I often get asked why I love to travel the world by bicycle. My general answer is that it is rewarding, but how do I explain to people exactly why that is, especially when there can be some pretty tough days bicycle touring!
Traveling by Bike
When planning a bike tour in 2016 which involved riding from Greece to England, it got me thinking about why I like doing these cycling trips.
By this point, I'd already been cycle touring from England to Cape Town, had ridden from Alaska to Argentina, and had taken numerous other ‘smaller' cycling trips. Clearly, the novelty of a cycle tour hadn't worn off for me during all this time!
Basically, I enjoy it – I really do! But that's not to say it's all tailwinds and downhill riding though when bikepacking.
There can be some pretty tough days when you travel by bicycle, both physically and mentally. It's these challenges which make the good times even more rewarding though – at least for me.
So, you want to start bike touring
If you want to start bicycle touring, and are wondering whether being a bicycle traveler is for you, these are the pros and cons to take into account when planning to travel the world by bicycle.
Have a think about them before you start spending money on touring bikes and camping equipment!
Why Travel the World by Bicycle?
Why on earth would you travel the world by bike? It's hard work, right?
Well, there is no denying that it is, but bicycle touring is also an incredibly rewarding experience on a number of levels both physically, mentally, and spiritually.
For every uphill ride, there is a wonderful downhill glide, for every headwind there is a tailwind, and you don't need to be superman to go out on bike tours.
There are people of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and ages bicycle touring around the world as you read this. They are all having a unique travel adventure, pushing their own limits, finding out more about themselves, and exploring this wonderful world of ours in a way which has a low impact on the environment, and brings them closer to local communities.
Once you've seen a few cyclists in their 80s out self supported touring, you'll realise that anything is possible – if you put your mind to it!
But isn't it expensive to travel the world by bicycle?
Absolutely not! When looking at cheap ways to travel the world, very few can compare to cycling. The combination of having no transport costs, along with plenty of opportunities to wild camp, means that overheads are minimal for the bicyclist.
With some bicycle nomads spending less than $5000 a year, it is little wonder then that using a bike to travel the world is gaining in popularity.
Travelling on two wheels (or one if you're a unicyclist – yes, there are some riders out there traveling the world by bike like this!), is definitely the cheapest way to see the world.
Can anyone travel the world by bicycle?
Yes they can, and I really mean that. I have met a blind man cycling the world on a tandem (Yes, his sighted partner was at the front before you ask!).
I cycled briefly with a couple in their late 70's in New Zealand (although in my opinion they were wimping out by staying in B and B accommodation rather than camping!).
And I met plenty of people who cycled with family pets such as cats and dogs on a bicycle tour in the USA. In short, where there is a will, there is a way. So, if the desire is there, anyone can travel the world by bicycle.
However, I am not going to bullshit you, and say that every day is an easy one, and you will be happy 100% of the time. There is always a downside to everything! Here are some of the pros and cons of using a bicycle to travel the world
Travel the World by Bicycle – Pros
Its very economical – The biggest initial cost of bicycle touring, is the bike itself along with associated gear such as panniers, tent and sleeping bag.
Generally speaking, the more expensive a bike is, the more reliable it will be, although there are people happily cycling around the world on bicycles worth less than $100. (And expensive doesn't mean the best if the bike is unsuitable for the job!).
Most bicycle nomads will choose to wild camp, meaning that accommodation costs are minimal. This, along with using couchsurfing, warmshowers and camping on official campsites, works out to be far better value than staying in backpackers hostels.
As most cyclists cook their own meals, their weekly spend on food is also a lot lower than eating in cafes or restaurants all the time. This all helps to make cycling one of the cheapest ways to travel the world. Read a full article here on How to cut costs on a bicycle tour.
Fantastic Experiences when bike touring
Bike travel around the world offers far greater opportunities to see and do things that are not possible if overlanding on a bus or train.
An example of this, is that a cyclist will stop in a small village in the countryside to take a break, and be invited to somebodies house, or a small crowd of people will gather to ask questions.
This does not happen to backpackers who are packed on their bus and drive through the same village at 60 kilometres an hour leaving a cloud of dust in their wake.
Cycling around the world is a great way to get to know the people of a country a lot better, especially away from the traditional tourist centres.
Discover Yourself when bicycle touring
For me, one of the greatest things to discover when bicycle touring, is myself. After a dew days cycling, you start to learn a lot about yourself, and just what you are capable of.
You learn to cope and react to situations with more patience and forethought. You develop a sense of Stoicism, a strength of character, and a sense of self reliance. When the tour is over, these are all great assets to have in ‘the real word'!
Travel the World by Bicycle – Cons
There are tough days
Any bicycle tourist who does not say that there are tough days, is quite frankly lying! There will be days when it seems that hours have been spent cycling into a headwind, or the rain just keeps lashing down.
There will be times when it seems that there is one puncture and flat tire after another. Bad water might lead to frequent toilet stops in the wild. Lets not even mention dealing with aggressive dogs.
Its times like these that test the strength of a persons character, their resilience and their determination to continue.
