Research for Launch and Close
As I've mentioned previously, you want to enjoy your cycle tour with a minimum of hassles and complications during the tour. The best way to make that happen is to do a LOT of up-front research, and thoroughly plan the details of your tour launch and close.
Tour LaunchThe most important details to sort out for launching your tour are:
- What will you pack your bicycle and gear in?
- How will you transport yourself, your bicycle and your gear to the airport?
- Upon arrival, when and where will you assemble your rig?
- How will you get from that busy busy airport to the start of your tour?
Some folks like to travel with a hard-sided plastic bicycle carrier. The problem I find with these is what to do with them during your tour. Surely you can't carry it with you, so you have to do something else. Do you have a place to store it? One time Brent and I stored some stuff in a self-storage unit in Frankfurt for a month, and that worked slick, and was quite affordable.
A fellow from work tours with his wife, and she made them some fabric bike bags that they pack their bikes in and then carry the bags for the duration of their tour.
|Cardboard Bike Boxes and Large U-Haul Boxes|
In the past, Brent and I have always used cardboard bike boxes from a bike store. When they get bikes in to the store, they have to discard the cardboard box, and they're just as happy to give it to you rather than throw it out. This has always worked well for us, but has also presented a bit of a complication with getting the bikes to the airport (two people, two boxed bikes, two boxes of gear is a LOT).
Now that airlines are becoming more enthusiastic about bikes in bags, we're considering doing that for our upcoming tour to France. We bought ourselves two clear plastic bags (they're like gigantic freezer bags) from Wiggle. The bags are compact enough that we can carry them for the duration of our tour and use them again to come home. WestJet's baggage policy says that bikes must be in boxes or bags (we hope they don't object to the Wiggle bags). Air Transat actually requires that bikes be in a bag, and they provide the bags! Our friends, Joerg and Barbara recently took their bikes to Colombia in plastic bags. Joerg says, "Air Canada was pretty good, except that in Bogota I had to talk a lot to get them to finally load up the bikes packed in plastic bags. I had to sign a waiver (Air Canada is not responsible... blah) and we had to go back and forth between the Air Canada check in counter and the oversize luggage reception because of a missing, but not required bar code."
For the other gear, it's simple. The "Large" box from U-Haul costs about $5 and is the exact dimensions of the largest luggage airlines allow before they're considered oversized. They also seem to be just the right size to fit everything that we need to take. If you're arranging storage for a bike box, of course, you can use some other kind of luggage for your gear and store that luggage as well. If you're discarding the gear luggage on arrival, the U-Haul box is the way to go.
Transportation to the Airport
This doesn't sound difficult, but make sure you sort it out ahead of time.
|Airport Shuttle provided by Brent's brother, Doug|
Do you have a friend or family member with a large enough vehicle to take everything to the airport? Taxis and Ubers rarely have the needed carrying capacity. Would you want to use your own large vehicle and put it in long-term parking during the tour? If so, consider that the shuttle busses probably won't be able to take your packaged bike. Is there a U-Haul outlet near, or at, the airport that you could use to drop off a rented U-Haul, or a vehicle rental service that offers pick-up trucks or vans that you could rent and drop off at the airport?
Brent and I have transported our luggage away from the airport to our accommodation to assemble the rig there. This presents some complications, particularly if the transport options from the airport don't include vehicles that are large enough to take the bikes.
|Assembling Rigs in Frankfurt Luggage Claim|
What we have taken to doing instead is to assemble the rigs right at the airport. In the arrivals/luggage claim area, you can unpack and assemble everything, and anything that needs to be discarded can be left there and they have folks who are not unhappy to take it away (unlike in the main area of the Paris airport where we met with the withering stares of doom).
Which one of these methods will work best for you will depend on how you're getting from the airport to the start of your tour.
Getting from the Airport to your Tour
There are lots and lots of options for getting from the airport to your tour. If you assemble your rig at the airport, you can cycle straight from there (or take the rig on local transport). If you assemble your rig elsewhere, well, you have to get your luggage to said "elsewhere". That has been one of the biggest factor in our decision to assemble our rigs right at our airport of arrival.
At European airports, there will most likely be a train that will take you and your stuff to... someplace. Watch out for rush-hour, though... bikes are often disallowed on trains during that time.
