chinese and the Indians won't suffer the same length of abject enslavement to cars that we've suffered, before they too are delivered, as we are just starting to get our deliverance right now and over the next few years.

The obvious comparative economics/ecologics of bike versus car are written into our histories, East and West. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, lots here in the West rode bikes, because we could afford their purchase and maintenance, but not cars, because we couldn't. As the century progressed, and our looting of much of the rest of the world reached epidemic proportions, far more of us common people of the Western imperial gangster states got rich beyond the imaginings of previous generations, and we all lusted for cars -- which, profligate of resources though they are -- we could now afford; at least for a few decades.

Obviously the Indians and Chinese have learned nothing from the spectacle of our debacle. They're determined to do their truncated version of our folly. Meanwhile, I stick to bikes and velos; much less trouble. No more goddamned cars for me.

Very good point. The assumption that the bike is used for 20,000 is more valid for bike tours however, as it is fair to assume that people who go on touring bikes will get the best out of the bikes. On the other side, it is also likely they will have expensive alloys on their bikes. My numbers were just there to give a first approximation. Any chance of digging out a reference for these numbers?

It depends on your location, the cost of the bicycle, and other factors. True also with cars. In the US, in Detroit, the typical car lasts about 80,000 - 100,000 miles (130,000 - 160,000km). In the Pacific Northwest, they typically last up to twice as long due to the lack of road salt during winter. Let's say 200,000km as an estimate.

With a bicycle, the $250 Wal-Mart bike will last about 5 years with minimal maintainance. A $400 aluminum hybrid will last a lot longer, and a $1,000 steel touring bike like the Kona Sutra or Surly Long Haul Trucker will last effectively for 2+ decades if well cared for. (the benefit of a steel frame is that it can be re-welded easily when it breaks). I have two bikes, an aluminum Gary Fisher hybrid (10,000 miles / 16,000 km) and a steel Kona Sutra (11,000 miles / 17,500 km). The Kona is 2 years old and is my primary bicycle. I can easily expect this bike to last 15 years, at which time I should have about 125,000 km on it - so the average car will likely only travel twice the km my bike will travel, and only last 2/3 as long time-wise.

Not to mention the average car costs over $7,000 per year in payments, repairs, taxes, insurance, gasoline and fees. My bicycle costs me about $500 per year, and I ride about 3,000-6,000 miles per year on it (average is about 5,000).

As with everything, your mileage (literally in this case) may vary.

I live in Wisconsin where they use about as much salt as Detroit and 80,000-100,000 miles is really low for estimates on a cars life in the midwest. 20-30 years ago salt was very damaging and a limiting factor in some vehicles, although these vehicles had 150,000+ miles. Newer cars are better at handling salt. I just traded in a ten year old minivan with 180,000 miles which was later resold. There were a few smallish rust areas (about silver dollarish) but nothing really major. I have a commuting car with 130,000 miles and little to no visible rust and no significant repairs. I would say that 200,000 miles is a reasonable estimate that doesn't significantly vary with most geographic locations, maybe 10-20% but not twice.

My area in Northern California has some excellent mountain bike touring possibilities. Sadly, the Amtrak station nearby is a whistle stop that doesn't provide for checked baggage, and bicycles are over the carry-on limit. Maybe things will get better when they get worse.

Maybe you can get a congressman to put a rider on an energy bill making an allowance for bikes on Amtrak ?- )

We enjoyed a train/bike vacation using Amtrak with our folders w/o checking them. On the return trip, it did take referring the Portland Or. station to their own policy but we didn't have any further problems. We stowed the bikes below in one of the large carry on compartments and locked them together. Some trains apparently have bike racks for standard frames too.

Folding Bikes as Carry On Luggage (scroll down)

Our club does up to 40mi. 'folder rides'. Skinny tires and a tall geared 20 in. quality folder can hold it's own surprisingly well. One really big guy toured Scotland on his.

The Dutch and Belgian provinces of Limburg, advertise themselves as bikers paradises. The bikepath networks throughout both are extensive. They are a popular holiday destination for the Hollanders.

I had a couple of wonderful biking holidays with my parents and my sisters in the 80's we never left The Netherlands in the 5 years or so that we did. It's very good way to enjoy diversity of the country, quick enough that you will get somewhere, slow enough that you can actually see where you are going. We shared a tent with the 5 of us and had normal city bikes. No problems accept for a rare tire puncture. We did approximately 80 km per day it was no problem(even for my father who did not exercise at all). A good way to spend time together and not get bored. Lunch was normally bread we bought on the way and cooking was done in the evenings.

After i started to work I did some holidays in France with my bike. I took my bike in the train (then no bag required) I biked through Paris (no problem) and with bad condition i still managed about 80-100 km per day. I took a tent, cooking gear, clothes etc, just on one bike, I estimate about 20 kg, maybe even less. The biggest trick is to leave as much as possible at home ;).

Absolutely necessary is water, I normally packed 1.5 litre bottle and approximately 0.5 in my bidon (bottle attached to my bike), most of the times I added some syrup to the water for some additional sugar.

I also took with me some vitamin pills as you use a bit more when exercising hard.

With a bit of training (and a more or less flat land) 100 km per day is possible for most people. Imagine what you can see in 3 weeks holiday.

When on your bike and camping you also meet wonderful people everywhere, most interesting where a Dutch couple in their 60's who biked from Santiago de Compostella back to the Netherlands in 4 weeks.

The only real problem I have ever had was a snapped chain. No problem only to find a new one ;)

I tend to do pretty epic tours, lasting many months, without too many rigid objectives.

This allows me to dumpster-dive and find wild food, and with extra water storage I am able to camp out in forests for several weeks at a time (visiting local towns a couple of times per week).

In this way, cycle touring becomes less a holiday and more a way of life.

A recent Winter tour of SW France, Spain and Portugal lasting 4 months cost me about €1,000 (US $1,338). I covered some 4,500 km or so in the journey, and learnt Spanish in the bargain!

