Suggestions and hints
This page contains information about the planning of a cycling tour through the African continent. The aim is not to be the most comprehensive one for cycling fanatics, but will offer suggestions and hints for cyclists who specially want to cycle in Africa. By far the easiest country to travel is South Africa followed by Namibia.
At our African Bikers homepage you will find interesting links about WEB-Cams in Africa, information about health/immunizations/visa requirements, tour reports of other cyclists, etc.
At the Download-page you can download all reports from our private page and read or print them later offline.
Here is some information (will be extended)
What is important for planning such a long tour?
We would like to mention that 10 years have passed since our tour happened. Exactly the same route would not be possible at the moment.
The participants should be aware of what the tour is all about and should work together in the planning stage. One can have more independence and freedom when everybody carries its own equipment.
It is important to get up-to-date information about war and catastrophic areas. Your foreign affairs office or the Internet pages of the African country's will help.
Alone or together?
The advantage of travelling alone is permanent contact with the locals. Therefore you will have great experiences. While travelling together some local people might be to shy to offer an invitation. Advantages for travelling together is the permanent exchange of ideas, while shopping on the markets one can take care of the bikes or when one gets sick, the other one can help. Spare parts, medication, tent, books and pots are easily distributed among each other and one carries less weight. We travelled seperately for 3 months. In that time we had the best experiences.Woman have cycled in Africa on their own. A "no" to revealing dress code isrecommendable, especially in the arab world.
When you take your first steps out of the developed world into poor Africa you will reach personal boundaries quite often. You might struggle with hygenic, cultural, political or infrastructure circumstances. Many things will be strange and thats why you must have a high tolerance level.
The choice of bike should depend on whether you will travel more on the tarred main roads or be more adventurous and explore the country sides on gravel roads. For the tarred biker an all terrain bike is better, for the off road cyclist we recommend a mountain bike.
The bike frame should have some flexibility, it enhances the travel comfort. So rather no aluminium but a chromium-molybden alloy. You shouldn't try and save money here. We both had a brand new bike frame and it broke in the Sahara even with a 10 year guarantee! Components like cantilever brakes and gears with a big variety - 3 pinion in front, 6-9 pinion in the back are important. The saddle can be plastic or leather.
We have used Brooks leather saddles with springs which were very comfortable, but need more maintenance. The handle bar should offer a variety of grips. It prevents the hands from getting tiered too quickly on a 6-8 hour cycling day.
Click pedals, straps or nothing is of own taste. Straps help to prevent the feet from tiring, but the best are click pedals with hard shoes. Shimano has got a click cycling sandle which is very comfortable in hot weather conditions like in Africa. One shouldn't save on carriers either. We cycled with carriers from the English company Blackburn and were impressed.
Another hint: when you use only one type of screw it saves you tools to carry.
Below is a list of "tested" equipment we would recommend:
The bike paniers should be made of water resistant material. We recommend paniers from the German company Ortlieb which are completely waterproof but are expensive. Try to travel with as little luggage as possible. We carried 35 kg each. That was a lot but we were independent. You should be able to do major repairs on your bike with your tools and spare parts. Special tools like spoke key, spare chain, chain rivet key and a 32 spanner are as important as 14-17 spanner for the wheels and spare balls. The Africans are cycling on cheap bikes Made in China and don't know all terrain bikes or mountain bikes. An exception is South Africa. In the larger cities you will find spare parts.
- Inflatable mattress
- Sleeping bag
- Water bottles
- Hand operated water filter pump from Katadyn Switzerland
- 10-litre water bag
- Real waterproof panniers from Ortlieb
- Long lasting durable tyres from Schwalbe
All medication should be bought at home and packed in a waterproof bag. A waterproof bag with a valve is ideal for a tree shower in the evening. The stove should be able to burn a variety of fuels. You only find gas bottles in southern Africa. A water filter is absolutely necessary. The catadyn filter from Switzerland was great. Or you can use water purifying tablets.
Unfortunately the scale of the 3-piece Michelin maps, which covers Africa, is 1 cm = 40 km. There are moderate amounts of mistakes in them, mostly geographical (altitude and town names are not always right).
We got special maps for the Sahara Dessert from the Geographical Institute in Paris (here take care as not all mentioned gravel tracks exist, some mentioned boreholes are full of sand or the water is undrinkable).
In general, it was possible to get sufficient information about travelling hazards and road condition once we were in the area. Often we were supplied with details, which one can't find on maps. At any time routes can be covered by sand or flooded therefore being impassable.
