Every time I come back from my trips I am asked, have you been robbed, mugged, harassed? No, never.I am not an overly cautious person and don't mind to visit places which are considered to be unsafe or even dangerous for pure curiosity or a shot of adrenaline. Since I cannot climb mountains anymore, because of my multiple arthritis I consider these little excursion as an emotional equivalent to mountain climbing. I rode my bike through Harlem and South Bronx, Rio De Janeiro favelas, Cairo city of dead, Tangier medina in Morocco, Golden Triangle in Thailand and Bombay slum. How do I manage to be so lucky, while so many people get in trouble even in less dangerous places? You will find the answer to this question in the following pages.
The folding bicycle is the absolutely best means of transportation. Capability to fold it and take it with you to other means of transportation allows you to zoom quickly from place to place. I took my bike as carry-on luggage on airplanes when I traveled as a courier (couriers are not allowed to check luggage). I took it to public buses, taxis, ferries, metro, anywhere. You have to have a bag for the bike. A hard case is not convenient. When you unfold your bike you can put the bag in a backpack, but what to do with hard case? I bought my first folding bicycle in 1994. It was a Dahon. While it was a little bit flimsy it served it's propose and I visited 28 countries on it, mostly on short courier trips. See also http://www.courier.org
Picture 1 with Dahon in Rio-De -Janeiro.
I wore out 3 Dahons before I came to Tokyo in 1999 and found a wide variety of folding bikes there. I did not know that other folding bikes exists at all. After careful selection I bought a Brompton from the official Brompton dealer in Japan- the Mizutani Co. When I came back to America I found that I could have bought it even cheaper from the American dealer Channell Wasson http://www.bromptonbike.com. Brompton proved to be indestructible in spite of very rough use.
Picture 2 Around Annapurna (Himalayas) in Attachment
I chose to use old style thick tires, I was not sure if the modern
thin tires will survive sharp Himalayan stones. I also use thick, so called
puncture resistant tubes. Miraculously, on a four month trip, I had my only
flat in West Indian, Thar Desert where cactuses have very strong and long needles.
Folding bicycle is very economical way of traveling. I save a lot of money and
trouble on local transportation. I do not have to deal with non English speaking and
frequently dishonest taxi drivers or with unknown bus transportation systems. As I arrive
at the airport or train station I unfold my bike and go. Usually I don't rush to hotel as
most of travelers do. I can comfortably go for sightseeing with my
> backpack sitting on rear rack, and look for hotels at the same time. See chapter HOTELS AND GUESTHOUSES
Picture 3 Bicycle with backpack in Vietnam
However you should travel light in order to have a comfortable ride. See the chapter WHAT TO TAKE. The main advantage of traveling on a bike, however is absolute security. Everybody who travels in developing country knows that any westerner who risks going out to the street, will be surrounded by street venders, beggars, hustlers which will bother you, talk to you, touch you and these people will not leave you alone if you escape to store or restaurant they will wait outside. Different countries have different flavors. Morocco is famous for it's hustlers, who may be really dangerous. In Saigon, Vietnam motorized prostitute will not leave you alone if you are a man. In India beggars with terrible skin diseases will come close to you and touch you, exactly like in Indiana Jones movies. In Turkey and Egypt store owners even could spit on tourist refusing to come to their rug store. In Katmandu young boys will follow you everywhere and offer the best hashish, money could buy, the really best, as experts say. And you start to hate this city and these people and want to get out of there as soon as possible. However if you will get on your bike the next day, the same people who terrorized you yesterday will smile at you, wave hands and shout "Hello" And you will wave back and shout hello in response and you will notice remarkable temples and magnificent ruins of disappeared civilizations of this mysterious land and life will be beautiful again. What happened? These people who bother you before, know that they cannot catch you on bike. Also if you travel on a funny looking folding bike, then they will not consider you as tourist, who is a legitimate target for the solicitation, but as an entertainer, who brings a little bit of fun in their poor life and deserve thanks. How many times people applaud at my appearance and give a thumbs up!! Children get especially excited because they think that I am a clown who escaped from the circus. People of all developing countries love folding bicyclists, and French people too. Folding bicycle is also the instant conversation piece. People ask how it folds, how much it costs, where can they buy it? When my wife or daughter ride the bike they come back with dozens of interesting offers. Criminals are also people, and they like some certainties. Their favorite pray is an American tourist with several cameras hanging on his neck and pouch full of money on his belly. When they see something completely unexpectable, like old man riding funny children bicycle they cannot adjust their strategy for attack so fast. I remember riding in Rio-De Janeiro at night. The walking there would be deadly dangerous, I realized, but with bike I was immune. If you are walking you most probably will not be able to run away from you attacker, unless you are an Olympic champion, also running away is indication of your weakness. When you are on a bike you can ride away from the best runner and it doesn't look like escape.
