Isn’t bike touring dangerous?

“I was driving down the road the other day and saw some cyclists ahead.  I braked and waited until I could get by safely, but I’m concerned about them – the other motorists who won’t do that.”

“I saw a cyclist riding through my town last week, so I invited him over to my house for the night.  I took care of him, but they won’t.”

“I stopped and gave some cyclists Gatorade on a hot day, but they wouldn’t even consider doing something like that.”

I hear stuff like this all the time – isn’t it dangerous to bike around the world with all those bad people out there?  All those people who would never help a cyclist or go out of their way to avoid hitting them – they’re everywhere.

What I want to know is this:  who are they?  Who are those people?  They certainly aren’t the people we’ve met.

In our 43 months of full-time bicycle touring as a family, we’ve never encountered them.  Instead, we’ve met countless people who haveinvited us to their homes, shared a meal, filled our panniers with oranges, and hauled stuff halfway around the world for us.  The people we’ve met have been of the kind, generous variety of human rather than the ones we see on the nightly news.

Traveling on bicycle makes us vulnerable – to both the good and the bad.  People could take advantage of our vulnerability to rob us or run us off the road and there isn’t a gosh darn thing we could do about it.  But our experience has shown that our vulnerability on the bikes makes people want to help us, to take care of us, to reach out and make our journey just a little bit better.

The people we’ve encountered have stopped on the side of the road to hand over Coke and chocolate in the middle of a long stretch of nothing.  They’ve pulled out a bag of fresh pineapple after we had gone too many days without fresh fruit.  They’ve leaned out their car window and shouted, “Would you like to spend the night in my house tonight?”

People have handed us the keys to their houses, spent hours helping us solve one problem or another, and sent us emails to cheer us up when we’re down.  They’ve sent packages of goodies through the mail and brought other packages when they’ve gone on vacation.  They’ve hidden Gatorade alongside the road, and rescued us from pouring rain.

In short, the people we’ve met have been just ordinary people who were willing to lend a helping hand when they saw the need.  The people we’ve met have been just like you and me.  After 43 months and 26,000 miles on the road we haven’t met them.

Why are we all so afraid of them anyway?

Meeting the Freisens

Maria Elena in Guatemala

Daryl and Dino

*****This article is part of a series of articles on the dangers of travel.

How dangerous is family bike touring?

Life doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee

Risk Assessment – A personal decision

Isn’t bike touring dangerous?

Acceptable level of risk

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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11 Responses to Isn’t bike touring dangerous?

  1. Wendy January 21, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    I do agree with you, Nancy, that we hear so much about the bad things happening in the world that it makes us forget that so very much is good out there. However, didn’t one of the boys get some things that were very precious to him stolen from his bike on this trip? I also recall a couple of blog entries where you mentioned needing to stand close guard over the bicycles to keep potential thieves away. And didn’t you have a motorcycle escort through most of Mexico in order to ensure your safety? I’m not trying to be overly negative, but these were the thoughts I had as I read your post.

  2. Thomas Arbs January 21, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

    It’s one of those points people seemingly cannot agree upon, whether to take an optimistic outlook (and risk being occasionally, but rarely disappointed) or to take the glass-half-empty-view and risk being occasionally, but rarely confirmed.

    “Your life span is the same whether you spend it laughing or crying.”

    Of course, with a balanced attitude believing in things falling into place, I might eventually have something stolen, like a minicamera I left too casually attached to my handlebars the other night. Approaching things differently might have saved someone else that bother – but in the long run give him a gastric ulcer instead. “Seeing it is very beneficial to health, I have decided to be happy” (Voltaire)

  3. KJ January 21, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

    You can remember the good, or remember the bad. This is a nice reminder that there’s a whole heaping lot of good out there. Bike on!

  4. nancy January 22, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    Good point Wendy – I suppose there are a few “bad” people out there. But I still stand by my words that we can’t live our lives in fear of “them”. Davy did have his toys stolen at the Peru/Ecuador border. We did get a police escort through one town in Peru because we had heard of a band of thieves there. We got the police escorts in Mexico only due to traffic – not fear of people.

    But still, for as long as we’ve been on the road and as many people as we’ve encountered, those few represent such a small minority as to be practically insignificant.

  5. nancy January 22, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    That would be great Tamara! Please send me some of their responses and I”ll make a blog post out of them!

  6. Dorrie Williams January 22, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    I have to agree with you on this Nancy. During our year of travel we found the majority of people to be kindhearted and generous. We also had many people (in the U.S., New Zealand and Australia) invite us to stay the night, buy us meals, and give us the key to their house! They shipped packages home for us, sent our son Legos for Christmas, brought us homemade birthday cake at the top of Hoosier Pass (for our son’s 9th birthday), saved us from a lightening storm and drove miles out of their way to help us. I could go on and on. Our experiences have reinforced our belief that most people in the world have good intentions. We hope the end of your journey continues to be blessed with an outpouring of love and kindness. All the best. Dorrie, Mike and Gregory Williams

  7. Yvette January 23, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    I love this post- this is something I get an awful lot too as a solo female traveler. My mother in particular is paranoid that I could make bad friends who will take advantage of me (moms!) but my bedridden 90 year old great aunt wisely advised that it’s something that could happen just as easily at home. She’s a smart one. 🙂

  8. Liz December 28, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    It’s not so much the “bad people” I’d be afraid of as the traffic in high-speed areas. I don’t know what kind of travel paths you chose but I’d be terrified to ride bikes alongside highways.

    • Nancy December 28, 2011 at 10:39 am #

      @Liz,
      The traffic was definitely an issue. We generally chose small, lazy country roads, but sometimes did get stuck on major highways. The funny thing is that the highways usually have wide shoulders, so they weren’t bad. What we didn’t like about the highways was that we tended to get flat tires from the tiny wires spit out by all the retreads!

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