Bike: The Ultimate Escape Vehicle?

Our friend Matt (regular reader and commenter “Palm Beach Bike Tours”) recently posted an article on his blog about using a bicycle to escape disasters…or to get around town after one hits.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Here is what I have learned: when all hell is breaking loose, a car isn’t going to do you any good. During evaculations, the roads are packed and moving 15 miles an hour. Cars run out of gas. Cars break down. Tempers flare. The roads move slowly.

After the 2004 hurricanes, 100-year-old oak trees in Orlando were down and even the most beefy Hummer could not get around town. Yet, you could get just about anywhere by bike if you didn’t mind lifting the bike over a trunk every once and a while.”

Read the rest of the article by visiting his blog.

Tropical Storm Fay

Well, crap. With a potential hurricane heading our way — the storm track projection on the above map labeled “8PM Tuesday” is pretty much directly over my house — we might just get to test this concept out. I’ll have to be sure the tires on my Xtracycle “escape vehicle” are pumped up! With two bikes, we should be able to get to safety with enough provisions for the whole family if we need to. Luckily, we live away from any flood zones.

I can attest to the utility of a bicycle after a natural disaster. I’ve lived in “hurricane country” (various points along the Gulf coast) since 1987, and I’ve been in the aftermath of about a dozen serious storms in that time. When gasoline is in short supply and there are downed trees everywhere, getting around town by bike doesn’t just make sense…it may be the ONLY way you’re going anywhere! A bike made it possible for me to visit friends to make sure they were OK after a storm — since telephone service was down, there was no way to call. A bike also allowed me to find a grocery store that was up and running when so many others were without power.

Something to think about, eh?


  1. Donald

    I am a Pensacola native, now living in Tampa, who survived Ivan back in 2004. I can testify that the only way a person can get around town after a major hurricane like that (had most of the city knocked offline for 3-6 weeks, some parts still recovering) is by bicycle.

    Some people thought I was crazy for biking in such “dangerous” conditions, but I was moving at twice the speed any of the cars around me were going. People were waiting in line to get gasoline for their cars and generators and used about half a tank getting home in the standstill of traffic. Cars are just too bulky to get around in those conditions.

    Despite the fact that IMHO a bicycle is the most useful and efficient vehicle in most situations, there is no doubt that it is the only useful vehicle in situations where there are effectively no clear roads to anywhere.

  2. Mike Myers

    Argh! It’s headed right for me after it gets done with you. Bikes are great for getting around once the storm is over. Keep your fingers crossed, Jack. Storms don’t historically hit the west coast of Florida.

  3. Ghost Rider

    That’s what has me nervous…we’re long overdue for a big one at this part of the coast, and folks have gotten REALLY complacent, despite our wicked 2004 season. Short memories and all that…

  4. Ghost Rider

    I should add that since I posted that graphic, the storm track has changed a bit…the central projection line has moved inland, with a potential on-land strike way down on the SW coast (south of Venice…maybe even as far south as Naples).

  5. 2whls3spds

    Firm believer in the bicycle as a bailout vehicle. I keep a bike with me at all times when I am traveling for work with my truck. The bike will vary but the constant is that I always have one. I do a fair amount of work in the hurricane zones of SC, AL, NC etc. I was in Mobile, AL when Katrina threatened, I packed up my truck and crew and left. The bike came in handy when I returned to Mobile and gas was in short supply. I keep emergency supplies stocked and in my truck as well.


  6. Ghost Rider

    Aaron, I’ve experienced several big storms in Mobile — and that’s the place I used my bike to check on friends. There were downed oak trees everywhere!

  7. 2whls3spds

    We had the same story around here back in 1997 when Fran rolled through. I was living in town at that point, in one of the older neighborhoods. I was out and about at dawn the morning after with my bike. We had friends in a small town about 20 miles away. Some guys headed out with their pickups and chainsaws. I was able to get through on my MTB and report back that the people were fine, but completely cut off. I was one of several bikes on the road, and able to get thru everywhere without hassle.


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  9. Smudgemo

    Good luck you FL guys.

  10. Ken

    The last thing I bring into the office is my bike. For one, I figure it’s safer there than in my storage shed, and I know I can get home on it after the winds die down.

