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Multimodal touring options in Europe

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Multimodal touring options in Europe

Old 01-02-19, 08:28 AM
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sotoo
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Multimodal touring options in Europe

My wife and I are heading over to Europe in summer and have plans to do some cycling segments in Spain, Germany to Hungary, Italy, and Croatia. We don't have time to cycle the whole lot so will be taking other modes of transport, mainly trains and car hire, and there will be places where we just want to do our sightseeing and move on (again due to time). We are looking at some different options, so far I've come up with:

1. Bring our own bikes from Australia and use rental cars for the sections we don't want to ride, get cars with enough space to throw the bikes in the back. We think this will be the best cycling experience but largely ties us to renting cars to avoid the inconvenience of dealing with train requirements, and also makes it trickier to just jump on a flight to get to the next place.

2. Folding bikes. Super convenient but not preferred due to comfort / generally not enjoying riding folding bikes tested out to date.

3. Hire bikes. Again convenient but costs will be on par with buying new bikes, and we are concerned about getting the bikes back to the point of origin. And would prefer to have our own bikes.


Are we missing anything for the main options, and are there any thoughts on how this might be best done?
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Old 01-02-19, 09:30 AM
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a couple of quick thoughts. Ive used regional trains with bikes only in France, so you will have to get proper information on the other countries for bikes, but do be aware that if you only speak English, things may be diff for getting specific details about bike travel with people who you cant communicate with at a train station.

car rentals--cars in europe tend to be smaller, so you are already dealing with this real factor, and while you may be able to rent a minvan type thing, the rental cost and fuel costs are going to be a lot more, and fuel is about double of what it is here in Canada.

Also, some car rental places do not allow you to take their rental cars to some countries, like Italy or the Balkans because of theft and accident issues, a big heads up on this one--and its going to be up to you to know the fine details of responsibility.

hire or rental bikes, as you say, you touch on your bikes fitting and working for you, and you know the mechanical condition, it will always be a crap shoot (lottery) with rental bikes.

there are some good folding bikes out there that handle panniers well (Im assuming you are meaning riding with panniers, not just day rides) but the ones like Bromptom (Pommy Bastards) and Bike Fridays (Yanks) that are of good quality are sold here in Canada for a good two thousand dollars, so not cheap--but they are not cheap bikes.

re using an external bike rack on a rental car--tricky as its hit and miss re car and bike rack models that will fit each other, not to mention car damage and or theft issues.

no easy answer on this one unfortunately
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Old 01-02-19, 09:37 AM
  #3  
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Taking bicycles on trains in Europe is not a problem.While I haven't done so in Spain or Hungary, I have taken my bike on trains in Italy, France, England, Wales, Switzerland, and Germany. Generally, you buy an extra ticket for your bike and look for a train car with a bicycle symbol on it, where you leave it during the trip. If the train isn't crowded, you can often simply take it on any car an lean it in an open space.

Two caveats. First, not all trains allow bicycles. In most cases, the train schedules will show using a bike symbol if the train takes bicycles. Second, ultimately, it is up to the conductor what is allowed. If the conductor says its OK, then the rules don't really matter.

I can't imagine renting a car in Europe everytime I wanted to skip a segment of riding. Car rental facilities aren't likely to be in the places you want to travel between, unless you are hitting main cities only. I can't imagine that renting cars would be an inexpensive option. Lastly, there is something about riding a bike to the train station, sitting on a train, and then riding away from the train station at the other end that feels more like a "true" bike tour than driving more miles than riding. But, that is just my opinion.

I have toured in Europe on two different bicycles. One is a regular diamond frame bike that has S&S couplers that allow me to disassemble the bike, put it in a hard shell case that is regulation size for free airline transport. Note that the case is too big and bulky to take with me on my travels, so I have never flown between places on a bike tour.

The other bike is a folding bike (Bike Friday, made in Oregon, US) that I now leave with relatives in the UK. It easily folds into a hard-sided standard suitcase. The unusual thing about this bike case is that it can be converted into a trailer. I don't do this, so can't say if it is a good idea or not, though it might allow you to pack your bikes up for air travel without too much trouble.

I did a lot of research before committing to a folding bike as I, too, thought that touring on one wouldn't work well. I've now taken two month-long tours on the folding bike and have found it comfortable and maybe even a bit better going up hills. I wrote an article about my search for and experiences with a folding touring bike.

