Reports of terrorism, abductions, and unspeakable atrocities against travelers litter the news. And that's just the domestic headlines we're talking about! If your only source of information were the mainstream news media, you might guess that stepping beyond your front door equaled a death sentence.
In reality, the world is full of decent, kind people who go out of their way to welcome and assist travelers. You just have to use your head and a little common sense to stay safe. For instance, heed State Department advisories about countries and regions deemed not safe for tourists. In general, know your surroundings and cultivate a sense of what the military calls "situational awareness." Avoid boisterous crowds that don't appear to be parades or festivals. Act dumb and non-threatening if confronted.
Now that we've fulfilled our legal requirement to scare you half to death, consider that you will likely encounter far more "road angels" -- strangers willing to go the extra mile to help a cyclist-- than highwaymen.
Nancy Sathre-Vogel writes on her blog, "Hundreds of people from all walks of life have reached out to us with trust and kindness, and showed us the 'other' side of mankind; the side not portrayed in the morning paper or nightly news." (On a side note, the Vogels' site offers a jackpot of knowledge on how to plan, finance and finagle an adventure cycling lifestyle; a must-read if you plan on doing this) [source: Sathre-Vogel/Familyonbikes.org].
Beasts of the field: A few words about animals: Yes, they make for great photo ops. But they're called "wild" animals for a reason. Even domesticated species can be unpredictable. Use your best judgment with animals that are other people's pets. As for everything else, understand you take a risk when you get close...and that rabies shots are a lengthy and painful course of treatment. The good news is that on a bike, there's a good chance you can out pedal most creatures that might chase you -- if you start off with enough separating distance.
Dealing with bike-stealing scum: Thieves love bikes. In the United States, bikes serve as another form of currency in the criminal underworld. In developing countries, a bike is akin to a car. Not every place you visit will have bike thieves, but it's safest to assume they all do. What can you do to keep their grubby mitts off your ride? Keep your bike in your sight (or hidden) at all times, for one. This is where having a cycling partner comes in handy. One person can keep an eye on the bikes and equipment when the other has to enter a building to conduct transactions, use the restroom, and so forth.
Thieves also like easy, juicy marks that yield big paydays. So anything you can do to not appear like a rich out-of-towner works in your favor. Eschew flashy jewelry, stylish clothing, and ostentatious displays of high-tech gadgetry to reduce your chances of being profiled. Here's also where an unassuming-looking bike is an asset. You don't necessarily have to spray paint your frame a flat, dark grey to deflect attention...though it probably wouldn't hurt. Finally, lock your bike to something secure at night (or bring it indoors, if possible).