Urban Prepper Basics for Catastrophe Survival in the City and Urban Areas

Even if you are fortunate enough to have a retreat out in the country getting to your safe-haven maybe impossible during an urban upheaval. Roads blocked by wrecked and fuel-less vehicles will stop most people who are bugging out in their tracks. Maybe you were born lucky and can make it out safely before the balloon bursts, then what?

People in rural areas will start shooting if threatened by mobs of refugees fleeing the city. Don’t expect to be welcomed with arms outstretched. Most country folks don’t trust outsiders; you will likely be greeted with a load of buckshot and not the cup of fresh coffee and meaningful conversation you had hoped for.

After the cities are in ruins, criminal gangs will start to migrate into surrounding rural areas (especially known farming areas) where they will continue their business of stealing, raping and terrorizing in more fruitful territory (when selecting a rural retreat location get as far away from urban areas and main roads as possible).

If you can’t or won’t get out of your urban location NOW at least start making plans to survive the best that you can where you are. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.

Food for urban preppersprepper food storage for city survival

You should store enough food to last at least six months – more than one year would be ideal, but probably impossible for most urbanites because of limited storage space. This means enough food to live on without leaving home. Food staples include rice, beans, honey, wheat, sugar, tea, coffee, salt, pepper, baking soda, cooking oil etc. Also canned soups, meats, fruits and vegetables should be included for verity. The food storage calculator is an excellent tool for approximating needed qualities of foods and is a great help here.

Also see my recent article – “How To Get a Family of Four Prepped for The Coming Collapse – In The Quickest and Easiest Way Possible” for a full list of supplies and gear.

Sprouting seeds for fresh greens is a very important urban survival skill that will keep you supplied with fresh greens even in the winter. Sprouts are germinated seeds of vegetables, nuts, grains and legumes. Sprouts are nutritious, inexpensive and high in protein. Sprouts should be included in your survival food plans. All that is needed is a couple of quart mason jars, a squire of nylon window screen, rubber bands and viable seed stock.

If you decide to include whole grains in your diet, you will need a grain mill. All chosen grain mills should have changeable heads so you can use both steel and stone heads for grinding depending on the product being milled. Some people suggest that steel burred grinders cause heat that could damage the nutrient content of the grain. Don’t buy into that. Hand grinding doesn’t cause enough heat to cause damage.

Next you will need something to cook on. I recommend one of the Coleman multi fuel camp stoves. I have a Coleman Exponent Multi-Fuel Stove which burns both unleaded gasoline or kerosene. These stoves are small, light weight and very energy-efficient.

Remember, when using stoves like the Coleman camp stoves indoors the fumes must be vented to the outside, if not carbon monoxide can build up and kill you, especially in a small or confined area. In most cases an open window near the cooking area will suffice for ventilation – read and follow the instructions in the provided owners manual.

My top recommendation for outdoor cooking (cooking outdoors my attract unwanted attention) is the EcoZoom rocket stove – click on the link to read my full review.

If you don’t have one already go by your local shopping center and pick up a Stanley Aladdin narrow-mouth thermos bottle. You will use the thermos as an energy-efficient appliance for cooking. Don’t get a wide-mouthed thermos; if you intend to use it for cooking, these are less efficient at holding heat.

It is best to use a different bottle for cooking then your everyday thermos. Coffee smell for instance, tends to leach into whatever you are cooking, even if the bottle has been cleaned.

Thermos cooking is in no way difficult or complicated, all you need is some simple directions.

Water for urban preppers

Without a source of clean drinking water most of us will die within three to seven days, depending on individual health, weather conditions and workload. The problem with water is it’s difficult to store enough to last through an extended emergency and living in an urban apartment makes it nearly impossible.

Collecting rain water on the roofs of buildings could be a solution in areas that receive an ample amount rainfall. Use plastic sheeting, tarps etc, to funnel water into clean trash cans, buckets, “kiddie pools” or other suitable containers.

When I lived in an apartment building years ago, I bought several “kiddie pools” just for this purpose. They can be stored neatly stacked one inside the other and slid under the bed out-of-the-way until needed.

Some urban areas have lakes or streams near by but these will be polluted and contaminated – a running water source is better but still no guarantee of cleanliness. Never drink directly from the source; there is no way of knowing if the water is contaminated (it mostly will be) without proper testing. Don’t take chances; invest in a good water filter to be sure. The best filters filter out Bacteria, Organic Chemicals and Protozoa (Giardia) Viruses.

Shelter for urban preppers

I hated living in an apartment. I felt like I had no privacy what-so-ever, I could hear every word, whimper, moan or scream through the walls, ceiling and floor. I am sure everyone in the building felt the same way. If you are stuck in a large city an apartment is likely the situation you will need to deal with despite its limitations.

There are a few things you can do to make your place more secure. The first thing I did was replace the front door with a steel security door with dead bolt and peephole (same color and look of the old door). I hid the old door in the closet and replaced it when I moved. I also replaced the door leading into the bedroom with the same type door, lock and peephole set up for an instant safe-room (safer) inside the apartment.

Don’t forget smoke and carbon monoxide. Keep at least two fully charged fire extinguishers on hand at all times. Also the magnetic break door and window alarms work well when used to guard the windows and doors leading into the apartment.

If you are above the second floor an escape ladder or rope should be put back in case of fire. A proper mask should also be considered.

When we pay rent we are always faced with the possibility of eviction. If possible keep the rent paid up at least six months. If you have no other way of paying in advance, borrowing the money from the bank will keep you sheltered during hard times. I hate debt but this is on area where it could be to your advantage depending on your personal circumstances and how you work the situation.

Going mobile could be an option for the city survivor, but fuel will likely become a problem post collapse. Like everything else in life we must weigh the good against the bad and make our choices based on that knowledge. If you’re interested in this, some great information can be found here.

Weapons for urban preppers

Defense in the city will likely be a short-range engagement. For urban areas, I recommend a good pump-action 12 gauge shotgun and a handgun. The Mossberg 500/590 or Remington 870 are both excellent choices. For versatility put back a verity of shot-shell loads as well as buckshot and rifled slugs.

Handguns should be at least .38 caliber or above. I like both revolvers and semi-automatic handguns, in skilled hands both can be effective. Stay with what you know and practice. If you have had little or no training in this area seek out a competent instructor and become qualified. If you are fortunate enough to live in a state that issues concealed carry permits, you should apply for yours as soon as possible.

My favorite foraging tool in urban areas is the Savage Model 42.

Wild Game for urban preppers

In urban area you’ll mostly have a choice of small game such as rabbit and squirrel but what most people fail to realize is that the outskirts of most urban areas harbor a good number of whitetail deer. The trouble is that everyone will be hunting, so the numbers of wild game my be depleted quickly and let’s not overlook the danger of going out to hunt in those area…

Small game can be taken with traps, air rifles, slingshots or ever killed with a club or rock. When I lived on a lot in a small city, I shoot squirrels that found their way into my back lot with a .22 caliber rifle loaded with CB caps, (down-loaded .22 rimfire ammo) the little rounds are very quiet and can take most small animals out to about ten yards.

