Independent travel to your destination
However you decide to go, check our special offers page for any discount codes or deals, plus links to last-minute bargains.
Travel without your bike
Probably the simplest and least fraught - as long as you are confident that the hire bike the other end will fit you and be suitable for your holiday routes.
Travel with your bike
From your house to your destination, the most logical way is on your bike - the ultimate in personal transport with the advantages of quietness and low running costs. Your journey can form part of your holiday, reaching your destination in stages. Or the whole holiday could be a tour.
For planning UK travel, The Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner is excellent (read our review), showing Sustrans and other signed cycle routes, railway lines and stations, and ferry ports. Local tourist information offices may also be able to tell you about cycleways and traffic-free routes too.
Once en route, we use the relevant pages torn from a road map based on Ordnance Survey mapping to remind us of the way to go, and show us alternatives and diversions that we might need.
We also find that trains make an ideal way of extending a route, or fast forwarding to more pleasant cycling territory. On the whole, it is easy to travel with your bike if you avoid commuter times. Problems arise when there are more than two of you, since there is often not much space allocated to bikes. It depends on the type of train and how pleasant you are to the staff! A few services require advanced booking, where the bike numbers are strictly enforced (eg Virgin services using Pendolino trains, where staff have to unlock the access to the bike storage area).
Trains beyond the UK
For trips beyond the UK, Eurotunnel has bike provision and Eurostar is another possibility; not just to France either, but to the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. Check the website for their interactive map that shows clearly which routes require a change of train. Their search form is useful for finding the best Eurostar journey and connections, ticket prices and deals. Rail Europe is also useful for searching for journeys and ticket prices, and never forget to check the inimitable man in seat 61 .
Long-distant coaches UK
Long-distance coaches (eg National Express) are a possibility for those of you like us with touring bikes that fold up. Understandably, people don't want their suitcases smeared with chain oil, so you are expected to bag up your bike. Watch for luggage restrictions - you may be limited to two pieces, in which case you'll need a holdall (easily scrunched up once you've arrived) for all your panniers so they count as one bag.
Long-distant coaches beyond UK
National Express Eurolines provides long-distance links with Ireland and the continent, but again, you'll need to bag up your bike. Some cycle-dedicated coach companies, including the European Bike Express, are much better, having a trailer to take your bike and panniers so on arrival you just wheel out your bike, straighten your handlebars, and pedal off.
Apart from carbon footprint concerns, planes are problematic with extra luggage charges, worries about the bike emerging the other end unscathed, and for some airlines, acquiring a bike box (a special cardboard box) to place it in. Alec's bike was mangled by an airline, which is why we changed to folding bikes. These make life simpler, but you still need to pack them in something, which could be a rigid suitcase. Then you need left luggage facilities for the suitcase, which is OK if you're returning from the same airport. An alternative is to use a suitcase that converts to a trailer for your tour (such as those from the U.S. company Bike Friday).
Cycling to/from an unfamiliar airport is also fraught with difficulties unless you can find someone with local knowledge of routes. Some airports around the world may only be served by motorways or other roads where cycling is not permitted. In this case, it might be easier to use a taxi to arrive/escape. For peace of mind, it is possible to book a taxi in advance and check that it will take bikes, either whole or dismantled. There is a company (Holiday Taxis) specialising in advance bookings - try them for a quote: Holiday Taxis .
Ferries are much simpler - little river ferries are a bit awkward to climb into with your bike, but the cross-Channel ferries are no problem. You just cycle on the car deck and tie your bike to the nearest bit of metalwork with any rope that's handy. We take bungee cords too. Usually cyclists are allowed off the ferry first too.
Cross-channel operators include DFDS from Harwich or Newcastle, Stena from Harwich, P&O from Dover, Hull or Portsmouth, Brittany Ferries from Plymouth, Poole or Portsmouth, and Norfolk Line from Dover, Liverpool or Rosyth (NB Norfolk Line is now part of DFDS Seaways).
Abroad, we've only used river ferries in the Netherlands, and of course they are totally geared up for bikes.
This page includes: Eurostar, Eurotunnel, Rail Europe, Trainline, DFDS Seaways, P&O Ferries, Norfolk Line Ferries, Stena Line, Brittany Ferries, National Express coaches, man in seat 61.