Once you get into to cycling you will likely want to start travelling with your bike to different locations to experience different scenery, weather, terrain or for racing. Although riding your bike in different locations can be an incredibly enjoyable experience, travelling with your bike to get to that location is not. I have travelled with my bike a lot, in fact the first time my spouse and I went on vacation without our bikes was four years into our relationship.
There are many things that make travelling with your bike a pain…including: the cost, risk of damage, getting it to the airport, physically lugging it around the airport/ public transit/hotels etc. and getting around during your vacation. I am going to share some tips on how to make this as painless as possible based on my own personal experience. Note that I will not go through how to actually pack your bike into the bike, as this can be easily googled. I really do encourage anyone who enjoys riding a bike to take a cycling vacation or travel to a race, it is worth the experience!
Bikes are an extra charge on flights. Bringing your bike is an important consideration when booking your flight because the charge can vary greatly between airlines from $50 to $300. Air Canada ($70 domestic, $85 to the US each way), West Jet ($70 each way) and Alaska Air ($70 USD each way) are the cheapest options. If your bike box weights over 50 lbs, these prices will increase drastically, so be sure to keep it under. Also, if you have a light bike and/or bike box and can fit the rest of your packing into the bike box and your carry on, you could save $20 or more on these prices (prices above include fee for 2nd checked piece of luggage). Most of the American airlines are around the $200 each way price range. So even though these are usually the cheapest flight options, the cost of the bike charge cancels that out and you are often better off with one of the former airlines mentioned.
Risk of damage
Most of us are quite protective of our bikes and damage is a real concern when travelling. The first thing you need to think about is a high quality bike box to protect your investment. Many bike stores will also rent bike boxes if you don’t want to purchase your own.
My first case was a Trico hard case and there was nothing that would get through this case. The cons of these hard cases are 1) they can be hard to close, I couldn’t do it alone; and some airports require security to open bike boxes, so the harder it is to close the more of a risk that they won’t close it right before it gets thrown around by the luggage handlers 2) they aren’t super easy to manoeuvre, there are only two wheels and a strap, so corners are a challenge and you end up carrying most of the weight of the box in the strap in one hand, so it’s quite heavy to lug around 3) storage and vehicle travel are difficult due to the dimensions – two boxes and two people require a SUV or minivan in most cases 4) they are also quite heavy, making it easy to get to the 50 lb weight limit.
Most soft cases may not offer enough protection and honestly I wouldn’t risk it. The exception is the Biknd Helium case. This is a soft case with inflatable blatters to protect the frame and plastic hubs to protect the wheels. I got a Biknd case last year when I was travelling to races alone with a neck injury. My favourite feature of the case is the four caster wheels that make the case incredibly manoeuvrable. You can pull the case behind you literally with one finger. The case also folds when not in use to a small size and even with the bike still inside the airbags can be deflated for vehicle travel so it will fit in most trunks. The other great feature for racers is that the case has room for two wheel sets so you don’t have to train on your carbon tubulars the week before the race. There is also room for your helmet, shoes, pump etc. With the light weight of the case you can easily fit in all these extras without going over the weight limit.
There are a few other things I do to prevent damage to my bike. One is using foam pipe insulation around the frame to prevent any scratches to the paint from other things you’ve packed with your bike. Another is always removing the rear derailleur from its hanger (one screw in the derailleur). Derailleur hangers can very easily get bent which will affect your shifting and can make the hanger more prone to breaking (I completely sheared mine the other day while riding). The Biknd packing instructions include this as a step, but it should be done with every bike box. The last thing is to consider is not using titanium stem and seat post screws. Both the stem and seat post must be removed while packing your bike and titanium screws tend to expand when they are used over and over and this makes them very prone to snapping. Save yourself the trouble of having to head to the local bike store at your destination before riding to replace your titanium screws and use aluminum.
Airlines require that you deflate your tires and not carry CO2 cartridges in your bike boxes. These are good rules to follow as they will also help to prevent damage to your bike. Always bring a mini pump with you when travelling to save having to buy CO2 once you reach your destination and leaving them behind when you fly home.
Travelling by vehicle with your bike box
I already touched on this in the last section but I have a few more things to add.
- Request a van cab to the airport and allow extra time for the cab company to accommodate this special request.
- It is very very difficult to get around at your destination without a rental car unless there is a direct shuttle bus from the airport to your hotel, you don’t plan to change hotels during your stay and you can ride right from your hotel. Most of the time I end up getting a rental car at the airport, as it makes travelling with your bike much easier.
- When travelling with just one bike, any economy rental car will do as even the hard case bike boxes can slide across the back seats. Some hatch back cars will fit one or more hard cases with the seats folded down. My spouse and I could fit two hard cases and two large suitcases in our Mazda 3 Hatchback. Choosing the correct rental is a fine line between trying to get the smallest size that will work to save money and risking getting one that one fit. If it’s not busy time of the year, rental car companies may upgrade you for free if your bikes don’t fit however.
- Another option is to find storage at the airport for bike boxes and put your bike directly into the car.
Cycling by Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia
Cycling in Mallorca, Spain, after an Ironman 70.3 race