You’re taking a trip and you’re planning on traveling with a bike. Perhaps this is a family vacation and you intend on stealing off on a few early morning rides before your troop rises from their slumber. Or perhaps this is the ultimate ride around the world with your best cycling mates type of excursion. Either way, you’re probably wondering what’s changed in the last couple of years. You guessed it… that whole pandemic thing. Travel feels a wee bit more daunting than it used to. And traveling with a bike in tow has always felt slightly more complicated than your garden variety all-inclusive hopping. Not to worry. We’re here (to try) to fill in some of the blanks for your next cycling trip.
In case you’re just getting started and all you know is that you want your bike somewhere warm and dry, we’ll start from the beginning. Feel free to skip ahead if you’ve already decided on your destination and just need to figure out bike packing, rental car selection, or insurance.
Okay, so you’re in the ‘just get me out of here’ mindset – you know you want to ride, but you’re not quite sure where to go yet. Or, maybe, you know where you’re going, but you need to plan your routes.
In our humble opinion, cycling travel is most enjoyed in a temperate climate. We know you’re not a ‘fair-weather cyclist’, but arriving somewhere warm and dry is ideal. And, even if you don’t mind getting wet on your rides, accommodations at the destination are often not conducive to cleaning the mud off your bike, which is a practical consideration to traveling with a bike that we’ll discuss in more detail below.
Finding weather that suits your bike riding adventure comes down to two primary considerations: (1) What temperature range you’re willing to put up with; and (2) How far you’re willing to travel with a bike in tow. It might seem excessive to you, but we typically check temperature maps of countries or regions we are considering traveling to in the month we plan to be there. These maps are easily accessible online and will give you a sense of how far you might need to go. You don’t want to be that cyclist that shows up with bib shorts and short-sleeve jerseys only to realize that bib tights and jackets would have been more appropriate.
We once headed to Clermont, Florida (located approximately 20 miles west of Orlando) in early December. We wanted to escape the dreary Canadian winter (can you blame us?) and wanted to ride outdoors (we typically hit our indoor trainer once the snow flies). Anyway, we were surprised (and disappointed) to find - once we arrived - that, most days, the temperature range was in the low double digits. It was still warmer than Canada, but we would have preferred warmer temperatures (and we might have packed more bib tights, jackets, and arm warmers).
So! Our advice? Before booking your travel, decide what kind of weather you prefer to ride in (how warm or dry) and check out those temperature maps. You’ll be glad you did.
By now, you have decided what weather you prefer for your rides. So, where to?
You can find just about any climate - provided you are willing to travel far enough. Unfortunately, many of us only have a week or so at a time to get our cycling trips in. That means that, traveling from Canada to Australia would equate to spending 35% of that week in transit (rather than in your saddle). Our rule of thumb is one hour of flight time for every day we have at our disposal. Obviously, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but if you’re like us then you want to have fun rather than spending most of your vacation trying to get to your ultimate destination. In a post-pandemic world where there could be restrictions and extra requirements for boarding an airplane, managing your time becomes even more important.
What does that mean for potential destinations? If you only have a week and you’re traveling with a bike from Canada, consider staying in North America. You’ll want to tack on an extra weekend if you want to venture as far off as Europe. But, remember, flight connections can contribute a significant amount of travel time (and risk if you miss your connections) - and, for the time being, there just aren’t as many direct flight routes as there used to be to get to the cycling meccas you’ve been daydreaming about. We recently returned from Palma de Majorca in Spain, and door-to-door travel time was approximately 18 hours (but, yes, it was worth it - in case you’re wondering).
Bottom line? Make sure you do your homework when deciding how far you’ll go on your next bike trip.
Choosing a destination that offers a wide range of suitable roads or trails for riding is arguably the most important part of your cycling trip planning. Most people think about how scenic a destination is, but safety (and long routes - if you’re planning for epically long, century+ rides) should be your top priority, even above the ‘wow’ factor. Don’t worry, you can have both - and advance planning of your cycling trip will only help you hit the road or trails quickly when you arrive. You're traveling with a bike to an amazing place, make sure you can actually ride when you get there.
Here’s another tip: Don’t assume that because a destination has hosted a major cycling or triathlon event that it has safe routes. That’s a rookie mistake you’ll want to avoid. Race days for major sporting events typically involve early morning weekend start times and (at least partially) closed and patrolled roads. Sadly, local authorities likely won’t close roads for you - and you probably won’t want to wake up with the sun every day on your vacation. You need to do your homework.