Dangerous traffic when cycling around the world
Traffic is an issue for any cyclist, be they on a multi-month bike touring trip or even just commuting to work and back in their home towns.
Keeping aware at all times is the best defence a cyclist has on a bike ride, and some even go to the lengths of having handlebar mirrors so that they can see the traffic behind them.
There are a couple of other points I could add to both pros and cons, such as time spent away from family and friends, learning about other cultures, and much much more.
In my opinion though, these are the real basics behind travelling the world by bicycle. However, I always love reading your opinions.
If you have anything to add, or would like some general advice about bicycle touring, please leave a comment below.
Tips for your first bicycle tour
Here's a few simple tips for planning your first self supported tour. It includes route planning, preparation and what to expect while on tour.
Spend some hours in the saddle
It might seem obvious, but you really need to be comfortable riding your bike for long periods of time before setting out on a tour. This means getting used to being in the saddle for 6-8 hours per day, and doing it day after day.
Do some training rides
If possible, try and do some rides that are similar to what you'll be doing on your tour, such as riding hilly terrain or riding with a fully loaded bike.
Choose your gear carefully
One of the great things about bicycle touring is that you can carrying everything you need with you on your bike. However, this also means that you need to carefully choose the gear that you take with you, as you'll be carrying it all! Try and go for lightweight and compact gear wherever possible.
Plan your route
Carefully planning your route is essential for a successful tour. You'll need to consider things like where you're going to stay each night, how far you'll be riding each day and what the terrain will be like.
Prepare your bike
Ensuring that your bike is in good working order is essential before setting off on a tour. This means getting it serviced and making sure that all the parts are in good condition. You might also want to fit some new tyres and make sure you have all the tools you need to fix a puncture.
Learn how to make repairs
It's inevitable that you'll have to make some repairs while on tour, so it's a good idea to learn how to do some basic maintenance and repairs before you set off. This could include things like fixing a puncture or adjusting your brakes.
Be prepared for bad weather
Bad weather is one of the challenges of bicycle touring, so it's important to be prepared for it. This means having the right gear with you, such as wet weather clothing and a good set of lights. Most importantly, make sure this gear is actually waterproof – you don't want to find out it isn't halfway up a mountain in the rain!
Expect the unexpected
One of the great things about bicycle touring is that it can be unpredictable. This means that you need to be prepared for anything, from getting lost to mechanical problems. The best way to do this is to have a positive attitude and be flexible with your plans.
Above all, remember that bicycle touring is supposed to be enjoyable. Yes, there will be tough days and challenges along the way, but the sense of achievement and adventure that you'll experience will make it all worth it!
Travel Around The World By Bike FAQ
Here are some commonly asked questions about riding a bike around the world.
How Much Does it Cost to Cycle Around the World?
If you plan to wild camp and cook for yourself, you can realistically cycle around the world for just $10 per day or less. Keep in mind that unexpected costs such as bike repairs, visas and gear replacements do occur on trips that last a few years.
How long does it take to bike around the world?
How long have you got? Endurance athlete Mark Beaumont cycled around the world in 79 days. Legendary tourer Heinz Stücke has been cycling around the world for over 50 years!
What are the best bicycle touring destinations in the world?
Everyone will have their own favourite countries for cycle touring. Personally I love riding in Peru, Bolivia, Sudan, Malawi and of course Greece!
Bicycle Travel Blogs
Interested in reading about other people's experiences of bike travel? Take a look at these interviews I've had with others who have travelled around the world on a bicycle.
- Biking Eurovelo 8: Cat's Three Month Cycling Adventure
- Efren – One Mexican Around The World By Bicycle
- Ernest Markwood from Africa and Beyond
- Cycling cameras for bike touring
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Travelling
For a little fun inspiration: The 50 Best Bike Quotes
Dave is a travel writer and adventure cyclist originally from the UK and now living in Greece. In addition to creating this post about how to travel the world by bike, you will find hundreds of other insights, guides, and itineraries about bikepacking and cycle touring on this site.Follow Dave on social media for travel inspiration from Greece and beyond:
Swanand Natu says
Thanks for sharing the details. I’ve always been a dreamer of cycling around the Earth but haven’t tried yet at age 38. But soon I shall quit my Job & commence my life long dream.
Do you know any popular routes in Asia? We are from Belgium and planning a trip with the bike for about 5 months. We will start in September so the weather is not the best in Europe. Thanks!
Dave Briggs says
Probably the most famous route is the Pamir highway – challenging!
Also, you could follow parts of the Silk Road.
Over in SEA, the weather might not be the best, but an access point could be Singapore and then cycle northwards.
Jimmy Ceballos says
Hi Dave, concise and true.
I am from south america, Venezuela, and a thing that makes a big concern over here are safety issues, which limits a lot to decide going travel on bike. But, in spite of it, i do some short journeys about 2 and 3 days, and now i´m ready for my first longer one, an 11 days trip on venezuelan andes, it will be my first time with panniers ( i´ve always used backpack), and maybe on my own, cooking and camping..my best wishes to you..