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How to Be Cost Efficient When Travelling to Europe with Your Bicycle

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Europe has some of the best cycling routes on earth but travelling with your bike on the quest for that perfect road, though certainly appealing, could leave you out of pocket.

Cycling enthusiasts are never too far from their bikes at any one time and for many, only cycling in the UK is too restrictive. Whether you’re planning on tackling the Alpine mountains, the sandy tracks of southern Portugal, or following the meandering Danube, you can be sure that Europe’s cycling routes will stagger and astound even the most seasoned cyclist.

As with all holidays, determining the most cost efficient means of travelling is a time consuming and frustrating task – especially when information is thin on the ground! Sometimes it helps to have a little advice.

Thoroughly Compare the Prices

Anyone who has flown abroad will be aware that different airlines charge different amounts regardless of whether you’re taking a bike aboard or not. Often it can be difficult to compare airline prices all in one place but, according to this graphic by Yellow Jersey, you can save up to £160, so it pays to thoroughly research!

bike luggage charges for air travel infographic

Generally speaking, the prices between airlines differ depending on the quality of service they provide, and the space and weight restrictions on-board. The latter varies hugely with some carriers letting you travel with a 30-liter backpack with no extra cost, while others will charge you for anything heavier than a toothbrush (so to speak!). For the most part, airlines will provide you with a baseline cost that covers you for one large bag. However, some airlines – such as British Airways, Swiss Air, and Tap – will actually include the cost of travelling with a bicycle in the luggage allowance.

It’s certainly important to have an idea of the flight costs before you travel, but it’s also important to bear in mind that often the best value flight might not be the most cost efficient for your trip overall.

Know What You’re Taking

Another important thing to consider is the amount of gear you’ll be taking. You might require a large and expensive vehicle to transfer you to your hotel. If you are planning on taking a long trip with heavy gear, it’s worth considering whether the airline cost of extra weight is going to tip you over budget. Similarly, the cheapest airline might not take you to the airport that is closest to your final destination.

Though these things may seem somewhat obvious, sometimes it’s easy to get preoccupied with airline costs when planning your trip. Resources detailing what to pack to ensure you’re travelling with the bare essentials will avoid you being stung for a £30 fine at the airport. Also, packing light means less to carry on the road!

It’s important to remember that, although the overheads are bound to add up, that taking time to find the most cost effective means of travelling will pay off when you are taking your bike to Europe.

Buyers Guide: The Best Cycle Carriers for Cars

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Maybe you’re gearing up for your first biking expedition? Or maybe you have found the most scenic sights a little further afield from your back garden? Or perhaps you just want to bring the family bikes out of the shed for a test ride with the little ones? Whatever your biking adventure, you’ll need a cycle carrier for your car to haul everything to your destination.

So what kind of cycle carrier do I need? Good question, because there are so many different makes of cycle carriers out there to fit thousands of bicycle shapes and vehicles. To ensure you don’t make any on-the-spot decisions, we consulted the leading manufacturer Bosal on what, today, are the best cycle carriers for your next biking holiday.

Choosing the Right Cycle Carriers for Your Car: Where to Start

Bikes vary in terms of size, style and weight, all of which should be a factor when transporting them. You’re probably not going to pay for a low quality cycle carrier that costs less than your bike tyres when transporting a £3,000 biking beauty!

Also consider whether the product will suit your needs both now, and in the near future. Will you be looking to grow your fleet with the addition of family bikes? If so, then investing in a strong, long-lasting cycle carrier, with the ability to transport a family of explorers (and their bikes), is the one for you.

Types of Cycle Carriers

1) Rear Mounted Cycle Carriers

Fixed to the back of vehicles, these are usually a little more expensive than other mounted carriers, but the ease of loading and unloading bikes without having to lift them onto the vehicle’s roof make them a popular option. They even leave space for you to store biking essentials such as pumps, spare tyres and helmets on the roof if space is tight.

Most feature a simple locking mechanism that hold the bike in place when on the road. Clever designs enable riders to load their bikes in a matter of seconds, and when finished, fold the carrier away in anticipation for your next holiday.

Pros: Good ones are strong, and as they’re behind the vehicle and out of the way, the fuel consumption doesn’t suffer too much. Loading and unloading bikes couldn’t be more simple. Security can be very good.

Cons: Once the bikes are removed, then reversing can yield horrifying results if you forget the carrier is still attached!

2) Roof Mounted Cycle Carriers

Most roof racks consist of feet that attach to your vehicle’s roof, and cross bars that accessories can be attached to. Roof mounted styles vary between that that require front wheel removal, and carriers that allow both wheels to remain on the bike. Front wheel removals keep the bike lower, can be easier and lighter to load, and is the classic way of loading bikes on to your car.

