In getting around while away we are usually relegated to taking a taxi, using public transport or by renting a vehicle, most often a car. With the popularity of cycling soaring worldwide however, exploring a new country by bicycle has become an eco-friendly and relatively inexpensive alternative. For most of us, simply renting a pair of wheels at destination is the easiest way to go but for some, more serious enthusiasts, bringing their own ride is absolutely the only way to go.
Like any sport, using your own equipment is ideal but is it worth it? It largely depends on what you’re looking for out of your trip and exactly what you’re looking to do.
If you’re yearning to live like a local and comb the canals of Amsterdam on a classic cruiser for a day or two, do yourself a favour and leave your bike at home. Most cities with even a semi-healthy bike culture will have a multitude of rental outlets offering hourly, daily and even weekly rates using fairly solid equipment. If the plan is to race, tour a region extensively or to use a bicycle as your only means of transport, you may want to be a lot more comfortable and opt to bring your own.
For anyone considering packing up their beloved for an overseas adventure, here are a few things to consider.
Note: All airline and train policies are always subject to change, and they do. Always check directly with your carrier PRIOR to purchasing tickets to make sure you can accommodate the supplier’s conditions of carriage. Whenever possible, make a reservation first, check your reservation with your airline or train service in regards to carrying a bike, and if it all pans out, only THEN purchase your ticket.
Most, if not all, scheduled airlines offer the carriage of sports equipment. Unfortunately, not all carriers have the same rules or levy the same fees for this service. The following guidelines and policies belong to Air Canada and are meant to be used as an example and guide only.
Register Your Bike
Once you’ve made a reservation, contact your airline to register your bicycle on the flight. As planes all have a maximum weight they can fly with, they are only able to carry a certain number of bikes on any given flight.
Failure to register your bike and just showing up with it at check-in can leave you in a precarious position, if your flight’s maximum weight has already been reached or if the airline can’t accommodate you for any reason. If you’re unable to fly with your bike and you wish to change your ticket at this time, change fees will most likely apply.
Bikes as Checked Baggage
Each bicycle counts as one piece of baggage towards the maximum number of checked bags allowed by your fare type.
Weight and size limits, per bag, are as follows:
Maximum weight: 32kg (70lb)
Maximum linear dimensions (length + width + height): 292cm (115in)
If your packed bicycle exceeds the above limits, the item may need to be carried as cargo, on a separate flight.
Packing Your Bike
In general, sports equipment bags and cases can’t contain other personal items such as clothing and must be used solely for the equipment they are meant to carry.
Your bike must be packed in a rigid and/or hard shell container specifically designed for shipping or in a ‘bicycle suitcase’, in the case of collapsible bikes. Handlebars must be fixed sideways, pedals must be removed and tires must be partially deflated.
Airlines offer different fare types and each fare type has its own rules. As a general rule, the cheaper the ticket, the more restrictive it is. These restrictions could include the number of free bags you are allowed to check. Consult a Flight Centre Airfare Expert for details and to find the fare that best suits you and your bike.
If your checked baggage count (bike + number of bags to be checked) exceeds the maximum number or items allowed by your fare type, additional checked baggage fees will apply, in addition to a fixed handling charge of $50CAD, plus applicable taxes. The handling fee applies per direction or half-roundtrip, doubling on a roundtrip ticket.
The above handling fee is waived if travelling on a ‘full’ Economy (Latitude fare type with Air Canada), Business or First Class fare or if you hold a high frequent flyer status with your airline (Altitude status with Aeroplan).
Shipping Your Bike Ahead of Your Arrival
For the least amount of hassle, consider shipping your wheels to and from your destination in advance. Luggage Forward promises guests door-to-door pick-up and delivery, 2 or 7 business day delivery options between Canadian destinations, a full money back plus $500 on-time guarantee and currently, a discount on shipping costs, if flying with Air Canada (until May 1, 2017). International service is available to more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
Travelling with a bike is a heck of a lot easier when taking a train. In Canada, VIA Rail’s bike policy is simple – there is a $25 (plus tax) fee, per direction, payable upon check-in at the baggage counter or departure gate if the baggage counter is closed. No packaging required!
South of the border, AMTRAK offers a similar service with bike carriage fees as low as $5USD, per direction. Bicycle racks can be reserved at time of booking and some trains require you to make a reservation. For a comprehensive list of trains that accommodate bicycle carriage, click here.
In Europe, things get dicier. There are too many train companies, all with different rules and regulations, so it's best to check with each different company you may be planning to use. Some require you to disassemble and package your bike while others don't and some don't offer the service at all.