I met a lot of great people and saw a great deal of Spain's interesting and varied natural features, as well as more cultural stuff.

A pine forest on the southern coast of Spain made a great habitat for several weeks, and armed with the Collins Gem pocket SAS Survival Guide I had plenty of activities to try out, and time for reflection and meditation and even a few polar swims (which weren't so cold at all, really).

And this was in a Winter where Andalusia and Portugal had some of the worst storms and highest rainfalls in recent history.

Hi scavenger,

Youth does have its advantages - I wish I could travel like that again!

A note on personal hygiene

Several months ago I developed a skin condition, saw the doctor who prescribed some cream that helped for a while, but no cure. I then read somewhere that residues from soap, and creams (glycerine?) provide a substrate for bacteria and yeast to grow on. And so I took a bold step and moved away from a regime of meticulous hygiene and medication to washing simply with water.

Much to my surprise the condition began to improve within days and was totally cured within weeks. Even more surprising my wife tells me that I don't smell any more, quite often I'll skip bathing for 1 or 2 days - still no body odor - much hot water and energy saved.

I doubt I'll ever use soap again. I'd be interested to know if my experience was generally applicable. If so, there is a whole personal hygiene industry built around making folks smell and itch and then selling them products to combat it.

PS - the relevance of this is you don't need to pack soap or deodorant:-)


Well the one friend I used to have never complained either.


I've always wondered about this and might try some ideas. I am intrigued by people who don't use shampoo and say their hair is healthier. All shampoo is loaded with salt, which obviously leaves your scalp feeling 'sweaty/itchy' after 24 hrs...

I use only water, usually straight out of the cold side, with just enough hot to make it barely warm, no soap, no shampoo. I finish off with a full blast of cold, it closes the pores in your skin and scalp. I do use selected aftershaves and underarm products, I don't shave the face much, I don't have the hair growth to worry about it, upper lip and chin grows a bit of hair which I let grow. I brush my hair 3 or 4 times a day, and get all kinds of postive comments about it, Girls rave about the curls. It is in a foot long ponytail.

I have a skin problem from my knees down, and soap makes it itch more than it already does, nothing much in the way of creams has ever helped. Ocean water and hot springs do make it feel a lot better.

As with hiking, take only what you need. I'll have to give a Recumbent a try one of these days, I really loved to bike ride as a kid.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed future.

Great article, but why post peak vacation? Bicycle vacations are as old as the bicycle. German climbers would cycle to the Alps on heavy single speed bikes after WWII, just bcs there was no other means of transportation affordable for them.

About the cost of bicycle travel: Once you have the bike, you can travel anywhere just for the cost of food from the supermarket. Just bring camping gear and a light camping stove. I used to do this a lot when I had no money and lots of time :-)
In 1995 I spent 5 month bicycle touring in the western US and Canada. My total budget was USD 1500 and we had a grand time.
I have to admit that I gave up bicycle touring as a vacation affair afterwards. Cycling through endless deserts with a up to 130 lbs heavy bike (bike + camping gear + climbing gear + food + 20 lbs of water...) really took its toll on me :).

The lifespan of a high quality bike should be much higher the 20000 km. Frames last essentially forever, bearings can be exchanged. Though chain shift systems have a terrible short lifetime (though smth like a shimano xt system lasts remarkably long), a rohloff internal-gear hub is designed to last a whopping 100000 km. If you also install hydraulic brakes (especially Maguras) I would expect the rest of the bike to last just as long. A good bike should outlast its owner!

This site has an interesting energy efficiency comparison table from the military:
Apparently the US Army in Afghanistan uses folding mountainbikes that can be air dropped.

I also converted a mtb into a touring bike and IMO this worked great. I did it very simple: I cut the sides off an aluminium racing handle bar and attached these as bar ends to narrow mtb handle bars. So the brake and shift levers stayed up on the mtb handle bar, which I did not find to be too much of an inconvenience. I also installed front and rear panniers and high pressure road tires. With this I was not any worse off than my friend who used a race bike.

" German climbers would cycle to the Alps on heavy single speed bikes after WWII, just bcs there was no other means of transportation affordable for them."

My climbing gang, when we were teens, were doing the same sort of ride between the industrial north of England and the cutting edge climbing in the mountains of Eryri, Gwynedd, Cymru about ten years after those German guys, for the same reason. Wonderful journeys!

There seems to be a lot of evidence now which suggests that that kind of ultra-strenous active lifestyle through the first twenty years of life sets you up for robust good health for the rest of your life, and into old age; Riccardo Cassin, for example, made it to a hundred years old, and did the west face of the Dru -- again -- when he was 70. Last time I was on the Aiguille Verte, I found, to my disgust, that I now get altitude sickness so badly that I have to stay down in the valleys these days. Not doing so well as Riccardo. Can still cycle though.

Yes, this has been my observation too: Old climbers are wickedly fit!

What often gets overlooked in this "the world will collapse because we run out of oil" craze is that we all would probably be much healthier and stronger if walk and cycle more. Cycling as everyday transportation keeps one fit in a way no fitness studio can provide. So having less mechanized transportation available could be a very positive thing after all.

Of course, another viable option for some people may be to take public transportation to a "home base", and then use bicycles for day trips. This eliminates the need to carry a lot of the gear on the bike, and simplifies things quite a bit. There is not as big a commitment - if the weather is lousy or your body is hurting, you can just scrub your plans for the day trip and stay close to home base. It is also not quite the catastrophic disaster if your bike is stolen - a long walk back to home base, maybe, or more likely an expensive taxi ride, but then the rest of your vacation can go on with modifications.

This might especially be a better option for those of us who are getting up in years. A ride a couple of hours out and a couple of hours back is quite a different proposition than the type of long-distance touring described above.


public transportation to a "home base", and then use bicycles for day trips....better option for those of us who are getting up in years

Yes, as much as I like a cross country tour, we are finding the model you are suggesting is much more gentle on the old bones - and, indeed a great way to vacation in many areas.

