Bike travel is an exciting way to see the world. Combining your love of mountain biking with incredible scenery, exploring different cultures and meeting new friends can be the experience of a lifetime.
It can also be stressful, if you’re not a seasoned traveller, or if you’re used to coming home between rides. There’s a lot of gear to take with you on day trips or when you’re heading off to a mountain bike event a couple hours away.
But what if the “event” is a multi-day mountain bike adventure on the other end of a plane ride? .
Travelling with your bike and gear doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Knowing what to bring and how to pack can ease the stress and allow you to focus on what’s really important – riding epic singletrack, with great people and taking in the amazing views.
If you’ve ever wondered what’s involved when you sign up for a trip like this, here are some of the answers to your questions.
There’s a lot to consider. All of it manageable. With a little bit of planning you’ll be ready for a mountain bike adventure you won’t soon forget.
Let’s Start With the Bike
It’s the reason you’re going, afterall. Are you taking it? Or leaving it at home and renting one? If you’re not sure, here’s some information to help you decide.
Renting a Bike on Location
Leaving your bike at home and renting one on location will definitely make packing and air travel easier. I highly recommend this option if this is your first mountain bike trip abroad, or if you’re not comfortable with bike mechanics and can’t get help with the packing. Taking apart and rebuilding your bike can be a daunting task.
Renting a bike will eliminate some of the work at both ends of your vacation. Most importantly, you won’t be risking losing your bike, delayed deliveries or damage due to sloppy handling.
Simply put, if you leave your bike at home, you’ll only need to pack your clothing and riding gear.
While renting a bike will definitely reduce the number of checked bags, eliminate the shipping cost and need for a bike bag, there are other considerations.
The rental bike you’ll get has been ridden by many other riders before you. While hopefully well maintained, rental bikes can have unknown issues from previous riders.
Renting on location will cost money, even if you are travelling with a tour company. The cost of a bike rental may be between $300-$600 for 3-5 days of use. The good news is that the type of mountain bike you’ll get will be what’s needed to ride the local terrain of the area.
Tips when renting a bike on location:
- Arrange your rental ahead of time and have your bike waiting for you when you arrive.
- If you ride clipless, don’t forget to pack your own shoes and pedals from your bike.
- When you arrange your rental, find out what brand of bikes they rent. Different bike models have different sizing requirements. Do some research before requesting a specific size. Provide as much information as possible about your measurements and unique stature. You can always make adjustments when you arrive in person.
- Look the bike over carefully when you pick it up. Be picky. Make sure it’s the right fit, and has recently been serviced. Have the mechanic make necessary adjustments to the seat, tire pressure, and handlebar components.
- You may want to bring your own saddle. It’s not essential, but you are most likely comfortable with it. Comfort is important, especially on long riding days.
Saving the work and worry of packing your bike may be worth the extra cost and uncertainty of renting one, especially if you’re new to bike travel.
Before you decide however, consider all the benefits of riding your own mountain bike and don’t be intimidated by the build. It’s not as hard as you think!
Taking Your Own Bike
Riding a familiar bike will give you confidence and comfort. Your bike is built to fit your body and you know it well.
While it will cost money to ship your bike or take it with you on the plane, you’ll save the expense of renting one while you’re away.
There are specifically designed bags and cases for bike shipment. You’ll need to purchase or rent one; however, this is money well spent and will go a long way to protecting your bike from damage.
If your trip involves a connecting flight, it will add additional handling by the airline personnel who may not be as gentle with your cargo as you’d like. Make sure you pack it securely with lots of cushioning around the frame and components.
I don’t blame you if putting your bike on a plane is not a risk you want to take. But what if you still want to take your own bike with you?
One option that has great reviews is Bike Flight. There are informative videos and instructions to help you pack and get your bike ready for shipping. They can pick your bike up at your home and ship it to your destination via UPS. Despite the fees this may be a less expensive and safer option than taking it on the plane with you.
Tips for taking your own bike:
- Do your shipping research before you decide. For airline shipping, look into extra fees for oversized bags, or cargo. Cargo drop-offs are usually somewhere outside the main terminal. Check out other bike shipping companies and read the reviews.
- Use foam insulation tubing or pool noodles to protect the frame and fork of your bike. Bubble wrap works too.
- Pack clothing and other items in the bike bag to add cushioning around the components as well as reduce the amount of space needed in your other luggage.
- Before you go, practice taking apart and re-building your bike with the help of a friend, or following YouTube videos and on-line articles such as: Packing your Mountain Bike from DIY Mountain Bike. This will definitely ease your stress. Before you know it, you’ll be an expert on building and caring for your bike!
- Pack small components in separate bags with labels, and then in one bag together so they don’t get lost.
- Secure small tools and extra parts in the bike bag so they don’t move around. If you usually carry a CO2 cartridge, leave it at home. It’s an explosive and shouldn’t be taken on air travel.
- Zip ties, duct tape and small baggies are perfect for securing the bike bag contents in place. Don’t forget to bring extra for re-packing your bike to come home.
- Label the box or bag with arrows indicating which side is UP and mark it as fragile.
Despite the added work, the confidence you’ll have riding your own bike and the money saved on a rental, may be worth it. Ask questions ahead of time and get advice from friends who have travelled. Connect with the airline or shipping company directly. This is the best way to be prepared and prevent any unexpected steps at the start of your adventure.
