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Buying or renting a bike

Hi everyone, I'm going to be biking in France and Spain for two months or so, and I was wondering if it is better to buy, or rent a bike? Also, is Spain conducive for bike touring? Finally, can anyone recommend a bike shop in Madrid.

Posted by
5623 posts

How new/fancy a touring bike are you wanting to ride? New or used? A shiny new bike could cost thousands of Euros, but then rental over 8 weeks could really add up, too. Then, if you rent in Madrid, will you be returning to Madrid after riding in France, to turn in your rental? Logistics might determine how practical it is to rent. A bike you bought might be able to be resold, or just donate it and eat the cost.

We’ve toured in France, Belgium, and Ireland, but only for 2 weeks, and rented each time. Bringing our bikes from home wasn’t worth the airline cargo cost and the logistical challenge. Sorry, but I can’t provide any Madrid bike shop recommendation. As far as touring, I just think of watching the Vuelta a Espana bike race on TV. Hot, dry, and extremely mountainous, but you might be riding in different parts of the country. Either way, I’d want to have plenty of water, and places to refill.

Posted by
461 posts

For a trip of that duration it's best by far to buy a bike (from a reputable bike shop only) that's designed and outfitted for touring (gearing, racks, number of water bottle mounts, saddle, dropped handlebars, tires, etc.), as well as one that's the proper size frame for you (comfort is king) and the right type of frame for on- or off-road touring (big dfferences), long before you leave home and take it on the plane with you. That way, you'll have time to take a shakedown trip or two, get used to it, build up some stamina and learn how to maintain and repair it. It's also much less costly to buy than rent.

There are many other factors to consider. A few are::

Have you toured by bike before or is this a first-time trip? Will you be carrying your own gear or have an outfitter carry it for you; camping or staying in B&Bs, hotels and with WarmShowers hosts? Do you plan to use paper maps (Michelin's red maps are ideal for bike trips) or less reliable and less accurate digital sources? How familiar are you with those countries?

You can bike anywhere and on any type of road - or lack thereof - you like. It depends on how rugged or not you want your trip to be. Do you want to bike on paved roads and bike trails, on dirt and gravel, off-road or a combination. Do you plan to bike from town to town or sleep anywhere you find a good spot for the night? Terrain: flat, rolling hills, mountainous? In what season will you be biking?

We've biked in both France and Spain, as well as in many other European countries, Africa, the Middle East and North America. Europe is our favorite.

For an excellent resource on bicycle touring go to: adventurecycling.org.

Posted by
52 posts

I've read, as of recently, bikes fly free on several if not all of the major US carriers. I don't have any experience traveling with bikes, myself, but my gf and I plan to try it soon with a couple folding bikes we just bought.

David, have you used Ride with GPS? I really like it, but I've only used it in the US, and not for cycling. I'm curious how its route planning compares to Michelin's (at ViaMichelin).

Posted by
461 posts

Most, if not all, U.S. and European airlines charge a fee each way for bicycles. It's important to check carefully your carrier's size and weight limits and its fees. Until 2007, all European carriers carried bikes for free. Then they got together and...

I exclusively use Michelin paper maps and would never consider an electronic device.

Posted by
52 posts

Well, I could be wrong. I'm basing that off United's baggage fee calculator and this article from October:

US-based carrier United Airlines — who as recently as this September charged an additional US$200 for your bike each way — has quietly abandoned that fee entirely, finally following the lead of competitors Delta Airlines and American Airlines.

Posted by
461 posts

On February 7, 2022, I got these details for bikes from each of the following airline's websites. Keep in mind that the absolute minimum box size (L + H + W = total linear inches) for most adult bikes is 91". Fees are each way.

Aer Lingus: Max. box size not mentioned (go figger!); a followup e-mail went unanswered. Max. weight: 50 lbs. (23 kg). Fee: $60 in Smart and Flex. No checked bags allowed with Saver Fare.

American: Max. box size: 126". Max. weight: 50 lbs. (23 kg). Fee: $30 domestic, $75 to Europe or free if a flight is marketed and operated by American. There may be other exceptions, so read the current policy carefully.

Delta: Max. box size: 115". Max. weight: 50 lbs. (23 kg). Fee: $30.

United: Max. box size: 115". Max. weight: 50 lbs. (23 kg). Fee: $35 domestic or $70 to Europe in basic or standard economy class. There's more to it than this, so read carefully.

That was then (just last month) and but a small selection. Policies can change at any time and can be confusing, so read your carrier's details thoroughly before buying your ticket. As recently as 2016, the bike fee to Europe on British Air was zero.

Edit:

Alaska Air: This carrier just replied to a long-ago e-mail. Max. box size: none. Max. weight: 50 lbs. (23 kg). Fee: $30.

Update to the edit (3/25):

Alaska Air just replied with more information and a clarification. Max. box size: 115". Max. weight: 100 lbs. (quite the overkill on the part of the cyclist!).

Posted by
5786 posts

We rented but brought our own saddles and pedals that were compadible with our bike shoes. Our bike tour was in northeast Germany. We were glad that we rented in that the tour company's bikes were hybreds with 35mm tires suitable for rough pavemens, cobbles and occasional dirt/gravel roads. The rental bikes also had fenders and a hub generator light system.

Posted by
52 posts

I chatted with a UA rep last night who confirmed the info in that article- there's no fee for bikes. Obviously, the normal checked bag charges apply, but so long as the bike meets the size and weight limits, you don't pay extra. So for example, if the OP is flying EWR-MAD in economy with one carry-on and a bike, the luggage fee will be $0. Thanks to David for collecting the size and weight limits. (By the way, at least on United and American, when flying up front the maximum dimensions don't change but the weight limit increases to 70 lbs. That's one carefully-packed bike!)

Posted by
461 posts

Those three airlines merely did away with the oversize fee, not the standard fee for baggage that includes bicycles. When all the major carriers (U.S. and European) dropped their maximum weight limit from 70 lbs. (32kg) to 50 lbs. (23kg) as of 2008, then careful packing became paramount. Including tools and packing materials, my packed box typically weighs between 48-50 lbs. Prior to 2008, I sometimes packed my bike in a hard shell case that still left a comfortable margin under the 70 lb. limit.

Posted by
52 posts

Right, I should have been clearer. I didn't expect anyone to interpret what I wrote as the airlines had waived all baggage fees.

Posted by
8632 posts

Rent or buy?

If you plan to travel in a circle, renting may be an option. Otherwise I would be surprised if there were a "Hertz" of bikes that would allow a one way rental.

Posted by
218 posts

One caveat re: baggage fees for bikes: The fee is set by the carrier for the first outbound leg when travelling outbound. Inbound, the fee is set by the first inbound carrier. Back in 2015 Air Canada charged me $50 for my bike. Returning from Italy, Lufthansa charged me $200 (or was is $250?) for the same bike. When I was planning my (aborted) bike trip in for 2020, the United fee outbound was $200, and inbound Lufthansa was on the order of $275. (!)