The good news is that it’s much, much easier to plan your trip in advance now than it was before the handy ride mapping apps became available. If you aren’t going to be joining a guided tour or riding with locals, check out one of these options for planning your routes (even before you arrive):
Strava: Yes, Strava allows you to compare yourself across various routes to the all-time bests and personal records, but it also includes features to heat map popular routes. Typically, if a route is well used, it’s fairly safe for cycling.
Map My Ride: With a free membership, you can search for routes around your destination, download coordinates for upload to your GPS bike computer, or simply just get insight into how many routes have been created.
Ride With GPS: Our personal favourite for route planning, Ride With GPS, allows you to search and edit existing routes, or to start from scratch and build your own.
Needless to say, most online services require some kind of membership in order to take full advantage of the features available, but the free versions will get you started. And, if all you want to do is zoom in and take a look at the surroundings, Google Maps has a street level view for most major roads. Pro tip: Zoom in at the intersections to take a peek down those dirt roads that haven’t been photographed yet for a sense of whether it is rideable on your road or gravel bike (you’ll be glad you did).
We can’t emphasize enough that you should take some time here. Maybe we’ve just been burned too many times, but there is nothing worse than knowing that you have to traverse a 3-lane freeway just to leave your accommodations. Being forced to drive to every ride start is just a nuisance (not to mention it takes the rental car away from any non-cyclists that might be traveling with you - and that could mean grumpy families or friends to come back to at the end of your rides).
This is the part where you keep your marriage, family, and/or friendship intact and allow yourself the freedom you need for all-day epic rides. Yes, the best riding location might just be in the middle of nowhere, but that also means demands for day trips and non-bike related excursions. Make sure there is something to keep your travel companions occupied.
Like route safety, you should spend some time here as it will free you up to enjoy yourself and ensure this isn’t your last family/cycling trip combo. It can be as simple as a hotel pool with drink service, or as elaborate as Disney World, but there better be something and it better be thoughtful (we were awfully close to Disney World during the cycling trip to Clermont, Florida we described above - but, luckily, we didn’t have non-cyclists to entertain).
If you’ve made it this far, then you’re probably wondering what’s the same - and what’s changed - when it comes to traveling with a bike through airports and stuffing it into the back of a slightly-too-small (yet wildly expensive) rental car.
COVID-19 disrupted global travel in ways we could have never imagined pre-pandemic. If there’s anything the world has learned over the past couple of years or so it’s that everything can change without warning. You’ll want to ensure you’re prepared for whatever twists and turns the universe sends your way - not just on the road, but before you get there, too.
If you're traveling by airplane to get to your destination, remember that airline policies are subject to change - and they do. Most, if not all, airlines offer the carriage of sports equipment, which includes bikes. Unfortunately, not all carriers have the same rules or charge the same fees for traveling with a bike, which means you need to do your homework.
Typically, each bike counts as one piece of checked baggage, but there could be restrictions depending on your airline (in general, sports equipment bags and cases aren’t supposed to contain other personal items, which means you shouldn't try to get away with sneaking your cycling clothing into your bike box). We suggest checking directly with the airline you’re considering prior to purchasing your ticket to ensure you can accommodate the airline’s conditions of carriage.
This brings us to our next point: Those pesky fees. You’ll want to ensure that traveling with a bike doesn’t break the bank. On a pre-pandemic trip to Maui, we switched flights at the last minute due to a cancellation and were floored by the cost - in USD - of checking our bike travel bags. Needless to say, we paid up (but we weren’t happy about it!). Depending on your status with the airline (e.g., if you have frequent flyer status), you might be one of the lucky ones who don’t have to pay out of pocket for checking in your bike box. Airlines offer different fare types that have their own rules (typically, the cheaper the ticket, the greater the restrictions).
Bottom line: Consult the airline’s policy for traveling with a bike before purchasing your ticket.
Ugh. We get it. Nobody likes purchasing insurance. It’s really the last thing you want to think about when planning for a trip, but it’s especially important to consider when you’re heading somewhere with high value equipment to do something which some would consider risky - ever descended steep switchbacks on wet roads?
Here are some major categories to think about before you pack up your bike and head to the airport:
While insurance advice is best left to the professionals - and we’re going to do just that - we do have a little bit of life experience to help point you in the right direction to at least start asking a few questions.
Travel insurance may at least partially cover the risks to which you are exposed on your cycling holiday. Nevertheless, it can be complicated to navigate and there are a few places to look for coverage.