While they are not a permanent fixture, cycle carriers generally stay on the vehicle at all time as they are extremely versatile. If you’re a sporting explorer and love nothing more than bringing your bikes, kayaks, skis and cargo boxes along with you for the ride, then roof mounted carriers are ideal. They allow you to transport all manner of sport-specific accessories on your next trip along with your bicycles.

Pros: Super versatile for all kinds of gear hauling. One of the most secure carriers around. Doesn’t hinder access to any doors, boot, hatch or mirrors.

Cons: Drive under something low if you’ve forgotten about your bikes and you could risk damaging your bikes and your vehicle. They’re also trickier to load than rear mounted carriers.

3) Tow Bar Mounted Cycle Carriers

Towbar mounted cycle carriers are a firm favourite with Bosal and for good reason. These nifty cycle carriers are the most simple and effective way to store your bikes.

Loading and securing your bikes takes mere seconds, and once in place, access to the boot is maintained with a unique tilting function on the carrier. When not in use, the carrier can be folded into your boot without the hassle of finding a place for storage.

However if you plan on taking your caravan on holiday, or need to use the tow bar for other means then consider an alternative. The tow bar cycle carrier does not give you the freedom to tow at the same time as using the carrier!

Pros: Nothing is directly attached to your car’s bodywork. Foldable feature is available in some models. Tilting allows for easy access into the car boot.

Cons: Requires a towbar. Cannot tow at the same time as using the carrier. Tow bar nose weight needs checking to ensure it does not exceed capacity with the combined weight of your cycle carrier and bikes.

Just like the bikes you ride, a lot of thought and engineering has gone into the carriers designed to take your bikes on new adventures. So figure out what your needs are and what cycle carrier best suits your lifestyle, and transport your bikes with the peace of mind that you’re in safe hands.

London Calling

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So, yesterday I found myself in the middle of nowhere, down a tiny lane with both mirrors of the Bike Adventures mini-bus buried in the hedgerows.  Nothing odd about that, the poor old bus spends much if its life trying to squeeze down such lanes, except it was within 3 miles of the M25!!

New for 2016 is our Circumnavigation of London which tracks the dreaded M25 but might as well be in another galaxy.  The ‘Green Belt’ becomes a tangible thing as we follow idyllic country lanes though picture-postcard villages around England’s Home Counties.  Yesterday I completed the 2nd half of the reccie, starting in Woking and working my way through Surrey and Kent before taking the little-known Tilbury pedestrian ferry across the Thames and into Essex.  It really is quite astonishing that the route encircles a population of more than 10,000,000 people because all I saw was trees!

The trip runs over the first weekend in July and is proving popular so if you would like to join us get in touch soon!

 

Here Comes The Summer

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By the end of a Bike Adventures’ season we tour leaders are usually pretty frazzled.  Running trips is mostly tremendous fun, but still hard work and some of us are on the road for as many as 100 days in a season.  A bit of winter R&R is just what the doctor ordered but it doesn’t usually take too many weeks at home before the legs start to get twitchy again.  Early in the New year we all start to bid for the trips we would like to run and as the orders come in a clear picture of each leader’s timetable starts to emerge.  By March everyone knows what they will be doing and a state of excited anticipation sets in.  

Our 2016 season was ‘launched’ with a leader get-together at global headquarters (aka Dom’s house) in early April, an excuse for plenty of drinking, a nice long ride and the exchange of war stories.  Now the trips start rolling out and my fist kicks off tomorrow (Camino).  The van is clean, serviced and loaded with bikes, spares, tools etc and I am raring to go.  To call it ‘summer’ is stretching things a bit but for me the dark days of winter are over!

Shine A Light

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If you awoke from a 50 year coma there would be quite a few surprises. Many things have changed almost beyond recognition but I’m pretty sure that you would have no trouble recognising a bike!  Almost every aspect of the bike has improved beyond measure but the basics remain the same and there really haven’t been any ‘game changer’ technology developments.  Except, that is, for the lights. 

As a boy my bike’s lights weighed about the same as the bike itself, and cast a beam so feeble that it barely reached to front wheel .  Furthermore, the batteries cost a fortune, lasted about 5 minutes and if you forgot to remove them from the lamp unit they would leak within minutes, ruining the lamp.  The invention of the LED light has completely transformed nocturnal cycling and, depending on your needs, you can now buy something for a few pounds that will run for hundreds of hours and let you be seen, or a monster packing many thousands of lumens and costing about the same as a cheap bike.  These very high intensity lights have brought their own problems with cyclists using lights designed for off-road riding and ‘blinding’ oncoming motorists. 

