Escaping British weather to cycle up and down the incredibly smooth roads typically found abroad is an absolutely great way to spend a holiday; but how you go about sorting your bike for the trip can make a huge difference, both in terms of how much you enjoy the rides and the practical considerations when getting there and returning home.
You could either hire a bike from a local bike shop at your destination, or dismantle and pack your own into a bike bag or box to transport with you abroad. There’s a lot to consider, including how much faff time you’re willing to put up with, whether adjusting to the fit and the handling of a different bike is something that’s going to bother you, plus the differences in cost between the two options. Below we'll discuss the pros and cons of each option…
While we're all attached to our bikes, if you're hiring one then you potentially have the chance to test ride a lovely bike that you’ve probably never ridden before. In some hire centres, you can get your hands on a real top-end fancy one.
You’ll find that many bike hiring companies abroad stock a great range of mid-range to top-end performance bikes, so there’s a very high chance there’ll be something you’ll be keen to try that’s within your price range. Bikes are expensive, and so it’s great to be able to have the full flexibility of riding a bike for multiple days to see if it rides just the way you were hoping it would.
Hiring a bike can enable you to ride something that’s better suited to the terrain. If you’re going to popular destinations such as Mallorca or Gran Canaria, a lightweight climber’s bike is definitely going to make some of those vicious climbs that bit easier than the aluminium endurance or carbon aero one you may have at home.
If your bike at home is a rim-brake model, you may prefer to ride a bike with disc brakes for superior braking power to better deal with the demands of riding abroad. Disc brakes can offer more control than rim brakes before they lock up for tackling sharp corners, and are much more effective in the wet. Of course, while on holiday you’d hope to also be taking a break from the rain, but mountain weather conditions are notoriously unpredictable.
Hiring a bike saves you from your usual chores. Giving your bike a thorough service before taking it with you on holiday is very important to help you stay safe and also get the best out of your limited time riding in the luscious conditions abroad.
Although even with a hire bike, you will still be wanting to give it a quick check over before hurtling down a mountain. But the servicing should all be ready and done for you, plus if there is anything you’re not happy with, it’s on the hire company to sort out.
To avoid making your bike bag dirty you’re going to need to clean the bike before it gets packed. This is even trickier at the other end as you won’t have your usual brushes, buckets and cleaning products to work with. Hopefully the conditions will have been dry though so you can just wipe or brush down, which is much simpler and quicker.
It’s nice to give a hire bike a quick rinse down before handing it back, but you don’t have to worry about giving it the same in-depth clean you’d give one of your own. There’s also no need to dismantle your bike before you leave and rebuild it as soon as you arrive, and the same again on the return journey.
Bike hiring companies often offer to deliver bikes direct to your holiday address so you don’t have to concern yourself with this side of the logistics at all.
Sometimes this is included within the bike hiring package, other times it’ll be an add on. Either way it’s much easier than lugging around a large bike bag/box with you on public transport.
With the cost of transporting the bike on a plane and then the big bag/box to and from your accommodation on both sides (in the UK and abroad), it could very easily work out cheaper to hire a bike, particularly if your trip is less than a week and you’re happy choosing the mid-range model.
If you’re mixing up your holiday with some sightseeing alongside the days on the bike, it’s even more likely to work out cheaper.
If you experience a mechanical issue that you’re unable to fix yourself, quite a lot of bike hiring companies will offer additional support during your trip.
Mechanical issues also can’t all be sorted out with the contents of your saddle bag, you could perhaps suffer from a broken spoke or derailleur. These sorts of issues are of course a lot rarer, but if you’re packing in a lot of miles it’s useful having a nearby bike shop to help you out and this support is easier to come by if you are hiring with the shop.
If you’re hiring a bike abroad, you’re likely planning to make best use of the rental period and will be packing in lots of long days in the saddle.
Unless you’re hiring the exact same model you ride on your home roads, the geometry and riding position varies a fair amount between bikes. Even ones that are the same size or bikes that are marketed as, for example, a race bike or an endurance bike.
If the bike doesn’t fit you properly or isn’t quite what you’re used to, you could find it cause you some discomfort, such as more knee and neck pain than usual; especially over big days, and after multiple days in quick succession in the saddle. In the vert worst cases you could cause yourself an injury, but of course knowing your measurements such as saddle height and preferred reach could greatly mitigate the chances of this happening.
