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LONG DISTANCE BICYCLE TRIP: FAQ

LONG DISTANCE BICYCLE TRIP: FAQ

Here is the answers to some questions that many asked me during my trip and when I came back from Cape Town, after crossing the continent alone by bike from Cairo.

DO YOU HAVE TO PLAN THIS KIND OF TRIP WELL IN ADVANCE?

Yes and no! It all depends on the people and the life you live.

I organized my first bike trip from Cairo to Cape Town in 3 weeks! Crazy! It was leaving now or never! I always had the idea in my head, I had free time between two jobs, I thought it was the moment to do it!
The most important thing is to get the right equipment, especially a good bicycle, to learn how to repair it, to inquire about visas and to prepare roughly the itinerary of the first months.
I already live as a nomad and I’m “homeless” for a few years so it’s also easier to leave for a long time without much prior organization. And I also backpacked the world quite a lot so it gives me confidence.

I just take a one way ticket to Cairo, I’m not sure to reach Cape Town, it’s a crazy idea and it’s very ambitious for me who has never made a long distance trip by bicycle… I don’t dare to explain my travel plans to my family and to my friends, indeed, this project will seem very crazy to them. Especially since I leave ALONE! That’s also why I leave almost immediately once decided, so that my family and close friends don’t have time to dissuade me!

I will stop anyway to work because I cannot afford to spend all my savings. For a few years now, I have been working as a tour guide in East Africa. I start in Cairo without any obligation to go anywhere, I can always come back if I’m not comfortable cycling or take a bus instead. I will be careful and I’ll see!

HAVE YOU TRAINED? HAVE YOU FOUND THAT PHYSICALLY DIFFICULT?

I did not train, I did not have the time and I think it would not have helped much. Fitness is not the most important thing. I don’t usually practise any sport, I like to hike in the mountains but I have never cycled a long distance before. My longest bike trip was in Norway for 3 days where I was walking and cycling.
The body will get used to cycle little by little. I started with Egypt which is an easy country: good tarmac road, flat, no wind and in winter, temperature is nice.
Some moments were very difficult yes, especially in Ethiopia, with several days where I had to push the bike for kilometers and kilometers because of the important elevation gain. Lake Turkana was also a big challenge, with its sandy roads and extreme heat.
But everything is possible if you want to make it. You are stronger than you think!

HOW MANY KM DO YOU CYCLE A DAY?

It depends a lot! It depends on the road: elevation, paved, gravel road or sandy path, on the wind and weather: heavy rain, heat, and on the motivation or tiredness. I would say that I cycled an average of 80km per day, between 50 to 160km! I don’t count the many rest or visit days because I’m not a robot, I don’t cycle every day! I also enjoy this trip to visit things and meet local people, and many rest days are also to repair the bicycle, clean clothes and gears, buy and cook food.

WHERE DO YOU SLEEP?

This question makes me smile when I think back to all the places where I could sleep: in the wild, hidden in the woods or in the middle of the desert, in local people’s house, in schools, churches, highway areas, restaurants, police stations (and even one where there were prisoners!), gas stations, shops, village square, but also in campsites, lodge gardens and small hotels.

Night with the Bedouins, Sudan [/ caption]

Wild camping in Namibia [/ caption]

WHAT DID YOU FIND THE MOST DIFFICULT?

I would say that the hardest is being alone on the road so much time. Even if I think that I would have hardly made this trip with somebody else. Sometimes I would have liked to share some happy moments, beautiful or romantic places and find support in difficult situations.
I’m mentally strong and I was determined to make it to the end, but there was sometimes that I would have wanted to give up, especially in Ethiopia, because of the behaviour of the people and because communication was hard.

WHAT DID YOU MISS THE MOST?

– my friends and family, even though I’m used to travel a lot on my own. With internet and a mobile phone, I managed to get in touch very often with my family and close friends.
– a good shower and clean toilets! On a budget, it was not easy!
– fresh and cool water, especially in hot weather. All the villages don’t have a fridge and I also drank the water that I found on the way, sometimes in the wells, taps, cisterns or directly pumped from the river.
– chocolate and sweet desserts in general. But I compensated by the tropical fruits that I found in many countries!

ARE THERE DANGEROUS WILD ANIMALS OUTSIDE NATURAL PARKS AND RESERVES?

Yes, there are many hyenas, especially in Ethiopia, Kenya and Botswana. In Tanzania, the main road from Dar es Salaam to Mbeya crosses the Mikumi National Park for 50km, I saw lionesses and elephants among others. I was not proud, even if they were far away, a lioness runs faster than I pedal!
Botswana is perhaps the country with the most animals roaming freely outside the parks. Villages and fields are fenced to avoid attacks and destructions from wild animals. In some areas, I could see many elephants!
In general, wild animals do not come close to roads because of the noise, especially during the day, and it is always possible to sleep in safe places. It’s also around the roads that there are most villages and population, so less wildlife.

Elephant on the road in Botswana [/ caption]

WHAT IF YOU ARE SICK?