This brings back lots of pleasant memories for me. I recall when I first camp/toured in 1981 I was so daunted by the weight of things that my wife and cut off our toothbrush handles, used tooth power rather than paste, bought all kinds of light weight and expensive stuff and off we went.
Within days I saw a sturdy European biking along smoking his pipe, had his stuff in an old square suitcase strapped on the back of his bike and, believe it or not, a cast iron skillet strapped on too.

I still have my old cut-off handle backpacking toothbrush. Since it only gets used a week every few years, I just wash it out a bit when we get home, dry it well, and toss it back in the backpack.

One of the pleasures of bike touring is you don't have to sweat the weight so much. The hardest (physical) things I've ever done were lugging 50+lbs of water up the side of a mountain for a week of backpacking (with my fiancee who had accepted my marriage proposal on top of the tallest mountain in Texas the day before), and climbing a killer hill in Sleeping Bear Dunes with my loaded touring bike. The bike probably weighed over 70lbs, which nearly killed me on that uphill, but the day before I'd hit my all-time speed record on a bike of 54mph on another downhill. I've never been crazy enough to try that again.

Hi kjmclark,

all-time speed record on a bike of 54mph on another downhill.

When we had our upright tandem (a daVinci) we did 50 mph on a downhill just to see what it felt like. I know that Lance and company hit 70, but I am a firm believer that 40 mph on a bike should be the upper limit for us non-professionals. Above 40 mph the risk of a crash is just foolish.

I once (30 yrs ago) pulled an 80 lb trailer over the beartooth pass into Yellowstone Park - wife said she pulled a muscle and could not go if I put panniers on her bike also. The trailer worked pretty well - never was quite sure about that muscle problem.

Going downhill on a Colorado mountain, my front brake jammed in the spokes, sending me over the handlebars in a spectacular arc.

I was miraculously uninjured, but I've been more careful about downhill speeds ever since.

an inspiring post - made us feel very nostalgic for our cycling times around the UK in the early 80s - we also loved the freedom, so clearly exhibited in the photos, of being without an oppressive helmet - mandatory helmet laws in here australia have deterred many would-be (& use-to-be) cyclists, and I have commenced a quest to see the regulations repealed - I think it will end up being a somewhat long and drawn out process, but I am very determined!!! - thank you again for sharing your fabulous travel thoughts & details

Thanks for this description. Reminds me of our bike trip Frankfurt - Gorges du Tarn - Montpellier and back by train in the early sixties, before cars flooded the roads. We are certainly going back to these times. Instead of speeding past you will meet many people and discover many new things along the road. A team of 4 is good with 2 tents. But all got to be equally fit otherwise there is a lot of waiting for the slowest. I remember 80 kms a day was the average, a bit less in the mountains.

What a great post, and so many great comments from bicyclists! I have yet to do an extensive bicycling vacation, but I do agree that the pace of bicycling is a wonderful way to see a country. While this doesn't qualify as a cycling expedition, when we were in Paris a few weeks ago (pre-volcano, thankfully) we took two different tours of Paris by bicycle, one during the day and one at night. Both were fantastic. While seven miles by foot would be exhausting, seven miles on a bicycle is no trouble at all. We saw things that in all my trips there I'd never seen/noticed/took the trouble to go visit before.

Though Paris does have a fabulous metro system, going below ground one place and popping up in another keeps one from sensing the continuity and fabric of a city. Because we hadn't been to Paris since the establishment of bike lanes and the Velib program, I was reluctant to set off with my kids on bikes alone, so taking the tour and having someone guide us from place to place (as well as tell us bits of history along the way) was very helpful. Touring the monuments all lit up at night was especially exhilarating. (Riding into the courtyard of the Louvre while a street musician just happened to be playing a Bach partita on his violin was an extraordinary moment.) The tour company (Fat Tire Bicycle tours, run by Americans) also has tours in London, Barcelona and Berlin.

Though I've heard criticism and skepticism about it, it appeared to me the Velib bikeshare program is very popular in Paris. In fact, when we met a former French exchange student for dinner, she said that was how she was going to go home that night. It would take her ten minutes while the metro might take twenty. This was ten-thirty at night, and she had no qualms about safety. (The velib bikes all have lights built into them.)

We would have tried out the Velib bikes, but they require a credit card with a computer chip that evidently all European bank cards have and no American ones do. (Many automated metro ticket kiosks in both London and Paris also require cards with chips. Very frustrating.) Though it could be even better, all in all I was impressed with the strides Paris has made in becoming bicycle-friendly.

Hi taomom,

I read your comment with great interest. I've been in Paris a number of times but always felt that biking there looked incredibly dangerous (last trip was 2 years ago). I would not even want to drive a car in the round about at the Arch de Triumph. We walked many miles but my knees do much better on a bike than on foot.

Apparently, I was not looking in the right places for good cycling routes. I think your suggestion of a guided tour by bike is excellent. I'm not sure if we will be doing much more international travel (FF and carbon issues add a guilt factor) but, if we do, I will certainly remember your advice. I would love to ride into the Louvre courtyard on a bike! And, all the great gardens: Jardin et Palais du Luxembourg, Jardin des Champs-Elysées, etc - once you get inside the garden gates a bike would seem to be ideal.

Hi Bicycle Dave,

Our tours didn't take us near the Arc de Triomphe, probably for good reason . . .

The only place we were obliged to walk our bikes was the Tuileries. No riding bicycles allowed there for some reason. And we went through the Louvre courtyard at night. During the day it would be impossible due to the crowds, (if not forbidden.) We rode on a lot of side streets, on streets with bike/bus lanes, on some separated bike paths (one goes along the Seine if I remember), through the Champs du Mars, on a sidewalk a time or two, across pedestrian bridges and sometimes right in traffic. At night we wore the ugliest fluorescent safety vests imaginable. We could probably be seen by passing air traffic. Given there were fifteen on our tour, the guide was very good at getting us through the city. (Here we have to go single file, here we're going to bunch up and take the lane, etc.) The night tour included a chilly bateau mouche ride on the Seine (warmed up by a couple shared bottles of wine.)