The main rule of safe traveling on a bike is disobeying of all traffic rules as well as signal lights. You should follow only common sense. This is the way of car driving in many places, Naples, for example. In places where people drive on the wrong side of road like England or Hong Kong don't try to remember where to look, look always both way. One mistake and you are under somebody's wheel. While riding in places full of other transportation vehicles like Vietnam don't make sharp turns or brake suddenly. The distance between vehicles is minimal and everybody is expected to move cohesively. In Vietnam traffic never stops and in order to cross the street a pedestrian slowly enters moving traffic and the traffic moves around them, the same pattern as if you enter a river full of fish moving in one direction. They will go around you, but will not strike you. While riding in the city I always jump between sidewalks and pavement. A 16 inch wheel does not deform, no matter how hard you jump. And I do not wear a helmet, as it seems to me that it will slow my reflexes. One of most unpleasant place to ride a bike is Moscow. All drivers (people who are rich enough to buy a car) are superman and consider braking for pedestrians or bicyclists a personal insult. Turkish drivers rely too much on Allah. It is better to get on the side of the road when they approach you from behind.
Traveling is considered to be an expensive hobby right? - wrong! The main source of this misperception is the travel sections of major newspapers like the Washington Post or New York Times. Without any shame they tell prospective travelers about hotels which cost hundreds of dollars per night, travel packages which cost thousands of dollars, to countries where people make $1 per day. Yes, there are some walled and guarded hotels there, which stand as a bastions of western civilization. But, why would you go there to stay in these hotels and watch local life through the bullet proof windows of a tour bus. You can have about the same experience from watching a video tape. It is a lot more interesting to explore these Asian, Eastern countries, which I like most, from the inside. And this is a completely different money scale. Hotels are under $10, dinner $2-3, and a 5-day local tour under $150. So money is not a problem, at least for an American Social Security recipient. I would like to note however that the Social Security recipient is the symbol of miserable poverty in America. From all countries I visited, India is the cheapest. According to the Lonely Planet, a couple can live in India for $300 per month. It is true. You can live a luxurious life in India, invite half a dozen of fellow travelers (preferably of opposite sex) for dinners and still be far below $1000 per month. I feel sincere sympathy with my Russian readers for whom it is still too expensive. For many Russians, who were locked in for generations, traveling abroad is the number one priority. Most of them however travel with tours. In all my travel I met only one independent Russian traveler (backpacker style) Captain Ivanov, and I wrote a story about him at: http://www.poxod.com/hotline/bike.htm However, I found on the Internet the stories of Russian independent travelers to Europe. The most interesting are stories of a theoretical physicist and founding father of the Russian version of backpacking tourism, Roman Romanovich Zapatrin. He traveled on a bike through Europe many times on $2-3 per day. He stays however in a bush or free campground with his own tent. His remarkable stories written with perfect literary Russian language are available at http://romanycz.travel.ru/ Another champion of free European travel is Yuri Mossokovski who travel on less then $1.5 per day to prove that ordinary Russians, not new Russians, can travel to Europe by bike http://mosspower.w-city.net.ua But where do you get money from, by the way? From ATM machines, which are everywhere. I do not take any travelers checks. I take a few hundred dollars in 100 dollar denominations and about $100 in small denominations and try not to use them, but use instead the local currency taken from ATM machines. It is better to use check cards, not credit cards, which charge interest and fee for withdrawal. I hate these pouches across the belly, which make you look like a tourist. I carry a passport, one credit card, one check card and few $100 bills in zipped packet inside my shorts pocket. I risk to leave rest of my belonging in a backpack. Additional security comes from being on a bicycle most of the time, so I do not have to squeeze through the crowd full of pocket pickers