    For you folks who don’t live in the hurricane parts of the country, that last mile before you get home to see if you still have one is a LONG drive.

    The first rain bands are hitting West Palm Beach as I type. Winds are gusting to about 26 mph and visibility is limited. I’d hate to be a bike tourist who has been keeping up with weather reports.

  11. Palm Beach Bike Tours

    I’m slightly ashamed to admit it, but I’m glad to see the storm coming up your coast instead of mine.

    My son’s fourth birthday is this coming weekend. My normally well-balanced wife was high-strung going into the final week and the potential for a hurricane undoing a couple months of ‘splash party’ planning would put her completely over the edge. This westward wobble is going to make my life bearable.

    As for bikes in emergencies, I probably should have added in that entry that even if you can escape by car, you may not be able to get back by car. Not only might there be debris that would rule out a motorized vehicle or a lack of fuel, The Man may be keeping people out of the affected area. The Man may be able to keep an eye on the major roads but a bike still might get you home.

    Thank you for the mention, Ghost.


  12. Ghost Rider

    No, thank YOU, Matt — for bringing this topic up. It’s something I don’t think a lot of people have thought of, and I’m happy to see that a few of us have actually been able to use bikes to our advantage during these types of events.

    I’ve been following the storm track religiously, and I’ve seen SO MUCH variation on that central line. Just hours after I posted the update in the comments above, the central line tracked west, out into the water, then now it’s back east…more or less through the center of the state. Just goes to show you that Mother Nature trumps science every time!

  13. Cato

    Not only are bikes good for escaping disasters like hurricanes, but according to Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide, they are also your best bet from escaping a zombie outbreak in your city.

    So, we cyclists have that going for us.


  14. Xavier

    I strongly recommend Listening to Katrina as a required reading site for anyone interested in evacuating a disaster zone sucessfully. There are hundreds of lessons learned there, including one of my favorites, keeping all important insurance papers, documents, deeds, professional licenses, precriptions, and family photos copied on two encrypted flash drives. One on a lanyard around your neck, the other ready to mail to a family member out of state. there is more to evacuation than just getting out. You may have to set up your life again somewhere else.

    As much as I love bicycling, I consider a bike to be best used as a secondary mode of transport, one strapped to the exterior of a vehicle that offers some protection from the elements and from looters. Cars can carry more, they can be used as shelter, and if well maintained and used appropriately and ina timely manner they are vastly superior to a bicycle.

    Remember, you may be going 300 to 400 miles, with your family in tow, and setting up a temporary residence elsewhere. Give yourself the best chance possible.

  15. Xavier

    Although I do not advocate a bike as a primary evacuation vehicle, a bike is invaluable as a secondary emergency vehicle strapped to the back of your primary means of evacuation.

    They are great for taking a five mile trip to a gas station, scouting ahead of traffic jams for better places to turn off (use a partner on the bike and communicate with the FM walkie talkie things), and to get around crowded campsites of evacuees.

    If you use a bike in this manner, or to go back into the disaster zone, I recommend a heavy chain lock and a U-lock for when you leave it unattended. A basket is great, and I would run kevlar belted tires. Roofing nails will be more common than broken glass in the disaster zone. Strap a gallon jug of water to the back. It’s going to be hot and humid. Wear gloves and a helmet. Do not travel alone.

  16. Xavier

    Here is an interesting piece, a true tale about going back into the disaster zone of Katrina by bicycle.

  17. 2whls3spds

    I have been thru many storms, by the time most people choose to evacuate it is too late. Think of the lines of stalled out vehicles when Rita threatened Texas. People wait until the last moment….I don’t. I made that mistake one time and one time only. I waited until we were given mandatory evacuation orders for Hurricane Hugo, could not get out of town and DID NOT want to get stuck in traffic when the hurricane hit. Rode it out in the stair tower of the building I was working on at the time. Never again. To me the bicycle is going to be a vehicle of last resort for evacuation, it is going to be the one I am going to use after the fact, when cars are useless. The best defense is to be prepared and leave early.


  18. Damon Deneen

    Stellar site, would love to see a bit more content though! Then again my puppet site hasn’t much either – Great post anyway, added your RSS feed! Love this theme, too!

  19. Claud Treasure

    I heard Hurricane Earl won’t be that dangerous. What do you guys think?

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