Deer can easily be snared or shot.

Most cities have an abundant pigeon population. It is a simple matter to follow the flock to their roost at dusk. Shinning a light into their eyes they tend to set still where they can be caught or killed with little trouble. Air guns and sling shots work well.

Without a doubt the most abundant source of meat in any urban environment is the common rat. They have thrived under even the most challenging circumstances. It is almost a certainty if there are human survivors after any catastrophe rats will be in abundance but likely infested with parasites and other things that could make you sick, and therefore should be used only as a last resort to avoid death from starvation. Like most small animals they can be trapped in homemade box traps or shot.

Gardening for urban preppers

Don’t expect to support yourself entirely from a city garden, at least not at first. I have raised tomatoes in a window box and hanging baskets on the terrace. Perhaps in time large community gardens would spring up that could be worked by groups of urban survivors.

During the first months preceding a total collapse, gardens will need to be hidden and out of sight. A lot of vegetables (especially among most city dwellers who think vegetables come from the supermarket) are easily mistaken for weeds and are not all that difficult to keep hidden from passers-by.

The first rule of avoiding detection is to never plant your crops using the traditional roll method. The three sisters gardening method comes to mind, some North American Indian tribes used this technique to grow corn, beans and squash to great effect and it acts as a natural camouflage.

When it comes to survival gardening, obviously we must start with seed – it is a necessity to have a source of viable seed on hand. Look for non-hybrid (“heirloom”) varieties, you want to be sure the seed saved from year to year will breed true and continue to do so. Hybrid varieties for the most part are unpredictable and seem to only do well during the first year of planting.

Most garden varieties should be included in your stock. Include such vegetables as: artichoke, asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chives, corn, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, gourds, kale, leeks, lettuce, mustard green, onions, parsley, parsnips, peanuts, peas, peppers, pumpkin, radishes, soybeans, spinach, squash, sunflowers, Swiss chard, tomatoes, turnip, watermelon, zucchini etc; In general put back seeds that grow well in your area and of foods you like to eat.

Conclusion

Even in the most populated areas after the rioting, burning and looting subsides there will be survivors. The most difficult part is surviving the first few months after the crash, and then the rebuilding can begin.

Please share your thoughts and urban survival tips for city preppers in the comments section below…

7 cool gadgets for smart camping and prepping

by Dakota Murphey

Camping and prepping are cool and fun, especially when you have the right kit. Don’t think you’ll have to forego all your mod cons while you’re exploring the Great Outdoors. Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), technology is developing at such a rapid pace that going camping has never been more a more connected experience.

Here, Mike James compiled 7 of the coolest gadgets to take your camping trip to a whole new level, together with Best VPN.

  1. BioLite Camp Stove Bundle

Consisting of a camping stove, a kettle and a grill, you can cook your meals, charge your gadgets and reduce your carbon footprint all at the same time. Collect twigs, pine cones, dried leaves etc to make a fire in the stove, while a litre of water boils in less than 5 minutes. Connect your devices via USB and the stove’s thermoelectric generator will charge them up for you as fast as any wall outlet. Add the portable grill for burgers and sausages cooking at low, medium or high heat. What more could you possibly need?

  1. Coffee for the connoisseur

For the ultimate in breakfast luxury surrounded by Mother Nature, take a portable coffee grinder and make the perfect cuppa. The Voltaire Grinder has high quality ceramic conical burrs and a rechargeable battery that can power through 3 lbs of espresso fine grinding. There’s an LED based timer know with memory, and a built-in sensory platform that collects precise information of the type, quality and condition of the beans. WiFi connected to your smartphone app, the data can be displayed in graphs and charts, while coffee can be reordered from selected suppliers.

  1. Portable Ovens

If you’d rather bake or roast your food in the traditional way, there’s always the Roccbox Barbecue – which blazes at an incredible 500C and can bake a tasty 12 inch pizza in 90 seconds! Fuelled by wood or gas, it uses a small bag of kindling per hour, but you can also use propane gas or patio gas bottles. At 20kg, it’s not designed to be carried in a backpack, but if you’re taking a vehicle on your camping trip, this could be a useful piece of kit to have on board.

Weighing in at a mere 3.6kg, the GoSun solar stove is definitely portable. Harnessing the power of the sun and nothing else, you can grill, bake, boil or fry anywhere anytime, thanks to the durable borosilicate evacuated glass tube cooking chamber, 2 foldable parabolic reflectors made of industry grade anodizes aluminum and a stainless steel cooking tray.

  1. Smart Sun Shade

Speaking of the sun, you might think that sun shades haven’t changed much in over 3,500 years but you’d be wrong. Take a look at the Leaf for life, an innovative solar umbrella that comes with a 16-watt mobile solar panel that can be used to charge your mobile devices. Launched this summer, the quirky gadget comes in a range of vibrant colors and is perfect for the beach, picnic in the country or a camping holiday.

  1. Music On The Go

The Eton Rugged Rukus is a solar-powered all-terrain sound system and Bluetooth speaker will keep you entertained throughout the day, while 8 hours of lithium battery powered music are available during the night. It can be connected wirelessly to any Bluetooth enabled device (including smartphones, tablets and computers), and the speaker charges your smartphone via USB for non-stop entertainment and the ultimate in convenience.

  1. Lights, camera, action

To get the party going around the campfire, you need the world’s most advanced camping lantern: the Brunton Lightwave Amp portable lantern. It has a 700-lumen multi-coloured light show output producing full spectrum RGB lighting, a waterproof Bluetooth speaker and a powerful smart device USB charger. Use its app driven light and sound control to create captivating integrated music and light shows for 12.5 hours – aka all night long!

  1. Mobile movies

The battery powered Dashbon Flicks Cordless Boombox Projector is a mobile party powerhouse that combines an LED HD projector showing images directly from an HDMI source. Enjoy 720p HD streamed content straight from your smartphone, tablet or media devices and project a 3-meter image onto any surface. For movie nights outdoors with up to 4 hours of video playback in richcolorr and high contrast imagery, along with integrated 3-way speakers producing quality sound, you can’t get better!

Email from Mike About his Ford Ranger Camper Set-up

camperI thought maybe your readers might enjoy this camper I made from a 2005 Ford Ranger (complete with a 2005 border terrier).

It’s a bit messy but I’m still working out the kinks. I purchased a used leer cap for $125. The wood that I used cost less than $60, and I got the carpet free from a carpet store.  The LED string lights were $20 and the battery is a used battery from a scrap yard for $20.  The most expensive part was the 30-watt solar panel, 800-watt invertor and various wires, connectors etc. All that was about 200 or so.