Most people get stomach problems in India. I was poisoned two times and get diarrhea two times. I took two tablets of Imodium and do not eat for 2-3 days. Everything was OK after this. In places like India you should watch what you eat. Eating Western food is not the solution, it can be even more dangerous, because local people do not know how to prepare it and you do not see how they prepare it. The safest way is to eat vegetarian food as most of country does, preferably heat treated. Street vendors are OK if you watch how they take your food out of boiling oil. Just do not allow them to envelop it in used newspaper. They like to do it in order to serve customer properly. I did not have any vaccinations before my trips. I have in my first aid bag the following medicines: Tylenol, Imodium, Ibuprofen, which help with my arthritis, when I have to walk. While I am on bike I don't need it Cipro, which I never used. But after recent events, it is better to save it for America as a medicine against Anthrax. Other then that, just a few band aides and piece of mumie (folk medicine popular in Russia). Except for these stomach problems in India, I never get sick in my travel except for respiratory problems in Lhasa. Everybody get respiratory problems in Lhasa because the air is very dry and dusty. While I am sitting at home, all diseases which I should have at my advanced age start to grow slowly in my body. When I go on trip they get washed away by rush of adrenaline and as result of strength physical exercises which you encounter while you travel. I should admit that I hate these gyms with their exercising machines, which looked to me as something between masochism and masturbism.. I do not want to insult any sexual minorities, by the way. Traveling the primitive, uncivilized way, when your body is exposed to such natural forces as cold, heat, wind and rain is good for the health and strengthens the immune system. When everybody around gets the flu, I never get it. Maybe it is time for me to found something like a travel-for-health company. Well, for sure I believe that every overweight person, if she or he really want to lose weight should go to India.
Traveling light is the main principle of enjoyable travel. When
you have too many things to take care of, then these things take
over your life. And they not belong to you, but you belong to them. This concept
related not only to traveling, but to life in general. I tried to keep my backpack under
10-15 lb. I wash my clothes in a hotel sink. If it doesn't dry by the
morning I put it on wet and it dries on me, very fast. I take a minimal set of clothes. If
I need something during the trip, I buy it from the local stores, which is usually cheaper
then at home and more fun. This is the list of things to take in a trip
1. One pair of reasonably good quality sneakers. Flip-flops, which people wear in hot countries are not good. You cannot run or jump in them. And you can hurt you feet in them. You should insert Dr. Scholl's insoles for athletic shoes in your shoes right away. Even in the hottest climate your feet will not be wet with them.
2. Three-four pairs of socks Everywhere in the world you can identify Americans by white socks
3. One pair of shorts, one pair of jeans.
4. Two silk short sleeve shirts and one ordinary long sleeve shirt. Silk shirt are coolest in the hot climate and dry fast too.
5. One or two pairs of underwear and swim suit.
8. Small towel
9. Multi voltage electrical shaver, small water heater, very good to prepare tea in your hotel room and sex changer (sorry) for connecting to different type of electrical outlets.
10. Tooth brush, tooth paste, piece of soap, no shampoo or conditioners of any kind.
11. Combination micro tool, containing pliers; universal wrench; small set of screwdrivers; tire patch kit; one spare tube, normal, not thick. Knife with scissors and can opener, a spoon. I do not take any spare parts for Brompton, except for few nuts and bolts
12. Lonely Planet tour books, maps, compass
13. Small advantix camera which fit into the shirt pocket and film. Camera have to be operable by one hand, to take pictures while you ride. Unfortunately digital cameras need software to be install at computer, which non of Internet cafe will allow
> This is not for camping trip. I did not tried to camp with folding bike yet.