I was inspired to start riding again around 2004 after visiting my brother who lived in Paris at the time (as well as learing about peak oil around the same time-might have been inspiration to make the trip in the first place), and was amazed by a city with so many people biking and so many bike lanes, and yes, the skeleton of bikes hanging to random metal poles that were the victims of theft.

It sold me, both on cycling at home and on any vacation I take. The last vacation I took to San Francisco a few weeks ago, we spent one day there getting our bearings on foot, then the next three days we rented bikes and probably traveled 20 miles, horizontally, each day (including the Golden Gate Bridge, which was amazing). Even on 9.99 per day comfort bikes it was a much better experience than either walking or driving everywhere, even if you could rent a car at the same price.

Even if you're not willing or able to do much of a 'bicycle tour', I would recommend renting or bringing them with you any way possible in most cities, and even in the country in Europe or certain areas of the US. If things aren't safe, get on the sidewalk, and walk the bike if it's crowded. More and more cities worldwide, however, seem to be pushing bicycle transit more than in the past and usually have marked lanes, paths and routes. Paris often combines them with taxi and bus lanes, but generally those are the best drivers, so the chance of accident is hopefully reduced.

Very nice analysis of energy use in vacation trips. I'd add that an electrically assisted bicycle will do even better than pedaling alone. This is because of the high price most humans pay in primary energy associated with food consumption. The following analysis also takes embodied energy of electric and conventional bicycle into account:

A transcontinental electric bike trip is documented here:

Well, post peak I will just walk. But pre-peak (as in this summer) I am taking a 125cc Genuine Buddy Scooter from North Carolina out west somewhere, probably up to Yellowstone and down to Arizona. I think I will probably log 4000 miles. It's been getting about 95MPG so at an average of $3 I think we will have this June gas will cost less then $150 for the whole trip.

I might make this into a "cause" trip, showing people how it is possible to live now to slow our decent a bit.

Bike Touring the US

For those who want to tour the eastern United States, the East Coast Greenway Alliance is establishing the 3,000-mile long East Coast Greenway for bike touring through the major cities from the Maine border with Canada all the way to Key West, Florida.

We are the urban Appalachian Trail - and you can explore great natural and historic sites (from Acadia National Park in Maine to sites along Paul Revere's ride, the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, and the National Mall). The trail is currently 24% separated from cars (on multi-use greenways) and 76% on the safest roads we found.

For more details, check out:


Thanks for the link and here is a plug for our trail if you should visit southern WI:

And here's a great (and wonderfully named) site for the Twin Cities area in Minnesota:

I also noticed that google maps how has a tool for checking on bike trails, but I haven't tried it yet so I don't know how useful it is. Have others tried it out?

I've found regular google satellite images to be useful in determining where exactly biking paths are--you can even make out bicyclists riding on them!

I'm so glad many of you like to bike. I usually log more miles per year on my 4 bicycles than I do in the car:

Commuting: 2900 miles/year
Joyrides: 1300 miles/year
Visiting madre: 1440 miles/year
Bike tours: 2400 miles/year

8040 miles/year by bike, and usually less than 5000 miles/year by Nissan Pathfinder.

I am constantly trying to get people to ride with me but it has been difficult. A few posters alluded to the fact that many bikes are poorly fitted to the rider. I had this experience a few times as well. Wrong seat, bike frame too small, crappy components. A twingy neck and some knee/ass pain is all it takes for that bike to be put away in the garage...too bad really. If you are inexperienced with bikes and mechanical stuff, find a good bike shop to help you get the right ride. Couple that with the need to get all of the good gear and widgets and the average person is priced out of a really fun pastime!

Holland is a great place to take a bike tour, especially if you like fine pastries and Belgian beer! After a few days, you'll notice that no matter what your direction of travel, there is always a head-wind in Holland hahaha! In the last few years I have concentrated on door-door bike rides that get me out of the city quickly and into the mountains...



Hi Robin Lovelace,

Thank you very much for writing this excellent essay - obviously a subject very near and dear to my heart.

are bicycle holidays viable in a post peak future?

In a rational world, we would start now switching to very light vehicles (human powered or otherwise) for most roadways and move heavy loads to rail and limited roadways. Regarding the share of oil for transportation purposes, we would prioritize its use for asphalt and maintenance equipment - using much less for personal transportation and trucking. We would reduce national speed limits to 40 mph (64 km). We would simply eliminate many roads or reduce them to bike paths. Lots of things like this could make bicycles and small electric vehicles viable for a long time. But, I'm not going to hold my breath for this to happen. The alternative is deteriorating roads being used by more 4 wheel drive vehicles until everything collapses. Mountain bikes will always be usable, but not for 100 km days.

In the movie "The Reader" there is an interesting scene where nearly everyone cycled to this resort for holiday. Years later, revisiting the resort, everyone came by car - what a shame.

Regarding bikes and baggage. If you are not taking camping equipment along and intend to use Hostels and B&Bs, then a regular road bike is fine. My solo bike has 23c tires and never been a problem - however, I avoid gravel roads. The trick is to pack light - I advise fellow travelers to carry no more than 30 lbs (14 kg). Even adding a very light weight tent and sleeping bag is OK with my kind of road bike - but once you start adding cooking gear, etc you probably need a heavier touring bike.

If you are traveling alone (which I really don't like) then camping has an advantage - you will most likely have company in the evening to talk to and share experiences. With a B&B you may wind up being the only person staying there - if the owner is otherwise occupied then hopefully you have packed a good book!

Regarding daily distances your 116 km (72 miles) is pretty aggressive with full camping gear. I set up a 500 mile ride in Ireland with 60 to 70 mile days and decided not to ever do that again. The riders were all pretty strong and experienced but we really could not spend enough time exploring along the way. Also, flat tires, rain, etc did not help. I find that 40 to 50 mile days work very well (65-80 km) for most riders - especially when there are a few hills to climb.

