FAQ on International Travel

How do I get my bike to the starting point?

If you are coming by plane, the easiest way is to check which carriers will carry your bike at a reasonable cost. I use Air Transat and they charge $30 each leg of the flight. Typical off season rates for a seat are $600 return Toronto/Gatwick (London) and $800 for Toronto/Frankfurt. These prices include taxes and fees.

Use the Internet to see how much your flight will be and don’t take the first quote. Ask how much for sports equipment (that’s what bikes are) and how they preferred them packed.

In Europe there are train stations in airports and you can get direct links to your starting point. In Germany you need a ticket for your bike and you cannot take them on ICE trains. In Britain there is usually no charge but often express trains don't take bicycles.

Airplanes from North America usually leave in the afternoon or evening and arrive in Europe the next morning (losing you most of one day). Leave yourself another day for transit and book a hotel room for the evening of day one on the ground. Leaving from Europe planes usually arrive late morning or early afternoon of the same day in Toronto

If you find this confusing, we can help you with advice about travel arrangements. At any rate, when you book your tour we provide you with full information about connections.

How do I pack my bike?

Some people are very protective of their bikes. They buy custom made boxes for them that are very large and heavy. My question is: Where do you store the box? Check with your airline. What is their minimum requirement? Usually it is that the bike be in a cardboard box or a plastic bag with air out of the tires and bars turned and pedals off. You require a special tool to take off pedals. I go one step further and chock the front wheel forward with a very tight bungee cord or some tape. That will keep the wheel from turning. I have used the bag for years and only got damage once when I didn't chock the front wheel. Use the bag and you won't need to worry about where to store the box for the return flight.

How do I get to/from the airport?

In Europe you can take a train, the easiest way. If you have arrived in Toronto from Europe and wish to go downtown, or are leaving from downtown Toronto, the most convenient and cost effective way is to take public transport (TTC). From the airport go to Terminal two Arrivals and wait outside for the TTC Airport Express to the Kipling station. From any subway (tube) station in Toronto go to the Kipling station. Please note, not every station has an elevator, but Kipling does. Go up to the bus level and take the Airport Express. The total cost from anywhere in the city is one ticket or $2.75. Please note that buses have a bike rack on the front that takes two bikes only.

I find this too difficult. Who can I rent a bike from?

There are many companies worldwide who offer bike rentals. Check the Internet. For extended stays you may consider buying when you arrive. From my experience a rental bike is never as good or comfortable as your own bike. If you are arriving at one city/country and leaving from another rentals become problematic.

The very first time I took my bike on an airplane, I took it apart and boxed it up in the cardboard box it came in. I then had a very large impossible-to-carry box so I bought a small folding cart to roll it around on. I dragged the box to the airport, from the airport, to the train and along a street to my hotel, where I spent half a day re-assembling the bicycle. I also had to arrange to store the box and the folding cart. The hotel agreed for a price and a second nights reservation. On the way back I had to end my trip a day early, disassemble the bike, put it in the box and drag it to the airport again. This is how not to pack a bike for shipping.

Today I ride my fully loaded bike to the airport. I turn the handles, take off the pedals, chock the front wheel so it won't turn and reduce the tire pressure. I then roll it into a plastic bag the airline provides. The next time I see the bike I'm at my destination. I take it out of the bag, un-chock the front wheel, straighten the bars, put on the pedals and pump up the tires and ride from the airport. Even if I have to make a train connection I can roll the bike with panniers on to the train. Very civilized.

Strangely, that's not how most people do it. They see their bike as a big investment and as such must be boxed correctly to avoid damage. Plastic boxes are available with little wheels and you can even rent them. Custom made bike boxes have foam cut out to the perfect shape of your bike. I suspect a truck could drive over some of these and they would still protect your bike. Are you that type of person? Are you willing to go to the expense and inconvenience of buying or renting, disassembling, shipping and then reassembly?

To avoid that hassle, some people rent a bicycle at the destination. I've done that too. If you are like me who has a touring bicycle that you are very familiar with and maintain carefully, you will never be satisfied with a rental. My Brooks B-17 saddle has been shaped to my anatomy and is superbly comfortable. I am familiar with my gears, in fact I had the entire bike custom made to my shape and specifications. Today I would never consider a rental for anything more than a day trip. Rental bikes tend to be the 'adjust the seat height" sort of custom fit. Spend a week with your arms stretched out to the limit or your back bent over and you'll bring your own bike every time.

There are a few risks in shipping your bike. It could be damaged or stolen. Over the years I've had both, luckily it was on the return flight for both and I did manage to recover the stolen bike. If your bike is lost then you may qualify for up to $3300 compensation from the airline. The airlines will compensate you if the bike is damaged, but I find its not easy to collect, especially if you do your own repairs.

Please be aware that certain airlines get a reputation for losing or damaging luggage, in fact it is not the airline, but the airport who employ the baggage handlers. The busiest airports seem to be the worst and at least one European airport turns a blind eye to thefts to avoid wildcat strikes from the unionized employees that could shutdown the entire airport.

The bottom line. Don't tour with a bike that looks expensive or is delicate. A good old chromoly touring bike with some well-used panniers will not attract the attention of a re-sale thief. Liberating your bike also liberates you so you can trip from one destinational airport to another without worries.

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Carrying a bike on a plane
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