I still have some kinks to work out. Like heat. I was in it this weekend up north but a freak cold front pushing a system through made the temp drop to below 0 and my tea light heater system did nothing – as well as figure a way when that happens to keep my water supply from freezing and my butane stove from becoming unusable until it warms up.  That said, the bed area is 6ft in length and with a plywood underlay, plush carpeting, 2″ thick foam, a twin sized comforter and a heavy sleeping bag it was actually very comfortable.

Anyways, I thought the readers here might enjoy some a creative ‘home on the road’ on the budget. Any suggestions for improvements are welcome, of course.

Mike

Ideas for SHTF transporta​tion

by M Dotson

Alright, we’ve got our Bug Out Bag (BOB) filled with all the essentials of getting from here to there safely. Flashlights, food, bullets and fire makers are all stashed in their own special place in the hopes we never have to use them. We have publications, tools and weapons we want to bring with us. It’s all been calculated and planned down to the last ounce. We’ve drilled and practiced until its second nature to grab the BOB and jump into our predefined spot in the vehicle.

We ensure the primary vehicle maintains that certain level of gas to get you there. You have a seat for everyone and you have worked out where everything needs to be in case things get ugly. You know who’s driving and who’s shooting. The vehicle is maintained at a high state of readiness; few extraneous items are left in the vehicle in preparation for BOB’s and bodies.

So, what happens when all these carefully worked up plans goes to hell in a hand basket if you can’t start your vehicle? What happens when that EMP hits the vehicle and turns it into a 2.5 ton paperweight? Well, now is the time to ask that question and plan for the answer. It will probably involve walking.

I’ve noticed that kids today will stand and wait for a ride to keep from having to walk. I’ve had my own children give me that look when they were told to walk. I also got a different kind of look from their doting mother.

If cars and trucks are disabled due to an EMP, or series of them, we’ll have to find a different mode of transportation. Older vehicles that have points and condenser will still operate. The newer ones might not, depending on where they are and the strength of the EMP. Planes may fall from the sky.

I’m no expert on EMP’s, but the point of this is alternate transportation in the event your existing mode of internal combustion propulsion is suddenly removed from your control. The most obvious choice would be a form of a cycle; bicycle, tricycle and you can even get a quadcycle. The most common form would be the bicycle, and a pair of high quality walking/hiking shoes

During the Viet Nam conflict tons of supplies moved down the Ho Chi Min Trail on bicycles. The Vietnamese would sling a couple of hundred pounds of beans or bullets on a bike and walk it to where it needed to go. Sometimes they’d tie a bamboo stick to the handlebars so they could push and guide easily. After delivery, they’d simply ride the bikes back up north to get more supplies.

There are small, lightweight trailers one can attach to the back in order to tow. There is also a wide variety of attachments such as horns, bells and lights as well as baskets and saddlebags. One can usually find a beater bicycle for free. The tires will be flat and dry rotted, it’ll be rusty and the seat will be water-logged from sitting outside. But, for just a few dollars, far less than what a new bike would cost, a new seat and tires can be purchased. Squirt a little used motor oil on the chains and repack the bearings with grease.

Additionally, one of the vulcanizing inner tube patching kits would be a must to keep on the bike. Amazon.com sells the

Park Tool VP-1 Vulcanizing Patch Kit for $3.50. It also sells a decent manually operated tire pump sells for about $15.

It may not be the first choice to get where you’re going, but it will get you there eventually.

A Road Trip with BOB

by Frank B

My sister called me last year concerned about getting to our retreat. She was one of the many motorists who got caught out in a snowstorm and had to overnight in her car. Fortunately, she had put her BOB (bug out bag) in the car just a day earlier.

It had been sitting in the ready near her front door for months. She had water, a blanket, and food enough to be comfortable throughout the ordeal, but she realized this was just a one-night stand out in the world and the real event was most likely going to be much worse.

Our retreat is 360 miles from her home/work in the city but she has other options that are closer to her location, just in a different direction. I have always put pen to paper to figure out the facts and did so for her as well.

After reviewing all of her options, we determined that she needed to be better prepared. My wife took this a step further and pointed out that we needed to be better prepped for a similar event. We travel cross-country a great deal and could very easily be caught on the road when the SHTF. So, our BOBs just got heavier.

For debate, let’s consider that we got stuck in a traffic jam 360 miles from our retreat. Here is the method I would use to figure out our steps to get home.

We might choose to sit tight for a while, allowing for the possibility the traffic flow might continue, but at some point we’d realize that the jig was up. Some cars may break down or run out of fuel and be abandoned in the roadway (just what happened to my sister in the snow storm). This would be a clue that a foot trip may be in our future.

A map would be a must have item. A good map would be even better. A tritium compass would be a must as well (earlier post). As our truck’s GPS would not last long without a power source, we’d leave it behind rather than add more weight to our packs, but several routes could be explored and written down before we lost its use.

Determining how many miles you can walk a day can be difficult at best, and perhaps nearly impossible, given the endless variations in conditions. This being said we need to start off somewhere. It has been said that an average walking speed on level ground is 3/mph. Having a 60lb pack and being off the straight and level will also slow you down.

Again, for debating this example, let’s say we can travel an average of 2 mile per hour. We might do better on some days and maybe even worse on other days, but on average let’s go with 2/mph.

Before we have left the truck, we have determined that we must travel 360 miles and that we feel good about traveling at 2 miles per hour. We are also going to set a goal of traveling at least 8 hours a day for the days we travel.

At face value this could translate into a 23-day trip (360 miles divided by 2mph=180 hours of travel divided by 8 hours a day equals 22.5 days) if we didn’t take any time off; but since we do not have food enough for two people for 23 days, we know we will be stopping. Plus, neither of us are Superman so a break or two might be in order as well.

Heck, even Superman took a break now and then. Seeing these numbers would tell me right off that the walk home is going to be, at best, one month or so but you can see that bad terrain, foul weather, a twisted ankle, or any number of other issues could make this journey last much longer.

Based on what we have in our packs right now, we can plan this out. Renee and I carry two loaded packs everywhere we go. They don’t take up a lot of room in the back of the truck and are ready for what we hope would be the worst case we would encounter. Let’s see.

Getting an inventory of food on hand would be one of the first things to do. This would allow us to start out with a ration plan to allow what we had to go the farthest. Combining the food from both packs we come up with the items listed here.

