In Planning a Cycling Getaway, Part 1 we talked about different types of cycling trips and some of the considerations when deciding on the right trip for you.
Now that you’ve decided to venture out, and you have your trip planned, it’s time to decide how you’ll get your bike to your destination: ship it or schlep it? Or, whether you should rent a bike there instead? There are pros and cons to each option. Following is some information – again, gleaned from my personal experience – to help you decide what works best for you.
Shipping your bike
Shipping off your beloved in a case or box, left to the whims of even the most respected livery company, can cause major anxiety.
Will it get there safely, without damage? Will it get lost? Will it get there in time for the start of my ride? All are valid concerns.
I’ve shipped my bike several times. It can be expensive, but some of the positives are that you can track its location along the way and know when it arrives. Shipping also can be cheaper than taking it on a plane (see the Schlep section, below).
When I traveled to Arizona and California, I used ShipBikes.com and their AirCaddy box. My main road bike has a 60cm frame with an integrated seat post (ISP). Unfortunately, it wouldn’t fit in a standard hard shell bike case. And it wouldn’t fit in the AirCaddy. Both needed about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) more clearance. I thought about a Tri box, but those are very expensive to purchase and no one in my area rented them. I had to go with plan B and ship my other road bike that didn’t have an ISP.
ShipBikes.com has a corporate account with FedEx, and I’ve found their rates to be well below what I could get on my own directly through FedEx (or UPS). ShipBikes.com also makes it very easy to ship and track your bike via their user-friendly website.
Another consideration when shipping your bike is the amount of disassembly and assembly required, and what you’re comfortable handling mechanically.
Some rides have a “receiving” LBS that will rebuild your bike for you on arrival, so that you just need to show up and ride. Others, though, don’t have that, meaning you’ll be responsible for putting your bike back together.
If you are comfortable removing and reassembling pedals, handlebars, derailleur hangers, etc., then a bike box or case works fine. If you don’t own your own case, most local bike shops have boxes that new bikes are shipped in. Some LBSs will even pack your bike for you for a small fee, if you’re not inclined to do it on your own.
If you are not mechanically inclined, then ship the bike to the local bike shop to assemble prior to your arrival. Or use the AirCaddy box. When using an AirCaddy, all you have to remove is the seat/seat post and front wheel. Also, depending on frame size, you’ll need to rotate your handlebars down. When you get to your destination, 10 minutes is all it takes to get your bike ready to ride.
There are numerous other companies that will ship your bike. Ask your riding buddies or LBS for recommendations. One that does get mentioned often, but I don’t have firsthand experience with, is BikeFlights.com.
Schlepping your bike
Taking your bike on an airplane can be a pain, in a number of ways.
First, hauling luggage and a bike case through just about any airport is a challenge. Also, you have to think about whether the bike case will fit in your rental car or a taxi – especially when you head overseas, where the cars are, on average, smaller than in the U.S. And if there are multiple cases among multiple cyclists on your trip, maneuvering can be tough.
An option to a hard-sided case is something like CrateWorks, which folds down when not in use. Or a softshell case, which may not take up quite as much space as a hardshell.
If you are traveling with a tour company, ask about case storage during your trip. Some may have accommodations, and some may not. If you are traveling for a race, many times the sponsor has contracted witha company to receive group rates for storage, etc.
Another major consideration is the cost of flying with your bike (assuming you’re on a plane big enough to carry your bike; some puddle jumpers are not). Also, there’s no guarantee how it will be handled (or mishandled), and just like other luggage, it could get lost. Some sample one-way prices are below:
United & American – $150 (if over 50 pounds and/or 62 total linear inches)
Southwest – $75 (if over 50 lbs and/or 62 total linear inches)
JetBlue – $50 (if over 50 lbs and/or 62 total linear inches)
Delta – $150 – (if over 70 lbs and 115 linear inches)
For other airlines and detailed information, consult each carrier’s website or check out this comprehensive resource: www.airline-baggage-fees.com. One last note, most airlines have adopted a zero-tolerance for anything pressurized onboard a plane. This includes tires, CO2 cartridges, and gas-filled shocks. In regards to your tires, consider deflating them prior to flying, and buy those CO2 cartridges at your destination, if at all possible.
Renting a bike
If you are going on a tour put on by a tour operator, or doing your own tour or ride where bringing along your bike just isn’t convenient at all, renting is a good option. Many tours rent high-end bikes that also give you a great opportunity to try something new. And many bike shops around the world near scenic cycleways rent bikes.
Renting a bike for a day or even a week usually isn’t that expensive, but you will want to ask these key questions: What size is the bike? What is the frame material? What type of shifters? (You’ll want to try to get what you’re familiar with; monkeying around with something you have to learn on the fly detracts from the enjoyment of your riding.) What kind of gearing does the bike have? Compact crank? What size cassette? You will want to make sure the gearing matches the terrain you’ll be on. Especially if you are climbing in the mountains.
When you get your rental, check the condition of the tires. Are they worn or have cuts? If so, ask that they be replaced. Check the brake pads and shifting. You want your rental to be in perfect working order.
Lastly, you want to be as comfortable as possible on your rides. So bring along your own saddle and pedals – and don’t forget your shoes. You’ll probably want to bring along your own helmet, too, unless it’s too inconvenient to carry. (At minimum, pedals and shoes are a necessity. You likely would be hard-pressed to find rental shoes.)
Share your own thoughts
If you have any best practices that you’ve employed when traveling with your bike, I encourage you to share them in the comments section below.
Get out and explore new cities, countries and terrain by bike. Whether you go it alone, do an organized tour, or other ride option, and no matter whether you ship, schlep or rent, you’re sure to have a magical time.
Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women's cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri's full bio.