The best possible advice I can give you about flying with your bicycle is to try not to ever have to fly with your bicycle.
That said, if there’s no way around – and I mean no way around; building a raft out of your spare spokes and trying to float to your next destination is actually a more fun option – here are some tips we’ve picked up.
1) Is it worth it? Or, how much it will cost
They may have provoked ire by scrapping free food and drink on their short haul European flights, but good old British Airways will accept your bike as part of your checked baggage at no extra cost if you’re flying Economy Plus or higher – there’s no checked baggage allowance for their most basic fares. It must be bagged (more on that later) and it can’t weigh more than 23kg, but as a quick guide my steel frame touring bike without its front rack came in at about 17kg. Obviously this limits you in terms of what other luggage you can bring – more on THAT later, too – but it still comes in as the cheapest option, at £0.
Meanwhile, over on the budget airlines, Ryanair charges £60 (£70 if you buy at the airport) per bike per flight, which will often, absurdly, mean that it costs more to fly your bike return than it does you. Easyjet comes in a bit cheaper, at £40 per bike per flight, or £50 if you buy at the airport.
The bottom line: does an Economy Plus fare with BA, plus the excess bag you’re probably going to need to pay to check, cost more than hiring a bike at your destination would? Does a bicycle return on a budget airline plus another checked bag? Do you want to spend your holiday pootling lazily over hills not crawling around on the terminal floor looking for a bolt you cast aside in the race to make check-in? Then I beg you, hire a bike at your destination. Get a boat. Drive. Do anything.
But if you’re really determined, read on…
2) How to get to the airport/which airport to fly from and to
This turned out to be much, much more difficult than we’d anticipated.
You can take your bike on the Heathrow Express, assembled and not bagged, as long as you are not travelling on trains leaving Heathrow between 7.30 and 10.00 or Paddington between 16.30 and 19.00 except on Saturdays and Sundays.
You can also take your bike on the Great Western Railway trains that run from London to Heathrow but you must make a bike reservation and stash your bike in the bike carriage. There are conditions attached if you’re travelling to or from Paddington at rush hour – more here.
You can take a disassembled and packaged or folding bike on the National Express coach, but you cannot take your bike unbagged.
You cannot take your bicycle on the Piccadilly line. As someone who once commuted on the Piccadilly Line, if you try to do this, you are a monster.
You can take your bike on the Gatwick Express
You can also take your bike on the Great Northern service from London to Gatwick. It doesn’t need a reservation, it runs through the night, and you can trundle your bike straight on at any carriage – although there are often bicycle-friendly entrances at both ends of the train.
3) WTF do I do with all my panniers/handlebar bags/tool kits
2) How to pack your bike
3) How to get to the airport
4) The things they don’t tell you
- Bleed your hydraulic brakes
- Don’t fly with a stove