The ultimate guide to travelling with bicycles
Whether your heading out on your holiday by train, plane, or have an organised tour company shipping your bikes on your behalf, its important to make sure they are going to make the trip safely. Safely packing your bicycle for an airline comes down to considering the types of stress it is likely to come under when out of your hands. In most scenarios, bikes become damaged by the automated conveyor systems in airports, rather than heavy-handed baggage staff. Your bag will be pushed back and forth along metal channels and shoots by large mechanical arms, and dragged up inclines by conveyor belts. Anything protruding is in danger of getting snagged or rubbed, causing damage to your bike, bag, or both.
How to pack your bicycle:
- Choose a good quality bag. A hard shelled box or soft bike bag are your best bets, having been designed specifically for the task with pockets for wheels and gear, and often extra accessories for added protection. You can’t go wrong with Scicon, or for a local rental hub try Bike Box On-line.
- Remove anything that sticks out. Take off your pedals, remove handlebars entirely, and rotate them so they sit alongside the top tube – absolutely don’t have them poking out of the zips. A little extra bubble wrap or cardboard on protruding handlebars isn’t going to stop them getting rubbed or snagged on an airport conveyor.
- Remove the rear derailleur. With the derailleur hanging out to one side, it is in danger of being snagged through your bag, bashed or crushed. With nowhere to go, the rear hanger is highly likely to be bent or even snapped off. Undo the hangar bolt with an Allen key, wrap the rear derailleur in a small towel and cable tie the bundle to the chain stay. The towel will prevent the frame from being scratched, but still allow the derailleur enough movement to protect it from damage.
- Cable-Tie the chain to the big ring. The teeth on your big chain-ring will chew through pipe lagging, towels, and your padded bag if you’re not careful. A bash at the right angle can easily chip a tooth even through soft padding. You can securely hold the chain on the big ring with a couple small cable ties which will form a sheath to keep the chain ring safe. Any padding put on top will be saved from a big-ring-mauling, and any stress on the teeth will be distributed over a wider area.
- Brace the forks and drop outs. While more expensive bike bags and boxes may come with some form of bracing, most will not. Old hubs will do, and some companies produce braces specifically for this purpose. Your local bike shop will likely have a box of old plastic spacers which came on their frames when they were delivered. Chances are they will have held on to some to give out to customers who need them. They are light, and do exactly what you need them to
Choosing an Airline
There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to how different airlines treat bicycles. For details on which airlines accept bikes as luggage and which ones always charge extra, to maximum weights and fees, have a look at our handy infographic.
Travelling with bikes – Travel Insurance
Travel insurance has always been a little bit tricky for cycling, with cover often ambiguous and rarely including all of the features we need when travelling with bikes.
The best comparison you can make is with winter sports. If we want to go skiing and be covered for medical mishaps or repatriation, our insurance has to list winter sports specifically. The same is true for cycling abroad, but unfortunately the travel insurers don’t make it anywhere near as easy.
- Check the small print. I have seen travel insurance that lists cycling as a covered activity, but exclude racing. Fine, I thought. If I’m not racing, it’s not a problem. However looking a bit closer, their definition of a ‘race’ includes any organised event where you are given a time at the end, therefore excluding pretty much every big European sportive.
- Are there any restrictions on distances? There are a few travel insurers that will cover triathlon, but most have restrictions on distances. If you are entering a 70.3, there’s not much use in travel insurance that only covers up to sprint distance.
- Do you know the restrictions on European Health Insurance? Most of us carry EHIC cards with us on the continent, but few are aware of their limitations. While riding in the Alps, Pyrenees, Spain, Portugal and Mallorca, public hospitals are far and few between. If you have an accident and get taken to a private hospital in one of these areas, your EHIC card won’t cover you.
- If in doubt, ask. If you’re not sure if your ride or holiday is covered by an insurance company, give them a call. Tell them exactly what you will be doing with your bike and ask if their insurance covers it.
We launched our own Cycle Travel Insurance last year, specifically to remove these doubts. It is designed to remove the hassle, providing the cover you need regardless of how you are using your bike, wherever in the world you are.