If you are planning a cycling holiday then the decision on whether you take your own bike with you or not will depend on many factors. Travelling with a bike does require some extra planning and the information below goes through those considerations as well as some tips if you do decide on taking your own.
Once you have decided you are going to head to France for the cycling trip of a lifetime one of the next questions is probably going to be “Will I bring my own bike?”. For some people this will be a no brainer, while for others it may depend on several factors. There are definitely pros and cons of travelling with a bike and bringing your own personal bike with you. Being able to ride a bike that you are used to and fits well is definitely a pro while travelling with oversized luggage can be a con. Do you want to outlay cash for a bike case which you might only use this trip? How much will it actually cost to hire a bike?
When travelling with a bike you need to be mindful of things like the size of hire car you get or navigating busy airports or train stations with large luggage. Some of these things will be show stoppers for some and not an issue for others.
From our own perspective and experience we would say if your entire holiday is about riding bring your own bike, the hassle is worth it. If the cycling is a smaller component of your holiday, then hire a bike.
If you decide your not going to take your own bike with you than you will need to hire a bike instead. There are lots of places in France catering for bike hire especially in the popular tourist areas and cycling regions. There are a wide range of bikes available from top of the range carbon fibre road bikes to city cruisers and everything in between. Our destinations page include lists of bike hire shops for each region and the table below gives you an indication of costs.
While we have not hired bikes ourselves, our friends have. Overall the quality of the bikes has been great and service from the hire places fantastic. We would recommend booking well in advance, especially in the peak period where demand can be high. It is generally recommended that you bring your own seat, helmet, shoes and pedals. We have written a post all about hiring bikes in France for your holiday which goes into this topic in greater detail. You can read the article in full here.
If you have made the decision to take your own bike the next consideration is what different airlines allow in terms of luggage and bikes. We have compiled a list of over 60 airlines and their rules for flying with a bike. Click here for the metric version and here for the imperial version. This is current as of Jan 2021, so before you book double check with the airline that nothing has changed. The table provides a link to the airline page relating to bikes as luggage and we advise that you double check that as well or speak to the airline. Airlines do change allowances. As an example we have noticed the airline we have used numerous times has reduced the allowable luggage allowed for some of the cheaper fares. We will update this page periodically throughout the year and ensure it remains as up to date as possible.
Be aware e-bikes are either banned all together or can only travel with their batteries removed on a plane. This is due to the size of the battery and the potential for these to catch fire on board an aircraft.
Broadly speaking there are three type of bike cases you can use to transport your bike. The first option is a cardboard box, the second a rigid case and the third a soft case. We will go through each of these in turn.
The first option is the humble cardboard bike box. It is the cheapest of all the options given it is generally free from a local bike shop. The major benefit of this option, apart from price, is that you can discard it once you get to the other end. This saves any worry about a case taking up room in a hire car or on other transport. If you are planning on doing any cycle touring then this is really the only option as it is a bit hard to pack a bike bag into your panniers! Of course you need to source another box for the return trip home. Some airports have these available to purchase, or you can email local bike stores from your departure point and get them to keep one for you.
Cardboard offers a reasonable amount of protection although it is prone to rips and tears. It is important to pack your bike well when using this option. I suspect also that these are not favourites of baggage handlers given they can be awkward to lift. We used this option on our last trip and both bikes made the journey there and back in one piece.
The next option is the rigid bike case. These definitely offer the best level of protection of all the options but this can come at the expense of weight and price. These cases can be made of metal or plastic and generally have wheels built into them making them easy to handle through airports. There is a high level of protection with these cases for your bike which is the overriding benefit of them. One thing to consider though is what you plan to do at the other end. These cases take up a certain amount of room and need to be stored somewhere. If, for example, you need to hire a car you may find that a couple of rigid cases take up a fair amount of room forcing you into more expensive options. There can also be the issue of where to store them once you are home.
The last option is the soft bike case. This option offers a great compromise between the first two options. These types of cases are generally lighter than the rigid cases and slightly cheaper. They still offer a great level of protection for your bike and easy handling with wheels and handles. The soft sides are usually supported by a metal or plastic frame or inserts that can be removed. This means that once you get to your destination you can shrink the bag to a degree and are not faced with the same issues as the full rigid option. These types of cases generally have a hard base which supports the bike.
We have used this type of bag on all bar the last of our trips and the bike has always arrived in the same condition it left in. Even when I witnessed my bag dropping 2 metres off the conveyor belt coming off an aircraft!
Regardless of the type of bag you decide to get there are some other factors you may also want to consider. The first of these is weight. Assuming you are flying you will be at the mercy of the airline restrictions on how heavy any single item can be regardless of your allowance. Many airlines have a limit of 23kg for any one piece and we have always aimed to be just under that amount. While some airlines offer up to 30kg in any one piece they are in the minority and you don’t want to limit yourself to always flying a particular airline. So think of the total weight of your bike plus the case.
The second consideration is the dimensions of the case. A lot of the airlines have a limit around 300cm of the total dimension of the case. What this means is that the length plus height plus width cannot add up to any more than the amount specified. There are limits also when using the TGV within France where a bike case cannot be longer than 120cm if it is to be allowed as carry on luggage.
Lastly you need to check that the case you choose fits the bike or bikes you will likely travel with. Most bags allow for a decent range of bikes from road, to mountain bikes to gravel bikes, but will not necessarily cater for frames at the larger end of the scale or bikes that have integrated seat posts.
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