A guide for hitchbiking
This is going to be my first try to give a more or less coherent picture of #hitchhiking with a folding bike.
I am sure that there are thousands (probably millions) of people who have been thinking about taking a folding bike on their hitchhiking adventures. But never did. Because, like me, they didn't find a lot of inspiring information or experiences shared online (there is a bit of information on hitchwiki). Little information makes it difficult to estimate how much fun #hitchbiking is. This short video might give you a nice first idea: https://peertube.mastodon.host/videos/watch/8c8f03f1-d5a4-4005-ada8-ebc896136d38 (Spoiler: it is a lot of fun!) So being in a comfortable situation (money, time, other privileges) I gave hitchbiking a go and went on a two and a half months trip (mostly around Italy). Now, 4 months later (of course I procrastinated publishing this post), I want to give a first overview of what I think is useful to know and consider while taking a folding (touring) bike on your journeys or your day-to-day hitchhiking trips.
This guide-like post focuses more on (nomadic) bike touring with a folding bike. The kind of trips where you take 'all you need'. For shorter distances and smaller trips some of the things mentioned here can be neglected.
I will start with some pros and cons of taking a folding bike vs. hitchhiking without a bike.
(a lot of this can be found on and was taken from hitchwiki and many points are obvious – others maybe not):
- The bike can carry your luggage, so your spine doesn't have to (so if needed you could load more weight than you would without a bike)
- you can decide whether you want to travel by bike or hitchhike (mostly both) – you can decide to only cycle beautiful bits
- you can hitch up a hill and cycle downwards (or cycle up and hitch down)
- you can cycle to service stations located on the highway and enter via one of the small service roads behind – more about that later
- Flexibility: no (or at least less) need of public transportation – that means you can explore little beaches, rivers or villages with your bike and hitchhike further afterwards. That also means no need of black-riding or spending money on tickets. Also dumpster diving is easier and more flexible with a bike.
- You have a bike. This is just very convenient because most likely the people you stay with usually also commute via bicycle and don't need to adapt to you not having a bike. (If you want to do things together.)
- Trust: people tend to trust someone travelling with a bike. They are curious. This can be useful while asking for a ride or dealing with police. (Especially if you really look like a cyclist: helmet, panniers, ...)
- Being on a bike with a lot of bags creates a lot of attention when arriving somewhere. This can be helpful when you are looking for a place to stay. People tend to be more likely to offer hospitality. (No experience with that yet – will update about that after my next trip.)
- It is more easy to find a good and secluded spot for wild-camping
- It is unlikely that you get stuck in a bad hitchhiking spot. You can just cycle somewhere else.
- Drivers have to make less detours for you. You can just cycle the last bit.
- You can just store your bike somewhere for a while and do some hitchhiking trip without the bike and pick it up later.
- You get to use warmshower.org – a couchsurfing alternative for cyclists only. But also on couchsurfing it seems easier to find a host when mentioning that you are bike touring. Again the trust thing. I think there is this common thought of “bad people wouldn't do bike touring”.
- Self organized bike kitchens are good spots to find friends (of course also for non cyclists – but having a bike makes first contact more easy) – and you can join local Critical Mass events!
- you get to do some physical exercise – which just very healthy and usually more difficult to include in hitchhiking only trips (at least for me)
- You have to take into account that repairing a bike costs money. And needs knowledge. And some folding bikes (Birdy or Brompton) need specific spare parts which are not available everywhere on short notice.
- it is more effort to get into cars. You need to fold your bike. Maybe use a cover if it is rainy to not spoil the back seat (my bike fits perfectly on 1,5 seats). This can be a bit annoying on busy roads. (That's why cycling to a service station is very convenient – I rarely start on the road.)
- Sometimes you might not fit into the car with the bike. But this is actually rare. Most people drive alone or in two and have space for a bike.
- Hitchhiking with another friend (without a bike) is more difficult, because you have to fit two people and a bike (also one bike is not very useful for two people) – but it is totally doable!
- It seems to be more of a solo thing to do. Which is fine if you like travelling alone. (But in the future I want to experiment with more people hitchbiking together. More on that idea in a future post!)
- According to hitchwiki in countries with tiny cars and few trucks it's harder. (But I have no experience with that yet. Germany, Slovenia, Italy and also Sicily were just fine.)
- Your bike can get stolen (obvious, but that would be annoying.) But also it is folding, so you can store it inside more easily.
