If you’re a cyclist you’ll want to bring your bike for the trip. Remember to accommodate for the bike in your rental car (rentals are often small in France) and that you’ll have to pack it and unpack it for your flight. Many airlines charge extra for bikes on international though they haven’t in the past. The sub-section below will help you plan.
Riding to a stage is far more advantageous than taking a car. I can’t tell you how many of my friends have left their bike at home and regretted the decision once they arrived. If you’re on the fence then hopefully what I’ve said will give you the nudge you need. Seeing the crowds and riding the same route as the racers is a magical experience and one you’ll never forget.
Flying with a Bike
This really isn’t as much of a hassle as I’ll make it sound, I’d just rather share the potential pitfalls upfront. When picking your airlines be sure to research their policy on international flights with a bicycle. In the world of airlines items like bicycles have become a new way make more revenue. Companies that once allowed free bike transportation internationally now charge.
One thing that may help is checking only one bag and one bike per traveler. If the airlines claim to have free international bike travel be sure to pay close attention to the dimensions and weight restrictions they put on the bike box. In some cases the free bike allowance is based on a box size that is too small to fit most adult bicycles.
I suggest printing copies of the airlines’ bicycle policy and taking them with you to the airport. If gate agents are stumped, or try to overcharge, you have the policy to help pleas your case. If you call and the booking agents tells you your bike flies free, make sure you have them NOTE your travel itinerary.
Don’t try and skirt the airlines policies by fibbing about the contents of your bike box. It’s a terrible mistake to make in the post 9/11 world of air travel. If you’d like to ship your bike, that too is a possibility, but in my book somewhat less appealing because the cost will be higher. Plus, you would need to send it well in advance of leaving. It has been my experience that Fed-Ex is the most effective mainstream carrier.
There is also a company named Sports Express that will handle all of the shipping arrangements for you. I don’t have any personal experience with them but have known people that have used their service the United States in the past with good results. From what I know their service is pricey.
Packing the Bike
Packing your bike is something that you can do yourself or have a local bike shop handle for you. Hard side travel cases offer the most protection from overzealous/careless airline employees and many times cases can be rented from local shops. In a pinch you can pack your bike in a normal corrugated cardboard bike box from the shop, but I would advise against unless your bike is disposable to you.
When packing make sure to tether anything in the box to keep it from banging around and use plenty of packing padded packing materials. One easy way to protect the bike is to use foam pipe insulation available from hardware stores that you can cut to fit your frame.
Pack some extra rags inside for cleaning and don’t pack CO2 canisters—they are not allowed, but can be easily purchased in France. Also pack extra zip ties for the return trip home. If your pedals have an allen key fitting on the back of the spindle use it instead of a pedal wrench as it will save weight
If you fly into and out of the same destination ask your hotel in advance if they will hold your bike box in a luggage room or storage area while you travel. In some cases they will be able to accommodate you and save you some hassle.
I travel with a case from Crate Works (www.crateworks.com) and I have nothing but complete praise for the box. The box is corrugated heavy duty plastic and can be folded completely flat—a huge advantage when space is a premium. I’ve even used the box under my tent and sleeping bag when camping in France.
Renting a Bike
Over the last few years I have received quite a few e-mails about bicycle rentals in France. Beware that some rentals I have come across are more of the “townie” style of bicycle that is not suited for the longer rides you’ll need. Mountain bikes (called a VTT in French) are sometimes an option but overall you’re best choice is bringing a bike.
Finding a rental during peak times like the Tour is very tough. The ones I’ve seen aren’t always well kept, including the road bikes I’ve come across. One exception to what I have heard is from a company named Veloloco (www.veloloco.com), which rents bikes (hires) in the Pyrenees and will even deliver to your hotel for a fee if you pre-arrange it. Their website is in English and seems to be very useful in terms of cycling travel info. Another option is www.cyclomundo.com which is sort of like a travel agency for cyclists in France. The English- speaking owner Bruno can help you find rental bikes in different areas of France.
Carrying the Bike on Your Rental Car
Many of you will arrive and transfer to your destination via rental car. Since rentals are small, space is an issue and in the past I have suggested purchasing an inexpensive rack to fit the back of your rental. All over France you’ll see stores such as the Decathlon chain of sporting goods stores. These are the types of places to look for the racks as well as powdered drink mixes, food bars, and even camping supplies if you need. Consider the $100 part of the expense of using the bike but also know that your bike will save you time, headaches, and most of all allow you to see the Tour the way the riders do.
You could also try to purchase a rack such as a Saris Model named “Bones” in the States and take it with you. I suggest this model purely based on the fact that they are compact, fairly light, and fit a broad range of automobiles.
For those considering renting a camper or RV, investigate whether the rental company offers a bike rack option. I have seen come cases in which they do. There is more information in later pages on RV rentals.