Have you ever started dreaming about your next trip, getting enthused by the route and then are brought back to reality by thinking about how you might get there. Flying with a bike. Not a problem if you are doing a round trip – just use a hard bike case, check into a hotel or hostel near to the airport and negotiate to leave the bike case there for your return trip. But if you’re doing a point to point trip it can seem a bit of a hassle but there are ways to ease the pain….
Fly to and from small airports
Generally small regional airports are easier to ride into and out of than the big city airports. A quick look at Google maps/Google Earth will enable you to check out the access roads to the airport. In France and Spain, Biarritz, Girona, Seville are all airports that are easy to get into or out of on a bike.
Use meet and greet parking in UK airports.
If you have your bike all boxed up it is generally much easier to drive to an airport than to take your bike box on the train. But parking at a long-stay airport car park and using their shuttle bus to get to the terminal can be a nightmare as many airport shuttle buses refuse to take bike boxes. If there’s two of you, one of you can drop the bikes at the departure terminal and the other head back to the car park but this takes time. A far better way is to use meet and greet services. For not a great deal more cost you drop your car off at the meet and greet point – usually in a short stay car park next to the terminal building, the car is then parked for you and is delivered to the same short stay car park on your return. Very simple and stress free.
Packing the bike for the outward trip
Most airlines want bikes packaged in a box or a bike . It’s easiest to use a bike manufacturers’ cardboard box for the outward trip – available free from your local bike shop – these boxes are made of heavy duty cardboard and have already protected a bike on its journey to the bike shop. To pack the bikes means dismantling and protecting the main components. There’s a really useful blog on how to do this so I won’t explain in detail here – see http://travellingtwo.com/resources/packingyourbike Secure the box with duct tape and tie up with the webbing straps you’re going to use on your return trip (see below)
Packing the bike for the return trip.
This always is more difficult as you are relying on what you have available locally immediately before you fly back. But there are a few ways in which you can plan for this. Before your trip make a lightweight nylon bag that you can take with you. This can easily be made with basic sewing machines skills. Get material from suppliers such as Pennine Outdoor http://www.pennineoutdoor.co.uk/fabrics or Point North http://www.profabrics.co.uk/ and make it about X xX . The main purpose of the bag is to keep everything together some lightweight nylon will do. This will enable you to pack the bike to the size accepted by airports. Dismantle the bike in the same way as you did on the outward journey – remove handlebars and fasten to the top tube, remove the front wheel and skewer and place it against the frame, remove the seat post and saddle, remove the rear derailleur and attach it hanging loose to the frame, remove pedals and deflate tyres. Take a good quantity of zip ties and strong cord with you to help with this job.
Pack the bag with anything you can find – cardboard, closed cell sleeping mats, newspapers, plastic bags all wrapping. In Spain there seem to be a loss of cardboard recycling points in towns same may be possible to pick up some cardboard on the way to the airport. Finally, allow plenty of time for packing your bike – it always seems to take much longer than it does at home.
Fly out – ferry, train or bike bus back.
It’s always a bit more difficult to repackage your bike for the return flight so one option is to do a point to point trip and make your destination a ferry port, rail station or if in France, one of the European Bike Express bus pick up points.
I’m sure there’s lots of experience of flying with bikes, so let me know which are the bike friendly airports in Europe that you have found – it would be good to build up a list.