Getting to Europe with Our Bicycles

I sometimes find the toughest part of any bicycle touring journey is just getting to the where you wish to start. This year a small group of us have to get our bicycles and ourselves to Europe.

Packing your bicycle

I have used the first four of these methods on previous trips:

  • Cardboard bicycle box from store – although recommended by some this is a terrible idea as it is big, clumsy, hard to move in the airport and requires a big taxi if you wish to transport it anywhere. This is just a bad idea.
  • Bicycle box – they can have hard sides to protect the bike and with wheels can be be moved through airports, although it is difficult for airport workers to handle and sometimes they have been known to toss it around. There is a soft sided version of a bike box which requires you to remove both wheels. Overall this is a good option although it can restricts you to a circle route.
  • Plastic bags – large and made of very tough plastic supplied by some airlines. When you arrive at your destination in the baggage arrivals area you can straighten out the handlebars, add your pedals back on and inflate the tires and be on your way in minutes. This is also an excellent option.
  • Rental bikes – works best for shorter trips which are in one country.
  • Shipping – there are companies that handle sports equipment and can send them to your first hotel, this option is expensive.

Bicycle BoxTip:

If taking a bike box I fly into a city and book for a nearby hotel to stay the first night leaving the box returning to the same hotel for a few nights at the end of the trip. I have done this on several trips and the hotels have never charged for storing the bike box. Of course you could also store it in the baggage room at the airport or ship it to another hotel for your final night, both these options can be expensive.

Considerations for booking the flight

  • Fly to city closed to start of your trip with the lowest fare, and consider charter flights if available (you can book direct or use a travel agent to assist)
  • Amount of baggage you can take
  • Policy regarding transport of bicycles. Is a bike box required or do they supply a large plastic bag
  • Is your bicycle part of your luggage allowance?
  • Fee for taking bicycles
  • Avoid connecting flights if possible

Sneaky Airlines

Sneaky airlines, for example using Air Canada you are permitted one piece of checked luggage (your panniers) and the fee for bicycles is $50.00. However bikes are considered a second piece of luggage for $100 so the fee is really $150 each way. Another airline on the same route is only charging $30 one way, a huge difference..

We bunch our panniers together with bungee cords after placing in a plastic bag so they are one piece of checked baggage if it fits within our baggage allowance. Some others just carry them on the airplane.

Why you need Travel Insurance

Bicycle touring is a fun and safe activity. However you are usually cycling in an unfamiliar area and situations can happen. It is essential you protect yourself with travel insurance when your bicycle touring takes you away from home.

Shipping your bicycleMedical coverage – particularly if cycling outside your home country as medical costs can add up. It is important that you have a worldwide emergency contact and a plan that will advance funds to pay upfront if necessary. Note that most travel plans require you to call the insurance company immediately if you have an accident.

While in Switzerland, I had a minor accident involving my ankle where I could barely walk. I saw a doctor and paid the bill for the X-rays and a small cast and was reimbursed by the insurance company.

Baggage coverage – a group of us flew to England for some bicycle touring in the Cotswolds. On arrival we discovered that two of the bicycles were damaged. We rented bikes in England and upon our return were reimbursed for the repairs to the bikes after presenting the bill.

Cancellation coverage – In September 2001 a group of us were bicycle touring in Germany and discovered all flights to North America were cancelled. We incurred major costs for an additional four unplanned days in Germany involved accommodation, meals and train tickets to the airport. Our insurance plan covered 50% of the cost upon presentation of receipts.

Important lessons regarding travel insurance when bicycle touring

  • Always have travel insurance when leaving the country
  • Report any medical situations immediately
  • Always ensure you have a worldwide contact who can advance funds if necessary
  • Coverage should include medical, cancellation and baggage (your bike)

You may not have the insurance coverage from work

you think you have

Many people while traveling assume they are covered by work plans or their credit card plans. Review these carefully as there may be restrictions on the coverage. The best benefit of travel insurance when bicycle touring is peace of mind, knowing that you are protected if something unforeseen does happen.

We have booked our non-stop flights for the European bicycle touring trip this year and some of our group have decided on bicycle boxes and others on plastic bags, we will see what happens.

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