Trinidad, Cuba. This year's destination?

Transporting Bikes

Towards the end of this page there is a lot of practical information on travelling with bikes. To show that it can be done we have chronicled our journey from Weymouth to Barcelona. This is the first part of our journey to Cuba.

Bikes are hung like this in Eurostar just as they were in the UK 80 years ago.

What are you doing down there Eccles? Reply from the hole, “Everybody has to be somewhere”. The late lamented Spike was no fool. Just think about it, crack of dawn departure to remote airport. Two hour queues at checkin, flight then leaves late and treated like cattle. When tandem eventually arrives on the carousel it is smashed in at least one important place. Eventually check into some grotty overpriced airport hotel just in time for dinner.

But here is our alternative Mr O’Leary. Get on your bike and cycle down to the station. Wave goodbye to Janet who has kindly come to see us off. A pleasant and relaxed train journey to London followed by a short bike ride to St Pancras for the Eurostar where we were met by Stu. He had crossed London in his lunch hour to see us off and it was lovely to see him.

 That’s the tandem above the stoker’s head. The rest of the luggage is in the shower.

The tandem, shortened by taking the front off, is hung like meat in the luggage van. In three hours we are cycling across a damp Paris. Having split the tandem into three and put it into its bags we were a little apprehensive of what the wagon lit's conductor on the Spanish TrenHotel would think. He did not turn a hair and we were welcomed onboard in the style one would expect for those travelling in grand class.

We now had to fit the luggage and the tandem into our ensuite cabin. www.seat61 said it was possible but we did wonder at first. The problem was solved by stacking the bags in the shower and putting the tandem in the area above it. We now had a gourmet meal to look forward to with unlimited wine and liqueurs. It was taken in the dining car, Orient Express style, as the lights of the Paris suburbs flashed by the windows. Returning to our cabin we found that the steward had converted it for sleeping.

We were up for breakfast early. The management in an alcoholic haze had set the alarm rather too early. Back in the dining car we had time to enjoy our five star breakfast before disembarking in pleasant warm sunshine at Barcelona Franca.

Putting the tandem back together at Barcelona Franca station ready for the short ride to the apartment.

The tandem, despite having been shortened and then reassembled in Paris and then taken completely apart at Paris Austerlitz, was fine. It took 15 minutes to put it back together and we were cycling along busy cycle paths to our prebooked accommodation in Barcelona. It just goes to show that it is possible to transport a bike without getting it smashed. All it needs is a level of care which the airlines no longer seem capable of.

So everybody has to be somewhere and we were on the train rather than an airport hotel. And we have not had the cost and inconvenience of traipsing round Barcelona cycle shops to find second rate specialist parts to repair a first class tandem.

Transporting Bikes

Travelling by cargo ship avoids many of the problems associated with taking the tandem around the world. Even so we will have the problem of getting to and from the departure port. Also, unlike many of those who publish in the cycling press, we have knowledge gained by experience. This can be of far more use when travelling than an academic study of the various rules. We are trying to avoid travelling by air in view of the damage air travel is doing to the environment. It would be a shame however not to pass on our experiences of taking a tandem by air and below are details of how we did it.

Tandem by train Tandem by bus Tandem by air

We like if we can to travel overland by public transport. In most cases this is made difficult by the bureaucracy of the various transport operators. Even though tandems are not allowed on most trains in the UK they often do fit into the spaces provided and take up no more room than two solos. The primary rule for taking any bike by train is to put it on, lock it and disappear. In all our years of breaking the rules we have never had a bike put off a train. It’s more than a jobsworth’s job is worth. For long journeys by train it is sometimes possible to travel by sleeper. If two people have sole occupancy of a compartment bikes can be taken into the compartment provided they fit in.

Travel by bus could be easy. A tandem will often fit into the luggage space under the bus. It is however not allowed by most UK operators. More enlightened countries often take the view that if it will fit in you can take it.

To travel by air you have to reconcile yourself to being treated like cattle at the airport and having your possessions checked as if you were criminals. You will be herded into a space far too small for human habitation and into seats designed to induce DVTs. The whole process on the ground will take just as long as the flight and all those involved will at best be civil but are normally rude, unhelpful and treat you like children.

The tandem in three parts

As far as cyclists are concerned the most important thing is to get the luggage and the bike to the destination. And better still, all at the same time and all in one piece. Before mindless bureaucracy set in we just wheeled our then one piece full sized tandem to the oversize baggage check in with a label on it. This was based on the premise that even a baggage handler would not intentionally smash a fine tandem. The only problem we ever had with this method was that in those days on some aircraft the hold was too small to take a tandem.

Things have changed and this is how we do it now. We first read the airline small print. Beware, each one has different rules. The stoker then applies her brain to determine the cheapest option, depending on how much baggage we are taking. Sometimes we pay for a bike. Sometimes we take it as part of our luggage weight allowance and sometimes as invalid equipment. See the link to stoker’s leg below.

Even though our bike splits into three parts the same principles would apply to taking any bike. We still go for the minimalist approach and use very little packing. We still think that there is lots of good in baggage handlers and they will not intentionally smash a clearly fragile piece of luggage. So we put pipe lagging around the frame. This is available from builders merchants in almost every place we have been to. We then put the bike into thin nylon bags made from an old tent. We do the minimum disassembly we can get away with. The only minor problem we have at airports is the size of the security x-ray at the oversize baggage check in. If the bike will not fit we have had to unpack it so that it can be manually checked and sniffed for explosives.

The problem we would have with the recommended cardboard box is that we would need a new one to get home as we almost always return from a different place. These have never been available at any airport we have been to, though if you are stuck, as we were once, have a look at the rubbish in the arrivals area. We carry our nylon bags with us and find them very useful as ground sheets. With regard to other baggage, we leave as much as we can on the frame parts of the bike. Most airlines say we can’t do this but we have so far not had a problem with water bottles, tent poles etc. That leaves us with several small bags to go into the hold. If the airline charges per bag we strap them together. Then we just check these in in the normal way, tying pannier straps etc to ensure that they can’t come undone.

As a fall back solution to the inevitable jobsworth we will meet in due course there are the bag wrappers found working at many foreign airports. They wrap the bags in layers of polythene on a turntable machine. But then we are back to global warming. But what’s a little plastic compared to the emissions from a jet aircraft running on tax free fuel to make huge profits for fat cats? We would be very interested to hear if anyone has tried booking an extra seat in the cabin for their bike in the same way as some professional musicians do for their instruments. It could be an interesting option if seat prices are very low.

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