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Traveling/flying to Europe with a bicycle?

Hi! So my boyfriend and I are seasoned tour-cyclists (Last year, he did Vancouver to Halifax in 54 days!). And since we've both been granted dual citizenship (UK/Canada) we're wanting to attempt a Europe next year. Portugal to Helsinki! After finding some sweet flight deals, I looked up how much it would cost us to check-in each bike for our flight there (one way from Vancouver to Lisbon (Air Alaska YVR to Seattle, Seattle to Philly, then American Airlines flight to Lisbon), $200 EACH... By boyfriend thinks we can get away with the "it's just exhibition equipment" response to avoid the evil "bicycle charge" all airlines seem to have. I'm NOT convinced that's a good plan. Are there any tips or tricks to packing a bike in a way so that we won't have to pay $200 each in luggage charges? Would love to hear from you tour cyclists and packing experts out there!

Posted by
32268 posts

jessie,

How long will this "bike across Europe" trip take?

The route you're taking with flights seems rather convoluted and arduous. The "sweet flight deals" may not be as attractive next year if the exchange rates change considerably. You might also look at Air Canada Rouge, which has flights from Vancouver to Lisbon with one change in Toronto. ACR is the "budget wing" of Air Canada and service is somewhat spartan, but it's still an option to consider.

I wouldn't try to scam on the bicycles by declaring them as "exhibition equipment". They could X-Ray the containers they're in and may be annoyed if they find you're trying to pull a fast one (and charge an exorbitant extra fee)!

Posted by
20461 posts

I really don't think the airlines care what it is, they will look at the dimensions and weight. So research the airlines luggage policies on their website. You will also probably have to sign a waiver that states that if the airlines breaks it, its not their problem. And if they lose it, you probably won't get anything from them because it is "just exhibition equipment".
Looking at American Airlines, they charge $150 (US), maximum dimension L+H+W < 126 inches and maximum 70 lb. If you can get it into a box with dimension under 62 inches and under 50 lb, they will check it free as your first bag, but you will get charged for you second bag. But if you can get all your clothes and stuff into a 22 x 14 x 9 inch carry on, that can go free.

Posted by
19 posts

Thanks for the replies so far! This is an open-ended trip (i.e no return ticket planned). So it could be a 4 month trip, or 6... depends on how far our money actually goes and whether or not we fall in love with a particular place to live.
And yes this potential flight itinerary is totally convoluted and exhausting-sounding, however it's with flyers points (that's why it's so "cheap").

Posted by
33335 posts

Are you aware that you can't have a 4 month or 6 month in Europe without being careful about not violating the Schengen laws. The mini summary is that you may not, on any day, have spent more than 90 days in any 180 days within the Schengen zone, the Schengen zone is much of but not all of Europe.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Area

Posted by
33335 posts

I would have thought that trying to pull the wool over their eyes about what's in the box would be doubly risky if using miles, given the potential penalties the airline could extract when they discover the fraud.

Posted by
11613 posts

Europe is fairly sophisticated, not easy to pull the wool over the eyes of security and/or border control. I would reconsider the false statement about the bikes and the attempt to possibly overstay your 90-day Schengen limit. Penalties can be severe (being put on the next flight out at your expense, paying a fine, being barred from entering Schengen Europe for a certain amount of time), and you may be asked to produce a return ticket or be denied entry.

Get a good guidebook and follow the laws. You can see quite a bit in 90 days, extend your stay by visiting non-Schengen zone countries, and plan to go back.

Posted by
8645 posts

Everyone has already said the key points, but I will summarize
Pay the correct fees and declare your bikes as bikes. (you have almost a year to come up with the extra money)
Pay attention to limits that you are allowed to stay in certain areas.
Visiting Europe and living in Europe require different sorts of entry paperwork. Make sure you do the correct entry requirements for what you are really planning on doing.

Posted by
20461 posts

American Airlines site did say they would check the bike as free luggage if the maximum H+W+L dimension was 62 inches, but thinking about it, a typical road bike wheel would need to fit in a 30 X 30 box, so there goes 60 inches of the dimension. Unless you could figure out how to compress the rest of the bike down to the 2 inches left for height, ain't gonna happen. Maybe you could fit one of those fold-up mini bikes into a box that size, but I don't think that'll do you much good for a trek across Europe.

Posted by
8239 posts

My daughter was a bicycle racer, and they make carrying cases for specific style of bicycles. Every airline employee knows exactly what's in those cases, and will charge you accordingly. It's part of their business.
Whenever someone flies into Europe, the customs agents are often leery of those without arrangements for leaving the continent. If you fly thru the U.K., expect to be given the third degree.
Before you set your itinerary, you might want to go on GoogleMaps.com or Mapquest.com to see the distances. I can tell you that France and Spain are much larger than most travelers realize. I would want to bike through countries that are not quite so spread out. When someone says they want to "bike" through Europe, I think they're wanting to rent a BMW cycle and ride long distances the easy way.