Don't take too much clothing. You can find cotton products anywhere on the African markets.
Including the return flight, we spent Euro 5000 for 13 months and 22000 km. We had travellers cheques in US dollars and French francs. Today you can use traveller cheques in Euro. In some countries you find a good black market where you can change for a higher rate than the official one e.g. Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe. To make use of them you need cash. Meanwhile some custom officals are clever enough to look into the saddle tube as well. A secret pocket in your cycling shorts or shirt is a good idea. At the borders nobody checked our bodies.
The classical route runs from Europe to Egypt, bordering a plane from Cairo to Nairobi and then cycle to South Africa. If you want to cycle across the whole continent you have to travel (May 2003) via Gibraltar, Morocco, Spanish, Sahara, Mauretania (in military convoi and train due to rebells), Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe/Botswana, South Africa. Don't travel in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the moment. If you only have 3 months to do this, you can start in Nairobi and cycle to Cape Town in South Africa.
In the northern, western and eastern countries only the main roads are tarred. Mostly they are in good shape however some are covered with potholes. The secondary roads are gravel and can be tough to travel on during the rainy season. A special country is the Democratic Republic of Congo. 99% of all roads are gravel and either sandy or muddy. On the 1800 kms we travelled in that country we were faster than any car we met! We lifted our bikes over fallen tree trunks, or crossed small rivers on foot. The main roads in Southern Africa are in very good condition, and the secondary roads are in good shape too. The exception is Mocambique. The secondary roads there are quite sandy.
In Namibia and South Africa you can drink water out of the taps and eat ice and fruits. We started filtering water in Algeria and stopped in Kenya. In most cities we found the tap water to be OK.
Malaria is prevalent in all Sub-Saharan countries, especially along the equator. Besides prophylaxis of paludrine and chloroquine, we each got malaria twice, once in Nigeria, Central African Republic and then in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The arab countries in the north, most parts of South Africa and Namibia and the whole of Lesotho are free of malaria.
We had diarrhea in northern, western and central countries. The eastern and southern regions are more hygenic.
In the arab countries hospitals are OK, in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa hospitals have western standard.
- Yellow fever (lasts 10 years)
- Malaria prophylaxis (recommended dosage: 2x/week 'Chloroquine' and daily 2 "Palludrine"', and consult your personal doctor and/or a tropical institute
Start early enough with the immunization program. Certain immunizations cannot be administered at the same time. More information should be available from the local governmental health departments.
Between Italy and Zimbabwe we didn't find any more supermarkets. Exceptions are the cities. There you can find important goods from Europe or South Africa but are very expensive. We always bought pasta there. In the country side we bought food on the markets or ate at the little roadside kitchens. The products were fresh and cheaper than in the cities. In the deserted or sparsely populated area we couldn't find enough fuel. So we had to reduce the daily travelled distance. When we arrived in South Africa it took a while to get used to the many shops again. Cola was found almost everywhere as well as beer in bottles.
French is spoken in most northern, western and central countries. The exceptions are Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and the western part of Cameroon. In the country side only a little English is spoken. This is so difficult to understand, people describe it as pigeon English.
In the eastern and southern region english is the dominant language. The exceptions are Angola and Mocambique. Their language is Portuguese.
Besides the former colonial languages are some African languages which cover vast areas. While travelling one learns the most important words along the way. The languages are Haussa from Nigeria which is spoken in many western African countries, Lingala from the Democratic Republic of Congo and for the central African region, Kiswaheli for the eastern region and Zulu from South Africa for the southern region.
People are as different as their culture. In the north we experienced great hospitality in the Sahara Desert. Only in tourist areas are the traders a nuisance. The West Africans are proud humans. They dress very colourful and are curious people, so whenever we arrived in a village children came running and the necessary afternoon nap became impossible. In contrast, the Eastern and Southern Africans are more reserved due to their British influence. But very helpful, only one shouldn't ask for directions or distances. The people want to help and give you any answer even if they don't know.
The best protection is ones own sense. In the cities one has to take care of thieves. In the country side the chances of getting mugged or robbed are little. In countries which are politically unstable you can go to any police station. In Nigeria Jens slept a couple of nights in prison cells, but with an open door!
In the time of e-mails one doesn't write many letters anymore. We picked up letters which where adressed "Poste Restante" every couple of months at post offices which we told our friends. In advance of the cities you'll find Internet Café’s and cellphone reception. Beware of the high user fees.