It's becoming increasingly popular for us to take activity holidays and breaks abroad. Some choose to simply go on leisurely rides whilst on holiday whereas some prefer a more hardcore week of solid cycling. There are also a number of charity bike rides available that take you to some interesting destinations (Take a look at our Events Page). This guide is here to offer you some information on where you can expect to hire bikes from, how to take your bike abroad with you, and there's a section on popular destinations to go cycling.
Hiring Bikes Abroad
There are many companies that hire out bicycles in each country. We'd advise you to use a search engine to find a reasonably local company in the area of your destination although some are easier to find than others. We've included a few examples of bike hire companies in both city centres and generally throughout different countries to hopefully help you on your way. Hiring a bike in a city centre is fairly easy to do, many being government run organisations. However, finding a company that hires out specific types of bicycle in a less popular location can be more of a challenge.
City Centre (Public Bicycle Rental Programs): In Paris they have a public bicycle rental program called Velib'. They have a number of pay stations where the bikes are located throughout the city and if you subscribe to them (costing €1 per day or €5 per week) you can use their bikes for 30 minutes for free, with a charge of between €1 and €4 for every subsequent 30 minute period. This can work out expensive if you want the bike all day but you can use the bikes for an unlimited amount of journeys per day so as long as you get the bike to a pay station every half an hour you can use the bike for nothing - apparently this allows Velib' to evenly distribute the bikes throughout Paris. In the Hoge Veluwe national park, Netherlands, they offer a number of white bikes which are free to use for as long as you like. Bikes Netherlands also offer bikes in Amsterdam for €12.50 for 24 hours which is pretty good value. Macbike are also based in Amsterdam, and offer city and touring bikes for anything between 3 hours and a couple of weeks starting at just €7. Many other cities in France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Spain and Canada offer similar systems to this. The city bikes are obviously a great way to get around for short journeys, but unfortunately the bikes are often quite heavy (albeit well-built) city/hybrid bikes, and with the restriction of 30 minute periods you can't really use them further afield unless you're prepared to pay a huge amount for the privilege.
Bike Rental Away from City Centres:
- Bicycle Germany have quite a comprehensive list of cycle hire companies in Germany and a few in Austria.
- Intersport rent out bikes in Austria.
- Dial a Bike offer bike rentals in Spain.
- Atlas Mountainbiking rent bicycles in Morocco.
- Randotrek and Bike Rentals Plus are cycle hire companies in Italy.
- Veloloco, Bike Rental Plus and France Bike Rentals in France.
- Live 2 Ride hire out bikes in South Africa.
Transporting Bikes Abroad
It's highly recommended that you have your bike fully serviced before taking it abroad on a holiday. This reduces the risk of you needing repairs when you're away especially when you may have to carry the bike hundreds of miles to find somewhere with the correct tools and equipment to do the job. Also remember to take maintenance items and spares with you including mini air pump (and any special pumps required for your bike), tools, spare tubes, puncture repair kit and spare brake disc pads/brake blocks.
Airplane: You should find that most airlines are used to checking in bikes as luggage, and provided they are boxed correctly and are within your weight guidelines you shouldn't come across any problem. However, it is certainly recommended to check with your airline before you fly. Some airlines such as Easyjet charge a flat fee of £15 for sporting equipment which includes an extra 15kg of weight allowance. Some airlines allow you to include a bike under your usual weight allowance which can involve taking a bit of careful packing as usually the airline restricts your boarded luggage weight to around 20 to 25kg, and a properly boxed bike should weigh about 16kg. Therefore it's advised to either pre-book extra weight allowances or if there is no restriction to the weight of hand luggage pack your heavy items to take on the plane with you.
You can use either a bike bag or box. For bags have a look on Wiggle. Bike boxes should be available from your local bike shop and would normally box it for you for around £5 to £10. Alternatively, we've provided a guide to box your own:
(You'll need a bike box, Allen keys, a pedal spanner and a fork spacer)
- 1. Take the saddle, seat post and pedals off (remember that pedals have alternate direction threads - left pedal: undo by turning shaft clockwise, right pedal: undo using usual direction in counter-clockwise direction)
- 2. If you have V-brakes - undo the pads and take off the front wheel (if you have discs just be careful not to damage the disc when removing the wheel).
- 3. Attach the fork spacer between the front fork dropouts.
- 4. Take off the handlebar by taking off the clamp on the stem, and replace the clamp. Turn the forks to one side and, after wrapping them in bubble wrap/cardboard, place the handlebars alongside the forks.
- 5. Partially deflate both front and rear tyres and place the bike into the box ensuring the left crank faces upwards. Now making sure the crank isn't pressing on any spokes, place the front wheel to the left of the box with the crank in between the spokes.
- 6. Protect the box from the front wheel axle by placing cardboard over the axle.
- 7. Place the saddle, seat post, pedals and tools into the box and secure them to stop them moving (causing damage) or falling through the handles in transport.
- 8. Tape up the box with strong packaging tape with more around every corner of the box.
- 9. Write your flight details, name and address of where you're staying when arriving at the destination.
- 10. Remember to change the flight details and address on the box when returning home.
Train: As with airplane travel, different train companies have differing policies on taking bikes as on board luggage. The majority of European train companies will allow you to take your bike fully built and may/may not charge you for doing so, some may however only allow you to take a boxed bike so make sure before you travel. Below is a list of a few European train companies websites to help you along the way. As a general rule with trains travelling beyond Europe you can usually take your bike on trains - if it's in a box/bag (dismantled) it's usually free, if it's fully built it needs to be put in a cycle friendly carriage (normally marked with a logo) and you'd expect to pay a small fee (€5-€20) per journey.