My suggestions are these:

Decide if you want to fly your current bikes to Europe or buy a bike that is easier to pack and carry.

Check the train schedules of the places you might want to travel to and from to see if you can take a bicycle on those trains.

Contact locals (using warmshowers.org or couchsurfing.org to find them) to get further information about bikes, trains, and buses.

Check crazyguyonabike.com for information about where you want to ride and other useful information.

This page has 18 links to information about taking a bicycle on trains. Unfortunately, most of them are of no interest to you as they deal with countries you aren't visiting. But there are a couple dealing with countries you are visiting, which might provide you a place to start.
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Old 01-02-19, 10:29 AM
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On folding bikes, keep in mind that a folding bike is a compromise. They are designed for portability and for ridability, but it is hard to have both. Thus, there are folding bikes that are quite portable but do not ride well. And there are folding bikes that ride great, but are not as portable. Maybe you should keep looking at folding bikes. My Airnimal folding bike has 24 inch wheels, so not as portable as the bikes with 16 or 20 inch wheels, but it rides almost as good as a full sized bike. It is a very rare bike, it is unlikely you will find one in Australia, I only mention it as an example. Some of the Bike Friday models (as mentioned above) have a very good reputation, maybe see if anyone in your area has one you can try?

I agree with Raybo, S&S couplers are another option.

Similar to S&S couplers (and more rare) is the Ritchey Break Away system. This is used almost exclusively by Ritchey and allows you to split the frame in half, similar to the S&S couplers to put a bike in a case or bag. Ritchey has also licensed other companies to make such bikes, I have one that is branded as a Raleigh. Generally the Break Away bikes are either road bikes or cyclo cross bikes.

Regarding folding bikes and coupler bikes, if you were only using trains, buses and cars, I would think that a soft bag instead of a stiffer hard case like you would typically use for airline travel would work. If you could make up a bag of light weight nylon, you could carry such a bag on the bike when you are riding it. And a bike that folds or breaks down with couplers would fit a lot better in a car back seat, and if bagged there is less danger of damage to the car.

If I was going to Europe with a folding bike or a coupled bike, I would get something like one of these for it:
https://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/10056770/
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Old 01-02-19, 10:55 AM
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We've used both trains and rental cars many times in Europe for our trips, to connect sections, get to a start point, etc. We're usually traveling with either a tandem or a triple (three-seat tandem, about 10 feet long). I've also done tours with a single bike and used various transport methods.

Trains are generally very easy to use in most countries, and would be my first choice if traveling with 1-2 people and single bikes. Not all trains take bikes, but it's mainly the high-speed, long-distance ones that are the challenge (although some do take bikes). The German Railways site (bahn.de) has a great booking engine that works for many other countries, too. You can select the option to only show trains that carry bikes. Go to https://www.bahn.de/en/view/booking-...on/index.shtml. Select the gray down/expand arrow on the right side of the booking window next to the "to station stop" field, and then choose "further options." There you will see a check box for "Carriage of bicycle." Other countries use some variation of Deutsche Bahn's booking engine, so you'll also often see the same option presented.

Renting cars is also a very viable options, and we've done it many times. Since we travel with three people and non-standard bikes (long tandem or triplet), sometimes it's a more cost-effective and easier way to do things. Dropping off in a different country makes things very expensive, so always try to pick up or drop off in the same country. Often you can get creative with this to save money between different countries. For example, We've rented a car in Frankfurt, Germany, to drive to Salzburg, Austria. Returning in Salzburg would have cost a lot. But there's a Hertz location right over the border in Germany, just a few stops away from Salzburg using the local commuter train (like 10 minutes by train). So I dropped my wife and son, plus the bike, off at our Salzburg hotel, returned the car to the Germany location, and then just took the train back to Salzburg. Easy and cheap. Or vice-versa: picked up a rental car in Vienna at the end of our Danube ride, returned it to Salzburg, and then took the hourly train back to the airport in Munich.
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Old 01-02-19, 11:00 AM
  #6  
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Probably critically dependent on what you mean by touring. In many European cities you'll find plenty of bike sharing systems. This being said, they may not be practical for the occasional tourist. Renting bikes here and there will eat at your precious time. So I'd say that the dominant scenario is probably carrying your bikes.

