If you’re an avid cyclist, there are few bigger thrills than discovering a great new destination - in my case, San Juan Islands, WA (SJI) - and exploring it on your bike. Less of a thrill: discovering the hard way what it costs to get your bike up and running in said destination.
Yes, you could rent but renting is not exactly cheap either. Plus, depending on the location’s bike shops and number of miles you’ll be riding, you might not end up with a bike you are happy and comfortable riding. Worst case, you spend all you saved on Chamois Butt’r, Assos bike shorts, and hot stone massages in an attempt to salvage your body… and the trip.
So let's assume you're taking your bike. Here’s what that entails.
- Get a bike box. Many bike shops will just give you the cardboard boxes that their new bike shipments come packed in. But if you’re going to be traveling with your bike on a fairly regular basis or you think of it as a member of the family, chances are you'll want something more sturdy. The hard-sided case I bought for a trip to Tuscany 8 years ago cost $150 or so at that time. A quick check of Amazon reveals that prices have at least doubled since! (Note: This case did, in fact, come back damaged, if still serviceable, from that trip and again this trip. Since the bike itself came back intact, perhaps the hard-sided case was money well-spent.
- Break down the bike to fit in the case. If you’re not a savvy enough bike mechanic to do this yourself, your local bike shop will charge about $50.
- Get the bike there, insured. I had planned to pay my airline, Southwest, to take the bike on the plane. At $75 (each way, of course), this seemed downright reasonable considering other airlines’ fees for normal size bags. Apart from the logistics of wrestling this behemoth (bike it in bike box) plus a giant wheelie through the airport, this worked well in the past. Alas, it was not to be. For a host of reasons, the tour company Women’s Quest ( which runs a great trip BTW) advised us that we’d have to ship our bikes to SJI. They mentioned several options for service providers. I was only familiar with one (one of the big players in shipping), desperately short on time, and I figured they’d all be similar. Let’s hope not, as this cost me the princely sum of nearly $200, including insurance.
- Build up the bike at the destination. Again, bike shop fee is around $50. (Note to self: Stop putting off wrenching school.)
- Repeat Steps 2 – 4 for the return trip. For the return shipment, I took the advice of my new cycling buddies frgom the trip and used Bikeflights.com. The process was easy, the customer service excellent, and the price was right(er).
Hmmmm… It pains me to do the math and realize I probably would have been better off if I’d gone to SJI bike-less, bought a pretty decent bike, ridden it for a week, and left it on the street corner. I’m seriously considering this as my go-to strategy for next time. If so, I know where you can get a slightly used, slightly battered bike box for a great price…
P.s. If you’re a seasoned bike tourer and you know of a more reasonably priced solution to this dilemma, please get in touch!