Once again - really appreciate your essay.

For a great site with tour reports (from all over) and forums on all aspects of bike touring, go to

Great Post,

Bicycle Dave, I am envious of your tours, I hope I get a chance to tour Europe someday by bike.

Gail up thread you asked about sheltering from storms. Besides hotels and B+B's, many small/rural towns in the US, especially if there are near one the the American Cycling Association (ACA) trail routes, allow people to use public picnic shelters for overnight camping. Mostly these are open air building with roofs and picnic tables.

Once again a plug for one of my favorite sites

And for people considering bicyle touring or perhaps offering hospitality for others who are bicycle touring.

Here's hoping for more bicycle paths and support for bicycle commuters, travelers, and joy riders.

Just to note how simple it can be - I went on my longest bicycle tour at the end of summer, 20 years ago. I raced bikes back then, and at the end of a disappointing season I strapped a light sleeping bag between the handlebars, stuffed some money and odds & ends in my jersey pockets and headed out.

It was five days from my house in Sacramento, to the bay area, down the coast to Santa Barbara, then turned around and came back. It was 120 miles a day or so riding, but other than that it was pretty easy - plenty of places to stop for food, and no big problem finding a place to sleep; I stayed at a hostel one night, in a school breeze-way (empty for summer) another night, in a graveyard another night...Not something I'd likely talk the family into, but great fun!

Robin Lovelace: Delightful essay; good, solid advice on bicycle touring.

I presently have a Surly Long Haul Trucker (with the disgusting gangbanger-grafitti-style lettering removed); yes, it is a great touring bike, and a good all-around bike for a 70+ age senile citizen with bad knees. It is about five years old, with 15K

Sound as a pound. Glad you enjoyed it David.

Delightful post, thanks; great comments, too.

But are bicycle holidays viable in a post peak future? This is an open question which I put to the readers.

I was surprised that no commenters went a bit more in a Cormac McCarthy direction, this being TOD.

Still, I've always figured that the biggest downside of bikes is cars; and cannibal hordes might be a reasonable tradeoff for idiots driving their SUV's and talking on cell phones. Even so, the whole concept of travel holidays may undergo some major adjustments in the coming 50 years.

Hi Greenish,

biggest downside of bikes is cars; and cannibal hordes might be a reasonable tradeoff for idiots driving their SUV's and talking on cell phones

This IS the problem. As you know, I'm a bicycle advocate and activist in some local efforts to get more people cycling. The only real impediment is motor vehicle traffic - not helmets, not physical fitness, not time, not money, etc.

I can get a person all juiced up about the concept - even get them to buy a nice new, efficient bike - next month the bike is hanging in the garage because they got the stuffing scared out of them in some kind of encounter with motorists.

About once a month, I can pretty much count on some jerk in an SUV or pickup go out of their way to "teach me a lesson" about riding a bicycle on "their" roadway. I don't react to these guys like I did years ago. I friend of mine was fond of giving the one finger salute to these folks - one day an offended driver parked down the road and the knocked my friend off of his bike with a tire iron. He woke up in the hospital with serious injuries.

I've been harassed in two continents just for being on the road - and I try to be very considerate for motorists whenever possible - I never obstruct traffic just to asset my rights. The most difficult one to deal with is the car full of drunk teenagers that pull up next to you and squirt beer and hurtle insults just for the fun of it. A few years back, in Milwaukee, a cyclist got annoyed by this behaviour and fired a pistol at point blank range into a car full of kids engaging in this type of sport - killed a girl. Never caught the biker. This is not the best solution.

That's why I'm settling for good in New England. Cycling is a form of Yankee frugality in this paht of the country. Not a common thing, but a respected one.

"I never obstruct traffic just to asset my rights."

One obviously should not go out of one's way to be obnoxious. On the other hand, I think it is important to assert rights as bicyclists. There are weekly "critical mass" rides here in Minnesota, a movement I support even if I don't often ride along.

I used to look for places that I could safely go up on the sidewalk to avoid being in traffic. But the more that bikes are seen in traffic, the more that people start seeing bikers as a natural part of the traffic flow. So even though I find it unpleasant, I try not to go out of my way to get OUT of traffic, even though it would often be more pleasant and safe for me.

Hi dohboi,

I think it is important to assert rights as bicyclists

100% agree. What I was thinking about were the cyclists who DO go "out of one's way to be obnoxious". We have some racing groups that could easily leave room for cars to pass but they are more interested in their position in the pack. They create a lot of ill will for the rest of us cyclists who try to follow rules of common courtesy.

On the other hand, I never ride on the sidewalk - it is actually illegal for anyone other than "small children" to use sidewalks in WI for cycling. When I need to "take the lane" to be safe, I do just that unless it is clearly very dangerous to do so (I'm not going to pull out in front of a 70 mph Mack truck). We have a couple of places on our normal riding roads where the only safe method is to get right in the middle of the traffic lane for few hundred feet.

(and, geez, you would highlight my fumble finger typing - I tried to edit that word that but a comment was already in place and I guess you can't edit after that - which makes sense)

When I was young and healthy, I used a bike for everything. Commute to work, shopping, pleasure rides. Just an ordinary, 3 speed Sears touring bike; worked great, never any breakdowns, lasted me for 20 years, handed down to my son.

Alas, those days are gone. With my health went my income, so no fancy thousand dollar bikes for me. When one can only afford to put $20 a month in the gas tank and must last the month, well...

For quite a few years I found I could not ride a bike anymore, but a horse was quite tolerable. Can't afford that any more either. I miss my horse terribly. For years, she was the only thing that enabled me to get up in the back country.

When I was young and healthy...

Yes indeed, in a nutshell that's why so many proposed responses to energy issues are at best silver BBs scalable even in aggregate to only part of a modern population. In the old days, living people were young and healthy, or if they were older they were at least robust. Sickly people rarely went on existing, and that was possible essentially only for royalty, upper nobility, or wealthy merchants.

