The Bug-Out Scenario

A little extreme, but maybe the right idea. Don’t expect gasoline or nice roads to be available in a real Mad Max scenario!

The survivalist or Scout who wants to be prepared for the possibility of serious civilizational disruption should consider building a bug-out bike. What is that? It’s a bicycle outfitted to get out of Dodge quickly, travel long distances via any road or trail, and be self-contained for extended periods of time. In light of recent events such as the covid-19 “pandemic”, disruptions in gasoline supplies, infrastructure collapses, riots, forest fires and heat waves; the prospect of escalating crises as the effects of climate change, peak oil, ecological disruption and social unrest hit home; the ever-present possibility of natural catastrophes such as pandemics, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods, Carrington events and volcanic eruptions; and man-made catastrophes like nuclear, EMP, biological and terrorist attacks, it seems wise to be prepared for anything. That includes being ready to evacuate your home for several days in an emergency, but it doesn’t just mean having a bug-out bag ready to throw in a vehicle and hitting the road. What if gasoline becomes unavailable or unaffordable? What if supply chains are disrupted and you can’t get parts to repair your car? What if roads are clogged with traffic, damaged, blocked or overrun with bandits? How will you get to your bug-out cabin, bunker or hideout? How will you get to another town for needed supplies? How will you visit far away family or friends who need your help? How will you escape martial law crackdowns, avoid FEMA camps and evade hordes of marauding zombies? The answer in all cases could be a properly equipped bicycle—the most versatile and resilient form of transportation ever invented (with the possible exception of a horse). While nothing beats your own two feet and a backpack for flexible travel, the distances involved and loads you may need to carry could be too great to be practical. Enter the bug-out bike…

The Bug-Out Bike

There are many types of bicycles available today that are optimized for different purposes: road bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes, gravel bikes, etc. The best configuration for a bug-out bike is probably a mountain bike for its ruggedness and versatility (actually, the best bug-out bike is the one you already have and can start outfitting today). Here’s the bike configuration I currently use for scouting and bug-outs:

My bug-out/scout bike rig with pistol and machete options.

It’s a Trek Marlin mountain bike, with rear panniers containing food on one side, clothing on the other, cookwear and electronics in the top, a 30 liter dry bag/backpack strapped to the handlebars that contains my tent, sleeping bag and pad, and a small saddlebag containing bike tools and spare tubes (the machete and glock pistol strapped to the frame are optional accessories that could come in handy). I removed reflectors and lights for maximum stealth and minimum weight. I don’t normally ride at night, but in a bug-out scenario I will avoid busy roads and use a headlamp when necessary. The tires are 700 x 40mm Schwalbes, which are narrow for a mountain bike but have worked well on the dirt roads and trails in my area.

Bug-Out Gear

Many cyclists are moving to bikepacking setups that emphasize light weight and minimal gear over the traditional bicycle touring configuration of panniers (large bags hung from racks over your wheels) that can hold more supplies. Either setup can work in a bug-out situation. In a long distance bug-out, where supplies may be few and far between or conditions in cities dangerous, panniers allow you to carry larger amounts of food and water and be self-sufficient for up to two weeks at a time. If you need to carry heavier gear, weapons, ammo, etc., panniers are also preferable. But in a more local, short-term bug-out, or in a region where you may have to ride on steep mountain roads, rough trails and bushwhacks, a lighter, more rugged bikepacking setup may be preferable. I use a hybrid of the two.

Here are a few essential items to include in your bug-out bike gear:

  • water: filter; bottles and bladders for carrying a gallon or more of water
  • offline navigation: detailed paper maps of your area (e.g. USFS maps), compass
  • food: three days to two weeks supply
  • repair kit: extra tubes, pump, patches, bike multitool (I use this one), spare chain links

Some optional but useful gear for a bug-out bike include:

  • weapons: handgun, knife/machete/hatchet
  • hammock (allows you to stealth camp almost anywhere)
  • dynamo hub for charging electronic devices
  • shortwave emergency radio

Keep things simple and low tech. Modern touring cyclists rely on sophisticated smartphones, GPS devices and apps for navigation, as well as social network apps like warmshowers.com for finding lodging, but in a SHTF situation you can’t assume that any of those will work. Be prepared to navigate the old school way, with maps, compass and local knowledge, and to find stealth camps wherever you go.