Food

8 packs of Mainstay 3600 Food Rations 6×3 (1200 cal/day)=10 days for two.
12 Millennium Bars 400 cal 3×400=1200cal = 2 days for two
8 packs Honey Stingers used as needed
6 MRE entrees = 3 days for two
4 MRE (complete) = 2 days for two

Drink

30 bullion cubes = 15 days for two
6 12-packs NUUN (72 16oz drinks) = 36 days for two.
38ct of Folgers instant coffee packets = 19 days for two

Seeing this list has me a bit worried. To be safe, we shouldn’t travel more than 17 days walk from home. As it has happened though (in our example) we are at least 23 nonstop walking days from home and have only 17 days of full rations. This is a bit better than I had expected to find but we still fall short.

We could cut rations by half and go 32 days with stops, hoping to supplement with what we hunt, fish, beg or find along the way. This might be the best idea. We do have electrolyte drinks in full rations, and bullion and coffee for alternate days. In my opinion, this would be a bold move to do.

It would take finding lakes or rivers to fish as we go as well as foraging from the flora along the way, but I think it could be done if the weather held for us. A good day of fishing would afford us a day off from walking.

Rationing for 32 days would get us the 23 with food to spare. We could also chose to go with straight rations of 875cal/day (73% of the full 1200 cal/day) to walk the 23 days straight. Without going into the other ways we could cut our rations, I think either of these would be a good plan given that good weather was with us.

If the SHTF in the winter, the calorie requirements could be twice what the plan uses in just staying warm. Winter would certainly put an interesting spin on this example. It might mean setting up camp somewhere so we could fish and hunt. We may need to find like-minded folks that would allow us to work for our winter keep. We may choose to make our way through the season anyhow.

If we choose to continue in the winter, our 17-day rations would last only about 9 days. We would still be hunting, fishing, foraging and begging along the way and only God could say how long the trip would take.

Clearly, having the ability to consider these issues before it happens can help with the happy outcome of such an event. Looks like I’ll be adding more lightweight food rations to the BOB. What do you think??:-)

Understanding Kidnappings

by Orlando Wilson – International Defense Strategies LLC

Kidnapping Over the past decade kidnapping for ransom and hostage taking have become a booming multi-million-dollar business. These days you do not need to be a high roller to be kidnapped or involved in a hostage situation, it can happen to anyone. If you are an international traveler you need to be especially aware of the threat from kidnapping even if you’re not going to one of the worlds kidnapping hotspots like Haiti, Mexico, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Nigeria, Columbia or the Philippines. The fact you are a foreigner can make you a target especially in poor countries, where the contents of the luggage, watch and jewelry of most travelers from the U.S. or Western Europe will at least match, if not far exceed the average monthly earnings of most citizens.

It is very difficult to get accurate figures on kidnapping rates as a lot of incidents are not reported to the authorities or media, also governments keen to attract tourists and investors try to keep official crime rates favorable. You should do your research and a threat assessment on all locations you’ll be visiting and identify what the main threat is. If you identify a kidnapping threat look for patterns in how the kidnappers operate and work out procedures to avoid them.

These days it makes sense for everyone to understand how to behave if they are involved in a kidnapping or hostage situation. The main threat to most people in developed countries is being caught up in a small scale crime that’s gone wrong like a bank robbery that turns into a hostage situations, or being held hostage in their workplace due to the actions of a disgruntled or mentally ill employee. In the emerging markets targeted and express kidnappings for financial gain or favors may be your main threat.

There are five main reasons for kidnapping and the mindsets of criminals vary greatly from area to area and culture to culture, there is no profile that fits all kidnappers and all kidnapping situations tend to be unique. I tell my clients that their main concern if they are kidnapped or caught in a hostage situation is to just stay alive to be released or to escape.

Kidnapping for financial gain

When we talk about kidnapping most people immediately think of kidnapping for ransom, which is a very lucrative business in some countries. If someone is kidnapped for ransom or favors you need to remember that the person is a valuable commodity to be bargained for, they will be kept alive as long as the kidnappers believe that they are of value. The negotiation for this type of kidnapping is a business negotiation; you’re buying back an asset.

There are cases where people are kidnapped for favors not money. For example a son or daughter of an influential person would be kidnapped and released after the parents have done the criminals a favor. There was one incident in South America several years ago where a left wing terrorist group kidnapped a young woman, and for her release requested that her father shoot and kill one of his business associates, the father refused and his daughter was killed. This would be an extremely difficult situation to deal with as the terms were very rigid.

If the kidnappers are professionals there is a good chance that a hostage would be released when the ransom demands are met, it would be a bad business practice not to, as it would deter payments for future hostages. On the other side of the coin if the ransom demands are not met, it would be a good business practice to execute the hostage, to encourage future payments. The professionalism of kidnappers varies greatly from those that are highly skilled to Neanderthals; all, however, are capable of extreme violence.

Express kidnapping is a crime which has boomed over the last decade with incidents taking place globally, from Caracas to Vladivostok. Express kidnapping can be classed as a more comprehensive version of mugging. There have been cases in London where victims have been snatched from the street and kept in captivity for several days until their bank accounts have been emptied via ATM machines, online money transfers or checks etc.

One classic example of an express kidnapping that I know of happened to a businessman visiting a Central American country. When he arrived at the airport he went to the taxi rank and got a taxi to take him to his hotel, about 10 minutes into the drive the taxi pulled over and in jumped two men with guns. The victim was handcuffed, threatened and robbed to start with. He was driven to numerous ATM machines until he could not take out any more money on his bank cards. As he was being driven around one of the kidnappers was making phone calls trying to sell him to other groups, luckily for him no one wanted to buy him. The criminals had his passport and took his picture on a cell phone, then told him if he reported anything to the police they would find out, as they worked with the police, then they would come and kill him. The man went to his Embassy and they told him he was lucky, everything he lost could be replaced and not to report the incident to the police.

The chances are that the fact this man was a foreigner could have saved him from being sold on and into a ransom situation. These were not sophisticated criminals who had the skills and resources to be able to handle a high profile kidnapping. As I have stated before criminals don’t want attention and the kidnapping of foreigners usually brings attention from the international media and the Embassy of the victim, which means embarrassment for the government and pressure on local law enforcement to do something.

Express kidnappings are safer and more convenient for criminals, who do not need to be highly skilled and connected to pull them off. In a typical kidnapping the criminals will usually go to a wealthy area and look for a suitable target, someone who looks like they have some money and then snatch them. Once they have the victim they’ll be robbed, taken to ATM’s, sexually assaulted etc. If the victim has a cell phone the criminals may use it to contact their family for a ransom, the amounts requested in express kidnappings tend to be low. This is where locals make better targets than visitors; In say, Venezuela it would be easier and quicker for a resident businessman in Caracas to get and deliver a thirty-thousand-dollar ransom to kidnappers than it would be for the family of a kidnapped student who may live in Helsinki.

The main problems with express kidnappings are that the kidnappers are generally not what could be classed as high end criminals. This means they tend to be more violent and unpredictable than groups that target higher profile victims for large ransoms. As always, if ransoms are paid in express kidnappings there is no guarantee the victim will be released, especially if they can identify the criminals or have been sexually assaulted.

