Cycling Africa

Bike Touring Africa: 5 Things You Should Know Before You Start

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Bike Touring Africa is an immense undertaking. In fact, I think this is something that can get lost in the process when it comes to planning the trip. In other words, you can draw lines on a map all day long. But when you get out there, it can feel a little overwhelming.

In late 2013, I set out to cycle from Cape Town to Cairo. It took me one year to finish bike touring Africa. Now: it was an epic trip and probably the most epic I will ever take. However, it was also many other things –  scary, lonely, painful, hot, uncomfortable, exhausting….you get it!

Anyway, before you go, here are five things you should know about bike touring Africa:

Quick Answer: Things to Know before Cycling Cape to Cairo

– Cycling Cape to Cairo is a Very Long Way

– The Number One Cause of Illness is Dehydration

– Never Leave Food in Your Tent, Seriously

– You Should Forget About Expectations in Africa

– Weight is Important on an Africa Cycle Tour

5 Things You Should Know About Bike Touring Africa

Bike Touring Africa Map

1. Cycling Cape to Cairo is a Very Long Way

If this is your first time bike touring Africa, you need to know that drawing lines on a map is easy. In other words, planning your adventure is usually a lot more exciting than the actual cycling. It may sound obvious but trust me, you think about this every day. That being said, this is something you learn on the road, that you just need to accept these incredibly long distances.

Bike Touring Africa Tip: Download offline maps so that you can know precisely how far you are from towns etc at any time. I spent the entire year guessing these distances and it was exhausting. If I did it again, I would have GPS maps and a SPOT device for tracking.


Water with Oranges

2. The Number One Cause of Illness is Dehydration

When I was bike touring Africa, I fully realized the importance of staying hydrated. In fact, I suffered with heat exhaustion two months into the trip and well, I was very lucky to come out of those few days. What’s more, I worked as an overland tour leader for several years in Africa and realized the importance of hydration even more during this time. That is to say, when my guests were inflicted with “malaria” or any other illness, it almost always the fact that they were dehydrated.

Bike Touring Africa Tip: Carry way more water than you think you will need at all times. Also, sprinkle fresh orange or lemon into your drinks along the way – it’s refreshing and super good for hydration!


Camping Africa

3. Don’t Leave Food in Your Tent, Seriously

I cannot count the amount of backpackers and cyclists in Africa who think that leaving food in their tent is okay. True, most of them get away with it but trust me, you don’t want to risk what can happen when a hungry elephant comes along. Again, I say this from the perspective of a tour guide. In other words, I have witnessed exactly what can happen when you leave food in your tent and you should simply never, ever do it.

Bike Touring Africa Tip: Keep Food in Your Panniers when Wild Camping but never right next to your tent.


Bike Touring Africa

4. Forget About Your Expectations

Everything happens tomorrow in Africa – especially when it’s urgent. As for the guest houses, restaurants or shops along the way, you need to lower your expectations or better still – get rid of them. As for customer service, forget about it!

Bike Touring Africa Tip: Before cycling Cape to Cairo, I had already spent one year in Africa. I had enough experience to know that everything happens differently in Africa. If you realize this before you go, it will save you a lot of stress on the trip.


Cycling Cape to Cairo Lightweight

5. Weight is Important on an Africa Cycle Tour

I take a lot of long distance hikes nowadays and in my Pacific Crest Trail blog, I talked about the weight issue a lot. When I was bike touring Africa, I paid no attention to weight until one week into the trip but by then, it was too late to change any gear. For this reason, I cannot recommend enough that you buy lightweight gear for cycling Cape to Cairo.

Bike Touring Africa Tip: Buy a Big Agnes Tent on Amazon. They are so damn lightweight and I take one on all of my trips!

And that’s it – my first five tips for Bike Touring Africa! What did I miss? Have you any tips for Cycling Cape to Cairo? Please let me know in the comments!

Derek Cullen is an experienced overland tour leader in Africa. He is best known for cycling across Africa and writing about travel in Africa for many online media publications. If you would like advice or information for your trip to Africa, you can speak with him directly through the LiveChat box!

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