Hotels are easy. Trust Lonely Planet, they do thorough research on hotels
in every city or town in the world deserving your attention. Save money on
everything, but not on a tour book. Buy always latest edition of Lonely Planet tour book http://www.lonelyplanet.com. Hotels are the single
biggest expense of travelers and frequently the biggest source of frustration.
With Lonely Planet you are safe. I never make an advanced reservation. On my
way to the next place, I study Lonely Plant book and mark hotels which seem appropriate,
when I arrive, I ride to them, usually they are located in backpacker ghetto close to each
other, visit few and select the best one. I never was not able to find a place
to stay. Choose hotels which are recommended. Hotels owners value their
listing in the Lonely Planet books and it means that you can leave your stuff there, it
will be safe. You also can find a company of nice fellow backpackers there. I met
many remarkable people in these hotels and guesthouses, fearless globe trotters, who
criss-cross the globe in all directions on bikes and not. With some of them I
continue to communicate over the Internet. Some of them have become my
> All luxury features of 5 star hotels is nothing compare with pleasure of human interaction which you can find in these backpacker's watering holes.
I will be happy if my writing will be useful to other travelers or
at least it will be source of fun and entertainment for none travelers. Being mechanical
engineer by education I have some suggestions for improving Brompton design, which I will
be glad to share with interested parties, but I never heard from the Brompton
manufacturer. These who want to read my travel stories can find them at:
Washington DC USA
Jan 18 2002
Traveling on a folding bike is the most convenient way to travel. Riding
the folding bike is like having a taxi available all the time and everywhere, or
like being "Carlson who lives on the roof". The main advantage of
traveling on a folding bike is a wide range of speeds. It ranges from
the speed of a pedestrian to the speed of any transportation means to which you
take your folded bike with you. A bike is especially efficient in congested cities.
It is so nice to feel like superman, sometimes. It happened with me for first the time in
Cheng Ray, Thailand. I spent too much time in Buddhists temples and suddenly realize that
I have only 15 minutes left to reach my train across the entire town. The city
was congested with
taxis, tuk-tuks, rikshas, trucks, and elephants. Traffic barely moved. On bike, I maneuvered around all these vehicles and got to the train station on time. Another time I felt like superman, was while I rode through the favella Rochiha in Rio De Janeiro. Even police don't risk to come to favellas, but on bike, especially going down-hill you are immune to any danger. You appear soundlessly like a spirit and disappear before people realize what happened.
Also, all terrains are available for folding bicyclist. You can even climb mild rocks with the folding bike in a bag. It surprised me that there aren't hordes of folding bicyclists riding the globe.Riding a folding bike doesn't require any special skill or knowledge. Everybody who can ride a normal bike can ride a folding bike. The only limitation for travelers on folding bike is the size of your luggage. It should not be more that 5-7 kg. Actually you can carry more, but it will be no fun.
What features of folding bike are most important for use for long travel?
The following three features are necessary. Bike which doesn't have them is not appropriate for long trips.
1. Bike should allow you to travel in proper riding position. Traveling in very upright position, is not for long travel.
2. Bike should have a rear rack. You cannot carry all your stuff on your back all the time, it is not fun. Front rack is not good because you will need to jump up and down. With front rack full of load, it is difficult to jump up.
3. Bike should be multi speed. It is a torture to ride with one speed.
Following three features are also important but not as important as the three above:
1. Bike's design should allow fast folding/unfolding. You may live with longer folding time, but it is very annoying.
2. Bike should have small size in folded position, ideally it should fit into airplane overhead compartment. It is very useful when you travel as a courier. Couriers are not allowed to have luggage except for carry-ons. The smallest Dahon bike fits in an overhead compartment. While sum of width, length and thickness of folded Brompton is about the same as Dahon's, the proportions of these values are not those which airlines prefer.
3. Bike should be as light as possible. The main drawback of Brompton is its considerable weight. Japanese Panasonic has beautiful 3-5 kg bikes, but they have very short frames for small Japanese people. They are not good for long travel.
