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Flying High

01 February 2013

Holidaying with your bike can present challenges to even the seasoned traveller, but as always there are tricks to avoid too much grief when heading to places far-away.

Beg, Steel, Borrow

It's a little counter intuitive but start by considering if you really, really need your own bike abroad. Good quality bikes are readily rentable in many destinations and some shops will buy back your bike at a guaranteed price. Both are useful options to input into the 'cost and hassle' calculator.

Planes, Trains and Bike Bags

The Ground Effect Tardis or Dogsbody turns your road bike, mtb or 29er into a manageable bundle for manoeuvring about airports and train stations. It provides some protection in the cargo hold and helps deceive the 'luggage nazi' at the check-in counter. Urban trains like the Metro in Paris and London's Underground exclude bikes during peak times and on some lines. So a bike bag supplies necessary camouflage for smuggling your conveyance across town. When you get to where you're going it collapses into a compact A4 package - easily stored in your rental car or pannier. Opened out again it gains brownie points as a picnic rug or ground sheet around the campsite.

Bike Fondling Fee

Airlines are often punitive in their treatment of excess baggage and some will slap on a 'bike handling fee' at the drop of a helmet. On most domestic and international flights selecting a ticket that includes a checked bag guarantees you a single piece of baggage at 23kg (for sporting equipment it can often stretch to a maximum of 32kg) - wisdom dictates that you do your research before confirming tickets. So as long as your bike fits within the specified size and weight restrictions it can travel at no extra cost. However, a light mountain bike tips the scales at 11-12kg so that doesn't leave much room for the kitchen sink. You're also entitled to 7kg of carry-on luggage, so load up your handbag with anything heavy that won't be construed as a weapon.

Very French

For all the French enthusiasm for cycling, the SNCF (the national rail network) makes travelling with your bike difficult. That's a bummer because France is one of the great cycle touring destinations - and joining up interesting rides by train is inherently sensible. The rules on bikes are fuzzy, and enforced inconsistently. Officially only a few local trains take bikes (identified on the timetable with a wee bike symbol). For long distance trains like the TGV, the best bet is to disguise your steed in the compact Tardis and nonchalantly stack it with the rest of the luggage on the racks at the end of each carriage. This equally applies to the other high speed trains in Italy and Germany.


Travel insurance covering your health and possessions is accepted wisdom when heading overseas. Before you commit, read the relevant bicycle clauses carefully... some policies will cover bikes only up to low value or exclude them unless they are locked and inside (difficult if you're camping). There may also be limitations if you plan to compete or participate in an organised ride. 

Let Me In

Coming home is always a great feeling. Border patrol however presents one final hurdle. Keen not to let any exotic bugs in, officials will want to inspect your bike, shoes and tent. To expedite re-entry it's worth cleaning all this gear to within an inch of its life. Then stash it all in your bike bag so it's easy to locate and declare on the way in. 

Bon voyage.