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Traveling With A Bike

Katie Pothier | Published on 6/29/2022
Traveling with a Bike

My favorite way to explore new areas is via exercise.  I like to see different points of interest but don’t really have the attention span to spend lots of time at each point.  Also, I am often traveling for work so I am making use of a limited window of time.  I will pull up the map on my phone, zoom into various points of interest and determine which ones I would really like to see, drop a pin and check the distance, and then plan a route.  On these routes, I stop for photos as I please and make short diversions if something catches my eye.

Hope, Alaska with the Richardsons
Hope Alaska with the Richardsons

This is all pretty straightforward if you are running.  But biking?  It gets more complicated.  You have all of the gear to account for and the planning is quite a bit more intensive.  But the payoff can be rewarding.  

I have traveled with my bike for races, training camps, extended work trips, and vacation.  I find I am less inclined to travel with my road bike outside of something organized because I am less comfortable biking alone and feel more anxiety figuring out road routes that are safe if I am unfamiliar with an area.  But a gravel bike?  Totally worth it.  Entirely new way to experience an area.

C & O Canal in DC Area

You can rent bikes in various destinations.  If you are only planning on a portion of your trip involving biking, this is often the simplest approach.  The quality of rental bikes can be all over the place so check reviews and call ahead if you can.  We tried to rent mountain bikes in Africa and when we showed up, all of the tires were flat and they didn’t even have a bike pump.  

Fox, Alaska for a pit stop

Driving your bike is something you are probably already familiar with but below are some things to consider when flying with your bike.
Bike Case:

You can buy, rent or borrow a bike case.  Soft cases are lighter and usually easier to maneuver but can leave you antsy worried about it arriving safely.  I have a very smart friend that uses a soft case but made a PVC frame that protects all of the important parts.  Hard cases are heavier and are usually bulkier.  They also often require a bit more bike disassembly.  But if you pack them properly, they offer the most protection for your bike.  On the topic of disassembly, this can be daunting.  A couple of things to note for your first go around:

1.    Pack your bike at least 24 hours before.  This is to give you time to beg at a bike shop (or a friend) if something doesn’t go to plan.
2.    Mark positions and take photos before you start taking stuff apart.  Your seat post?  Mark that.  Your handlebar angle?  Mark lines with a paint pen on either side so you can line them up.  The derailleur hanger?  Take a photo and take note of where the notches are (ask me how I know this…).
3.    Take out your CO2.  Compressed gases are prohibited on a plane so don’t get forget about that CO2 in your saddle bag.  Frame pumps are good for traveling.
4.    Take a photo of the packed bike (so you can see how everything fit but also in case there is an issue with the airline).
5.    Consider scheduling an appointment for a “bike check” at your destination.  Try to assemble it yourself but then have a bike shop “check your work”.  If you don’t have a torque wrench, this is also a way to make sure everything is tightened properly (and not overtightened).
6.    Don’t forget your tools.  Whatever you needed to disassemble the bike is going to be required on the other side.  Pack in your other luggage to keep the bike case weight down.
7.    Weight.  Several airlines no longer charge oversized fees for bike cases (Delta, American, and Alaska).  The oversized exemption does not mean an exemption on weight.  If I am planning to fly with a bike, I take these policies into account and remember that extra stuff adds weight quickly.

Scicon Aerotech case (very tight fit with gravel tires, also do not pay full price on this case as there are lots of sales)

Ground Transportation:
One of the biggest drawbacks of flying with a bike is lugging it around.  If you just need to get to/from a hotel once, you can probably do an UberXL but depending on the destination, that may not be a reliable option.  If you are traveling in Europe and are considering the train, you have to book a train fare for your bike.  If you are going the rental car approach, size matters.  I usually book an SUV for this but have also done a pickup.  There is also that one time where we rented a UHAUL van…

Uhaul and bikes

Another drawback is that it is difficult to move from hotel to hotel as there is a window of time in which your luggage (including bike case, and bike if you are not planning to be on it) has no home.  You don’t really want your vehicle parked for extended periods of time with all of your goodies in it, especially if everything is visible.  I prefer having a “home base” for trips with my bike and just driving my bike to other destinations for a day trip but you can also take advantage of luggage check at either of your hotels (not necessarily the case if you are doing non-hotel accommodations).

Are you ready for a brand new adventure?  It’s even more fun with a friend!