Planes trains and automobiles. A guide to travel with your bike.

Now that the world is opening up again, it may be that you’ve set your sights on riding further afield. Here’s what you need to know about travelling with your bike.

travel with bike

The last couple of years has left us largely restricted to riding around our home patch. Just when we think that things are getting better, another outbreak of Covid has seen new restrictions imposed and travelling abroad has meant negotiating a constantly changing patchwork of regulations and requirements. 

If you’ve got itchy feet to ride somewhere new either in the UK or abroad, things are at last becoming easier, but they’re still not back to where they were pre-pandemic. 

Travel within the UK is pretty much all open now. Taking a bike with you either intact or packed is on the whole fairly straightforward, although you may find that you need to book it on many services.

If you’re wanting to travel abroad though, there aren’t really any alternatives to driving or flying, as Eurostar and Eurotunnel services are still not taking bikes. You can take a bike overseas on a ferry.

Here’s our run-down of the current state of play.

Travel by ferry

travel by ferry with bicycle

Keep pedalling for long enough in the UK and you’ll hit water. Chances are there’ll be a ferry to get you across it.

Most ferries have cycle parking areas on board, so you can just walk your bike aboard, park it up and head to the passenger areas. For short ferry journeys you might be able to stay with your bike. 

The Isle of Wight makes a brilliant day trip from London, with a trip around the perimeter of the island only 65 miles. Roads are generally quiet, although surfacing is not always that great. It’s also easy to reach the Portsmouth ferry terminal from London by train and there’s a fast catamaran service to Ryde if you don’t want to take the drive on-drive off ferry.

scotland ferries by bike

The other place in the UK where ferries are a way of life is Scotland. There are loads of options to travel around and stay on the islands and a bike is a great way to explore, as most islands are quite compact and have less traffic than the mainland, although there’s often not the network of back roads to get you off A-roads. If you’re really up for some island hopping, there’s a fantastic looking 122km route in western Scotland that takes in the Isles of Arran and Bute and five ferry crossings.

Calmac ferries to the Scottish islands and Wightlink to the Isle of Wight carry bikes free of charge, although it’s worth checking if you need to book if you’re taking a popular service at a busy time.

If you want to head abroad, P&O Ferries will take bikes along with a foot passenger booking. There’s a marked cycle route into their ferry terminals, then you just queue up in the designated lane, stow you bike on the car deck and head to the passenger areas. Eurotunnel’s cycle service from Folkestone to Calais is currently suspended.

There’s some surprisingly good cycling country south east of Calais with rolling hills and quiet roads, so it’s not a bad destination for a weekend excursion. You can always take a train from Calais to Lille and onwards if you want to take in the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix or the classic Flemish bergs around Oudenaarde.

Travel by train

thameslink bike carriage

Within the UK, train travel with a complete bike is free, although for some services you’ll need a reservation and bikes aren’t allowed on some trains at specific times, particularly for travel into London. It’s worth checking on Plusbike on the National Rail website to see what the specific rules are for your planned trip.

The alternative is to box or bag your bike. We’ve more on bike boxes below, but since you’re going to be responsible for getting your bike onto and off the train and stowing it during the journey, you might feel comfortable with a lighter weight, less padded bike bag that you can carry around rather than full-strength bike luggage that you’re going to need to wheel through the station and lift onto a train.

If LEJOG is on your radar this year, getting to Land’s End by train is fairly easy. You need to reserve a space for your bike and there’s a limited number available, so it’s worth booking early. 

Getting back from John O’Groats is a bit more tricky. You can book a bike taxi transfer to Inverness. If you want to take the train, the nearest station are Wick or Thurso and you need to reserve a slot. With short trains and limited service, there’s not much capacity and you’ll probably want to leave yourself some contingency to make sure you don’t miss your slot. After that, you’ll need another reservation to get back south from Inverness. 

