By Maggie LaCoste
The last time my husband and I transported our bikes to Europe for a trip to the Bordeaux region, my husband’s bike arrived on the conveyor belt in about 20 pieces! As we stood in the Bordeaux airport with a disassembled bike, darkness falling and a 25 mile ride to our hotel, we vowed that we would never bring our own bikes to Europe again. And we never have. So despite what you read in many bicycle guides or bike vacation articles, traveling by plane with your bike is a hassle, a worry, a great way to ruin the start of a perfect vacation. If you are a recreational cyclist like me and you are interested in biking for fun and adventure, save money and a lot of worry by renting a bike in France.
My experience in Bordeaux was long before September 11 when the major thing French officials were worried about in baggage was drugs. Such is not the case in the post September 11 world. Drastic changes in airline checked baggage regulations and the airlines’ quest for lucrative baggage fees has created an environment very unfriendly to bicyclists. Each airline has a different policy and fee for bikes, and most agents are unfamiliar with them. In addition, airline policies state that the checking of large items such as bikes is subject to space on the plane, something you won’t know until you check in for your flight! Flying can be stressful enough these days and the last thing anyone needs is a fight at the ticket counter over bicycles! Unless you are planning on spending a month or more overseas, don’t even think about taking your own bike.
The International Bike Fund’s website has a link to all the major airlines, in case you are interested in doing some of your own research. The site also has some basic information on transporting bikes, but since airline policies are always changing, some of the information may not be current. Taking a bike overseas today is expensive, and odds are you will encounter difficulties either getting it to Europe, or getting it back. Depending on which airline you are traveling on, fees for checking a bike can range from $150-$250 each way per bike. In addition, if the bike is oversize and overweight, some airlines reserve the right to charge two separate fees. The minimum fee you could expect to pay for checking your bike as baggage, depending on your airline would be $300 roundtrip per bike.
So, what’s the alternative? Rent your bike in France.
As I’ve mentioned in many of my previous posts, France is spending millions of euros developing bike paths throughout the country, and support facilities are quickly following. All of the major routes that I have biked, or would contemplate biking in France have bike rental options. You may need to do a little bit of upfront planning organizing your trip, but it is really worth the time to avoid the hassle and worry about transporting a bike from the US. What kind of fees should you expect to pay? It depends on the kind of bike you want to rent. I always opt for an all-terrain hybrid or touring bike, something like a Trek or French Gitane. These 24-27 gear bikes are great for biking on the canals, on vineyard trails, along the ocean, and I have found the quality to be well worth the expense. The daily rate for these top of the line hybrids is from $25-$35/day, or $130-$160/week, much less than a $300 airline fee! If you are renting for a week or more, and it is not during the month of August when all of France is on vacation, it is usually possible to negotiate a very competitive rate.
In my next post, I will outline what to look for in a rental bike, and give you some tips on finding reputable bike rental companies.