I stop, take care of myself and rest! It’s true that in some areas, access to good medical assistance can be complicated but you’re never too far from a big city with hospitals, at least on the route Cairo-Cape Town.
I have in my panniers a first aid kit with the basic drugs. I also have a good medical insurance. In case of a real problem, I just have to contact them and they take care of everything!
I’m strong, I’m never sick even in Europe, so I didn’t really worry. I was a little sick one day crossing the desert in Sudan, on the worst road: from Karima to Atbara. I started to have a stomach ache and vomit. There was no shade and no car passing, so I had to continue pedaling. After a few hours, I found a thin acacia on the side of the road where I rested. Fortunately, I felt better to move forward after a bit. A heat stroke maybe.
I also got infected fly or mosquitoe bites on many parts of my body and I had to seek for medical assistance as it was not heeling properly and also to discart any sickness or parasites. I had to stop for a week in Nairobi just before Christmas.

WHO REPAIRS YOUR BIKE WHEN THERE IS A PROBLEM?

Myself for simple things and maintenance. I learnt through Youtube especially how to repair a puncture, change the chain, brakes, tubes and tires. If there’s really something I don’t know or cannot repair myself, then I have to find a repair shop. That’s also why I took a simple and standard bike in Africa, where I can find most spare parts easily: 26 ‘wheel, V brakes, etc. I also have some spare parts of course, in case of emergency.
In general, it is possible to find repair shops in big cities, and even in villages in Malawi and Zambia, where the bike is used everywhere by locals.
In more than 14000 km, I had about thirty punctures, worn two rear tires, and changed four times the chain, once the cassette and once the saddle (end of the trip).

Broken saddle in the middle of nowhere [/ caption]

WHAT COUNTRY DID YOU PREFER?

Difficult to choose, I loved Sudan for the kindness and authenticity of people, for its pyramids in the middle of the desert without tourists, for nights spent with locals and alone in the desert under thousands of stars. This is a destination that I recommend for its adventurous side!
Tanzania is also one of my favorite countries, people are very friendly and the landscapes are very pretty, especially from Morogoro to Iringa and Mbeya to the Malawi border. Green hills, wild rivers Ruaha and Ruapi, abundant wildlife in Mikumi.
Malawi also surprised me with the landscapes of Lake Malawi and its fishing villages.
And Namibia of course, where the desert landscapes, the feeling of being on the moon and safety make it a paradise for cyclists!

But also:

The Omo Valley and Lake Turkana: although the tribes of the Omo Valley are very touristy, the approach by bike is different and allows access to areas where tourists do not go very often like the Weyto-Arbore-Turmi road.
Lake Turkana: the villages are very poor but the people are nice and simple. It is an adventure to pedal in this difficult to access area because the sandy roads are in very bad shape and the border is not official.
Eastern Botswana: Adrenaline rises in this part of the country where elephants and other wildlife roam freely outside the parks and reserves. By bike, you have to be very careful and spotting elephants is very common, often very close to the road!

AND THE LESS?

Maybe Zambia, because the landscapes do not change too much in the South, but I’m curious to go back there to visit the North.
Ethiopia has been tiring because people are not particularly hospitable, they do not speak much English and children beg as you pass and can get aggressive by threatening you with sticks or throwing stones at you, but the South of the country remains very pretty and surprising.

Children in Ethiopia [/ caption]

WHAT TO DO WITH THE BIKE WHEN YOU STOP CYCLING?

At night, it sleeps with me, often inside the room, or in a safe place in the hotel. If I camp in the wild, I attached it with the chain near the tent or directly to the tent if I’m in the desert and take valuables in the tent with me.
The day if I stop eating, I park it next to me and I always have an eye on it. If I want to make a visit on the way, I leave it to a seller, at the entrance of the monument or site with employees, I attach it with my chain and I always keep with me money and valuables. In stores or shopping centers, I attach it close to security agents inside the building.

WHAT DO YOU PACK FOR A TRIP LIKE THIS?

I made a list of all the material I bring, but the most practical thing is to travel light!
Don’t pack too much, you can find or replace many things easily on the spot, like clothes.
What I found useful is my first aid kit, especially in the bush, where cities are far apart, and my solar charger, which I used almost every day, on the bike, it’s very convenient!
I decided not to bring any cooking equipment because the weight was considerable and in Africa you find to eat everywhere at very economical prices, often less than a euro a meal. In most remote places or more desert countries, I packed canned food.

WHAT DID I REGRET NOT TO PACK?

A spare “marathon plus” tire… I didn’t think I would need it, but my rear tire started to get very tired in Botswana, even if I changed it before I left Addis Ababa. I had repetitive punctures from Maun. So I switched tire front and rear, because I have less weight in the front my front tire was still in good shape. I had to wait until Windhoek to change it but all the tires of the bike shop, were “made in China”. I had no choice but with the new tire I still had a few punctures on gravel roads of southern Namibia.

WERE YOU NOT AFRAID?

Afraid of what???

ADVICES TO GO ON A LONG BIKE TRIP

MAP OF MY SOLO CYCLING TRIP FROM CAIRO TO CAPE TOWN