One tactic that criminals are using throughout South America is to contact the families of people who they have just stolen cell phones from or they know to be in places like cinemas etc. where cell phones are usually turned off. The criminals then claim to have kidnapped the owner of the cell phone or the person in the cinema and demand a ransom of a few thousand dollars, that the family needs to pay within a couple of hours. Now consider how you would react if you received a phone call from someone claiming to have kidnapped a close family member and telling you to drop off two thousand dollars at a location in two hours or they’ll be killed. You would want to contact your family member but if they don’t have or are not answering their cell phone, what are you going to do? In the U.S. or Western Europe you might want to call the police, but you might not want to call the police in a 3rd world country, anyway, what are they going to do in two hours? So, are you going to pay two thousand dollars or possibly have a family member killed?

Another take on this same tactic is being used by criminals in Latin American prisons, they make cold calls on cell phones to people and claim to have kidnapped their wife, daughter or son etc. The criminals request the ransom to be paid within an hour in the form of cell phone credits, which can be done over the phone or online with bank cards. Again think about what you would do if you could not confirm if you’re relative was free or kidnapped? These criminals are in prison, they have nothing better to do but make calls, if they can get one or two people a week to pay, and they are making a good living.

Kidnapping for Publicity

The groups or individuals who can fall into this category can be anything from animal rights or environmental protesters to hard core terrorists. As you can expect there would be a big difference between having to deal with Green Peace and Al-Quada Iraq.

If you are caught up in a situation involving an environmental group protesting oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico who have taken over a local government building there is a very good chance you would be released after a few hours when the media has turned up and the police have arrested them all, their cause would have been satisfactorily publicized. Violence is generally not in the nature of their cause and would not do them any good but always remember they are still are very capable of it.

On the other hand, if you’re a westerner taken hostage by Islamic extremists, you better hope that security forces get to you pretty quickly. There have been numerous examples of westerners being kidnapped and publicly executed, you can count on these people to be professional, focused, prepared to kill and die for their cause. For example look at the case of the Nord-Ost theater siege in Moscow, October 2002, all of the forty Chechen terrorists expected to die for their cause. The leaders of this group were all experienced combat veterans, who were well-prepared and armed for the task. If you are caught up in this type of incident you have big problems and should be constantly looking for the opportunity to escape.

Crimes gone wrong

The one of the most common cause for hostage situations in developed countries is where crimes go wrong and end up turning into hostage situations. For example, the police respond to a bank robber in progress and get to the bank before the robbers can escape. The robbers could then possibly hold out in the bank and try to negotiate for a car etc. so they can escape or negotiate with the police for favorable terms of surrender.

It is unlikely in this type of situation that the hostage takers will be trained and professionals, this does not make them any less dangerous; they may be more dangerous, due to panic, lack of discipline and any drugs they may be under the influence of. These days you can expect criminals to be well armed and if they are looking at lengthy prison sentences be prepared to resort to extreme violence. In this situations are going to have to rely on the police to negotiate with the criminals, but as always, you should be looking for ways to escape when safely possible.

Mental illness & domestic disputes

People suffering from mental illnesses or involved in domestic disputes account for the majority of hostage situations, especially in the U.S and Western Europe. With mental illness the most common situation tends to be that of disgruntled or sacked employee returning to a business to confront former bosses and escalating the situation into a standoff with police. If a corporation suspects a former employee may be mentally unstable it’s their responsibility to take the necessary precautions to protect their other staff members.

The reasons for domestic disputes and crimes of passion are endless but can also end up developing in to hostage situations; for example, what are you going to do if one of you employee’s ex-boyfriends turns up at your office and threatens to shoot himself and wants everyone to watch? These days if you own a business this is the type of thing you need to have procedures for dealing with, for liability reasons if nothing else.

Both of these situations are extremely dangerous due to the mental state of the hostage taker, who needs to be dealt with very carefully. As with crimes gone wrong, try to escape and leave these situations to the police negotiators.

Another type of domestic kidnapping is where an estranged parent will take a child they do not have legal custody for. These situations can become very complicated if the child is taken to or is in another country, as the local laws usually take precedence. The Hague Child Abduction Convention is the international law that tends to be used for child custody disputes but how this is interpreted at local levels is another thing. A single parent may have custody of their child in U.S. or Western Europe, but if their ex-partner is a citizen of a Middle Eastern country and manages to get the child there, the local courts will most probably give them custody.

I have been asked quite a few times if I could go to various countries to recover children who have been taken by estranged parents. I am happy to provide advice and highlight the fact that if the parent I am talking too has legal custody in U.S. this might not apply in the country the child is in. Also, if the child was snatched back, those doing so would have committed the crime of kidnapping, which in most places has a lengthy prison term attached. Combine the risk of being arrest and the child being harmed during the snatch, things are better left to embassy staff and trusted local attorneys.

Sex Trafficking

I am asked regularly about this threat, usually by parents who have a daughter going on holiday overseas. I cannot recall any incidents of where a tourists has been kidnapped and sold into slavery. Incidents of female tourist’s being kidnapped, raped and killed, sure, that happens; this crime is about sex and control, sex trafficking is about business.

The human traffickers that kidnap girls for the sex industry tend to target those from poor and developing countries, where the police and government response if one of their citizens disappears will be minimal, if any. The traffickers usually lure the girls from their native countries with adverts for decent jobs in Western Europe or the Middle East. When the girls arrive at meeting points where they believe they’ll be taken to their final destination they are kidnapped. The kidnappers take the girls passports, travel papers and traffic them to illegal brothels where they are usually drugged and forced to work as prostitutes.

If the families of these girls report them missing to their countries law enforcement there is not much they can do, the girls left home at their own will, they are young and maybe they don’t want to call their families, there is no evidence to launch an investigation. This scenario is a lot different than a tourist being snatched off the street to be used in the sex trade. Professional criminals are not stupid and do not want unnecessary attention from law enforcement, it’s bad for business. So why take the risk to kidnap a tourist when you can promise a girl a job and she’ll turn up at your door.

Being kidnapped

If you are caught in a kidnapping or hostage situation the most dangerous time will be is the first ten to fifteen minutes as the kidnappers will be very nervous and will have to let everyone know they are in control. If you’re being kidnapped you can expect to get hurt, pain makes people comply. In a group kidnapping or hostage taking it would be a good professional practice for the criminals to identify any group leaders or potential trouble-makers and execute them in front of the other hostages, as would give them the clear message of who was in control. There is also a high risk to those who have health problems such as high blood pressure or heart conditions; you need to keep calm, I have heard numerous stories of people dying from heart attacks and suffering strokes whilst being kidnapped.