First, if you are employed with, or a retiree of, a company which provides group benefits coverage, check for out of country medical insurance and other travel-related covers. Group benefits are a great place to start because it may not cost you anything.
Next, head over to your credit card documents and check if there are any benefits there. Often, baggage, trip cancellation, and rental car collision damage waivers are included when you use your card to book your trip (often this must be the full trip). This is another category that many people don’t know about and can amount to free insurance (perhaps covered by an annual fee if you have one). Not all cards offer coverage, but it’s worth taking a look.
Whether or not you found benefits in your group benefits package or on your credit card, you should consider stand-alone travel insurance. Travel insurance policies will typically offer higher limits and a full suite of coverage, such as baggage, trip cancellation, trip interruption, emergency medical, repatriation, and more. Many people forget that, in serious situations, the problem is greater than simply paying an inflated bill - you may, for example, need an air ambulance to get you back home to the relative safety of the Canadian medical system.
Finally, if you are a member of a cycling club or cycling association, take a look at the insurance offered as it may just be the reason you registered in the first place. Provincial cycling associations in Canada typically offer race day coverage and sometimes additional crash and injury-related coverage even when not racing. In some cases, the benefits extend to other aspects of traveling with a bike - so take a look. As an aside, we highly recommend joining an association near you for the insurance benefits and to support cycling in your local community. They do great work to grow the sport and make cycling safer for everyone.
Regardless of where you seek coverage, pay special attention to exclusions pertaining to the activity that you are embarking on. Things like “extreme sports” are often excluded. And, while we know your 200 kilometer ride over a mountain pass isn’t an extreme sport, the insurance company may not agree. When in doubt, always consult with an insurance expert, such as a broker, for advice. Tell them what you plan to do.
More on insurance? Well, yes, because we really care about our bikes and they’re more difficult to insure than makes us happy. The risks are always there, but they come into focus when traveling with a bike. The problem, of course, is that bikes have become rather expensive and can have a propensity to wander off. While there are bits of coverage in a variety of places while you travel, there often isn’t enough in any one place to fully cover your fancy new rig. Even those stand-alone travel insurance policies are likely to have limits below the value of your bike.
Most airlines provide some coverage for lost baggage. Checking the conditions of carriage will tell you exactly how much. If you have connections with different airlines on your voyage, it will typically be the last airline which handles any claims. Typical limits could be just $1,000 - $2,000, which isn’t sufficient to cover the full cost of a modern bike plus bike bag and contents.
You may have coverage on a homeowner's policy, but be careful because there is - again - likely a low limit unless you have your bike fully covered by an additional policy rider. Such riders will have a separate premium and bikes can be costly to insure so - you probably know if you have it. You’ll also want to check if there are any exclusions associated with travel or racing, but it’s worth looking into even if it’s just for theft protection closer to home.
Pro tip: Do everything possible to avoid losing a bike before it happens (obviously!). Ensure adequate time between any flight connections for the bike to change planes. We aim for at least 1.5 hours (even on domestic connections).
Bonus pro tip: Well, actually, this one is common sense. Ensure your name and address is well marked on your bike case! If it does get lost in transit, this may be the only way it makes it back to you.
We’ve been fortunate and have never fully lost a bike in all of our travels. But we have had trips delayed and spent a couple of days sitting by the pool when we were supposed to be out on our bikes. Insurance isn’t exciting and will always be a grudge purchase, but it sure does matter when you need it.
Not every accommodation is set up for cyclists - especially if you’re traveling with a group and show up to the hotel lobby with your bike(s) in tow only to find disapproving hotel staff read you the riot act. Or, worse, you confront staff that encourage you to lock your bike up outside or in that “secure” shed down by the beach. Umm… no, thank you.
In practice, most hoteliers try to be accommodating for those traveling with a bike, so remember to take care of the room. If you leave grease marks, chain splatter, or mud from your epic ride all over the carpet, it’s less likely your hosts will continue to be bike friendly, and traveling with a bike will become that much more difficult. With that in mind, any hotel with a bike cleaning station gets ample bonus marks, as it’s always nice to pack a clean bike at the end of a trip. If you didn’t know bike hotels were a thing, check out some great examples in Italy.
Depending on where you’re staying, you might need to consider safety, too. Personally, we love accommodations where we can roll up to the front door after a long ride, hop off our saddle, and bring the bike indoors into our suite where we can rest assured it will be safe. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with staring at your bike while you drift off to sleep (is that just us?).
