You want to take your bike with you when you go travelling, but you don’t know how to transport it? Below you will find all the advice you need for transporting your bike(s) safely by car, train, bus, tram, or plane.
If you want to transport your bikes safely and securely by car, a bike rack is essential. There are many models. Don’t make your choice based solely on price. Consider above all the kind of use you will want to get out of it! Take into account factors such as the car’s model and type(s) of bike you will want to transport, how often you will use the rack, and the length of your journeys.
Towbar bike rack
This system is the simplest to use and the most secure. Bikes don’t have to be lifted very high to be attached and, with some models, you can still access the car’s boot. More importantly, there is no risk of the rack coming loose during the journey.
Towbar racks can carry up to four bikes. They are ideal for transporting electric bikes, but do check nevertheless that you do not exceed the recommended weight limit.
There are several kinds of towbar bike rack:
- Hanging rack: ideal for frequent use and easy to store away after use. These are not compatible with all types of frame (bikes with step-through frames, flexible frame mountain bikes);
- Platform rack: ideal for long journeys.
The obvious drawback of this kind of system is that your car needs to have a towbar.
Boot bike rack
A bike rack fitted to the boot is ideal for occasional use or for people who do not have a roof rack or a towbar fitted to their car. A boot rack allows you to transport up to three bikes, but cannot be used for bikes with step-through frames, very small bikes or flexible frame mountain bikes.
This kind of rack is easy and quick to fit, but if done badly there is a risk that it will fall off or scratch your vehicle, so make sure you attach it securely on all sides (top, bottom, left, right). Furthermore, it is a good idea to stop your car after a few kilometres to check that the straps that hold the bikes are still tightly fastened. Recheck after about 100 km. Once the bike rack is attached, you can no longer open the boot.
Roof bike rack
This type of bike rack is fixed to the roof rack of your car. They are secure and easy to install. However, this system does have some drawbacks. Putting the bikes into place is quite tricky because you have to lift them up onto the roof of your car. Luckily there are systems for making the lifting easier. In addition, you have to watch out that you don’t forget the bikes are there when going into a car park or garage, or when you go through a tollbooth. Also bear in mind that this system makes your car less aerodynamic, which increases petrol consumption.
Built-in bike rack
Some car manufacturers offer a bike rack that is integrated into the vehicle’s bumper, which means it can be used whenever you wish. This is often available as an extra option when buying a vehicle.
Interior bike rack
There exist bike racks that are designed to be fitted directly inside the boot of your car. These allow to attach the fork and the wheels of your bike, preventing any movement and therefore damage to your frame. The system includes a bar that is screwed into the floor of your car and mounts that clamp the fork and wheels. The main disadvantages with this kind of rack is that it requires a large boot and takes up a lot of space.
There are all sorts of cases in lots of different price ranges, so make sure that you research different models before buying. When you purchase your case, check that it suits your type of bike (racing bike, mountain bike, etc.) and the size of your wheels.
This type of case is light and cheap (costing upwards from 50 euros). It allows you to transport your bike easily, but does not protect its frame. It is not recommended for use on flights as it does not withstand heavy impacts and crushing (a 30 kg suitcase could very well land on top of your case!). However, this kind of covering is perfect for use on the train or public transport, where such bumps are less frequent.
Semi-rigid cases are more solid thanks to metal supports that allow you to attach various parts of the bike, such as the fork, the frame, or the gear system. Usually they have little built-in wheels that allow you to push it once your bike is packed inside. Semi-rigid offer a good compromise between cost and protection.
A suitcase provides your bike with maximum protection. In general, suitcases are also mounted on little wheels. They are, however, more expensive (between 200 and 800 euros) and can weigh up to 11 kg. All the same, they remain the ideal choice for bike transport by plane.
What to consider when purchasing…
A bike rack
- Is it compatible with your vehicle?
- How to fasten your bike? When using a towbar rack or a boot rack, use frame blocks protected with rubber so that you don’t damage the paint on your bike.
- How to secure the bikes? Make sure that the system for attaching the bike rack and the system for attaching the bikes are properly fitted.
- What is its maximum weight?
- Will replaceable or separate parts be available in the long term?
Bike rack (travel) tips
- Consider removing the detachable parts of your bike, such as the speedometer, the pump, the saddlebags, etc. while it is being transported.
- Make sure that the rear lights and number plate of your vehicle remain properly visible! If the bike rack covers your licence plate, you are obliged by law to attach a (clearly visible) copy to the bike rack.
- Go to a specialist shop where a salesperson who knows their product will be able to advise you and help you choose the model best suited to your needs.
- To keep your bike clean, you can buy covers designed to protect your saddle and chain.
Cases for use on public transport
Taking your bike on public transport is not always simple. Before starting your journey, check the current rules for your particular mode of transport, as these are far from uniform across all forms of public transport. In any case, here are some pointers:
Travelling by train
On the Eurostar and Thalys trains, bikes must be transported in travel cases or bags that measure no more than 120 x 90 (85 for the Eurostar) cm. In Belgium, you can take your bike on regular (non-international) trains without a case, but you will be charged a supplement of about 5 euros per bike per journey. Remember, also, that not all trains are equipped to take bikes. Folding bikes can be taken onside the train free of charge.
In other European countries, bikes are generally accepted free of charge during off-peak hours.
Travelling by bus, tram and metro
In Wallonia, only folding bikes are allowed on buses and trams. If you have a seasonal TEC ticket and pay a supplement, you can make use of the CycloTEC folding bikes.
In Flanders, folding bikes are only accepted if they don’t hamper other passengers. The only exception is the coastal tram, on which you are allowed to take regular bikes for a few supplementary euros (with a maximum of three bikes per tram).
In Brussels, bikes are allowed, without additional costs, on the metro and trams with low floors during off-peak hours. They must not get in the way of other passengers.
Generally, buses do not allow bikes, not even in the under-floor luggage space. Inquire about this if you opt for this form of transport.
Travelling by plane
Few airline companies will transport your bike free of charge. They will require in any case that it is wrapped and is no more than 190 cm long or 23 kg in weight. Other airlines offer flat-rate prices between 15 and 100 euros per bike. Be aware that some companies charge for the bike by weight!
Electric bikes are generally classified as ‘dangerous goods’ and are transported by freight aircraft only.
Airline companies generally require that pedals are removed, tyres deflated, and handlebars aligned with the front wheel. However, they generally do not force you to use any special transport material for your bike, although we do advise you to put a “fragile” sticker on your baggage. So, there are several possible solutions:
- Wrap only the fragile parts in plastic. The staff will see straight away that it is a bike and generally treat it as a fragile object.
- Use a box. You could, for example, ask the staff at your bike shop for your bike’s cardboard packaging.
- Use a travel case or a suitcase (see above). These protect your bike from scratches and bumps.
Travel case advice
- If you have a bike with a derailleur gear system, put the chain on the biggest gear wheel in the front and the smallest gear wheel in the back. Once the bike is taken apart, wrap an old sheet around the derailleur gears so they don’t stain your travel case.
- If you have to take off the wheels, ask your bike sales and repair person for a wedge to put in between the fork to stop it from getting bent.