Wednesday, February 25, 2009

To Take your own bike or not to take your own bike?

Now, that . . . is a good question.
(The fellow with the bike cases on the right brought his own bikes; his wife is shepherding their personal baggage; others in this group ordered rental bikes, ready to ride which you see on top of the van).

Of course you’d want your own bike on a European trip. Why not? You should weigh the pros ad cons and consider all the options BEFORE you head down any path.

1) DON”T EVEN THINK about “shipping” your bike. Take it as accompanied baggage on the airline (#2 below), MAYBE, but don’t ship. Take a look at this web site and run a test on shipping your bike with them.
Sports Express

My test showed a price of $397 (economy) and $625 (express) ONE WAY from Denver to Bologna.

I called UPS for another price: $502.85 ONE WAY with lots of red tape and, trust me, the potential for your bike to be held up in Italian customs upon arrival. The cost for a return shipment from Italy was $788.42. So that’s a total of $1,291.27 both ways.

2) Accompanied baggage on your airline:
a. Some airlines will take your bike for free but with recent fuel surcharges and generally high costs airlines are looking for every opportunity to charge you an extra fee. So plan on $75 – 125, worst case, for each direction.
b. Buy a Bike Friday or other folding bike and avoid this charge.

Explore options yourself if you’d like: here are a couple web sites:

International Bicycle Fund page on traveling with your bike.

League of American Bicyclists

3) Once you arrive overseas.
a. Where you headed? Are you going to get on your bike at the airport and head off into the sunset? (What an image, I love it!)
b. Or are you going to be picked up, rent a car, take a bus or train?

In all these cases you need to plan for the next step once you get off the airplane:
1) BEST CASE SCENARIO: Make sure your rental car or van is big enough to hold your bike(s) luggage and all your passengers. (Or, have someone pick you up at the airport!)
2) NEXT BEST CASE: Fly in and out of the same airport. Book a hotel nearby and make sure they have space to store your bike case while you are out on the road.
3) Be prepared to wrestle your bike in its case onto trains and buses. Not easy, but doable. We’ve done it plenty!
4) DO NOT: Ship your bike, boxed or not, on any European trains separate from you. You WANT your bike on the train WITH you, in your compartment where you can see it. If there is a bike or baggage car where you deliver the bike and hand it to an attendant, then you are ok relinquishing the bike (get a claim check!) Otherwise, keep it with you!
5) Bikes on Trains: most European train systems will allow you to take your bike on the train with you for a small fee. In France and Italy, for example, all short and medium haul trains take bikes. The long distance trains are more problematic. So don’t plan to take bikes on those trains. For our post on bikes on trains click here.

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