Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Not snakes but bikes on a plane...

I'm indebted to Simon Hinton (@simonhinton on twitter) for bringing to my eager eye this article in the Guardian about how to pack your bicycle correctly when taking it on a plane.

Now I must confess the thought of taking your bike abroad by plane had never occurred to me before. But if you're planning a cycling tour abroad then it makes perfect sense.

I won't repeat the whole article - basically, the suggestions boiled down to a professional bike carrier case (difficult if you're not finishing your cycle tour at the same airport) or using a cardboard box 'borrowed' from a bike shop with some of those fork end clips to protect poking holes out on en-route.

If you're planning to take your bike by air, then its well worth a read including the helpful comments from other bike travellers. Read it here.

It set my mind back to when I went cycling around Brittany (France) for two weeks with just a bike, a tent and enough spares to build a complete bike (or so it seemed).

Arriving at the ferry terminal at Portsmouth, being allowed on before the cars with other cyclists (I was surprised how many there were) and the motorcycles - we were shown to a small room in the corner of the loading deck.

Seasoned cyclists were already stripping their panniers and using the abundance of ropes to secure their bikes against the railings provided so I copied them (not having a clue what I should be doing).

Aside from having to carry all my camping gear around the ship with me, I could have left most of it secured to my bike anyway (which I did on the return journey), the bike survived the choppy crossing with little more than a slight graze on the frame. I think wrapping the frame in pipe insulation foam sections might be a bit overkill (on my old bike anyway) but a few sections might have helped and wouldn't have added to the weight.

One last thing I do remember was discussing my journey with a local cycle shop - their advice was to take 1 spare tyre, 2 tubes and enough brake and gear gables, plus a good puncture kit and a selection of tools. Apparently in France, the wheel sizes are different to my old dependable Raleigh and it can be hard to get the right size tyre/tube hence taking a spare.

The biggest problem was the dust/sand since I was traveling along the coast (heading west from St Malo port) - sand/grit got into everything. At one point I lost virtually all my gears (and I had 21 to choose from) and would have happily chucked my bike into the sea.

A calm head and a beer later and a maintenance 'afternoon' on the campsite paid dividends (being no bike mechanic myself) as I got most of the gears to function without slipping - certainly enough to enjoy the rest of the 2 week holiday.

I think it was a combination of weight of the bike (loaded) and the steep terrain that really added to the load I was putting on the chain/gear mechanisms. Cables stretched and fine adjustments carried out in the UK were rapidly lost.

The biggest test I faced was travelling back to catch the early (6am) ferry meant leaving the campsite at 3am - pitch black, I lost my chain and spent several awkward minutes trying to get it back on - in the pitch black and the torch decided to die on me.

Still made the ferry though.

Any cycling abroad stories to share? Any tips you'd like to pass onto others, perhaps like me - going abroad with a bike for the first time? Do share.

photo credit: zenobia joy

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