Perhaps you are planning a vacation around mountain biking, or just want to slip in a decent ride or two the next time you’re out of town. Whatever your motivation, riding away from home is possible—it just takes a bit of planning to ensure you have a set of two wheels once you reach your destination.
If you plan on riding your own personal bike during your trip, you must decide how to transport it. Choose from several methods, based on your level of comfort and how much cash you are willing to shell out. Here you’ll find a list of tried and true transportation options to choose from.
Box it Up
Regardless of the transportation method you choose for your bike, it’ll likely need to be in box form first. Acquire a cardboard bike box from your local bike shop for free or buy a hardshell case meant for this purpose. Keep in mind that hardshell cases cost a pretty penny. In my experience, they also get pretty banged up during the transportation process—one of my boxes requires a decent amount of packing tape to close these days after the latch was damaged en route on a previous trip. Hardshell cases can also put you over a set weight limit, if you choose to fly it in the sky. That said, these types of cases do offer better protection, and a well-protected bike may be all that is necessary to justify the purchase. It’s certainly a cheaper alternative than a cracked frame, bent derailleur, etc.
No matter if you choose to transport your bike inside a cardboard or hardshell case, disassembly is required to fit your bike inside the tight quarters. You’ll need to either loosen and twist or completely remove your handlebars, as well as detach your seat, front wheel and pedals. I typically need to let the air out of my tires as well to ensure a proper fit. Check out Adventure Cycling Association’s detailed disassembly list for a step by step guide to boxing up your bicycle. You can never take too many precautions when it comes to protecting your bike—once it’s out of your sight, expect that your box will be roughly handled, dropped or piled into a cargo bin—so wrap and pad its contents accordingly.
Fly it High
If you are flying to your destination, you have the option to fly your bike, too. Airlines require your bike be boxed into a hardshell case or bike box prior to flying. Once at the airport, you’ll need to check that box as baggage. Because bikes are big, you’ll likely get hit with an oversize bag fee. Check out this comprehensive list of airlines and applicable bike fees, so you know how much additional dinero you’ll be expected to dish out. Don’t be afraid to call the airline before your arrival to declare your baggage as a bicycle and get a bike fee quote in writing (virtual or otherwise) that you can take with you on your travel day.
Travel by Train
If you want to avoid the hassle and expense of flying with your bike, and your destination is easily reached via railway, consider traveling by train. Amtrak offers passengers several options for bringing their bicycle onboard: bike rack storage, checked baggage in a box, checked baggage outside of a box, and carry-on baggage (folding bikes only). While you can ride to some Amtrak trains on your bike, then secure it to a bike rack for your journey, not all trains offer this convenience and space is limited on the ones that do. Be sure to reserve space for your bike when you make your ticket reservation. A $5-10 fee will be charged. Read more about Amtrak’s bike policies. Tip: Want to stay in good graces with other friendly train folk? Make sure your two-wheeled cargo isn't covered in muck when you roll it on.
Of course, shipping your bike ahead of time is always an option as well. Depending on your destination, shipping might be less expensive than checking your bike as baggage. You also won’t have to deal with carting it around the airport, and can have it shipped to a bike shop to be reassembled it for you. Remember to allow for plenty of time for your bike to reach your destination. (Yes, this means you won’t be able to ride it for a week or so before you leave.) Several ground shipping options include:
- FedEx (They will insure your bike case.)
- UPS (According to Adventure Cycling Association, UPS costs more and takes longer than FedEx. They will not insure your bike case.)
- Bikeflights (Prides itself on being the “easiest and cheapest” way to ship a bike. Bonus 10% discount if you’re an Adventure Cycling Association member.)
Don’t want to deal with taking your bike with you? Then opt for a bike when you reach your destination. Most vacation destinations will offer bike rentals, likely through a local bike shop. Search for a place online and call ahead to see what bikes they stock and see if you can reserve your size over the phone.
With the proper planning you’ll be able to take that vacation and make plans to mountain bike while you’re there!