Whenever I pass a bike shop I always pop in to see if there are any new and exciting gadgets  and on my recent trip to Australia I found a new lighting innovation that I have never seen before – a bicycle brake light!  This fantastic little gizmo clips onto the rear brake cable and casts a bright red light whenever it is operated.  If you have ever cycled into the back of a rider because you hadn’t realised they were slowing down you will immediately see the benefit!

 iLumenox-SS-L329-Nano-Duo-Brake-Light-Bicycle-Brake-LED-Light-Bike-Brake-Rear-Light-Cycling

Je T’Aime

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The best country in the world in which to cycle is France.  End of debate.  Having just returned from the final reccie for our latest French route (Perpignan to Nice) I am more convinced of this fact than ever.  A ride along the entire French Mediterranean coast sounds as though it has the potential for busy roads and endless resort conurbations but au contraire (I think I may have turned a little bit French!).  This 400 mile journey offers a huge variety of scenery: classic twisting coastal riding, causeways between lagoons full of flamingos, wild Camargue ponies and an occasional glamorous town.  Yes there are some busier stretches but most are mitigated by cycle paths (including superb paths that carry one through the major cities of Toulon, Cannes and Nice).  For a grand finale (oops – a bit more French), and just a few miles from the finish, we cycle through Monaco – something for which the term ‘cool’ was probably invented.  Of course, the thing about cycling in France isn’t just the cycling.  Lazy coffees in roadside cafes, excellent meals in intimate family-run restaurants and the automatic warm welcome that is bestowed on anyone turning up in Lycra all contribute to the ambiance (damn – I’ve got to get back to speaking English) that makes France so special.

Even at this late hour there is time to join the trip, which starts on Saturday April 9th.

Breakdown

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The bicycle is an astonishingly reliable bit of kit; I ride up to 10,000 miles each year and seldom experience anything worse than a puncture. Furthermore, when something does go wrong, it is almost always fixable at the roadside provided you carry a small but well chosen set of bits and bobs. 

There is an old saying that you can fix everything using just gaffer tape and WD40 – basically if it moves and shouldn’t you use gaffer tape and if it doesn’t move but should you use WD40.  In reality it is a bit more complex.  For what it’s worth, here is what I carry when I am touring (or riding sweep on a Bike Adventures trip):

Puncture Kit (I am constantly astonished that people go cycling without the means to mend a puncture!) 

  • 2 tubes (you are most likely to get a flat immediately after replacing a tube!!)
  • Patches and glue (or self-adhesive patches)
  • 2 tyre levers
  • A good pump. The best pumps have a fold-out foot and T-handle and will get a tyre up to 130 psi without excessive effort!

Tools

  • Good multi-tool. Make sure it includes a chain-breaker as the chain is a real weak spot in bicycle design.  A swiss army knife is also very useful – it has screwdriver heads, a sharp blade and, vitally, the means to open beer and wine bottles!
  • Small pair of pliers incorporating basic wire cutters.
  • Spoke key. You may not know how to true spokes but someone else might!
  • Next Best Thing 2. Huh?  This is a fantastic little gizmo that allows you to remove the cassette without any bulky tools.  If you break a spoke it will almost certainly be on the cassette side of the rear wheel; without this tool you are going nowhere.

Spares

  • Quick links. These handy little rascals can fix a broken chain in moments.
  • Spokes.  Remember that your wheels may use spokes of 3 different lengths.  It really is a good idea to learn how to replace a spoke but, again, at least if you carry them a passing Samaritan may be able to lend a hand.
  • Gear cable. Brake cables seldom fail and won’t stop you getting home but a snapped gear cable can spoil your day.  They weigh nothing and take up no space.
  • Assorted nuts/bolts/screws. Go over your bike, identify the most common types/sizes and carry a few spares.  Also carry spare bolts for your cleats since these are prone to disappearing.

Other

  • Cable ties. Carry a few of varying sizes – you will be amazed at what they can mend.
  • Gaffer tape.
  • Tyre patches. These are rectangles of strong plastic with a sticky back that can be used to line a tyre that has a split.  Alternatively, forage in the verge and you will find something that can do the same job and get you home.

Obviously the above takes up space and adds weight but, if you are touring, the addition is negligible.  If you are just out for a day ride……take a credit card and  phone and call a taxi!