Do you expect to be jet lagged when you arrive, or do you have to do some more traveling to reach the start of your tour? Perhaps you want to book some accommodation that is convenient for the starting point of your tour (or at least a convenient point on the way to the start of your tour).
When Laura joined us in 2015, Brent and I sorted out a cycling route to the Frankfurt airport. We met her at the airport and helped assemble her rig, then the three of us rode away from the airport.
In 2017, when we were again traveling in and out of Frankfurt, we still had our information (and some vague memories) of the cycle route away from the airport. We rode directly from the airport and connected directly onto the Main River route.
For our tour this June, we had originally planned to fly in and out of Nantes, but for financial reasons we decided to fly in and out of Paris instead, which means we have to find our way from Paris to the start of our tour in Nevers. We are planning on assembling our rigs in the Paris airport and cycling directly from there to our first-night accommodation. The EuroVelo 3 cycle route passes near the Paris airport, and we found a couple of great resources (one from David Q May, and one from Crazy Guy on a Bike) describing, generally, how to cycle safely away from the Paris airport to downtown Paris, utilizing the EV3. We booked accommodation in Sevran, which is a 10km ride from the airport, and is right beside the EuroVelo 3 route. The day after we arrive, we can use the EV3 to get to downtown Paris, and to the Gare de Bercy train station where we'll catch a train to the start of our tour at Nevers.
There are lots of options. Each with its pros and cons. Depending on where you're arriving and where your tour commences, you will have some details to sort out in this regard.
Closing your tour requires similar, but different planning. Consider:
- When and where will you disassemble your rig and pack everything?
- What will you pack everything in?
- How will you get yourself, your bicycle and your gear to the airport?
The most important difference with tour close vs tour launch is that you have little time and a hard deadline for taking care of things. Three times we expected things to "just work out", and three times things didn't "just work out" (see Perils of Poor Planning).
Rig Disassembly and Packing
This is always a huge hassle, pretty much no matter how you handle it. Are you going to take care of this at your accommodation? If so, how are you going to get the boxed stuff to the airport? Are you going to take care of this at the airport? If so, how are you going to get all your stuff PLUS your packing materials to the airport? Will you pack up just before getting on your flight, or will you need on-site storage overnight in between packing up and flying out?
One simpler solution that I utilized myself in 2017 was to just give the bike away. I had taken a bike that I didn't really care to bring home, and I used Craig's List to find a guy who wanted the bike, and voila - I got rid of a problem, and he got a free bike.
Our friends, Geoff and Lynn, are planning on using this particular solution themselves for our upcoming tour in France. The rest of us want to bring our bikes home.
Then all you have to worry about is your other gear, which is the easy part.
Packing MaterialsIf you have to procure new packing materials (boxes for gear and/or bicycles), sort out where you'll get those packing materials. The gear boxes are fairly easy - find either a self storage facility, or a place that specializes in moving boxes. Just pay attention to their hours of operation, especially if you're packing up on a Sunday or a holiday.
When we were in Frankfurt in 2017, there was a luggage wrapping guy right at the airport who sold bike boxes for, I think, €30. Laura and Brent packed their bikes the day before we flew home, using the on-site storage at the airport to store the bikes overnight. It was a somewhat costly solution, but also relatively hassle-free once we knew it existed.
How you get yourself and your stuff to the airport will depend on your earlier decisions about disassembly and packing.
In 2015, Laura used a large taxi to get herself and her packed gear to the airport.
In 2017, Brent and Laura's bikes were packed and in on-site storage at the Frankfurt airport overnight. We carried our packed gear from our AirBnB in Kelsterbach to the Frankfurt airport on a local bus.
For our upcoming tour this June, we've booked ourselves accommodation right at the Paris airport and we'll take care of disassembly and packing there. We'll use their shuttle trains to get the stuff from our hotel to our respective departure terminals.
I can't tell you what to do and how to do it. This post gives you some information about what I've found to be the potential points of failure and what we've done to mitigate them. If you have questions, I'd be more than happy to answer them, but my main advice is to consider the minutia of these points of failure, and mitigate them, ahead of time to save yourself a shed-load of grief. Being in a shed-load of grief is no way to finish off an otherwise wonderful tour.