Travel with or without your own bike?
Travelling without your own bike is probably the simplest option, 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.
However, 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.
Cycle routes UK
For planning UK travel, the Ultimate UK Cycle Route Planner has proved excellent for us, showing Sustrans and other signed cycle routes, railway lines and stations, and ferry ports. However, it will inevitably become more out of date with time, so we hope a new edition will be published at regular intervals. 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 Le Shuttle has bike provision and Eurostar is another possibility; not just to France either, but to the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. Eurostar’s interactive map shows very clearly which routes require a change of train, which is always useful to know in advance when taking the bike. Also, their search form is useful for finding the best Eurostar journey and connections, ticket prices and deals. Voyages-SNCF (previously 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).
Airports – access
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 are various companies that specialise in advance bookings – try these for a quote: A2B Transfers or Hoppa.
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, so you can get ahead of all the traffic to clear customs and be away before vehicles pour onto the exit roads.
Cross-channel operators include Brittany Ferries from Plymouth, Poole or Portsmouth. DFDS Seaways (who now also run Norfolk Line) for North Sea routes from Harwich or Newcastle, and English Channel routes to France from Portsmouth, Newhaven, and Dover, My Ferry Link (update: now ceased trading – they took over Sealink’s Dover-Calais route), P & O Ferries from Dover, Hull or Portsmouth, Regina Line which has been claiming for several years to be starting a service from Harwich to Esbjerg, Denmark, but we’ll believe it when we see it, and Stena Line UK from Harwich. For at-a-glance price comparisons, look at Direct Ferries.
Once abroad, we’ve only used river ferries in the Netherlands, where 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, Direct Ferries.