Once it is clear that the kidnapping has been successful and you cannot safely escape you do not want to offer any resistance, just do as you are told. You can now expect to be blind-folded, bound and searched for cellular phones, identification, weapons and valuables. If you have a weapon, you should have a good excuse ready for having it. It is possible to conceal weapons and escape equipment from a searcher, which we’ll talk about in a later chapter. You should not carry any security, police, military ID cards or related items as these will draw attention to you and could lead to you being made an example of. I have told clients who are going to the Middle East to join a couple of Muslim associations and carry the association membership cards and literature with them, hopefully if they are kidnapped this will lead to more favorable treatment. This tactic can be applied in most places, pretend to have sympathies with the local bad guys, it’s all about you staying alive!

When you are being moved try to establish which direction you’re being taken. When you are living or visiting an area you should identify all prominent geographical features and objects, then if your kidnapped the incline of the terrain, speed your travelling or any noises such as rivers or trains etc. could give an indication to your location, When you can start to get the descriptions of the kidnappers; if they are masked, remember things like any jewelry they may be wearing, descriptions of their hands, like scars, or nail lengths, what they smell like, anything which could help identify them. Never look at the kidnappers faces as this can be taken as sign of over confidence on your part and overt attempt of you trying to identify them.

If the kidnappers are professional after the violence of the abduction, they will remain silent and assign one of their group members to speak to you when absolutely necessary, if at all. Now you can expect to be kept bound in isolation, which for a lot of people is more psychologically difficult to deal with than physical violence.
You never want to appear to be a threat to your kidnappers and should comply with what they want you to do. This may be the opposite advice you would expect when you’re in a life threatening situation but suffering from broken ribs or a fractured skull will severely limit your ability to successfully escape. Think about it, who are the kidnappers going to put more security on, someone who is putting up a fight or someone who is having a nervous breakdown, you need to preserve your energy, look after your health to able to survive or escape.

If you don’t cause any problems for the kidnappers they should start to relax, this is when you should try creating personal relationships with them without overstepping any boundaries and always being aware of Stockholm Syndrome.

Hostage Negotiations

Hostage negotiations should be left to a professional but, who actually qualifies as a professional negotiator is another matter. Every police department will have qualified negotiators, who will be experienced police personnel who have done a one or two week negotiation course for dealing with crimes gone wrong, mental illness and domestic hostage situations, not kidnapping for ransom. I personally, would want someone with more than two weeks’ training for dealing with psychos and failed Romeos, negotiating with professional kidnappers for my release.

Most federal and government agencies will have highly qualified negotiators, the trouble is when dealing with professional kidnappers they most probably have ex-military and law enforcement people working with them who have been trained by these government agencies and will know their procedures and tactics. Also, the official stance of most governments is that they will not negotiate with criminals, terrorists and pay ransoms.
If you or an associate is kidnapped, it will be up to the authorities of that country to negotiate your release; your own government will have no legal authority within that country. If it is a high profile case your government may someone to assist a co-operative local police, that’s about all you can expect, forget about Special Forces rescue teams, that’s Hollywood. The attitude of most Embassy staff will be that if you had paid attention to the government warnings and stayed away from the country, you would not have been kidnapped in the first place! In countries where kidnapping is common, your case will most likely go to the bottom of the pile.

On the commercial market, there are negotiators for hire. If you need to hire one make sure they have real world experience and understand that how things are done in different countries and cultures can vary greatly from the U.S. and Western Europe. Anyone can be given or make a certificate stating that they are a certified negotiator and the standards of negotiators you can expect to encounter range from excellent to being in league with the kidnappers. As with hiring any security staff you need to make sure they can be trusted and will work in your interests.

If you or an associate does not have the money or don’t want to hire an outsider, it could be up to you to deal with the negotiations, here are some very basic guidelines.

• Confirm, confirm, confirm! You need to confirm that the victim has actually been kidnapped and not just decided to go away without telling anyone and has no communications. A lot of situations that are initially believed to be kidnappings turn out to be false alarms or hoaxes.
• You will need to determine who has kidnapped the victim, criminals, terrorists and for what reason. A kidnap for ransom case will be dealt with a lot differently than a case of a child being taken by an estranged parent.
• Where safe to do so you will need to investigate the victim’s movements to try and determine when and where they were kidnapped. You will want to try finding any witnesses to the kidnapping that may be able to give you any information about the kidnappers.
• If the kidnapping was in public, the police may have been informed, so try to get copies of their incident reports, chances are you will not get any help from local police. If you get any leads, you should inform the local authorities, as long as you believe they are trustworthy and not working with the kidnappers.
• If there are no leads or it’s too dangerous to investigate you will have to wait to be contacted by the kidnappers. How this will happen will vary greatly but you will want to try to record or document all communications with the kidnappers, as this will help law enforcement with any possible follow up investigations, especially if the hostage turns up dead. Always cover your ass!
• When you communicate with the kidnappers, be firm but polite; remember, this is a business negotiation, you are buying an asset.
• If a ransom has been requested and you intend to pay, you will have to buy time, while it is put together and also try to bring the fee down to something which is realistic. In my experience I have seen ransoms drop from $3,000,000 to $30,000. Make the kidnappers’ demands seem unreasonable, but also indicate that you will do what you can to meet them, but make no promises.
• Whether you pay a ransom or not will depend on what your threat assessment indicates about the kidnappers; do they have a history of releasing hostages after a ransom payment or not.
• You will need to establish whether the hostage is still alive before you go any further, if you are dealing with professional kidnappers they will already have a system for this, usually this takes the form of personal questions and answers. You should try to speak to the hostage but if you’re dealing with professionals this will not happen, so don’t push it.
• If the kidnappers offer a voice recording or video tell them that you want the hostage referring to a recent incident or saying something you requested them to say. This will insure the recording was not made before the hostage was killed. These days forget photos with a recent newspapers, bodies can and have been frozen and brought out for photos.
• If you receive any of the hostage’s body parts, you may have problems as this is an indication they may kill the hostage. How you deal with this situation will have to depend on the feeling you get from the kidnappers, but be sure to confirm the hostage is alive at regular intervals.
• If you believe that the kidnappers can be trusted and you can come up with the ransom money, you will have to make arrangements for picking up, securing and the ransom drop off. This phase can be extremely problematic.
• The kidnappers will already have a plan for the ransom drop off; if you have time you will need to study the plan in-depth and prepare for all eventualities. The ransom drop off will need to be treated as a high risk operation as you need to consider that it could be a set up to kidnap or hit you.
• After the ransom is paid, hopefully, the hostage will be released. If they are not, there is little that you can do about it. If they are released, your follow up action will depend on where you are and the attitude of the authorities.

Hopefully you can see from these very basic guidelines that dealing with kidnappings for ransom can be extremely complicated and is something that cannot be covered in a manual. When you were reading through these guidelines I doubt you were thinking about the emotional state of the victim’s families; how would you feel if a close family member was kidnapped and you had to come up with and drop off a ransom?