For that reason, in the event it proves impossible to maintain at least some sort of BAU-lite, tourism of any sort will be completely off the radar screen. Our moralizing will demand that every penny and every second left over after people are done with basic survival tasks must be expended on medical or nursing "care" of one sort or another. Consider that the new medical mandate in the USA adds up to more over a lifetime than someone would earn during their normal working years at minimum wage - never mind food, clothing, or shelter, much less tourism. Then consider an income reduction to a "third world" scenario severe enough to reduce travel to using mainly bicycles. Boom! Social explosion.

Conversely, in a BAU-lite scenario with enough surplus energy and resources to keep tourism on the radar screen, we might see more bicycle tourism but we should hardly expect it to be mandatory.

Bike vacations, walking vacations, even exploring the local cuisine vacations are in the future.

For instance, in Portland, OR, you could spend a week just touring the local best coffee shops to sample the different flavors, lattes, etc. Say two coffee shops a day and neighborhood explorations in between. You'd have your plate full for more than a week.

Or you could spend a week sampling the food cart cuisine at a variety of locations.

And that's not to mention the local wine industry.

There are many places like this that offer such opportunities for diverse local holidays.

Bike vacations, walking vacations, even exploring the local cuisine vacations are in the future.

Meh, maybe so, in the limited way they're already in the present. But if things were so far gone that for lack of energy or money that most people had to tour by walking or bicycle, it's hard to see how very many of them would be able to afford to tour coffee shops, wineries, and the like. While local artisanal stuff of whatever description may stimulate romantic nostalgia, it tends to be absurdly costly. For this reason the scenario, as so often happens when these discussions wander off into speculation, just seems to lack self-consistency.

Hi UI,

touring the local best coffee shops

We are adicted to cycling + coffee shops (us in yellow):

To get to the question at the end, biking vacations will be viable as long as we can maintain the roads. Biking may well get more viable, if we need to switch to electric trains and buses for most commuter trips.

WRT the roads, I expect those to be adequate for a good while longer as well. We may revert to single-lane paved roads instead of the multi-lane + paved shoulder model, but pavement of any kind is so much better than the muddy ruts that dirt roads can turn into in the spring, that I expect some pavement to stick around even into a collapse.

The one remaining problem might be a return of highwaymen. It may not pay to have too nice a bike in the future.

I'm not sure paved roads are essential, but without paved roads we will need to change the style of tire used, and a mountain bike will become more desirable than a touring bicycle.

An uncle of mine spent his summer vacation in (I think) 1919, when he was an undergraduate at the University of Sydney, cycling from Sydney to Tasmania and back, by ferry across Bass Strait, of course. I'm pretty sure that 99% of the roads on his journey were unpaved in those days, and his bicycle was pretty primitive by today's standards too.

He did not do this for adventure. He did it because he had made friends with a student from Tasmania, and wanted to visit him. He was a penniless student, but the family owned a bicycle, and his parents allowed him to borrow it.

So long distance cycling is possible, even in the absence of decent roads.

Seems that enthusiastic young athletes were cycling 'Ordinary' bikes (penny-farthings; high-wheelers) from London to Coventry (90 miles) in a single day, in the late 19th century, despite the absence of asphalt roads. And then there were the alleged (though now questioned) exploits of Kirkpatrick MacMillan on his alleged Boneshaker several decades earlier. The Scottish roads of that time don't bear thinking about.

some developments in the world of pedal power ....

The Tripod – The Cool, Comfortable and Sustainable Way to Bike

An example of the power some are getting with high tech batteries/motors/drives

If you haven't found a comfortable bicycle saddle yet, a sure bet for comfort is the Brooks Imperial suspended leather saddle. My butt's opinion is that this is the only option you should consider until the Chinese finally figure out that making imitations (quality ones) will be very profitable.

Robin, some thoughts about the energy analysis.

Why no mention of electrics? Electric bikes are by far the most efficient option, and electric cars aren't far behind. You show 575MJ for 800KM: that's .2KWH per KM, which is much more than an electric bike, which might be .03KWH/KM. It's even more than an electric car (which would be about .15KWH/KM with only one passenger, .04KWH/KM with 4 passengers).

If you want the very lowest-CO2 transportation, use an e-bike.

You see, your body isn't especially efficient - maybe 25%. And, the average US food calorie requires 9 fossil fuel calories for farming, transportation, processing, refrigeration, cooking, etc. So, for each unit of energy at the pedal, it takes about 36 units of fossil fuels.

Conventional electricity only takes 4 units to produce 1 unit at the pedal. Plus, charge your battery at night, and you'll encourage wind power (contrary to popular belief, excess night time production is a bigger problem for wind than intermittency).

So, unless you really love push-biking or you need the exercise, you should get an e-bike.


Embedded energy: this is entirely dependent on the life of the vehicle, and this is completely arbitrary. Either cars or bikes can be made to last literally forever, with proper preventive maintenance, cleaning and inspections. Jay Leno, for instance, has a 1909 Baker Electric (still running on the original battery!).

Electric Vehicles will become a more important tool as we go along, I'm convinced.. but I am also very reticent to neglect and help people overlook the great elegance and simplicity of a basic bike.

I used the push mower today, and as with bikes, I'm reminded of how the right combination of a few mechanical parts can let us get so much more from our own body's energy. I even had a very small sawcut to make on some acrylic this afternoon, and I used the old bandsaw, by simply hand-spinning the pulleywheel on the back. So much of sawing and drilling is the energy and work of holding the workpiece and the tool in the right places. The cutting power is not always so prohibitive.

I really thrill in the ability to transport myself with easy elegant devices, like XC skiis, canoes and bikes.. there's a great sense of sufficiency and efficiency that comes with it.

I know what you mean - it's enormously satisfying.

Well, that comes under "unless you really love push-biking". Saving energy is only one of our many priorities...