The Bug-Out Route

Having a well equipped bug-out bike is only the first step in bicycle emergency preparedness. You also need to figure out where to go and how to get there. That means scouting the bike paths, bikeable trails and dirt/gravel roads in your area, finding any routes that will allow you to bypass traffic jams, checkpoints, road closures and zombies in a SHTF situation. From this information, put together one or more bug-out routes that will allow you to get out of town safely and stealthily. Mapping sites and apps like gaiagps, google maps, komoot.com and gravelmap.com are very helpful for finding routes via gravel roads, back roads, bike paths and trails.  Pay close attention to elevation profiles; steep roads and trails are killers on a bike and should be avoided if possible. But there is no substitute for scouting on-the-ground conditions, and this should be done regularly as part of your emergency preparation. This will also help you stay fit, which could literally be a matter of life and death when you have to actually bug-out on a bike.

Once you’ve devised and scouted your bug-out routes, memorize them and sketch them on your maps if you wish. You can also save them as GPX routes, which you can then load into a GPS device or a smartphone app like gaiagps or ridewithgps and follow precisely as you ride. But again, don’t rely only on electronic methods, as they might not work after TSHTF and they’re also potential security risks.

The Bug-Out Mission

Two days after a heat wave that brought record temperatures to my area, along with blackouts, deaths and disruptions, I decided it was time to put the bug-out bike concept to the test. I equipped my mountain bike with the bikepacking gear and provisions described above. I had a route figured out from previous scouting and study of maps, and had it memorized and loaded into my gaiagps app. The scenario was that due to some catastrophe (earthquake, virus outbreak, etc.), the main highway out of my town is clogged or closed, and I’ve decided to bug-out to another town via backroads and trails and stealth camp somewhere.

I rode via side roads through town to the Olympic Discovery Trail, proceeded to the town of Blyn, then cut south up a forest road into the foothills of the Olympics. This was a nice route; I was on gravel roads most of the time and passed very few cars. There were many possible camp sites and connecting roads I could spend days exploring. After a long uphill slog, I coasted down toward the town of Quilcene, target of my previous bicycle scouting, after about 30 miles, only this time I had arrived entirely via backroads and avoided the highways.

After some refreshments in the town convenience store I continued north toward Port Townsend and other targets of interest, sticking to backroads as much as possible. By late afternoon I was feeling fatigued and started looking for a place to camp, but I was running low on water and the creeks shown on my map were either non-existent or too difficult to access. So I continued toward the nearest place where I could buy water, a little town about eight miles north, and got to the store just before they closed. En route I passed a wooded park that looked like it had once been a campground; I rode back there and decided to make stealth camp, despite the two kids I’d seen biking there and the houses not far away through the trees. I laid low until around sunset, saw no one, then set up my camp and made this video:

Secondary Scouting

The next morning I got up early, got out of the park and proceeded north to some destinations I planned to scout as part of this mission. After fueling up on espresso and a breakfast sandwich at a coffee shop, I rode a few miles west to a place called the Tamanowas Rock Sanctuary, which I’ve been wanting to investigate for some time as a possible Scout lookout site. I made this video from the sanctuary:

I then headed north toward a place called Indian Island, which is owned by the U.S. Navy and used as a munitions handling facility and a place to service missile submarines. After a fun ride over a bridge to the island, I parked in a nearby park and did some video surveillance of the entrance to the naval base with my handlebar-mounted phone. It was guarded by a checkpoint, a fence topped by coiled barbed wire, and some prowling security vehicles:

A still image from my surveillance video of the entrance to the Indian Island naval facility.

Realizing that I wouldn’t be seeing any more of Indian Island on this trip, I rode down a little trail along the coast then proceeded back to the mainland. From there I connected to a nice 7.5 mile gravel path called the Larry Scott Trail which I rode into downtown Port Townsend. A bus was leaving in 30 minutes back to my home town so I decided to get on it—I’d ridden about 73 miles in 24 hours and decided that was enough. I chatted on the bus with two locals—an old guy who was an avid cyclist and gave me some biking tips, and a guy from Kansas who appeared to be homeless and a bit mentally off but had some interesting observations—then got off in Sequim and rode the few miles to my home.

This was another interesting bug-out and scouting mission by bike—which has become my preferred way to scout my region, get out of Dodge and have a little adventure.

More Information

For more information about bug-out bikes, see these links:
Bug Out Bike: What You Need To Know To Survive
Bugout Bikes and Trikes
Apocalypse Bicycle Instructable

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