Comparison of different folding brands
I systematically check what is available on the folding bike market. If something better than Brompton will appear I will switch bikes, despite of my loyalty to Brompton. I started with Dahon in 1994. It was a bit flimsy but a nice looking bike. And I traveled with it a lot, mainly as a courier. In 1998 Dahon changed the design of the hinge mechanism for the handle bar. They made it too weak. In almost every trip I broke it. I usually broke it when I pulled the handle bar sharply up, while jumping from pavement to sidewalk. Fortunately, soon I discovered the Bromptom. Dahon changed the design recently and made their bikes more sturdy, but this weak design of the handle bar hinge is still the same for all models. This makes Dahon out.
The bike "Friday" has a large size when folded and the folding process is long. Also, tires of bike Friday are too thin for, difficult terrain, like Himalayan roads. Bike should be for all terrain.
Reader Steve Padro specifically asked my opinion on 20 inch wheels. I noticed that it doesn't matter how hard I jump on bike, my wheels never bend or get dents, like on large bikes. I think it is because of their small diameter. I did not try 20 inches, but I think they will be not as good as 16 inches, especially if they are thin like Bike Friday's wheels are. German bike Birdy doesn't have a rear rack. Also I am not sure that the front shack absorber, like on Birdy will allow you to jump up.
That's it basically. I do not know any other folding bikes appropriate for touring.
About my Brompton
Initially I had a 3 speed bike. I switched to a 5 speed, because I thought 5 was better. Now I switched back to a 3 and am happy. The 5 speed selector has too small increments and worked properly only a short time after adjustment. Three speed selector works always. In Greece I added a second 38 tooth gear to my 48 tooth gear and it was a very good addition. It makes it a lot easier to go uphill. I use old fashioned tires. Prima tires look too thin for the type of roads where I travel. I use thick (impenetrable) tibes. In my entire trip I did not have a single flat, except for that little sabotage in Tunisia, which I wrote to you before.
I bought my Brompton in Japan from Mizutani, the Japanese Brompton distributor for 1,000 dollars, so I did not know if it is English or Taiwanese. However it has very useful options which come with Taiwanese bikes. These options are:
1. Kick stand. It is very useful. I carry backpack on rear rack and cannot
2. Little flat spring holder which holds the rear part from swinging under. To carry bike without it is the torture
3. Very handy transportation bag. Cover supplied with English bike cannot be used to ship bike on airplane or bus
Two more useful added features
1. Handle bar quick release. I move handle bar forward for riding and put it back in vertical position for the transportation. I use it every day many times per day.
2. Seat adapter. I move seat back to provide proper riding position. I know Brompton does not recommend it. I stand on pedals, rather then sitting while riding through rough parts of road to protect seatpost.
The third party surveys always blame Brompton for it's very upright riding position, which is not good for long rides. Brompton Co does not argue this. Also they ship bikes with seat moved forward as much as possible, which make things even worse. The two above mentioned features, which I implemented allow me to ride a Brompton in the proper riding position. This makes Brompton the perfect bike for the long ride. I rode Brompton through very rough terrain like the Annapurna circle in the Himalayas, see picture in attachment, and learned that my bike is practically unbreakable. I really rode down such ladders, like on the attached picture.
The only weak spot is the mechanism for the swinging of the rear half of bike under, consisting of two bolts with conical heads. These bolts are supposed to be held in place with thread locker glue. It happened last year on my Silk Road trip and happened now again that one bolt got unscrewed. I keep handy two Allan wrenches and use them 1-2 times per day to tighten these conical bolts.
Steve Parry asked what tools and spare parts I carry with me On the picture below you can see all that stuff
1. Universal wrench
2. Compact screwdriver
4. Pliers (I broke my compact pliers and bought this large temporarily)
5. Wheel nut wrench
6. Spare camera
7. Some bolts and nuts.
8. Tire repair kit
St Petersburg, Russia
June 30 2002 1:30pm
My Dear readers.
I did not answer some questions which you asked me a long time ago. There is no other reason for this delay exept for my procrastination. I apologize for this.