Umm, so how do you get the bike and stuff to Spain - on a plane? Train?I have friends who fly their bikes and stuff down to the Lower 48 (from Alaska)- I mean, it's better than shipping their car down on a plane, but doesn't this use a lot of jet fuel?

Recently, I saw a video about people who flew their bikes up to Terror Lake and rode the (rough) 10 mile wilderness road down to Kizhuyak Bay, and most people seemed to think this was a neat eco-adventure. But what about all that airplane fuel, and the embodied energy in the plane, technology which supports and builds the plane, etc.?

Hi seraphima,

what about all that airplane fuel, and the embodied energy in the plane, technology which supports and builds the plane, etc.?

I wish you had raised this question when more people were following this essay - I think it is a very important question that should have gotten more discussion.

During the past 20 years or so, I eagerly looked forward to putting my bike a plane and flying to Ireland or France. For example, a few years ago, we flew round trip from Chicago to Nice for $735 and this included the boxes for our hugh tandem recumbent trike - the bike boxes were simply our "second checked bag". It was cheaper to fly to Nice than San Diego with our bike boxes (no extra charge for overseas flights).

Of course, now the cost of flying is higher - but the real question is: should we stop flying overseas even if we are traveling with a very low carbon footprint (cycling) once we get there? On one hand, my inclination is to stop taking this type of vacation due to the high FF/GW footprint. On the other hand, if we stay there for three weeks and use no FF for transportation, what is the net effect of this type of vacation?

My head tells me to stay home - my heart really wants the thrill of another journey on the Irish Atlantic sea coast or the sheer pleasure of climbing a road to a "perched village" and soaking in the delightful ambiance of a French cafe.

What do others feel about this dichotomy?

Don't fly.

According to British Airways, a 747-400 plane cruises at 576 mph (927km/h), burns 12,788 liters (3378 US gallons) of fuel per hour, and carries 409 passengers when full:

So, 5.86 mpg at cruise, and .016 gallons/mile/passenger @90% utilization. Chicago to Dublin = 3672 miles, or 58 gallons per passenger each way, or 234 both ways for two.

or choose an Airbus 380. It has a max capacity of 853 pax, and uses 81,890 gallons to fly 9,400 miles, for 8.7 gallons/mile and @90% utilization = .0113 gallons/pax mile or 88 mpg.

So, Chicago to Dublin both ways for two = 167 gallons.

That really doesn't seem like that much for a treasured, once in several years experience - it's about 3,700 miles of driving in the average US car. I'd reduce my carbon emissions some other way.

Hi Nick,

If you are not employed in a sales position, you are missing a real opportunity :-)

I do appreciate the effort you put into this analysis. And you are right that this is a "once in several years experience". In fact, at my age, one more overseas trip could well be the last.

I guess in all fairness there are other footprint factors involved in air travel. The operation of the airport burns fuel, the production/maintenance of aircraft burns fuel, etc.

This type of discussion always brings me to the same dilemma: I would gladly vote for and support measures that most people would view as extreme - 40 mph national speed limit, 100 mpg cars, taxation to cover full cost of any type of consumption, prohibit building new roads, free birth control, etc. On the other hand, I am less supportive of individual actions to reduce consumption as I'm not convinced they are sufficiently effective.

We use a bicycle a lot, we have a very small car, we don't drive much, we have a passive solar house - many things that are sensible in and of themselves. This vacation issue is not so clear cut.

The operation of the airport burns fuel

Not much, and it's being electrified due to the cost of fuel and the very short distances involved.

the production/maintenance of aircraft burns fuel, etc.

Aircraft are used for many decades, so the embedded energy per pax-mile is tiny.

I would gladly vote for and support measures that most people would view as extreme...On the other hand, I am less supportive of individual actions to reduce consumption

I agree. It is much fairer and more effective to have rules that cover everyone. Furthermore, it's far more efficient. If we just hiked fuel taxes dramatically, people would find the least painful, most effective ways to reduce consumption. Forgoing treasured experiences like a trip to Ireland seems like a very "hair-shirt", counter-productive way to reduce emissions.

Hi Nick, thanks for the numbers. I was just giving my personal view, in direct answer to the question, not making a command to you or anyone else. Copying and pasting numbers from wikipedia is a legitimate argument, but remember to factor in the increased radiative forcing of aviation emissions because they are emitted at altitude (multiply the expected emissions by 2 to 5 according to the IPCC), the unfair distribution of benefits from flying (most people in the world never have flown, and never will fly), and the indirect environmental damage and social dislocation that can arise from such a rapid form of transport (Gossling, 2002 ).

How much energy you use and how to use it is, of course, entirely up to you if you are wealthy enough to pay for an energy intensive lifestyle.


The increased radiative forcing of aviation emissions question is new to me - thanks, I'll look out for it.

OTOH, some of the concerns you have raised seem....excessive. Just because some are too poor to fly seems like a very bad reason not to fly. Foregoing good things doesn't benefit anyone - it's like eating all of the food on your plate so that someone in Africa won't go hungry - it just doesn't make sense.

We need to make intelligent decisions to reduce our footprint, as well as to help others, but denying ourselves arbitrarily won't do it.

Good point Nick, totally agree - was a bad argument on my part - I would not condone fasting because others cannot afford food either. Oops. But by deciding not to fly, you may help lead by example and forgo high energy luxuries by choice, before you are forced to by prevailing economic circumstances. This in turn may help create robust communities that are ready to face the reality of declining fuel supplies with optimism, (it's my choice) rather than with despair (I really wanted to fly to Ireland one more time).

by deciding not to fly, you may help lead by example

Yes, that's a difficult thing. I tend to think that getting the 80% savings that aren't that painful is much more important than getting the last 20% that's extremely painful, especially when one is way, way ahead of the pack.