The first guideline is to confirm that the kidnapping is an actual kidnapping not a misunderstanding or a hoax. I have been approached by several men who have been lead to believe that their girlfriends, who they have usually met online, have been kidnapped, usually by an ex-gangster boyfriend. On one case I investigated the girl friend was known to the local police as a prostitute, and had even got the boyfriend, who was madly in love with her, to send her money to buy a house that did not exist. She had then told this poor guy that she had been kidnapped and needed fifty thousand dollars to be released, he was trying to get the funds together when he called me. She’d never been kidnapped; it was just a scam to get more money from the guy. Needless to say, the wedding was off and I hope he stopped trying to meet Russian girlfriends online.

Kidnap and ransom services are not cheap and the actual tasks involved are not glamorous. If most investigators or security companies are ever contacted to deal with a suspected kidnapping there is going to be thing one thing on their minds, big money! I consulted for one client who was quoted an exorbitant amount to retain the services of a security company who had apparently rescued an associate of his from a potential Russian mafia threat in Central Asia. This client had received reports that a close friend of his had been kidnapped and the first company he approached were straight away talking about rescue and extraction operations and had the client very scared for their friend’s safety. We started by getting local assets to confirm if the kidnapping had actually taken place, what we found was an amateur scheme to try an extort money from our client by a third party, no kidnapping.

After talking with this client about his associates potential Russian mafia threat we strongly expect what was in reality a couple of strong words exchange with some thug was turned into a big pay day for the first security company he approached. By playing on this person’s fears they blew the incident out of proportion, good business for them and gave him something exiting to talk about at his dinner parties. In reality, if a serious Russian mafia group had wanted him dead he would not have made it out of the country he was in or be living care free and giving dinner parties!

Another thing you may need to do is investigate what happened, but only when it is clearly safe to do so. I have been contacted numerous times by “investigators” who wanted our assistance in going into locations to investigate kidnappings. On nearly all these occasions the investigators never spoke the local language, did not know the culture and would not have blended in with the environments, but wanted to go to the areas where the kidnappings took place and try to resolve things. I always turn down such requests unless my associates and I are given full control, as we do not want to get involved in potential fiascos that could lead to someone’s death.

These investigators motives are clearly to make money but they do not comprehend what they are getting into. All they would be doing by going to the kidnapping locations and asking questions would be pressuring the kidnappers. Who in return could kill the hostage because they had become too much of a risk or just kidnap and make the investigator disappear as a warning anyone else who may want to be a hero. I know of one incident on a Caribbean island where a hostage was being told real time by his kidnappers what his family was telling the police about his kidnapping, the kidnappers were working with the police. There is a big difference between Hollywood and the real world!

If you have to deal with a kidnap and ransom situation you must remain aware that you’re personal security takes priority, especially when picking up, moving and dropping off cash or valuable assets. I know of one incident in the Caribbean where a woman had twenty thousand dollars sent to her through her bank so she could pay a ransom for a family member. She picked up the money from her bank and was robbed at gun point before she could make it to her car, now she needed to find another twenty thousand dollars for the ransom. Do you think the kidnappers would care that she had been robbed, not really, they want their ransom money, and chances are they were in on the robbery, but they’ll still wanted the ransom? There is a saying “if they pay once, they’ll pay again”.

In a lot of high risk countries kidnapping groups will look to employ people who work in banks and can tell them who has cash in their bank accounts to pay ransoms, I know of one case where a hostage was told by his kidnappers how much money he had in his several bank accounts and what they wanted, he paid. A friend of this person called me a few months after the kidnapping asking my advice as this man’s secretary had been kidnapped and the kidnappers had approached him to pay the ransom for her. I told him to tell his friend to tell the kidnappers that if they wanted to kill her it was up to them; he would find another secretary. Remember, the kidnappers will see it as you paid once, so you’ll pay again, in my opinion it has to stop somewhere.

Orlando Wilson – International Defense Strategies LLC

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How to pick a lock

HOW TO PICK A LOCK

Bicycles: The Ultimate SHTF Ground Transportation

By: David Merriman

www.dmbiketech.com

bikeThink about it.  What other machine is hugely inexpensive, human-propelled, can move sizeable weight over long distances, on multiple road conditions and varying terrains, at reasonably good speed?  The title gave it away but a bicycle is a remarkably efficient form of transportation and very relevant to prepping plans.

I thought I’d offer my thoughts because even though there are several references to bicycles as SHTF transportation but there isn’t much detail in which bike would be optimal for most people.  Not only can a bike be simple and dependable transportation, but the right kind of bike can carry a lot of stuff.  In my case, full disclosure…I’m a bike technician, I have several suitable bikes ready to head for the hills and I wanted to share a few guidelines on what may be appropriate for your prepping.

bikeBikes are inexpensive, quiet, and easy to maintain, and last a long time if you just keep them out of the elements.  You may have seen riders with saddle bags (called “panniers” in bike lingo) of various sizes where you live.  There is a resurgence of ‘bike packing’ now so people are venturing out with camping equipment intending on a truly self-contained adventure.  With this new interest, there are several technological improvements that will benefit your bug out bike.

Don’t forget that before SHTF you can use your bike for exploring and local errands or even exercise! It’s a fun type of exercise, though.

So here are my suggestions to get you geared up.

Buy used…Always!

bikeUsed bikes are everywhere, and with the exception of high-end road or mountain bikes for enthusiasts, they depreciate at an amazing rate.  New bicycles lose 40-60% of their retail value within the first year after purchase. The main reason is because people think they want to get into cycling, buy a brand new bike, and discover that oddly enough, it does require a certain amount of effort to ride.  Too much effort for many and hence, used bikes in great condition are abundant.  I discovered this several years ago and haven’t bought ‘new’ since.  I have eight bikes of varying configurations in my family.

Check Craigslist first; there are always good, functional, and frankly, cheap bikes there.  Use the search options for price and words like “touring bike”, “mountain bike”, “MTB” to save time.  The most listings seem to come out in the fall/winter but there are always bikes for sale.

If your community has a ‘bike swap’ you can usually find some really nice bikes for a good deal.

What kind of bike? 

The best choice to bug out is either a touring bike, which is ready for racks and wide tires, and mountain bikes, even though you may not ride in any mountains.  They are typically built from sturdier materials and components, the frame geometry is designed for balance and carrying cargo, have wider tires suitable for nearly all road surfaces, and typically, lower gearing that will take you and your gear just about anywhere.

bikeMy suggestion is that you find a bike that has cargo rack mounting “eyelets” on the front fork and rear dropouts (that’s where the wheels attach to the bike).  These are integrated into the frame and easy to spot.  Look either for small “circles” or threaded holes on the dropouts.  When you have these, you can add racks that will carry a LOT of stuff both on the front and rear.  Add a handlebar rack and pack and you can pretty much travel wherever you want to go for as long as you can stand it.

