If there is one accessory that is ideally suited to those of us who travel in our caravans or RVs that surely is the bicycle.
One of your first inclinations when your are all set up on the campsite is to set out to explore the local area. Whether this means getting a fix on such essential local amenities as the shop, beach, golf course or local pub or whether you want to explore the countryside generally, there is no better way of doing it then setting off on your bike.
We have got so accustomed to using the car that a good old cycle ride through the country is a real novelty. In the car you’ve often passed the most interesting stuff before you see it, sights and smells are long behind you before you realise you’ve been there. On your bike, weather permitting, you will get advance warning when you approach the local chip shop and your nose will guide you accurately to your destination. You will of course have already cycled for at least an hour before indulging in fish and chips!
I’ve seen many kinds of bikes on campsites at home and abroad and I will touch on some of them here.
The most popular types of bikes are your standard tourers, city bikes, mountain bikes or ones that fold for ease of transportation. Electric bikes are also becoming more prevalent and can be a great way to cover slightly longer distances while out and about in your caravan.
The tourer is made for just that purpose and is usually comfortable, serviceable and easy to use. They are either designed or built from scratch for this purpose or they are modified from another use. Either way you will find that they are good for long journeys, you can carry luggage in a number of configurations and sometimes they are even built-for-two. They will be capable of carrying heavy luggage and are usually configured in order that luggage, when properly carried, does not interfere with the operation of the bicycle.
Touring tyres are capable of operating at high pressure, being generally robust and wide which when combined with low levels of rolling resistance makes for an easy ride.
This is the kind of bicycle favoured by campers. The bicycle has sufficient cargo flexibility to carry the tent, basic cooking equipment and a light wardrobe, while still being stable and easy to pilot.
I have seen some sports tourers on the campsites also and these are often used by caravanners who like to spend a good deal of their leisure time cycling. These are a lighter bike fitted with narrower wheels and are not asked to carry the same loads as a full tourer. Sometimes they are used for road racing and people take part in events while they are away in their RVs.
The city bike is often used by caravanners, being very much a standard machine built for relatively short journeys and which you’re able to cycle without having to change out of your ordinary clothes. It either has no gearing or a relatively basic and simple gear system that will help you over any slight climbs you might need to do.
Generally however this the old fashioned kind of bike that you get off and push up-hill. It’s usually used for short journeys and may have a carrier or basket to allow you to easily transport small items of portable property.
The city bike incidentally is very well suited to short rural journeys and the term is a little misleading I think. The upright riding position, stability and available equipment is as useful for getting you from the campsite to the local village as it is for getting you around town. You won’t get there at huge speed but you will get there in relative safety and comfort.
Some of the standard equipment usually seen on this type of bike includes the following:
- A gear-case which covers the chain and drive-train
- A built in or fitted lock
- A hub or tyre operated dynamo which supplies electricity to the front and rear lights
- Sprung or gel saddle
- Hub gearing
- Swept back handlebars allowing you to sit upright in the saddle
- A skirt or coat-guard to keep clothes and rear wheel separate from each other.
- Fenders (mud-guards) and Mudguard Flaps
- Enclosed drum brakes rather than brakes that operate on the rim.
- A kickstand
- A bell
- Some even come with wind-shields.
The mountain bike or MTB is a specialised machine that has been taken somewhat into general city and suburban usage in the same as the off road car. They look tough and rugged and as well as doing what they are intended to do can be a great way of getting around, using the campsite as your base.
There are many forms of mountain bike each designed for specific purposes such as ascents, descents, rock hopping, forest trails and many more rugged and robust activities. The design of these bikes is aimed specifically at the type of activity for which they are intended and the include suspension systems and knobbly tyres.
If you use your mountain bike on the road, the suspension system can often be useful especially if, like me, you like to caravan in rural areas where the roads can be rough and even have a few potholes. Knobbly tyres on the other hand are rarely useful for general road usage and you’ll find that the rolling resistance is high. This means that you’ll work harder to get where you’re going and have to listen to the noise that they make on the road surface into the bargain.
If you really want a mountain bike for general usage then you can easily specify low rolling resistance road tyres, which you can order with a Kevlar band built in to guard against punctures.
The folding bike owes at least some of its development to military history where it was used as a super-portable means of transport. It meant that the bicycle could be carried over rough terrain and when it became possible to use it, rapid progress was made increasing the range of troops who were equipped with it. Translating that to campers and carvanners is easy as the folding bike will generally take up far less space during transportation as other types. It leaves you free to explore once everything is unfolded and locked into place.
There are a number of types and folding methods depending on how you want to transport the bike. Some fold and easily unfold before locking into place and some come apart into separate pieces. Others come equipped with a bag which is used to store them during transportation.
Generally speaking this kind of bicycle will have smaller wheels and longer seat-posts and handlebar stems. This makes sense as it allows for these components to telescope and fit neatly into clever folded positions with the small wheels to save room while you are on the move.
The best way to decide on one of these is to have a look at them, try them out on the road, fold them and put them where you will carry them. This will give you a real feeling for which one suits you purpose. You will most likely find that these are more expensive than a rigid frame bicycle due to the extra design, materials and complexity of their makeup.
The electric bicycle is one where you get a certain amount of, often very welcome, help from an electric motor which is driven by a re-chargeable battery. The motor is sometimes used, especially on more modern machines, almost entirely in place of the pedals and, while still rare, higher speeds of up to 30mph/50kph can be reached.
Even though it is a powered machine electric bicycles are almost universally classed as ordinary bikes and are free of the regulations attaching to motor vehicles. You won’t need to pay road tax, insurance or pass a driving test to operate one.
The cost of these units is still quite high but the battery technology is improving. You need to consider how much you will use this bike therefore as occasional use will probably prove uneconomic. Why spend relatively large amounts of money on something that you use only now and again. These machines are well suited to all types of motorhome and camping holidays, especially if you use a larger camper-van which you prefer to leave on the campsite. Going to the shop on a bicycle has never been easier, or more fun.
Again when choosing one of these it is best to go along to a good dealer and try out various options. Look in particular at the battery charging arrangements and how long it takes to charge the battery. Will it be easy to do this on the campsite? Have a look also at the range available from a fully charged battery. If you want to go to town which, for instance, is an hour away will it get you there and back on a charge or will you end up pedaling home?
Whichever bike you chose always be aware of your own safety and that of others. Always, without exception wear a helmet and a high visibility outer layer, even on short journeys. When you cycle in traffic you form part of that traffic and all the rules of the road apply equally to you as to all other road users.
Never put yourself in danger or create a hazard that will endanger others.
Some very useful information on using your bicycle is available from Directgov in the UK.