Want to Bicycle in Europe?

I have a complex answer for this simple question . . .

First . .  start with a bike.  A few airlines will let you take your bike on the plane as a piece of luggage.  I have flown British Airways and Aer Lingus with bikes before and have not been charged for them at all! I have also flown Swiss Air with a bike, and it become a little more complex, but I made it through after some arm wrestling at the counter. These airlines treat a bike like a piece of luggage, so check the bike, and use your pannier as carry on. Check with your airline before buying tickets, as you'll want to book your ticket with the bike and not surprise them at the counter with your passport in hand. 

Another option is of course a folding bike. You can rent them with relative ease in the United States and bring it with you. I found pricing for this rental to be too expensive (about $200 for a week) considering you are managing the hassle of bringing the bike, but you may know someone who knows someone, or even own a folding bike.  Great. You can skip a few of the next paragraphs.

A third option for the bike solution is to rent one when you are on the ground. With a quick google search you can find a bike rental with absolute ease in, I dare to say, every European city center.  This is a handy option, and one of my preferred modes, as you can, and should, expect that the bike has been serviced and is in top working order. You can also pick up some extras for your trip from the bike store like tire tubes and sweet little must-haves.

A fourth option is to choose a place to lay your head that has bikes. This can be awesome, or terrible. I have stayed at some first-class hotels, one hotel in Lake Maggiore last fall comes to mind, that had bikes to take out that were terrifying with little to no brakes, and some serious wheel or frame problem, I could frankly never work out which. This limited my perambulations to a few miles in any direction.  But on a more recent stay, at the Ruby Lilly in Munich, I found awesome bikes in great shape and ready to go and really encouraged me to explore way out into the surrounds and throughout the entire city.  So ask. Ask if they have bikes, and ask if they are routinely serviced.

And my fifth option, my husband’s least and my most favorite, is to buy a bike when you get there.  We had the great fortune to be in Bruges last summer and I found my absolute favorite bike store of all time, Jos. Jansen & Zn., (see below) and I bought a stunning Gazelle bike to bring home. This involved arm wrestling with Swiss Air . . .  but it all worked out and gave me the opportunity to buy a bike from a larger range of bikes that are typically available in the United States, and saved me quite a bit of money. This killed a flock of birds with one stone, as I found a perfect bike store, had a Gazelle bike to ride for my trip (saving on the rental), claimed the VAT tax back (saving on the taxes), and had the memorable experience of carrying the bike in a box from Bruges to Frankfurt to fly which will supply me with years of laughter.  Not for the faint of heart perhaps, but totally worth it for me.

The bike part is, in my opinion, the hardest part of planning and organizing. But regardless of how you have figured out that part of the equation, you’ll want to consider a few extra details which include chains, panniers, helmets and tools.

Bring locks. Europe typically has far more bikes than anyplace I’ve seen in the United States. They also have far more bike thieves. I pack two heavy duty Abus locks and use both of them. I like being far safer than sorry.  I also bring my panniers and typically will pack them up and use them as my carry on.  I bring my helmet and a standard set of bike tools for just in case in the middle of nowhere.

Pack carefully.  For my trip to Bruges last summer, I brought panniers and a small suitcase. We designed our trip to be in Bruges for several days, then out to the surrounds for some overnights, finishing our trip back in Bruges. We moved our tiny suitcase from the first hotel to the third one, where they graciously held it for us, by then loaded with chocolate and bagged, dirty laundry. And that left us free to travel light for our days out in the hinterland. I like to plan for that, if possible, as packing light is sometimes problematic, especially when we are including the bike locks, and rainy day gear and a host of other staples such as sunscreen, sneakers and sweaters.  

These are the general options for getting a bike to ride in Europe.  Next post, we can dig into the finer details of packing, destination options and route planning.

Questions?  Great! Email me. I’d love to help.

If you find yourself in Bruges with a little time and money in your purse and are in the market for a bike or pannier or saddle or chain, walk or run over to the Jos. Jansen & Zn bike store located at 264-270 Moerksesteenweg St. Kruis Brugge. They are, in short, awesome. Attentive, intelligent, masters of their craft, they are extremely incredible to work with. I loved the window in the showroom that looks into the mechanic space. The father/son team helped me going miles, and I mean miles out of their way. I simply can’t wait to go back. They have an enthusiastic passion for bikes and to find a store that stands out so much in the heart of cycling perhaps the world over, you know they know their stuff.  Go now. You’ll love it.