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Have Two Wheels Will Travel
Thinking about bringing your bike along next time you travel? It’s easier than you think. Most modes of transportation make it remarkably straightforward for you to take your bike on the road.
Getting access to a bicycle while travelling is fairly easy these days. An ever-increasing number of major cities around the world have bicycle-sharing systems. Where there’s no bicycle sharing, it’s usually possible to rent a ride. These are acceptable avenues for access to a bicycle for short stays. However, if you’re going to be staying somewhere for several days or weeks, it might be worth considering bringing your own bicycle.
There are advantages to having your own two wheels, not the least of which is cost. Repeated use of bicycle sharing or rental for the duration of a longer stay can easily exceed the cost of transporting your own bicycle. This was my rationale when I decided to take my bicycle to France for two-week stay last summer. Flying with my bike to and from France cost me $60. A rental would have set me back as much as $20 a day.
The other key advantage is that, well, it’s your bicycle. It is (hopefully!) adjusted to your body, and vice versa. Having a properly fitted ride is especially important if you plan any longer distance rides.
Moreover, for many of us, our bicycle is an extension of our bodies, an essential expression of our style. Do you really want to cruise around a fabulous foreign city on some awkward, ill-fitting hybrid bike?
Packing Your Ride
If you’re flying or taking a bus, you will be required to partly disassemble and box your bike. You will have to remove your front wheel, your handlebars and your pedals. If you have a fender on your front wheel, it’ll have to go too. To do this, you’ll need a set of hex key and a pedal wrench, plus a 10 mm wrench if removing a fender. Lower your seat all the way or remove it and throw it in the box along with the pedals. If flying, you are required to deflate your tires.
You’ll need to put your bicycle in an appropriate container. I recommend a used cardboard shipping box, which you can get from any bicycle store. There are hard carrying cases for bicycles, but these will set you back at a few hundred bucks and won’t really protect your ride any better.
Though this may sound like a bit of a drag, it should take no more than 15 minutes once you get a hang of it. See this helpful video.
Transporting Your Ride
It’s possible to travel with a bicycle by bus, train, or plane under certain conditions. Below I outline the general conditions, but be sure to verify the exact cost and rules with your carrier.
In North America, Greyhound and most other carriers accept only boxed bicycles. They charge up to $30 per direction to carry bicycle, independently of the distance travelled. In Europe, some bus carriers will load unboxed bicycles into their cargo holds.
Trains in both North America and Europe are generally friendlier to bicycles than the other modes of transportation.
In the US, Amtrak accepts boxed bicycles on most trains with checked baggage service. There are also several trains with so-called walk-on bicycle service, which allow passengers to simply board with their fully intact bicycles and stow them on designated racks. As spaces are limited, a bicycle reservation is required most of the trains with this service. A $5-10 fee per direction applies.
Canada’s Via Rail similarly accepts boxed bicycles on trains with baggage service. It also runs a certain number of designated “Bike Trains”, which can carry unboxed, intact bicycles. However, this is not a walk-on service. Bicycles must be dropped off and picked up at the baggage counters at the departure and arrival stations respectively. A C$25 per direction fee applies.
In Europe, boxing a bicycle for train travel is usually not required. Most trains allow passengers to walk on with a bicycle, albeit only onto designated carriages. On regional trains, bicycles usually travel free of charge without a reservation. On intercity express trains, such as TGVs in France of ICEs in Germany, the number of bicycle spaces tends to be limited. A reservation is often required and modest charges (no more than €10) may apply.
Airlines only accept disassembled bicycles. Most require they be placed in a box or a hard case, but some accept soft cases. There is always a charge, in the range of $30 to $60 per direction.
It’s important to keep in mind that, even in dismantled form, a bicycle considered oversized luggage (unless it’s a folding bike – see below). You will need to take it to an oversized luggage scanner, which is not always convenient. Allot some extra time for this operation. Ergo, arrive at the airport a touch earlier.
If you have a folding bike, you can avoid the hassle of disassembling and boxing your bicycle. As folding bikes take up no more room than a standard suitcase, you can travel with one on just about any vehicle and you can avoid special charges. If you’re mainly spending time in urban areas, a big plus with folding bikes is that you can bring them aboard most means of public transit without restriction.
However, folding bikes are mainly suitable for short hops around urban areas. If you envisage longer rides, it might not be ideal.