If you are thinking about something very different from what other people do, a journey by bicycle can be satisfying. But where to start? The first thing you need to know about a potential bicycle journey is that it is easy. There's no need to organize too much, but some things are important. Here you will find the basic info -- where to start your exploration, what the actions are, what bicycle you can choose and where to go to.
As a long term cyclist and traveler, I have learned that whatever you organize, it will be different once you are on the road. Things can go wrong, you can meet nice people and hang out a few days longer, find a relaxing place where you stay longer. Or simply you get mechanical problems. Your schedule should be flexible. In other words, do not organize too much.
- Where do you want to travel?
After you have decided you would love to do a bicycle journey, there are a few questions to answer. The question of where to travel to is directly related to how much time you have. Say you have 3 weeks, for example. Then you have to limit yourself to one country, or a province of that country. If you have 3 weeks and you want to cycle all of India, or China, you are doomed to fail. In that case, you will choose a province. However, if you would like to see Holland, with 3 weeks you can easily do Holland and Belgium together.
Once you have decided where to go to, you will buy a map. The scale of a good cycling map, in my opinion, is no smaller than 1:500.000 to maximum 1:2.000.000. The best workable scale is about 1:1.000.000 or 1:1.500.000. Smaller scales are nice, but if you travel a larger area, you will need a lot of them. 1 to 1.5 million is good enough. Once you are in an area, try to get a nice locally produced map; if they are in local language it can be a good way to get in touch with locals.
Where you are going to cycle is also related to how many kilometers/miles you want and can cycle. If you are new, you may not do more then 40 to 60 km a day. An experienced cyclist would be able to do more, but this also depends on how much luggage you bring (more on that later) and what you want to see along the road.
Obviously cycling in mountainous areas like north Pakistan or China means you will cycle less per day than in the Dutch or Iranian flatlands. If you have unlimited time, all you do is set a route out. Start here, end there. Most people, however, do not have that luxury. Thus, start at a good starting point. If you love to see China and have 3 weeks, don't start cycling in Hong Kong or Beijing. Instead, fly or take a train to what exactly you love to see.
In short, choose your destination carefully.
- How to choose your bicycle.
The bicycle you are going to use depends on where you will travel, what road conditions you expect and how much luggage you bring. Let's talk about the road conditions. For asphalt roads and short-time traveling, a road bike would do. However, I still recommend a hybrid or mountain bike because they are stronger and generally speaking you do not need to make the greatest speed. Besides, you will bring luggage. Long time travelers usually use front and back
panniers, which makes mountain bikes more suitable for the job.
However, a week or two in the French Alps can be easy done with a road bike and limited luggage.
- What to bring on your journey.
Again it depends how long you will travel. A journey in Europe with limited budget requires a tent. Thus you need a stronger bike and camping gear. Cycling in India or China makes bringing a tent not necessary as accommodation is cheap and plenty.
But if you are rich and want comfort in Europe, no camping gear is needed. I still recommend bringing it in Europe as I love camping.
Cycling in tropical countries can be hard. Not everyone is used to the tropical heat. But the good part is that you can travel light. Few clothes are needed. Long-term travelers will probably still bring camping gear but may want to send winter gear in a later stage. One firm warning about shoes: in Asia you can buy almost anything cheap with the exception of bigger-sized shoes. Make sure you have them with you.
Depending how long and in what time of the year you cycle in Europe or America, bring enough clothes for the time of the year.
- How to take care of visas and passport.
Visas are usually not a problem. A bicycle journey that takes a few weeks requires organizing your visa at home. However, when you go out on the road for months, you can usually go to the capitals of the country you are traveling and organize you visa there without much problems.
Most countries require a passport that is at least for another 6 months valid. Once on the road you may be able to get a new passport through your embassy but this can take a bit of time. For example, I needed a new passport earlier this year which took me a week. Other countries may be quicker but usually it takes longer.
- How to keep in touch with home.
These days an easy question... or is it? In Myanmar or in Africa, it can be quite hard to find an internet café. Leave your route schedule with some friends and if you can't send them email for a longer time and you're not able to make even phone calls (it happened regularly to me), send postcards. There's no need for the people at home to get worried.
- How to take care of the money.
Whether you travel a long or short time, you will bring money. With the ATM these days you will be able to bring your Cirrus Maestro card to many countries. Of all credit cards, Visa and MasterCard are the most useful. American Express credit card is very useful for more up-market traveling, but for cycling/backpacking and getting cash money it's not. Instead bring some American Express or if you have to Thomas Cook travelers cheques, preferable in US$ though Euros should be OK too.
Keep your money safe; a money belt is useful for walking and backpacking, but I find it not comfortable in cycling. Instead I have it in a secret pocket in one of my bags and have some cash for direct use in my pockets. Importantly, keep always some extra money in different parts of your bicycle bags. If money is stolen from you, you may have some left in another bag. It did the job for me.
- Do I bring my laptop?
The answer is short, if you ask me: NO. Laptops, even those that are supposed to be able to endure hard conditions, can break down. Unless you bring a very new and very solid one, I would not advice to bring one. It's easy to damage it (as happened to me), and there's little need as internet cafes are plenty these days. Plus, if you are on a long distance journey, you will already have enough stuff on your bike. A laptop is more weight.
- What bicycle material do I bring?
In Europe you will be able to find good bicycle shops all over, and in reasonable distance. Other parts of the world it will be different, even if you're in western countries. Australia is vast and empty, which is also true for certain parts of the USA. You will have to bring some spare. Before leaving, of course you will make sure you bicycle is in top fit condition. Minimum spare material to bring:
When traveling in Asia or Africa and you find a good bicycle shop, visit and check. Personally I am not too bike-savvy so I let the professionals have a look. Usually there's not need to bring additional cassettes, chains etc as you will be able to chance this when you need it.