Picking the right bike

The main idea with Credit Card Bike Touring is to travel light and fast, so sturdy and heavy expedition bikes are not an option. If road surfaces are good where you’re going, then pick a proper road bike. If you might ride rough gravel roads, then a gravel or cyclo-cross bike with tougher tires is better.

How do you know what the road surface is like? One way to figure this out is by looking at satellite photos of the roads, for example through Google Maps. There you can often clearly see if a road is gravel or asphalt.

Asphalt on Crete
Gravel on Crete

Another way is to use the street view feature in Google Maps. They’ve photographed millions of km of roads, so sometimes you can actually see real street level photos of the roads.

Street asphalt on Crete

Google Maps road types can often be trusted in western Europe, but be cautious. In France I was once stopped by locals from biking down a track that eventually ended up as a via ferrata trail.

I had this WTF experience in Albania. Gorgeous asphalt turned into absolutely horrendous gravel.

Now the question is, should you rent a bike or bring your own?

Renting a bike

Renting a bike has many upsides:

  • You are likely to get a modern bike
  • It will be well serviced
  • You don’t have to pay airlines extra for shipping, often about €60 one way

The downsides are:

  • It can be somewhat tricky to find a bike rental shop, especially in low season
  • It will cost you perhaps €100 a week of renting
  • Perhaps you also need to rent bike bags? If you bring your own bags, do they fit that other bike?
  • It won’t be your own bike, so balance, gears etc will be a bit unfamiliar
  • If you rent a bike in Paris and bike it to Lyon, then you’ll need to transport it back to Paris somehow

Bringing your own bike

Bringing your own bike has a few upsides:

  • It is your own beloved bike, you know it inside out
  • You know your bags fits perfectly to your bike
  • You can use it to get around while on your way to your destination. For example between railway stations in Paris.

The downsides are:

  • You need to service it before you go
  • Trains in Sweden don’t let you transport a bike unless it is inside a bag. It can be a royal pain to carry around that bike bag. Try carrying it around before you commit to this idea.
  • When you finally arrive at your destination, where do you put that bag while biking?
  • It might get stolen, crushing your heart.

I have biked most of my trips on two road bikes.

My steel frame LeMond
My aluminium frame Mosso.

I deliberately picked metal frames, as they should resist dents and airline cargo abuse better than carbon fiber.

Both my bikes have Shimano 105 components, and they have never failed me, except for one single chain jam that took just a few minutes to fix.

If you are going to bike in steep mountains, then you should have a hard look at your gears. Will they let you go up 6% or higher inclinations for a few hours? Either get yourself a really small front chainring, or a rear cassette with a few big chainrings. Even with the best possible alpine gears you might encounter inclinations that are just insane.

18% is really painful to anyone. This went on for 2 km!

I have on several occasions seen people touring on electric bikes. There are even road bikes with semi-secret batteries and motors to ease the hard climbs. I don’t think I need them just yet, but I can easily see myself 80 years old cycling up Col d’Izoard on an electric bike. They are still quite expensive, but will surely drop in price.

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