When you find an interesting bike, make sure it fits you.  Be patient.  Find the right size.

  • Stand flat footed over the bike. If it touches you in your nether regions, it’s too big…don’t buy it.  1-2 inches of clearance is ideal because you don’t want to get hurt if you have to bail out or hit something that causes you to become unseated.  If it’s any smaller than that, proceed with caution.  A too-small bike will be relatively unstable and can stress some of the components because you have the seat post and handlebars extended beyond the safe limits.
  • You also have to be able to move the seat and handlebars up and down to fit you. If those don’t adjust to fit you better, proceed with caution.  I’ve seen a seat post that was irreparably seized inside the bike.

Which brand?   You really won’t go wrong if you find a brand that would be available at your local bike shop, because the quality is much higher than that of the big box stores.  You may have seen the brands, names like Giant, Trek, Cannondale, and Specialized are the biggies and used bikes are everywhere, but don’t walk away from brands like Fuji, Motobecane, Surly, and Novara (REI’s house brand) .  Do a quick web search on a bike you find if you’re uncertain.  The big box names won’t typically show up (except in blogs with people complaining.)

Just a quick word on the big box bikes that you can get everywhere from your grocery store to Wal-Mart.  Yes, they’re cheap, but in the bike biz they’re considered practically disposable because they cost more to repair than buying a new one.  You do get what you pay for.

How much should I expect to spend?

A fully equipped bike that’s ready to bug out can be as expensive as you want it so I’ll take it piece by piece:

  • Bike: You should be able to pick up something very functional for $75 up…shop around. Higher prices typically result in newer bikes with better components like brakes and shifters.  If you’re in the $200-500 range, you’ll get a lot of bike.
  • Tires/Tubes: Gotta have these. Order online and look for sales.  Figure $20-50 for tires, $8 for tubes.  Search: “discount bike tires”
  • Racks/bags: Try to find a bike that already has some if you can, because racks are $30+ new for both front and rear and bags can be $60+. Search: “bicycle touring racks and panniers”.
  • Parts: New brake and shift cables, cable housing, and brake pads will run you somewhere around $70-100 installed at your local shop and they’ll tune it up for you. Do this unless you’re confident in your mechanical skills.  If you need one, chains are $25 and up depending on how many gears you have on the back.  A new chain can be a blessing.
  • I highly recommend adding a frame pump. These mount to the frame and super-efficient and super low-tech.  Get one that can fill big, high volume tires.  You’re only going up to 50-60 psi. Search: bicycle frame pumps.
  • Don’t forget that bike trailers are readily available and can double your carrying capacity.

Does it’s age matter? 

It could, because bikes before the early 90’s tended to have fewer gears.  Gears help you move efficiently so you ideally want a wide range for varying terrain.

What should I look for?

  • Give it a good look all over with an eye to spotting abuse or neglect. Rust, especially on the chain, would indicate that it had been left outside.  Water will obviously wreck steel components. Proceed with caution. Tip:  Look for ‘quick release’ levers on both wheels because they can make your life a lot easier if you get a flat.  This is also a very subtle indication of the quality of the bike.  Quick releases indicate a bit better bike.  If you see a regular nut on either end you’ll need a wrench to change a flat.  Big hassle.
  • Pick it up to gauge the weight. Most bikes in this class will weigh 25-35 pounds.
  • Spin the wheels to see if they’re wobbly. If they’re too warped or there’s a big dent and won’t freely spin, you should probably look elsewhere. If they rub a little bit, that can be easily fixed by a bike shop.  Maybe as much as $25 to “true” each wheel.
  • Grab the brake handles. If they bottom out, they may be disconnected, the cables broken, the brake pads are worn down.
  • See if the pedals or the cranks (the pedals are attached to the cranks) are seriously loose or damaged. Could be expensive to repair.
  • How many chain rings are on the crankset? Three rings (called a ‘triple’) will give you a lower gear range which is better for carrying lots of stuff, especially if you’re going uphill. Two rings will work, though.  See if there’s a big cog on the back.  This is your granny gear.
  • Ride it. If the seller is accommodating and will help you move the seat up to better fit you that’s awesome.  Check to see if it shifts and stops alright and if the handlebars are loose.  Remember, if it runs pretty well but makes some noises, or is slow to shift, or the braking is marginal it’s just a matter of adjustment.

Bottom line: if it looks like a basket case, it probably is, so move on.  You’ll find the right one.

Appropriate frame materials:

Steel: It’s strong and can typically carry a lot of weight in the combination of rider and equipment but it is heavier and some of them can be real tanks.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but just be aware-Aluminum alloy: Also very strong, light weight, relatively inexpensive, and of course, rust free.  You get more bike for your buck.

There are other materials like carbon fiber, titanium, even bamboo.  Unless you want to spend some big bucks, my suggestion is to stay away.

What if I find a bike that I like, but needs some work?

bikeBicycles are a combination of simple mechanical devices with fairly standardized repair needs. Maintaining a used bike is relatively simple, and if you’re even a little bit mechanically inclined and have some basic metric tools like Allen wrenches, sockets, open end wrenches, etc you can probably get it done.  You can easily buy parts at your local shop and DIY.  YouTube has vids that will show you how to do just about anything.  As I tell my customers, “It ain’t rocket surgery.”

But, when in doubt…don’t.  Trust your local bike shop to do it for you.  They’ll do it right and it will last a very long time.

If you find a used bike that works, taking it to your local bike ship should only cost $50-100 to get all of the mechanicals working properly and safely. There are also dozens of online sources for “consumables” like tires, tubes, chains, cables, etc, etc, if you want to DIY.  And YouTube can teach you just about anything you need to know for basic maintenance.  Just a note here, I try to support local bike businesses…but only to the extent where it hurts my wallet.

I’m all set.  Now what?

Aren’t we about being prepared?  Well, get prepared for the basics like a flat tire or other mechanical issues.

Get a tool bag and put in it:

  • Two spare tubes;
  • A patch kit;
  • Two tire Levers;
  • A multi-tool with a chain accessory (if you break a chain…it happens); Search: bicycle multi tool
  • Beer opener. (That’s one of my must-haves.)

Now, go back to YouTube and search “how to fix a flat bike tire” or something similar.  Three are over a dozen good videos there.  Hint: if the tires on your new bike need to be replaced, do it yourself.  It’s good practice.

Also, search for maintenance tips.  You’ll get a lot of good information to increase your skill set and frankly, it’s kind of fun working on your own bike and knowing how stuff functions.

I’m happy to answer any questions or offer purchase advice.  Feel free to email me at [email protected] and please, pictures are very helpful!

Happy prepping!