Posted by
5837 posts

Sam's correct. If it meets dimensional limits (e.g. 62 lin. inches) and weight limits (50#), a legacy carrier will fly it to Europe free as your first checked bag. Foldable bike vendors (e.g. Bike Friday) design bikes to be packed in a suitcase sized to meet the dimensional limit. The Bike Friday suitcases convert to a trailer with the wheel kit. Even tandem bikes are available for travel.

https://www.bikefriday.com/folding-bikes/tour-travel/

http://santanatandem.com/Techno/TravelTandemTech.html

Posted by
2261 posts

While there are bike-specific cases for this purpose, they are not cheap. The cheapest way is to have the ability to do some disassembly of the bikes and pack in cardboard boxes. For trip over you have time to secure boxes from a bike shop for free, perhaps same for the trip back. We have a friend who does this every time he flies with his bike, he re-assembles and rides out of the airport.

edit: there's lots of videos on this topic, here's one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HdiCg9NLNk

Posted by
32268 posts

I'd like to stress the point mentioned by Nigel regarding the 90-day limit in the Schengen zone (the 90 days includes your arrival and departure days). European authorities are getting less tolerant of people overstaying the limit and you could face hefty fines and deportation from the E.U. for a period of up to 10 years. There was a post here not too long ago from someone who related the story of his daughter overstaying by two days, and she was fined €500 and then put on a plane (the fine is payable on the spot). Your Passports will be stamped when you enter the E.U. and when you leave, so they will know exactly how long you've been "in the zone". You likely won't have much success with the "oh gee, I didn't know about this rule" excuse.

Travelling with an open-ended ticket also raises red flags with the authorities. Unless you both have E.U. Passports, your plan to "fall in love with a particular place to live" is not going to work. If you want a long term residency Visa for a particular country, you'll need to apply for those BEFORE you get to Europe at the Embassy of whichever country you choose. The world has become a more bureaucratic place, and it's important to follow the rules or there WILL be penalties.

Posted by
23471 posts

As you can see from the prior postings, you need to do a fair amount of additional research so that you know and understand various options. Understanding the visa requirements is critical unless you want to be an illegal alien. Another option might be to rent or purchase bikes in Europe. Do you expect to do a lot of camping? Carrying each equipment can complicate the situation. There bikes that will fit into suitcases and fly as regular luggage. Check some of the bike touring sites for recommendations on bikes. At one time membership in the League of Am Bicyclists had a perk for flying your bike for free. We are members but don't remember how the perk works. Our bikes fit in a large suitcase so we don't worry about it.

A bike box is the preferred way to fly a bike but the problem at the other end is what to do with the bike bag if flying open jaw. A cardboard box works but finding one for the return trip can be a problem.

Posted by
5837 posts

...some disassembly of the bikes and pack in cardboard boxes....

Conventional bike frames are too big to break down to fit into a box/case with a maximum 62 linear (length + height + width) inches. An example of card board boxes design for UPS/FedEx maximum size is: http://www.shipbikes.com/ebike.html

Once the carton has been fully assembled and packed, its dimensions
are 43 X 11 X 32 in. (110 X 28 X 82 cm.).

Your problem is the 43" + 11" + 32" = 86 liner inches. The airlines will accept the boxed bike (assuming its under 70 lbs), but you get the oversize charge. United Airlines as an example:

United accepts non-motorized bicycles with single or double seats
(including tandem) or up to two non-motorized bicycles packed in one
case as checked baggage. If the bicycle(s) are packed in a container
that is over 50 pounds (23 kg) and/or 62 (158 cm) total linear inches
(L + W + H), a $150 USD/CAD service charge applies each way for travel
between the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and
a $200 USD/CAD service charge applies each way for all other travel.
If the bicycle(s) are packed in a container that is less than 50
pounds (23 kg) and 62 (158 cm) total linear inches (L + W + H), there
is no bicycle service charge, but the first or second checked bag
service charges may apply.

Posted by
19 posts

Thanks Kaeleku and all you helpful people out there! Fold-up bikes aren't an option and since we have camping stuff and panniers, it looks like we'll just have to suck it up and pay the silly fees. (Thinking if airlines are wanting to look more "green" or supportive of environmental causes, they should start by cutting those fees for passengers with [zero-emission] touring bikes eh?!).

Posted by
5837 posts

Fold-up bikes aren't an option and since we have camping stuff and panniers....