Also read: How to Remove Bike Pedals
Beyond the Bike: Reduce, Re-wear and Recover
Now that the bike question is out of the way, the rest should be pretty easy. Start with a list of what you’ll take with you. If you’re not sure, search on-line. Two examples I found are biketours.com and trektravel.com
If your trip is with a tour company, they should send you a recommended packing list. What you take will depend on a few factors: accommodations – hotel, lodge vs camping; weather and climate; the type of mountain biking you’ll be doing; and any off-bike activities.
When you’re creating your packing list, be sure to visualize the daily routine of your trip, including times when you’re on and off the bike. It’s important to reflect on your own personal habits and decide for yourself what’s essential and what you can do without.
When the list is done, highlight the items that are absolutely essential, and pack them first.
Making It All Fit
Many first-time travellers will bring too much stuff. I’m guilty of this for sure! You’ll be responsible for carrying your own luggage so only take what you can carry yourself.
There are lots of ways to minimise the size and amount of luggage you pack. By taking a few strategic steps in your packing you’ll definitely save yourself from having to lug unnecessarily heavy bags during your trip.
Small Advice that Makes a Big Difference
- Layout everything that you want to bring – then remove the items you really don’t need or can do without. You can set these “nice-to-haves” aside and hopefully have room for them later.
- Roll your clothing – this definitely helps create space
- Pack soft items, like socks and underwear, inside hard items, like shoes, helmet or inside your bike bag if you are taking your own bike
- Use packing cubes for luggage. These are soft with flexible fabric – much easier to manage than heavy, hard-case luggage. Packing cubes have divided sections for organisation, such as keeping dirty clothes separate from your clean stuff.
- Compression bags can reduce wasted air inside your suitcase. They draw air out and allow you to fit more items in a smaller amount of space. They are great for organisation as well.
Do some weather and climate research about your destination. Always plan to wear wicking, non-cotton materials for riding as these dry quickly and can be worn more than once between washes. Depending on the length of your trip, plan to rinse and re-wear items such as socks, jerseys, and shorts. Don’t forget rainproof and wind-protection clothing.
You’ll take your helmet with you, of course, and if you usually wear knee and elbow pads, gloves and eyewear bring them along too. They take up valuable suitcase real estate, but this gear is essential for your comfort, confidence & safety. Don’t skimp out in this department!
Pre- and Post-Ride Time
Mountain bike travel is not just about shredding epic singletrack. Taking in local culture and having off-bike fun is a big part of the experience.
Packing multi-use clothing will help save space and eliminate the need for a separate outfit for each off-bike activity. Yoga pants work just as well on the mat as they do on a hiking rail. On the plane, wear running shoes or comfortable sandals for walking that can be used throughout your trip. Then the only shoes to pack are your bike shoes.
Carry-On or Checked Luggage?
Now more than ever, lost or delayed luggage is a reality. Perhaps you gave up on checked bags long ago. If not, I recommend being selective in what you bring on board the plane, and what goes in your suitcase.
Expensive items you can’t do without should be kept with you, while others can go in your checked bag. If you lose your bike gloves or helmet because your luggage gets lost, you’d likely be able to replace them quickly at a local shop. Put them in your checked bag. On the other hand, your prescription riding sunglasses or clipless shoes and pedals are expensive and may be harder to replace. You’ll want them on-board with you.
Chamois…how many is too many?
Do you wear your chamois more than one day? Or do you bring enough chamois for a new one each ride? The answer is a personal choice of course, but there are ways to re-wear the same chamois without a full machine wash cycle.
Bring a small container of liquid detergent, and give a quick hand wash to your chamois at night. This will help you feel fresh when you need to use it on another day. The padding in your bike shorts is thick and takes time to dry. Make sure to bring at least 2 chamois so that they have time to dry in between rides.
For other items like jerseys and socks, a quick rinse and drying time is all you’ll need to ensure you don’t over-pack but still feel clean when you dress for the next ride.
Hydration backpacks serve a dual purpose. They allow you to bring enough fluid for a day’s worth of riding, and you’ll have room to carry tools, rain gear or additional clothing layers. You’ll also have room for snacks. If you’re worried about taking up space in your luggage, use it as your “purse” on the plane.
I also recommend that you bring a water bottle. I fill my hydration backpack with water, and bring electrolytes in my water bottle. This gives me options and needed energy as the day goes on.
Hydration tablets, rather than powder mixes, are easy to dissolve and take up less space in your bag.
Ride Recovery Items
Riding for multiple days in a row demands a recovery plan, especially for some of us who are a bit older.
A small gel pack that doubles as a heating pad and ice pack is a must. It won’t take up much space and is a perfect post-ride treatment for your knees, hips and back.
Consider bringing a tennis ball, or yoga therapy balls, to roll out sore muscles after a long day on the saddle.
Packing a few small items will make night recovery easier and will go a long way to helping you feel as strong on the last day of your trip as you did on the first.
You’ll never regret a multi-day mountain bike trip. With a healthy balance of convenience, comfort and a manageable amount of luggage, you’ll have everything you need to leave home and focus solely on the majestic trails. You’re bound to return already planning your next singletrack adventure!