As previous posters have indicated, (1) trains are ubiquitous in Europe, and often preferred by the locals over other means of transportation. (2) it should be fairly easy to figure an itinerary (eg. Fly to Budapest, ride to/thru Croatia, then Munich, take a train to Madrid, etc). Wrt carrying bikes on trains... Many trains have designated wagons where you can store you bike without any kind of hassle. Walk in, walk out. In my experience, all trains will accept a rinkoed bike as a regular piece of luggage. (Rinko - small lightweight bag in which you store a disassembled bike. If you are a zealot and remove the fork, Rinko footprint resembles S&S/folding)

Car+bike. Well. I wouldn't.
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Old 01-02-19, 12:41 PM
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I've had a Bike Friday New World Tourist (a folding bike made for traveling) for 19 years. It's a high quality bike that rides like a "regular" bike. I've toured on it extensively. BTW, they're quite popular among Australians. It's not a "quick-fold", but it's a much better touring bike than the various quick-fold bikes on the market. As noted by another poster, the bikes pack into a hard-sided suitcase (which can be converted to a trailer. I did it once on a tour and it was quite stable.)

The rules for taking regular bikes on trains varies quite a bit even within European countries. In Spain, for example, you generally cannot take a regular bike on their high-speed trains, but you generally can on the slower Spanish trains. In France, the SCNF (national railroad) has been making it more difficult and sometimes impossible to take a regular bike on their high-speed trains (TGV) in recent years. Slower trains in France used to always allow bikes, but I learned in 2017 that that is no longer always true. Most trains still do, but not all. We folded up our Bike Fridays (Bikes Friday?) and put them in large plastic trash bags to take them on TGVs on my 2 previous tours in France. In each case, it was theoretically possible to take a non-folding bike as checked baggage on our TGVs (for a fee), but the reality was we couldn't because either no bike space was available on our TGV, or there was insufficient time for checked baggage transfers when we had to go from a regular train to a TGV. I read recently on a French website that on TGVs in eastern France, regular bikes are no longer allowed at all.

Some French cyclists have told me that the multilingual German train website is sometimes better for getting information about trains + bicycles in France than the French railroad's own website. Perhaps that's also true for other European countries.

https://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en

On my last trip to France, I met several different small groups of Australian cyclists who were riding high-quality bikes in France furnished by an Australian company. They were on their own for riding, however, so these weren't expensive all-inclusive tours. I don't know any more details about their arrangements.

Last edited by axolotl; 01-02-19 at 01:36 PM. Reason: fixed spelling
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Old 01-02-19, 12:57 PM
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Regular bike..

I've used Rail , Buses and Ferries while on bike tours in Europe.. Noting some Sea Crossing Ferry routes have closed , since..
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Old 01-02-19, 01:20 PM
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I have toured fairly regularly throughout much of Europe and have always avoided a car rental for many of the reasons mentioned by others. Rental cars often open up additional logistical issues such as insurance, fuel, parking, border crossings, paperwork, potential theft or damage, etc.


I have taken both domestic and international trains regularly. If you are touring somewhere with ample rail service, this is what I would strongly recommend. Rail travel with a bike in much (but not all) of Europe is typically easy and hassle free. Just make sure to check which trains carry bicycles and if a separate ticket is needed for the bike. I have never had a boxing requirement on a European train, though high speed rail in France is extremely restrictive on carrying bicycles. Most regional or intercity trains are more accommodating though they may take a little longer. The only bad experience I had combining rail with bike was on a train between Ceske Budejovice (Czech Rep) and Linz (Austria). My friend and I had properly purchased bike fares and were on a train with bike racks in our passenger compartment. About one third of the way into the journey the train came to a halt and all passengers were told to transfer to buses for the remainder of the trip. However, the bus driver adamantly refused to allow our bikes into a nearly empty luggage hold in the bottom of the bus, even though we showed him our bike tickets, etc. After the typical progression of confusion, dealing, anger and shameless begging, he finally relented (but I still think of him as an ogre). I tell this story only because there is some possibility of something going awry, but by far my train travel with a bike in any country has been hassle and worry free.


