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This page last updated on: August 31, 2015
By David May
Buy a Bicycle Abroad
If you are travelling from the United States to Europe, bringing your own bicycle is now not only a hassle, but costly as well. At this writing in January 2012, you can expect to pay either directly or through an airfare higher than other airlines $100 to $400 round trip to bring a bicycle. Most US airlines have extra charges for a bicycle. Many European airlines charge them at the rate of an extra suitcase. Usually you have to reserve space for your bicycle in advance. Some budget carriers in Europe will not take bicycles at all. If you are planning to take your bicycle to Europe and you have a choice of carriers, I recommend researching the baggage policies of each choice you have.
After arrival at the European airport with your bicycle, you must unbox it, and do a partial assembly. Unless you are riding your bike beginning at the airport, I recommend in general paying up for a large taxi and transporting the bike in its box to your hotel, or using an airport bus if it goes directly to your hotel, or if you are renting a car to go to your destination, putting the box in the car. (You will save money by using public transportation but pay in time and muscle work.)
If you are travelling from England or other locations in Europe it depends upon the nature of your trip: Do you plan to drive your own car? Or to take public ground transportation to the start of your tour? Or, are you going to fly? Will your airline require you to put the bicycle into a box? In general, bring your own bicycle. Are you going to take your bicycle on the train? Depending on the route, there may be a reservation required and a ticket purchased (at minimal cost). If you are going to go to your destination by rented car, you may have to rent a larger car or buy a bicycle carrier.
If you own an e-bike, none of the major airlines will transport it as baggage. It may be possible to ship it by freight as dangerous goods (dangerous because of the lithium ion battery) but the paperwork is extensive and the price prohibitive, as most budget freight forwarding services will not accept the shipment.
Buy a Bicycle in Europe? Probably not.
Unless you are already in Europe, or desire a specific European brand of bike, if you want to ride your own bicycle on a tour I would advise bringing it from the United States. Because of the VAT in Europe and a higher cost structure, a comparable bike purchased in Europe will be more expensive. Moreover, in your home country you have more time to shop around and negotiate, and you will not have to spend time on your trip finding an appropriate shop and waiting for your bicycle.
Commercial Bicycle Tours: Bring your Bike or Rent? Probably Rent.
The bike touring companies, in general, maintain their bikes well, so, if you are taking a guided tour with them, you you should strongly consider renting from them as well. Be sure to specify carefully what you need, both for the bike, and for any accessories, such as saddlebags or baskets, or pedals. If you are have clip-in bike shoes suitable also for walking, bring your shoes and pedals with you. Also consider bringing your own bike seat. Be sure to carefully check out your rental bike when you arrive. Errors of sizing and of maintenance do occur. Several of the luxury biketour companies now rent electric bicycles and other high-end bikes.
There are a few commercial touring companies that specialize in guided tours for avid road bikers. These companies expect you to bring your own road bicycle with you.
For a commercially organized self-guided tour with available bicycle rental,s or with rental bicycles included, investigate carefully the nature of the bicycles rented or included compared with the requirements of the tour. For example, a Danube Bicycle tour in Austria requires only gears for flat terrain, and a maximum of 55 kilometers per day (30 miles); the rare and optional climb of a few kilometers to a sight in the hills, can be negotiated, if necessary by walking your bicycle. So one can get by with a city-type bike with seven gears, and 21 gears hybrid would be more than adequate! But for a more hilly tour, I would certainly want a higher quality bicycle.
In looking on-line at many commercial bicycle tours from different companies, it seems that they provide bicycles that are suitable for their tours. Be careful, however, because an ill-fitting, inappropriate bicycle can ruin a tour. So strongly consider calling and discussing your bicycle in detail with your commercial company, before committing to their tour.
Self-Organized Bicycle Tours: Bring your Bike or Rent? It depends on the tour.
For many self-organized tours renting may not be an option, or a poor option: If the starting and ending of the tour are not convenient to each other, as, for example, is the case for the Way of Saint James tour or a North Sea Cycling Route tour, the your rental would probably have to be in the city where you arrive from the USA. And in so many cities this will be impossible . Almost every city bike rental company chooses to rent only city bikes and or mountain bikes. Why? Most riders will be riding short distances and will want an upright position. Bicycles are badly treated in the city. Bicycle theft of better bicycles is common. (Certain German and Swiss cities better bicycles are available for rental.)
Furthermore, if you are going to fly to Europe to take a self-organized bicycle tour, it is unlikely that it will last only five or six nights, as is the case with most of the commercial bicycle tours. More likely it will last at leat two weeks. Thus the total cost of a rental of a high quality bicycle will begin to approach the cost of airline charges to bring one's own bicycle;and conversely, you could be suffering a longer time on a less comfortable, possibly inferior bicycle. So in general, on a self-organized tour, bring your own bike. Of course, if you don't own an appropriate bicycle in the United States, and if you are only going to cycle tour one time, you would have to factor in the cost of buying a bicycle.
There may exceptions to the general rule about renting. In some areas of France where visitors often cycle, such as the Loire, Provence, Burgundy or the Dordogne, it usually is possible to rent a decent bicycle. Availability seems to vary from year to year, as small operators open and close rental businesses. I have looked at some appealing Internet sites, but becaue I have no personal experience renting, I am not making recommendations. A website that does make recommendations for France http://experiencefrancebybike.com/renting-bikes-in-france is run by Maggie LaCoste, who offers e-guidebooss for several French bike tours. . She has personally used all of the rental agencies that she recommends so you might want to consideri following her recommendation. In Northern Europe, rentals of suitable bikes for light touring is easier.
Most rental locations will have the Internet Sites both in their local language and in English, so an English search using "bicycle rentals X" (where X is the region and/or a specific town) may yield results. Your odds of findinging a good rentalmay be better if you are willing to ride a mountain bike, and the renting bike shop is willing to put on reasonably narrow slick tires. You can obtain the words in the local language for bicycle rental (translate.google.com is the easiest way) and search with those. I strongly recommend telephoning the rental operator, both to explore the nature of the bicycles rented, and to gain confidence that in fact the operator and the bicycle type and size you need will be there when you arrive.
Packing and Shipping your Bicycle to and from Europe
You can almost always get a bicycle box of suitable size free from a bicycle shop. It is a hassle, without doubt, to adapt a very large bike box (so you don't have to remove your rear rack and rear fender, resize the box to fit your bike, possibly to remove the front wheel, seat and pedals, to turn or remove the handlebar, to wrap items in bubble wrap, and to transport the box to the airport. And then, at the other end, reverse the packing process. I know, from personal experience!
And what about the return trip? You have several alternatives: (1) If you are departing Europe from the same city that you arive in, you can a hotel to keep it for you; or (2) you can arrive in your departure city the day before your departure, call bike shops and pick up a bike box and packing materials from one of them. Some bike shops will pack your bike for you for a fee; or (3) if your airline permits it and your bike is sturdy, you can ship your bike in a lightweight bike bag that you fabricate yourself (see page on making one) and that can be folded up and taken with you on your bike. Directions for fabrication are given here. (Some airlines may even permit bikes to be shipped without packing, or wrapped in polyethelyene.)