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What Do You Do on a Bike Friday
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Jeff Holmes Southeast Asia 2008

Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam 2008 The primary reason for my Pocket Llama purchase in 2007 was to travel in Asian countries I had previously visited. I could avoid busier or more-difficult sections by transferring to public transport. With food and accommodation generally available and inexpensive there would be no need for the tent/sleeping bag/stove that I had used in the US for a number of months. As I was not flying to North America, my baggage allowance was just 20 kilograms as an economy passenger, plus an extra 10 kgs as a Thai Airways 'frequent flier.' I took the huge case that I collected with the bike in Eugene, but opted to leave it at my first guesthouse in Thailand, to be picked up a few months later. With plenty so see along the way I had no intention of riding every day, eventually spending about 50 days 'on the road' for a total of just over 3600 kms. I traveled to Aranyaprathet, near the Cambodia-Thailand border, by train, the bike inside a bag that was a bit too small. The ticket collector jokingly hinted about charging me extra! Cambodia, generally flat, was the easiest of the three countries to ride in, with traffic relatively light except near the capital Phnom Penh, and roads generally in good condition. The first 45 kms. from the Thai border was the exception - a horrible dustbowl of construction traffic on an infamous stretch of highway that I read has now been fixed-up. It seemed that every time I passed through a town or village the kids were going to/from school. Everyone wanted to race the 'farang,' and I was sometimes surrounded by a cluster of as many as twenty bikes. Traffic - especially the two-wheeled variety - was invariably hopelessly overloaded. Southern Laos involved a few crossings or part-crossings of the Mekong River. The country has a small population density and little traffic, making cycling a joy. The people are delightful, and the locally-brewed 'Beerlao' slides down well at the end of the day. I opted for a bus into the Vietnam highlands as the newly-finished road goes through remote near-virgin forest. It seems to have been built by the Vietnamese purely for timber extraction, and there were no settlements save for one big forestry camp. With the possibility of tigers about I wasn't keen on sleeping in the open. The coast of Vietnam has some beautiful scenery, and though Highway 1 can get busy in places there was usually a shoulder to ride in - as long as the locals weren't drying their newly-harvested rice in the sun. Beer is often sold by the jug - very weak and ridiculously cheap - giving a tiring cyclist a good excuse to take a break. After an overnight bus to Hanoi, I made a side-trip (without the bike) to beautiful Halong Bay before heading off westwards through the city's motorbike-clogged streets. It was a long steady climb into the hills to the border with Laos. Northern Laos has some intimidating (for me) mountains, and with time limited I opted to do the more difficult sections by bus, plus a day travelling down the Mekong. It was great to be able to just unfold the bike and ride away from bus-stations. The ones in Laos are sometimes (inexplicably) many kilometres from the centres of even small towns. There are many touring cyclists here, especially from Europe, drawn by the superb scenery and lightly-trafficked roads My final stretch on the bike was from the capital Vientaine across the 'Friendship Bridge' to Thailand. I hope to do a similar trip to the same three countries in a couple of years - covering new routes (like the Mekong Delta) as much as possible.