 

Perfect

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I’m sometimes asked for advice about what sort of bike to bring on one of our trips.  I  am always happy to offer an opinion…..though it is usually ignored.  Perhaps my advice is useless (a distinct possibility!!) or perhaps they get to the bike shop and are beguiled by something shiny and feather light.  Of course, half the problem is that MY advice relates to what is needed on the trip and THEIR choice is probably influenced by other factors.  Probably they are selecting a bike that must serve multiple purposes and this will inevitably entail many compromises.

I am fortunate in that I can justify a bike for the sole purpose of the sort of long-distance riding I do:  trips of 1-4 weeks duration at 50-100 miles per day, sometimes without luggage but sometimes with rear panniers. I mostly cycle in the ‘civilised’ world and don’t need something that can be mended with a hammer in countries  with names ending with ‘stan’.

I have not found an off-the-shelf bike that I regard as ideal and so I have created mine over a number of years, trying to achieve perfection through the bringing together of diverse parts.  If I had thought of doing this a few years ago I could have got a nice book/TV  deal but sadly Robert Penn has beaten me to it (“It’s All About the Bike” )

So have I succeeded in assembling my perfect bike?  No, of course not; I doubt if the ‘perfect’ bike exists but I can say that what I have comes close enough.  So, here is what I have chosen and why:

Frame

Lynskey Sportive Titanium.   This is a compromise, but one I am very happy with.  All three words are important:

  • Titanium – As light as aluminium but as strong and springy as steel. It is virtually indestructible (note: only ‘virtually’ – I did destroy the first one!).  If you ride an aluminium or carbon bike you have no idea what you are missing.  If you ride a steel bike you understand the comfort but are wasting a LOT of effort hauling dead weight.  As an added bonus, titanium doesn’t corrode so can be left unpainted.  This means no scratches to worry about!
  • Sportive – The frame is designed for brisk all-day riding.  The geometry is more relaxed than a ‘racer’ but still sufficiently compact and responsive to allow fast progress and some enthusiastic cornering.  Touring purists will be appalled at the choice but for carrying modest loads (my loaded panniers seldom weigh more than about 15kilos) it is an excellent choice.  The only limitation is that the frame clearances preclude fatter tyres AND mudguards (one or the other, but not both).  I just leave the mudguards off and have resigned myself to getting wet and being hated by the rider on my back wheel.
  •  Lynskey – They are a small American manufacturer, building frames with a degree of pride and craftsmanship.  The welds are a thing of beauty!

Forks

I use inexpensive generic carbon forks.  They have never let me down but do worry me a bit.  The best thing about them is that they will not take front carriers, thus forcing me to always pack light!  I think to sleep properly I must one day fit steel forks (the very springiness that makes titanium great for frames makes it terrible for forks!). 

Wheels

No compromises here!  The brief was very simple – I need wheels that will carry me, my fully loaded panniers and an occasional 6-pack of beer without breaking, and still fit in my ‘non touring’ frame.  The solution was a pair of hand-built wheels (this is nowhere near as expensive as it sounds):

  • Rims – Mavic A719 ‘touring’ rims capable of taking 28-32mm rubber
  • Spokes – 36 x heavy gauge
  • Hubs – Sminao Dura-ace (an unnecessary luxury but I had a pair kicking around the garage)
  • Tyres – Continental Gatorskins 700×28 (the fattest my forks will take but comfortable, even on mediocre cycle paths)

Saddle/Seatpost

I use the ‘Marmite’ of saddles – a Brooks (a B17 Narrow to be exact).  These saddles divide the cycling world; many (myself included) will not entrust their pert behinds to anything else, the rest….well they are just wrong!  I used to suffer badly from a mixture of bruising and soreness after 4-5 days riding but since fitting the Brooks everything is wonderful.  This is attached to a Lynskey titanium seatpost – a £100 luxury that cannot be justified but will never break!

Handlebars and Stem

I used to have carbon components but last year, in New Zealand, my bike fell over while parked at the curb and the handlebars snapped.  I now use cheap aluminium drop bars and cannot tell the difference.

Transmission

This is where I go seriously off-piste.  The conventional wisdom is that for touring you need a triple chainset with a bottom cog at the back the size of a dinner plate.  I disagree.  By using a lighter bike, by not hauling 4 panniers filled with crap, and by exploiting recent advances in ‘standard’ gear ratios I find that I can manage with a double chainset from the Shimano Ultegra range.  Mine is a 10-speed and I have had to cheat a bit to get:

  • Front 50/33 (I replaced the standard 34 tooth chainring with a 33 tooth version)
  • Back 12-30

I find that this is enough and there is a weight saving by removing one chain ring and using the lighter Ultegra components.