I commute by electric train; drive only about 2,000 miles per year; insulated to the point that my heat doesn't go on until it's below freezing; upgraded my lighting and appliances to the max efficiency; installed whole house electrical useage monitoring; scheduled installation of a smart-meter for time of day electrical rates; and work to educate other people on what can be done. I think that's enough.

forgo high energy luxuries by choice, before you are forced to by prevailing economic circumstances

I don't think that will happen - I don't think that PO will force us to forgo very much, at least if we plan a bit.

to face the reality of declining fuel supplies with optimism

I think my advice is compatible with that. Regarding aviation in particular:

First, while jet fuel is probably the hardest use for oil to replace, it's only very roughly 40% of airline costs, and there are things airlines can do to reduce consumption, like buying more efficient planes, and filling the planes more fully. This means that if oil prices were to rise by 100%, airline ticket prices would only go up by 25%. That's not going to stop people from flying.

2nd, it's very unlikely that oil prices will rise by 100% in a sustained fashion. First, oil prices above $150 would slow down economic growth (if not stop it entirely). 2nd, all of the major uses for oil have substitutes that are cheaper when oil rises above, well, about where it is now. If oil prices went to $150 and stayed there for any length of time, consumers would move to carpoooling, mass transit, hybrids, EREVs, EVs, rail, heat pumps, etc, etc, very very quickly. Both of these effects would keep prices from rising further, and probably reduce them from that peak.

30 years is enough time for aviation to become more efficient - that will keep it going another 20-30 years. 50-60 years is enough to find substitutes like biofuels, synthetics liquid fuels (from renewable electricity, hydrogen from seawater electrolysis and atmospheric carbon), or liquid hydrogen.

Hi Robin,

Good video!

I realize that Nick is the eternal optimist, but I tend to agree with him on this issue. I am not convinced that "leading by example" is an effective strategy. My personal choice is twofold: one one hand, I do much the same as Nick regarding my FF/GW footprint; on the other hand I am politically active and try to influence policy makers regarding these issues. Perhaps my tiny voice is a whisper in the wind, but I feel it is more important than - as Nick says - wearing a hair shirt.

Regardless of my final choice or what choices are forced by events, I can assure you that I will not "despair" if I don't fly to Ireland again.

Perhaps not very relevant, but there is another side of this coin - a lot of very nice people in Ireland, who operate B&Bs, cater to cyclists and can certainly use the income from me and my friends. It seems like it is a good idea to help them stay in operation until once again the local Irish people return to cycling for their vacations. I'm sure that this is a gross rationalization on my part - but, I've become friendly with these folks over the years and wish them the best.

Of course five people in car getting 35 mpg are getting a heck of a lot better mileage than five people in a jet (58 mpg / 5). The embedded energy part becomes very complex and the folks you linked a month or so back seem to be doing the best work on that. Airport construction is not cheap and building and operating airports buys into its fair share of the incredibly interrelated and nested systems that allow such airports to be.

I don't pretend to myself that my flying leaves a small footprint , I simply calculate the cost/benefit in time money and experience to me and will accept my full share of responsibility for any impact I make. Life is short and we are mostly short sighted when it comes to what pleasures us. That's why how the market prices things is pretty much what actually changes behavior.

Of course, markets betting on future market value do a lovely job of showing how poorly the market can set proper prices as bubbles form and pop. I think Keynes said it best: something like 'the market can remain irrational for a lot longer than you can remain solvent.' Not hard to extend that statement out a bit...interesting times these are.

five people in car getting 35 mpg are getting a heck of a lot better mileage than five people in a jet (58 mpg / 5).

Very true. Cars are very underutilized. On the one hand, a fully loaded car is very efficient. OTOH, on average cars only have 1.15 occupants, so a comparison of plane flight to car travel is fair.

**Don't forget - you can reduce your air-travel emissions by 50% by choosing the right plane, and flying when it's full.

Airport construction is not cheap and building and operating airports buys into its fair share

But, airport costs & energy amortized over passenger-miles are very small. Air flight doesn't have to create infrastructure between travel points, unlike wheel-based travel like cars and trains (and bikes), so it has an advantage there.

On the rest of your comments - I agree. We have to do the best we can with the info we have, and not pursue things past some kind of point of diminishing returns. And yes, correcting the prices of energy would probably be the single best thing we could do to fix things.

But, airport costs & energy amortized over passenger-miles are very small. Air flight doesn't have to create infrastructure between travel points, unlike wheel-based travel like cars and trains (and bikes), so it has an advantage there

Right just fly the materials in to build the airports fly in all the equipment and replacement parts, fly in all the fuel and food, oh right thats what is done in Alaskan villages where fuel is now about $10 a gallon and everything moves in and out by the pound air freight that doesn't qualify for postal service bypass mail (subsidized rates). It costs a fortune to run airports without roads and rail. Their share of the infrastructure may not look large but running the airports without it is what only the military and oil companies can afford to do and the latter is pretty careful their air costs (on the slope anyhow). Airlines use lots of very heavy fuel and they absolutely count on roads, rail and water transport to get it to them. That's why Anchorage became a major air freight hub. Long distance great circle route flight can be massaged to bring Anchorage into the line and a 350 mile rail link brings one or two hundred car loads of jet fuel a day from near Fairbanks where a refinery is located on the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS).

Embedded energy becomes quite the tricky little critter when the extent of the pyramid that absolutely must be beneath the system being supported is figured in. Possibly there should be some additional multipliers thrown in to weigh down those industries which are surfing on the froth of basic heavy industry infrastructure but without which they would cease to exist. Don't get me wrong, I like to be able to get long distances quickly (though I barely tolerate the five or six hours on a leg in tube with a couple hundred people packed shoulder to shoulder), but then near double fuel costs in short order and flying gets right pricey, seats gets empty, freight rolls and floats and airlines sink.

When you start to calculate the price per mile of the underutilized car on short trips maybe its best to compare it with short hops on small planes. Watch the mileage dump and the cost soar (we do a lot of that type flying up here). Longer car trips usually have a higher occupancy rate, at least from what I can see on the highways up here where you know people are on longer car trips. That of course would be harder to sort out down below.


Camper Bike (this is more amusing in this form than practical):