I first encountered Bike Friday tourist during our ride down the Oregon Coast. Two retired German tourist were biking the same route and covering the same distances during our week long ride. We and the Germans were camping but we had a support vehicle hauling our camping gear. The Germans were riding Bike Fridays with the Bike Friday suitcase-trailer and were self contained.

Talking to the Germans, they started in Vancouver BC (we started in Astoria) and were heading to San Diego and the Mexican boarder (we finished our ride at the California border). They have been riding their Bike Fridays on annual biking adventures in Europe, Alaska and New Zealand, all self-contained camping trips. They would fly with the suitcase packed bikes and duffel bag with camping gear, unload and assemble the bikes and trailers at the arrival airport, pack the trailers and ride away.

PS We have a tandem Bike Friday but have not flown with the tandem. It was easier for us to rent bikes during our German bike tour.

Posted by
23471 posts

There is such a knee-jerk reaction to folding bikes that I don't even mention them any more. We been on New World Tourist bikes from Bike Fridays for years. It is design to haul a hundred pounds of gear and a rider a hundred miles a day. There are a very well design touring bike that packs into a suitcase and flies for free even when they know it is a bicycle. You are not riding the Tour de France so you don't need skinny tires and a nine pound frame.

You can fly into a airport, get your checked bike, take it outside, reassemble the bike - about 15 minutes - attach wheels and tongue to the suitcase, throw you carry-on luggage in the suitcase, and pedal out of the station. Thirty minutes - tops. And, of course, the reserve is true but it take about thirty minutes to pack the bike.

Posted by
5837 posts

Frank notes that: "...you don't need skinny tires and a nine pound frame."

I would go further than that and advise that you DON'T WANT skinny tires or a light weight frame. We rented bikes for two weeks of touring in northeastern Germany. We were happy that the rental touring bikes were shoed with 38 mm robust touring tires. The bikes also came with patch kit & pump, fenders and generator powered head and tail lights. We had zero flats in two weeks of biking - no pinch flats or puncture flats.

We encountered road and bike path surfaces of the full range from new smooth asphalt to cobbles and dirt/gravel roadways. Cobble roadways are not only jarring but the cobble are smooth. Although concrete, one of the more brutal riding surfaces were the pre-cast concrete Platten forming the Plattenweg (road formed by platten). An interesting discussion of German bike roadways surfaces and photos of the same:
http://bicyclegermany.com/path_conditions.html

Cobblestone or Kopfsteinpflaster: Cobblestone is another experience
that I would rather have in an automobile rather than on a bicycle. In
the former East Germany, we came upon about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles)
of a cobble road. During the DDR times, they were proud of the nearly
full employment situation in their economy. Construction workers were
asked to build this road. Cobble roads are made of rocks, or in this
case granite blocks chiseled into uniform sizes and set in a sand base
by workers on hands and knees.

Regardless of how a cobblestone road or path is constructed, it is a
darn rough ride on a bicycle. For short distances it is no problem but
for long distances, you think your teeth will be damaged from all the
vibration. The photo on the left is one such short stretch. It leads
up into a castle courtyard in the village of Creuzburg on the Werra. I
would say that the stone and flat rock cobblestone is rough as a cob
but in rural America, "cob" means the inner part of corn on the cob.

Plattenweg: Plattenweg (a path made from Platten) is another instance
of using less than ideal material for a bicycle path. OK, I understand
that these paths were originally built for farm equipment or military
vehicles and was not built for bicycles. However, they are not
uncommon in the former East Germany. A "Platten" is a concrete plate
with two or four indentations for handles. They vary in size but
typically are about 3 feet wide and 6 feet long. To build a road, they
are laid side by side, 3 foot section after 3 foot section, until the
road is finished. Each joint is designed to loosen a filling in your
teeth and there are joints every 3 feet, don'tchaknow (this is a term
I picked up living in Montana). See the picture on the right show a
path of double Platten. The Plattenweg shown on the left is of a
different design and is becoming slowly buried. Good! The dirt path
along side is smoother than the cement Platten.

Posted by
19 posts

Eek sorry if I offended some folding bike fans! (Knew that remark would stir something up). Reason why it's "not an option" for us at this time is because we already have beautiful bikes that we've invested time and some money into fixing up for touring. Spending over $1000 US on a new (very cute and convincingly capable by the way) Bike Friday bike isn't what we penny pinching folk have in mind (as you see, I started this topic because I was freaking out about a mere $200 for baggage fees). However, if I see something second hand in the next year, then maybe I'll change my mind! We want to save as much money possible here, so we won't be stressing about money while we're IN Europe.

Thank you guys though! (Especially the tips about those path conditions! On certain days I'm sure: Cobblestones + bike = angry, cussing girlfriend. I shall warn the boyfriend to plan accordingly...).