The newer Shimano 11-speed setup supports:

  • Front 50/34
  • Back 11-32

and this gives equivalent gears without the need to tinker with the small chain ring.  An upgrade to this is on my list.

My madness goes further because I am using Di2 electronic components.  The big downside of these is that, should they go wrong, they are not mend able at the roadside and parts may be harder to source BUT I offer the following arguments in their favour:

  1. They don’t go wrong. I have been using them for 4+ years and they are VERY reliable
  2. They are becoming much more commonplace and parts are getting easier and easier to find.
  3. Once they are set up (a simple task) they stay adjusted…….forever. No tinkering with indexing and no putting up with clackity gears .
  4. Every change is perfect, every time. The sheer joy of this on a 1000 mile ride is worth the slim chance of a breakdown.

The battery last up to 1000 miles and a spare weighs next to nothing.

Luggage

I have a tiny Tubus titanium rack – about as minimal as you can get and still carry full-size bags and I use this with Altura Dryline panniers.  These are completely waterproof and don’t have the annoying rolltop closure that Ortleib insist on using.  At the other end of the bike I have a matching bar bag.  This was enough carrying capacity for an 8 week crossing of the US, including carrying full camping gear!

So, there you have it.  By no means the usual choices for the sort of riding I do but I am very happy with them.  You might take a completely different approach but maybe some of the thought-processes behind my choices might help with your own selections.

The next outing for this ‘rig’ will be a short jaunt along the Mediterranean coast of France, doing the final reccie for our inaugural Perpignan to Nice ride which runs in April.  There are still a few places if you fancy a lovely kickstart to the season!

 

Go The Distance

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There is nowhere better than the saddle of a bike to do some serious thinking.  On my recent trip down under I got to thinking about the fact that good old fashioned ‘miles’ is a pretty inaccurate way of describing how tough a day’s riding will be.   Some factors, such as headwinds, are very hard to take into account but the most obvious other variable is the amount of climb. Surely, I thought, it would be possible to come up with a fairly simple equation that combines distance ridden with climb to give a unit of measure that allows comparison of rides in all terrains.

Ladies and Gentlemen (drum roll), I give you…… the Terrain Adjusted Mile (or TAM).

To calculate TAMs you start with the distance to be ridden and add (or subtract) miles according to the actual climb against a ‘normal’ value.  This ‘normal’ value, and how you convert any shortfall/excess into miles is bound to be contentious but I reckon the following works for me:

‘Normal’ climb is 50 feet per mile.  The adjustment is 1 mile per 150 feet (either plus or minus).  Here is how a 100 mile ride looks, based on 6 different amounts of climb:

Miles ridden

100

100

100

100

100

100

Feet climbed

1000

2000

3000

4000

5000

6000

Standard climb

4000

4000

4000

4000

4000

4000

Difference

-3000

-2000

-1000

0

1000

2000

Mileage adjustment

-20

-13

-7

0

7

13

             

TAMs

80

87

93

100

107

113

Or, to put it another way:  A 100 mile ride with 3000 feet of climb is the same as a 50 mile ride with 9500 feet of climb. 

I’m going to try this out on the next trip (Camino and Portugal) – I’ll work out each day in TAMs and see how this compares with a subjective ‘how hard was that ride?’ test.

2000 Miles

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So, our exploration of Australia’s bottom right corner is complete.  It had been my intention to provide an update once we got to Melbourne but, to be quite honest, we were just too busy having a good time!

It has been a challenging trip but this was largely a problem of our own making:  We set ourselves an 80 miles/day target and ended up doing several considerably longer days and we were hauling all our own gear.  Despite this we had the time of our lives!  The coastal route offers a great variety of scenery, ranging from ‘pleasant’ to stunning, the roads are mostly cycle-friendly, Sydney and Melbourne are world-class cities and the Australians are friendly and welcoming.  Oh yes, and the weather is brilliant.  Accommodation along the route was plentiful, available and inexpensive and we ate like kings.  There can be little better than a double lamb shank after a hard day’s ride.

We ended up with 2100 miles on the clock, which was done over 25 riding days.  Our longest day was an eye-watering 117 miles and our shortest was about 60.  Our hottest day reached 40 degrees and the coolest started at about 12.  The task now is to package some (or maybe even all) of the route for a magical Bike Adventures trip in 2017.  See you there.

PS

If you would like to see our tan lines, Chris and I will be leading the Camino and Portugal trips in late April/Early May – it isn’t too late to join us!