Traveling with a bike goes beyond the plane as it needs to journey door to door. If you’re renting a vehicle at your destination in advance, don’t forget to select a vehicle that will accommodate your bike(s). You don’t want to be that person standing at the curb of Avis or Enterprise, only to watch in horror as a Honda Fit rolls around to greet you (gah!). Refer to the cargo and passenger recommendation, and select what you think you will need. Remember you may want to transport your bike both in your bike travel case/bag as well as fully assembled alongside other luggage that you will need to squeeze into the vehicle. You may even need to consider car racks, which we explored in a recent blog.
In practice, we’ve found that, if you’re traveling with one bike, almost any car will do. You can slide a single boxed bike into most backseats, saving the trunk for your regular luggage. However, pile on a second bike and all bets are off. It’s typically cheaper to book a larger car in advance than waiting for the fast-talking upgrade pitch at the rental counter with tired, annoyed people lined up behind you.
Your trip is fast-approaching, which means you are ready to start thinking ahead to what you will need to pack.
This post is all about traveling with a bike, so this is a big one!
Packing a bike means choosing the right bike box. As avid cyclists who have traveled with our bikes in tow on numerous occasions - and to different destinations, we’re here to tell you that the experience can be pretty painless. Plus, we’ve tried nearly every type of bike box out there and feel strongly about what works (and what doesn’t, which we learned the hard way). But only you can decide what you’re most comfortable with. It's your decision to make.
First, here are a handful of questions to ask yourself as you consider what option is most suitable for you:
With over 10 years of proven expertise developing secure transport solutions for traveling with a bike, EVOC is our go-to at NOMAD (they're also the trusted partner of the Bora-Hansgrohe pro team). We’ve doubled down on the EVOC line of bike bags because they offer excellent protection, a variety of sizing options, and keep bag weight low so you have capacity for stuffing some extras like helmet, shoes, and ride kit around your bike (just not too much, or you risk getting slapped on the wrist by the airline staff!).
If you’re traveling with a road or triathlon bike that has a difficult-to-disassemble integrated cockpit, or perhaps you just aren’t that comfortable around hex wrenches, we suggest the EVOC Road Bike Travel Bag Pro. Rooted in EVOC’s hybrid approach (soft where possible, hard where necessary), this bike travel bag concept represents the ideal combination of reliable protection, lightness, and easy handling while allowing the bars to stay in place.
Among other things, it features:
Granted this is a luxury option, but if you plan on traveling with your bike extensively (or want to), the extra cost is likely worth it. If not, the EVOC Bike Travel Bag Pro is another fine option. It is EVOC's solution for safe and easy bike transport of all varieties. Based on a molded bottom case with an extra wide monocoque wheel chassis with smooth running skate wheels and front-to-end aluminum side rails, it offers a maximum in protection and traveling comfort. In a nutshell, it does away with some of the advanced features of the Road Bike Bag Pro and comes in at a more affordable cost. You do have to take the handlebars off, but - on many bikes - that’s hardly a difficult task.
In years past, we’ve found ourselves removing everything - down to the crank arms to fit a slightly too big bike inside a clamshell case. It did the job, but the aggravation was real and we much prefer soft shell cases these days. Traveling with a bike is difficult enough. We advocate making it easy with the right case.
If you’re particular about transporting your wheels safely (and stylishly), consider the EVOC Road Bike Wheel Cases. Perfectly adapted, these cases also fit in the wheel compartment of the EVOC Bike Travel Bag Pro.
It’s 2022, so we’re not going to break down every step of packing your bike into a case - you can find loads of videos online of just about any case out there. However, here are our favourite tips for traveling with a bike to get you going:
Pro tip: One of the best parts of traveling with a bike box is that you can stuff it with some extra stuff. At a minimum, we typically pack our cycling shoes and helmet in the bike case, but we’ve also been known to stuff our cycling kit, running shoes, pumps, and random stuff that wouldn’t fit in our luggage. But, again, be mindful of your airline’s weight limit and don’t put anything in that may bang around and damage your favourite bike. The agents in the airport’s oversized baggage area may roll their eyes at you and force you to remove items for x-ray.
Last but not least, we wouldn’t be doing this blog post justice if we didn’t warn you to carve out enough time to ensure you can pack your bike before it’s time to head over to the airport. If this is your first time, then you’ll want to give yourself ample time - and don’t wait for the day of your flight to start (we suggest packing a couple of days before, if you can).
You won’t want to drop the ball on this one! Make sure you gear up with travel accessories and other essentials.
If you’re planning one of those unforgettable trips that will have you (and your bike) heading out before dawn and returning after dusk then ensure you’re equipped with bags, packs, caddies, and more.