- It might not be obvious that you are looking for a ride. But it is also not too hard to make it obvious. By having your bike folded for example.
- Folding bikes are expensive. If you want one with a good gear ratio – suited for climbing a hill – you will have to spend some money (the Dahon Speed TR I use can be found for ~450€ second hand)
What to consider when choosing a bike:
- If you want to be able to occasionally do proper bike touring (80-120km during one day – yes it is doable) and not just only use if for short distances you might want to get a strong bike with a broad gear ratio – or choose flat distances only
- Front and back panniers are important to separate the load. The bike itself doesn't matter too much because your are not carrying the bike a lot. But of course having a light bike is comfortable.
- Maintainability is important: so it is quite convenient to know that you wouldn't have a hard time finding spare parts (Again no experience with that yet.)
- wheel size – I have 20” inch wheels. That's the standard size and I think its just fine.
- Foldability – the folding size and the folding time for standard 20” bikes is just fine. Drivers tend not to mind you taking some seconds longer. Mostly you are not in a rush. (Unless you are commuting to work and getting in to trains daily. But I guess you are not reading this post to get info for those circumstances.)
- Your bike set-up is important – so you need some time to think and prepare that: What kind of bags. Whether you want a back pack for flexibility. How to attach stuff to not have too many separate bags.
As a reference: this is the bike I chose for my first trip: https://dahon.com/bikes/speed-tr/ – I was very happy with the performance.
Cycling to service stations:
Most of the times it is especially difficult to start hitching out of bigger cities. Service stations are rarely in walking distance. So often, while hitchhiking, you have to take public transport AND walk for a while to find a good spot. With the bike you can look for a service station directly on the highway (you are looking on a map and no, you are not cycling on the highway – people actually ask me that question) and cycle there. Service stations are often protected by fences, especially if the drivers have to pay fees for the highway. Or general for animals not entering the highway. But there is usually an entrance for pedestrians (for the people working there). For now I can only speak for Italy (and Slovenia) – in most cases there was a revolving door which is passable (you have to fold the bike). In other cases there was just a door. Unlocked or locked. Worst case, if it is locked, you basically have three options:
- Wait for somebody to enter or exit to open the door. Officially it is forbidden to enter so some people might want to stick to the rules and not let you pass, but if you are nice (or insisting, maybe both) it shouldn't be a problem to convince them to let you pass or at least not call the cops if you do.
- If doable you can climb the fence. You have to find a way to carry your bike over the fence. Worked once for me. But it depends a lot on the setting. (risk of being seen, climbability of the fence, your physical condition, whether you can be bothered to do it)
- Leave and find another spot to hitchhike (another service station or a highway entrance – the one just before the service station makes a lot of sense).
If people ask (and they do) how you entered the service station it might be wise to initially tell them some previous driver dropped you off. You don't need people working there to know that you entered illegally.
Getting into the car:
This is something that gets easier over time. The first few times it feels quite cumbersome. Mostly because you are not used to lifting the bike, while avoiding to get your hand or your clothes greasy. Also lifting it with the cover around it makes it a bit more difficult. After a while I only proposed to put a cover, as most people don't care very much (unless it is really dirty/wet.) I usually prefer to put the bike on the back seat. It also fits in most trunks, but the back seat is easier and more convenient. You can shift it a bit and it leans nicely and doesn't move around. If you want to be extra careful you could also try to fasten it with the seat belt.
I personally get a bit into a rush when entering a car. Because I don't want to take too long to not disturb the person taking me and also the traffic which might be blocked. Of course with a bike it takes even longer. So often I have to remind myself to just chill. There is no need to rush. The traffic can be disturbed some seconds longer and also the person who is willing to take me usually doesn't mind waiting ten seconds longer. Also rushing might make you lift the bike in way your spine will not appreciate. Folded up, the bike is not as comfortable to carry/lift as when unfolded.
Okay for the beginning this is as good as it gets. And this is a first version. If I come up with some other stuff I consider worth mentioning (and I assume I will) I will edit the info here. Or write a new post.
Ah and if you want to get an idea which distances I cycled and which I hitchhiked (alone or with another person) you can have a look at this map (you can uncheck some boxes to disable the colors): https://umap.openstreetmap.fr/en/map/hitchbiking-map_179033#5/45.321/5.823
I hope I did spark some excitement.
(For more updates about hitchbiking you can follow me on social media if you search for hitchbikerevolution.)