If you’re looking to travel further afield by train, your options are currently still limited. Eurostar suspended carriage of bicycles and bike boxes at the start of the pandemic and still hasn’t reinstated them, although you can still take a folding bike or child’s bike. It’s unclear when that will change; pre-pandemic, you needed to book to take a bike, there were limits to trains you could book and destinations to which bikes were accepted and, depending on dimensions there was a fee to pay.

eurostar bike

Photo by Phil McIver 

Assuming that you’ll be allowed to take a bike again at some point, it’s worth noting that Paris, like London, has multiple rail termini, so if you wanted to travel further you’d need to get your bike across Paris. You’re allowed to take a bike on the RER fast metro lines outside peak hours - it’s two stops to the Gare de Lyon for main services south of Paris, while the Gare de l’Est is adjacent to Gare du Nord. For TGV services to the west of France you need Gare Montparnasse, which isn’t served directly by the RER.

When Eurostar did take bikes, it didn’t accept them for services which bypassed Paris, so the best bet if you wanted to avoid a change in the capital was to change to a TGV service at Lille.

Boxed bikes travel for free on TGV services and without reservation, if they’re within specified dimensions; assembled bikes need to be booked and there’s a supplement payable, although it’s a maximum of €10. There are different rules depending on the service, which are explained here.

Onward travel from Brussels is easier, as domestic and international services depart from Bruxelles Midi, the station where Eurostar arrives. You can take your bike on Belgian trains by paying a €4 supplement, although you can’t book and may need to take the next train if all the cycle slots on a service are taken. A packed bike is treated as hand luggage.

Travel by plane

bike travel by airplane

So if you want to take your bike to Europe, either driving or flying are currently the principal options. If you’re planning to travel further afield, including to popular destinations for training camps like the Canaries and Mallorca, then flying is the only realistic option. That means you’re going to need to box up your bike for the flight and you’ll pay a supplement for carriage. With Easyjet that’s £45 if booked in advance, Ryanair charges £60. If all your bags add up to under 23kg and your boxed bike is under the dimensions it specifies British Airways will carry a bike for free, otherwise it’s £65.

Airport baggage handlers are notoriously heavy-handed with luggage, so you’re going to need an industrial strength bike bag or bike box to give your bike a fighting chance on a plane. The last thing you want is to find that something’s been damaged and you spend the start of your holiday chasing around for a repair or parts.

We sell the Evoc Road Bike Bag Pro. It’s designed to fit a road bike, with only the wheels and pedals needing to be removed and comes with extra padding to protect the bars and levers and other more fragile parts. It’s also collapsible so it doesn’t take up too much room when not in use.

A bike bag that gives a high level of protection is quite an expensive purchase, so If you don’t plan to use it regularly and don’t want to buy a bag we can also rent you one - simply call our Sheen store and enquire. 

Or just hire a bike when you arrive

It’s also worth looking into options to hire a bike at your destination. In big centres for cycling like Mallorca, there are companies who will rent you a bike for your stay and some hotels have rental bike fleets too. Options will often include top spec models from big brands, they’ll usually be almost new and you won’t have to worry about maintenance.  

For those of you heading to France for some alpine climbs, the team over at Buzz Performance in Morzine have a fleet of Pearson Hammerandtongs available for you to hire, as well as offering some comprehensive training plans for those of you that want to get the most out of your time away.

If Italy is on your radar, it’s worth checking out ItalyBikeHotels.com, a collection of hotels across the country which offer facilities geared to cyclists like a secure bike room, guided and self-guided tours, bike hire and a sag wagon. Or if you’re looking for a deluxe experience, InGamba is hard to beat. 

Wishing you happy travels!

 

Authored By Paul Norman
Paul has been riding since he was a teenager - and that’s a long time ago now. He was into gravel before it was even invented, riding over the South Downs on his cyclocross bike. He’s been writing about bike tech for leading UK publications and websites for over six years, travelling throughout Europe covering bike launches and riding with some of the road racing greats.
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