Discomfort at the rear from an ill-fitting saddle can also ruin an otherwise great ride, and signs of numbness or pain can cause even more serious problems long-term.
People come in different shapes and sizes, which is why there’s such a large variety of saddle designs to accommodate us all. You’ll have really lucked out if the bike you have on hire is fitted with your saddle soulmate. To ensure you stay comfortable, it’s well worth bringing your own saddle along if you go down the hire route.
If you’re not used to a particular bike, you may find that you’re not as confident on descents or when going around corners, and this may take some enjoyment out of the ride for you.
Even though the price of hiring is offset by the handling fee airlines charge for transporting a bike, and the cost of taking it to and from the airport on either side, hiring a bike becomes particularly expensive if you’re staying over a week.
Bike shops will knock down the hire price per day the more days you book the bike for, which does help but it still adds up.
In terms of airline handling fees, you can expect to pay £45 per flight with Easyjet, and with Ryanair it costs £60 per flight.
To give you an idea on hire prices, you can hire Bianchi’s endurance Infinito XE equipped with Ultegra from Ciclo Costa Blanca in Spain for 90 euros for three days. It works out slightly cheaper per day when hiring for longer, it’s 160 euros for seven days.
You can of course go cheaper. For another example, you can hire Orbea’s Orca M20 with 105 at 25 euros per day for up to four days, then it’s 22 euros per day if hiring for five to six days and then for seven days it costs 125 euros.
What condition is the bike really in?
While hiring a bike does save you having to get yours in tip top condition, that’s not a guarantee that the one you’ll be hiring really is in the excellent condition as the photos online make out. You’ll only really find out once you have the bike in front of you, and if the bike is not up to scratch that could be too late.
Many bike hiring companies are fully booked out, or the chance of finding one in your size is quite low, so going on the hunt for an alternative bike once you’re out there may not be a risk you’re willing to take.
It’s very important to do some research and check out reviews to ensure you’re going with a bike hiring company that does provide an excellent service, of which there are many.
If cycling abroad is your favourite way to spend a holiday, and therefore you bring your bike with you on week-long or longer trips, or even multiple ones throughout the year, it can work out cheaper to invest in a bike bag or box.
Your own bike should be comfortable to ride as you’re used to holding yourself in that position on a regular basis.
Familiarity is also great for descending with confidence and enjoying the ride.
If anything goes wrong on the ride itself, you also know your equipment so you’re more likely to be able to quickly fix issues by the roadside so you can swiftly continue on a ride, rather than waiting for back-up support.
Bike bags are a fairly considerable investment, with higher end ones costing as much or more than an actual bike. You’re going to want one that’s strong enough to protect your bike from potential rogue baggage handlers to make sure that it arrives safely, and you also want it to last for years to come over multiple trips.
The best bike bag, box or flight case would protect your bike from anything short of a direct artillery strike, require as little faff as possible to get your bike into it, not make too big a dent in your luggage weight allowance and cost a sensible amount of money.
The cheapest hard case to make it into our bike bag buyer’s guide is the £349.99 Bonza Bike Box 2, and the best version we’ve tested is the BikeBox Alan Triathlon Aero Easyfit Bikebox which is a whopping £610.
The Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro got our vote as the best option overall. It costs £529.95 which is still a chunky investment.
You’ll also want to invest in one that’s stable enough to be rolled (fairly) easily about. I had a softshell bag that refused to stand upright, and couldn’t roll it more than a few steps without it falling over, so I had to awkwardly lean it against me while trying to walk through crowded areas... don’t cheap out, it’s not worth it!
Bike bags are often quite big, taking up a lot of space in your house or garage for much, much more of the year than you actually spend using the bag. That’s something else you're going to have to weigh up.
Packing your bike into a box or bag takes time, especially if the bag is not one you're familiar with.
Bike bags and boxes are also large and cumbersome, and so are a pain to drag around on public transport. It you need to hop on a coach or bus service, then there’s a very high chance that it’s simply not going to be possible. In those scenarios where there’s no train connection, that’s going to be an expensive taxi fare.
What have your experiences been? Have you had an issue which has turned you against either hiring or taking your bike abroad? Let us know in the comments below as always.