Eurostar say that if you can dismantle your bike and put it in a bike bag/box they will allow you to take it on as carry-on luggage. Alternatively for £20 each way you can reserve a bike space that allows you to carry the bike on-board without dismantling it or putting it in a bag/box (assuming they aren't fully booked). All you need to do is book your travel ticket, then call Eurostar's baggage line on 0870 5 850 850 (+870 5 850 850 from outside the UK) quoting your ticket reference to ensure the bike space is on the same train. There is a further (older) option that allows you to send a bike on Eurostar from London to Paris or Brussels as registered baggage for £20 each way. The majority of the time the bike will be shipped on the next train, but this is only a guaranteed 24 hour delivery service after checking it in so you may have to wait a while for it to arrive. This service can also be booked using the baggage line contact numbers above.
Trenitalia in Italy has some useful information on travelling with your bike on Italian trains that charge €3.50 for a bike train ticket that you must get stamped before boarding the train), and is free to take your bike if dismantled and in a bag/box.
B Rail in Belgium charge €5 for a one-way pass and €8 for a day pass and their trains have special carriages with cycle docks, however some stations won't let you enter/exit with a bike so check on their website.
Ferry: Although ferries do take longer and aren't always cheaper than the Eurostar trains, they do however take bikes free of charge in their bike areas.
- Between London and Paris: You can travel from London to Paris via train/ferry/train. The UK trains from London to Dover do let you take bikes free but only out of commuter hours (commuter times include travelling into London before 10am Mon-Fri, and out of London between 4pm and 7pm Mon-Fri). The ferry from Dover to Calais by P&O is free for bike transportation. Both the local trains from Calais to Boulogne and the express train from Boulogne to Paris are free for transport of bikes. The Express trains usually dedicate a section of carriage for carrying bikes (usually carriage 14) which has a cycle logo near to the doors.
- From the UK to the Netherlands, then train to Berlin, Milan, Prague, Vienna (to mention a few): You could get an overnight ferry from Harwich (Essex), Hull (to Rotterdam via P&O) or Newcastle via DFDS Seaways (all of which have cabins and include beds) which are free for cycle transportation. You have the option of spending a day in Amsterdam before an onward journey via the City Night Line (which have cycle compartments) to a number of destinations including: Basel, Como, Copenhagen, Dresden, Luzern, Milan, Munich, Prague, Vienna and Zurich. City Night Line sleeper trains usually charge around €10-€15 per journey for bikes.
- From the UK to Spain: There are 3 ferries to Spain. Portsmouth to Bilbao on P&O Ferries, and Plymouth or Portsmouth to Santander by Brittany Ferries.
Popular Cycling Destinations
Netherlands: Cycling is the most popular form of transport in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam therefore you can expect it to be very cycle friendly. They have an abundance of bike parks where you can secure your bike when not riding it. As mentioned above, it's reasonably easy to rent a bike in the city, and there's even a novelty group bike from Amsterdam Actief that will carry up to five passengers and a guide that can be hired for specific or private tours. Macbike offer cycling tours around the city.
France: It's not just the professionals of the Tour de France that are attracted to France for cycling. Many holiday makers go to this picturesque part of the world to fulfil their cycling desires, whether they trace the roads from Tour de France or find their way over the Pyrenees or Alps. There are many beautiful routes to take here, and if you're not a confident navigator you could always choose to take a guided tour.
Italy: Venice, Florence, Tuscany, Umbria and Sicily are only a few of the popular cyclist destinations in Italy. The picturesque scenery, wine, food, culture and architecture attract many visitors to Italy and cycling here is an opportunity not to be missed.
Austria: The picturesque Austrian city of Salzburg offers an amazing 62 miles of car-free cycle paths. The Mozart Bike Path also offers a further 280 miles of beautiful countryside views surrounding Salzburg. Renting bikes is reasonably easy, as are guided tours (Topbike). There's also a less conventional bike on offer in the city, the Octopus Conference Bike, a bike for seven cyclists and a tour guide. The rest of Austria also offers cyclists' interesting rides in the foothills of the Alps, and near the many lakes and forests. Bike and Hike Austria organise guided tours in Austria.
Germany: Cyclists actually have right of way over any other vehicle or pedestrian in Germany, making it one of the most cycle friendly countries. Cities, towns, villages and even the countryside have cycle paths and lanes.
India: It's becoming an increasingly popular destination for cyclists as there are so many interesting places to cycle through and stop off. There's plenty interesting attractions to India including spice warehouses and markets, inland waterways, fantastic food and of course beautiful scenery.
Others: South Africa, Morocco, Hungary, Switzerland, Kenya, China, Spain and Portugal are also popular countries where cyclists choose to take an active holiday.
- Sherpa Expeditions specialise in self-guided cycling tours in Europe (Austria, Finland, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain).
- Hooked on Cycling offer bike vacations all over Europe.
- Skedaddle offer cycling trips to Europe and further afield.
- Downhill Adventures and African Bikers both specialise in cycling adventures in South Africa.
- Bike Rental Plus offer guided and self-guided tours throughout France and Italy.
- Belle France specialise in cycling tours all over France.
- Exodus offer worldwide cycling trips.
Of course you could always go on a cycling holiday in the UK!