Going on holiday with your bike is a fantastic way to discover somewhere new with total freedom and flexibility. With a little bit of planning, travelling with your bike can be a relaxing experience.
A bicycle is a passport to discovery, enabling you to head off the beaten track and immerse yourself in unfamiliar landscapes and culture. A bike can take you deeper into a country’s heart and soul and spark conversations and connections with the people you meet. Travelling by bike is fast enough to see changes in scenery and culture, even over the course of a day, but slow enough to easily absorb the adventure, taking it all in. The best way to experience any new place is from the saddle.
The downside? Few of us have the time to start a round-the-world trip from our own back door. Using other forms of transport can help you see more places and explore further, so with that in mind, here’s how to take your bike with you on planes, trains and automobiles…
Taking your bike on a train
On most UK train services, reserving a spot for your bike is free. However, numbers are often extremely limited so plan ahead and book well in advance so that you can reserve your spot when buying a ticket.
Before booking your tickets, check if your departure and arrival stations have step-free access such as ramps or lifts – and if they don’t, find out how many flights of stairs you’ll be lugging your bike up and down. In the worst-case scenario, it might even be worth changing your route to better equipped stations.
It’s still the case that bike storage on UK trains can be tricky to use. Bikes are usually hung vertically by a wheel in lockers designed to squeeze in two small road bikes. If you’ve got a mountain bike or an e-bike it will be a challenge to store them and you might need a second pair of hands. Whatever type of bike you have, don’t be shy of asking station staff for help – when the train pulls in, you’ll probably only have a few minutes to get your bike in or out of the locker, so every second counts!
Taking your bike on a plane
It can be nerve-wracking trusting your pride and joy to the thrills and spills of a baggage hold. If you travel with your bike a lot, it’s definitely worth investing in some way of packaging it. Specially designed bike bags or bike boxes offer lots of protection and make dragging your bike around airports really easy.
Also, be sure to check each individual airline policy when you book as they often treat bikes in different ways. With some it can count as a piece of luggage, with others you need to pay a specific sports goods fee.
Every airport seems to have different rules on what you can carry, even within the same country. Some places wave through gas canisters and multi-tools without a blink, others will confiscate them. Don’t risk taking your lucky multi-tool if you’re going to be upset to lose it.
Always carry your shoes, pedals, helmet and one set of kit in your hand luggage. If your bike fails to materialise at the end of the flight, you’ll still have everything you need to borrow or hire a bike. If you only have a week’s holiday this can make a real difference to your cycling fun.
Taking your bike by car
Bikes can either go inside your car or on a roof rack or towbar rack. Putting your bike inside the car has its advantages as it’s more secure from theft and it doesn’t add to your fuel consumption, but it takes up a lot of space, which may not be practical.
There are loads of brilliant and easy-to-use bike racks, but firstly you need to find a model compatible with your car. If you use a towbar rack, make sure your lights and number plate remain visible as this is a legal requirement. If you use a rack, think about security when you are not with the car, even just a quick stop at a service station. Finally, make a note of your car height with bikes to avoid the expense – and embarrassment – of crashing into a height barrier.
If you’re packing your bike inside your car, make sure you do not put too much weight on the frame and be careful that vulnerable components like the rear mech are protected.
When packing your car or van for a ride never put your shoes, quick-release, bolt-through, helmet or anything else on the roof. Put a rug down so that everything gets placed on there before going back in the car as a double check.
If you’re taking your wheels out on a disc-brake bike, make sure you have some cardboard to keep the pads apart while the wheel isn’t in place. If you don’t do this and the brakes get accidentally squeezed, you will need to push the pistons back to be able to get your wheel back in.
Taking your bike on a ferry
From UK ports you can take your bike all over Europe. Strolling onto a ferry as a foot passenger with your bike is an absolute delight. When you arrive at the other end you can just pedal away. It’s a great way to start a cycle touring holiday, with no need to pack and unpack your bike – and you can enjoy a relaxed crossing instead of being cramped up on a plane.
Depending on the size of the ferry there may not be a specific bike storage area, it’s not unusual to just lean your bike up against the side of the ferry inside the parking deck. Make sure you lock your bike securely and take with you anything you want during the journey.
Of all the ways to escape the UK by bike, taking a ferry is probably the most convenient and enjoyable.
Tips for travelling with your bike
Before packing your bike make a note of all the measurements so you can replicate your position accurately when you put your bike back together. Run a piece of electrical tape around your seat-post where it meets the frame. Then all you need to do to get the saddle height on point is to match up the tape with the frame when you pop your seat post back in.
Make sure you have any spares specific to your bike; for example, a rear-mech hanger, the correct length and type of spoke or anything else unusual. With these things you can quickly and easily repair your bike. Without them you can expect to waste your entire trip trawling around bike shops.
One final tip is to check your travel insurance and bike insurance while you’re away from home.