What you decide on (for example, where - on your bike - you attach it, how large it is) will depend on what you plan to take with you. If you’re not traveling too far a distance, you could probably get away with fewer (and smaller) bags (for example, to carry your tools and spare kit). If, however, you are bikepacking, or generally prefer traveling with more (think spare tubes, CO2 cylinders, and multi-tools), then you might want to consider more medium to large-sized bike seat bags for all of your riding necessities.
We like to build up our bike bag storage capacity according to aerodynamic efficiency. In other words, keep it narrow with in-frame bags, seat packs, and top tube bags before expanding outwards to fork bags and panniers. But that’s probably the racers in us - if you’re out to enjoy all day epics without a care in the world, don’t worry about aero!
If you’re like us, then you’ll want to exercise extra caution whenever you travel to a new cycling destination. If you’re planning to ride along new routes (especially busy roads you’ll have to share with motorists), then you might want to consider packing sensors to keep you safe (in fact, this probably applies to any of your rides - however near or far).
It’s difficult to overstate just how instrumental bike radar and lights are - not just when you travel with your bike, but to your cycling kit year-round (or whenever you typically hop in your saddle). Whether you plan on road cycling before dawn or after dusk, mountain biking through a heavily wooded trail, or just caught in nasty conditions (think rain, fog, or even snow!) during your trip, bike radar and lights will serve as a cornerstone of your cycling safety. They equip you to see - and be seen by - others (whether they are other cyclists, pedestrians, or vehicles) on or off the road.
At NOMAD, we stock a wide range of options - and all of our favourites. We aren’t pushy on sales, but we do strongly encourage you to ride with lights and rear radar.
The premium GARMIN Varia RTL515, for example, which is designed for superior visibility and maximum awareness, features a rearview radar and tail light, and provides visual and audible alerts for vehicles approaching from behind from up to 140 meters away. We absolutely love this thing and don’t ever leave home without it. Its sleek, compact design means you can easily mount the device onto the seatpost of almost any road bike. Riding with your buddies emulating a pro peloton? Don’t worry. The Varia RTL515 provides a low-intensity flash option to avoid impairing the vision of other cyclists when you’re riding in a group.
For a more foundational option, check out the CatEye Rapid X3, which offers up double the brightness of CatEye’s popular X2 design and easily and securely mounts onto almost any application, including round and aero seatposts, seatstays, handlebards, forks, and head tubes.
Remember to create a safe cycling environment - wherever your trip takes you - by equipping your bike with the right lights and even bike radar to suit your unique needs and to ensure you establish the right conditions to see - and be seen by - others.
This is a bit of a catch all for all of the other maintenance tools, bike parts, and accessories you’ll need to keep you off the side of the road and in your saddle during your trip. From spare tubes, CO2 inflators (you’ll have to purchase cartridges at your destination given you can’t transport them by air, or opt for a pump), to mini pumps, multi-tools, lubricants, and more, you won’t want to be caught off guard. When in doubt, pack it (it’s always a mad scramble to try to chase these down at the destination when you need them most).
Remember you're traveling with a bike in a partially disassembled state so you’ll need a set of hex wrenches to reassemble your bike. If you forget those, you’ll be off to the store, but fortunately they are relatively easy to find.
Packing proper nutrition to fuel your rides (before, during, and after) when you’re planning - and packing for - a trip is an easy ‘to do’ to forget, but you’ll regret it if you do!
If you’re traveling with your bike (especially if it’s the kind of trip during which you plan on heading out for long, century+ rides), then you’ll want to ensure you’re adequately stocked up on all your must-haves (think gels, electrolytes, protein bars, and our favourite organic stroopwafels) to keep you fuelled wherever you go.
Remember that not every destination will offer proper cycling nutrition - especially if you're particular about the gels and electrolytes you rely on to fuel your rides and/or if you’re headed to a remote destination (which is not uncommon for cycling trips if you’re seeking open country roads that you don’t have to share with motorists).
Don’t let the lack of proper nutrition keep you from getting the most out of your cycling trip. Stock up and pack before you go to ensure you are equipped with the fuel you need.
That’s it! If you’ve gotten this far, it’s probably because you’re all set and ready to go. We hope the pro tips we have shared in this ultimate guide to traveling with a bike have equipped you with (most of) what you need to know to feel prepared to set off on your epic cycling adventure. But remember to do your own homework to make the decisions that are right for you.
Safe travels and tag us in your photos on Instagram - we want to live vicariously!