First are non-technical questions, technical will be answered in next letter.
Many people are surprised how I can travel for so long. Steve Pardo from BromptonTalk wrote: "It's amazing how you are doing all of this. I would have suspected you to be a rich man am I wrong?"
You don't have to be rich to travel and most long term
travelers are rather poor. I started to travel extensively in 1994.
Before that I only read articles in travel sections of major newspapers.
I was seriously scared off by high prices of tour packages
to places which I would like to visit like Himalayas, China, Tibet, India, SE
Asia. I did not know at that time that all these publications are bullshit (dermo bika).
Russians would say dog shit instead of bull shit. These publications scare
more people off from the traveling, than they encourage. The harm from these
publications for an unsuspecting reader comes out of the presumption that the
way of travel they describe (buying tour package and staying
in expensive hotels) is the only possible way. They did not tell you, that if you will go by yourself, as an independent traveler and will stay not in 5 star brand name hotel, but in the reasonable local hotels, then the price of you trip will be a fraction of what they quote. It is possible to understand why a hotel room may cost $150-200 in America, where the wages of hotel employees should not be less than minimal wage $5.5 per hour. But how the price can be so high in the country where an average wage is $1.0 per day! After I started to travel extensively I realized that you do not have to be rich to travel, if you travel as independent traveler/backpacker. There was a very good article in the Washington Post about long term independent travelers. Below is a long quotation from this article which clarified the money matter. See full text in attachment.
"According to several Travelers, the general rule of thumb is to budget about $10,000 a year. That comes out to about $25 a day, with a few hundred left over for your initial one-way ticket to Bangkok or Lima. Once you've surrendered yourself to the Travelers' sensibilities--you're no longer fazed by toilets with no seats or hotel rooms with no locks--you can live easily on $25 a day. In most developing countries, outside of the big cities, you'll spend half or less on accommodations, $3 to $9 for meals and few centavos for a beer. In many places you'll spend even less, allowing you to build reserves for that $20 cross-country bus ticket or the $50 four-day trek into the jungle"
In other words the amount of money which is slightly above the poverty level in America or Western Europe is enough for comfortable travel to the rest of the world. I realize that those of my readers who live in the "rest of the world" may have sour feelings about this. This is unfair, I agree, but this is a reality and we can do nothing about it.
Another reader B. W. from England asked me what would I do if I got sick, while on travel. Do I have an insurance?
Traveling is such a healthy activity that travelers rare get sick, except for occasional diarrhea. To the surprise of many of my American readers, in my last trip I did not have any insurance, not health, not life, not dental, not burial, nothing. I did not have them from very practical considerations. American health care and health insurance are tremendously expensive. If I would fall from the bike and need a couple stitches it would be cheaper to pay a few dollars to a local doctor, then to pay a few hundred dollars to an American insurance company. In any case medical care will be performed by a local doctor. American doctors will not fly there.
Another question: Did I have any vaccinations before going to places like India, Cambodia, Tibet?
No, I did not. I believe that if you follow a few pretty logical and reasonable rules you are safe. These rules are: don't eat food specially prepared for Westerners. Most people who get seriously poisoned eat Western food. Eat what locals eat. Don't eat raw milk products. Don't eat meat. If you feel uncomfortable about local cuisine, switch to peelable fruits and vegetables, like I did in Tunisia. You will loose a few pounds and you will feel great. If you are not sure about local water, switch to beer, which is available everywhere and usually very cheap.
Another question was how I handled those greedy border guards, custom officials and other bureaucrats who demanded bribes, and fined people for nothing in republics of the former Soviet Union.
I understand how they operate. They do not fine people for nothing. They precisely follow rules. These rules may be stupid, illogical, tricky, some not widely publicized. When they find you guilty in the smallest violation they threaten to fine you for the maximal penalty. Then, they have a base for negotiation. Such as you may pay a smaller amount for a bribe instead of paying the fine. I learned all rules, mostly from Lonely Planet and precisely followed them. I never paid a fine or a bribe.
Aug 1 2002 2pm