If you plan to begin your tour somewhere other than at home, you’ll have to think about how to get your bike and gear to the starting point and then back home again.
If you’re driving to the beginning of a loop tour, then getting your stuff to the trailhead is no problem. But a lot of tours are point-to-point or begin a long way from home.
If you’re flying to your point of departure, you might want to fly your bike there, too.
For flying with full-size bikes, the rules and fees differ from airline to airline but expect to be required to use a bike box or case. Some airlines consider a boxed bike to be regular luggage and charge the same as a checked bag; others classify it as oversized luggage and charge quite a lot. Check each airline's rules carefully.
Folding bicycles like Bike Friday and Brompton fold up small enough to avoid the airline fees that are charged on oversize boxes.
Another option is a standard frame with S&S couplers, which permit the bike to be broken down and shipped in a specialized case. (Certain manufacturers, like Co-Motion Cycles, offer S&S couplers as an option, while some framebuilders can retrofit them into an existing frame.)
The accessibility of train travel in the U.S. is quite limited compared to Europe and certain other parts of the world, but it’s still an option for some tours.
Carry-on bike service is available on select Amtrak routes. On others, your bike box may be checked as luggage for $10, if it weighs less than 50 pounds and adheres to Amtrak’s size requirements.
Many locations sell bike boxes for $15. Incidentally, Adventure Cycling is a co-leader of the Amtrak Bicycle Task Force, which is working to expand carry-on bicycle service.
The rules for bringing bikes on trains in Europe vary from place to place. In general, local, low-speed trains may accept fully assembled bikes; for high-speed trains, be prepared to box your bike and make reservations with your ticket.
If you don’t want to fool around with a giant box in an airport or a train station, but you still want to ride your own bike on your trip rather than a rental bike, you can ship it ahead of time. It’s not cheap, but at least you’ll know your bike will be safe and sound.
Both UPS and FedEx will ship your bike for you (in a bike box, naturally). FedEx will insure your bike case, but UPS will not.
Bikeflights ships domestically and internationally via UPS and FedEx, will pick up your packed bike and ship it for you, and will even sell you a box. Their website is full of helpful tips, and Adventure Cycling members can get a 10 percent discount on bike boxes and cases through the company.
Shipbikes operates similarly to Bikeflights in that you can buy a box from them and schedule a pickup, or you can drop it off yourself at a FedEx location.
Rather expensive bike travel cases (roughly $300 and up), both hard shell and soft shell, are widely available for sale. They’re great if you’re beginning and ending your tour in the same location; otherwise, getting the case to the ride’s end can be problematic.
For maximum protection, a hard-shell case is tough to beat. However, with durability comes pounds; the weight of your box added to that of your bike may result in excess fees.
A soft-shell case will provide adequate protection without much of the weight. These often include molded plastic padding where your bike needs protection the most, and durable, tear-resistant fabric elsewhere. They are also easy to store when not in use.
Then put on your reading helmet.
Looking for the least amount of hassle? Wheel your bike into your local bike shop, and they’ll disassemble and pack it into a box for you and get it on its way (call ahead of time to double-check that they offer this service).
Even better, have them ship your bike to a shop at your destination so you can have a professional mechanic build it back up for you. On a point-to-point tour, you can take your bike to yet another shop and repeat the process in reverse.
If you’d prefer to box your bicycle yourself, regardless of how it will be getting from here to there, check out this excellent resource with detailed instructions and a video on how to pack your bike for safe and secure travel.