I do not tour on a folding bicycle, but my touring buddy usually tours on a Bike Friday with the hardshell bike box which converts into a trailer. This has always worked very well for him. The only difference I've seen is that even though we are of fairly equal ability, it generally takes him significantly longer to cover the same distance I cover on a full sized bike. I don't know if that is necessarily related to his bike, though.
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Old 01-02-19, 02:24 PM
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I only know about France. Most TER trains, which are regional trains that make lots of stops, allow bikes and many have a place to hang them from the front wheel. You do not have the right to travel with your full sized bike on the TGV, or very high speed train, but I've seen some people get away with it.


Another possibility is the Japanese Rinko system. This requires a special headset and pedal adapters and a segmented rear fender. With this system you can make a fully fendered touring bike into a small package that fits into a bag you can carry on to trains . It was developed in Japan because Japanese trains forbid full sized bikes. Bicycle Quarterly has had a number of articles in English explaining the system, www.bicyclequarterly.com .
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Old 01-02-19, 03:24 PM
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Re car rentals and different country issues. My experience that I clearly recall was renting a car in Switzerland, and specifically being told I could not drive in Italy. This was a while ago, and with recent France rentals, I think there were restrictions mentioned , but I may be wrong as we had no plans to go elsewhere so I didn't pay attention really. I do suspect though that Eastern European countries may have issues.
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Old 01-03-19, 05:33 AM
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Depending on how heavy you want to travel, another option is to buy a couple of used bikes and use them until the logistics/costs become negative, move to your next point and buy 2 more.
Any big city would have bike shops with a reasonable selection of bikes that would work for you that should be in good working order to allow you to do what you want to do.
When you get to the place where the bikes become a liability in terms of cost or logistics, sell them to a shop, travel onwards and get 2 more when you want to cycle again.
The difference between what you pay for them and what you sell them for is the "rental" cost.
You could bring your own saddles for comfort.
Of course, it depends on what your tolerance for risk is, what loads you intend to carry and the types of surfaces you will be riding on.
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Old 01-03-19, 06:36 AM
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Taking bikes on trains in Spain is a problem unless they're folding or dismantled in a box. Busses are a better bet and although it is at the discretion of the driver normally you shouldn't have a problem.
Germany shouldn't be a problem with bikes. Check the train timetable to see if there's a bike logo.
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Old 01-03-19, 07:06 AM
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Except you have to book places on the faster trains.
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Old 01-03-19, 10:59 AM
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How about a stiff, adjustable bike with useful touring gearing that will fold down without disassembly to airline/train/bus luggage size?

Don't overlook the intercity bus option in Europe. This service has exploded in the last decade.
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Old 01-03-19, 11:56 AM
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Multi Mode..

Originally Posted by avole View Post
Except you have to book places on the faster trains.
Did so in 1988.. Sent the Group's bikes to Bern CH, 2 days earlier .. They were there in the station when we arrived..
Draped with a plastic sheet over each , which was supplied and reused by the company..

TGV Paris to Lyon, then a connecting train into Switzerland. ..





...
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Old 01-03-19, 04:49 PM
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TGV all the way now to Geneve now, plus bikes are free
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Old 01-03-19, 08:13 PM
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You haven't told me enough to make a determination. Is the primary mode of this going to be cycle (ie, 400 miles on a bike and then skip 80 miles of mountain), or do you want bikes at a couple of different destinations (ie ride for 100 miles in a circle around Madrid, then head to Italy direct).

If the latter, I'd suggest hire bikes. If the former, I'd suggest train/car, but again depending on the exact route. Trains are nice when they allow bikes and go directly to your next destination, but that's not always the case.

BTW, we fit two full size touring bikes in the back of a Fiat Tipo in France last year, which I think was still considered a compact.
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Old 01-04-19, 12:50 AM
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Originally Posted by sotoo View Post
My wife and I are heading over to Europe in summer and have plans to do some cycling segments in Spain, Germany to Hungary, Italy, and Croatia. We don't have time to cycle the whole lot so will be taking other modes of transport, mainly trains and car hire, and there will be places where we just want to do our sightseeing and move on (again due to time). We are looking at some different options, so far I've come up with:

1. Bring our own bikes from Australia and use rental cars for the sections we don't want to ride, get cars with enough space to throw the bikes in the back. We think this will be the best cycling experience but largely ties us to renting cars to avoid the inconvenience of dealing with train requirements, and also makes it trickier to just jump on a flight to get to the next place.
We brought our own bikes from Australia and used trains to get around in between sections.

The story is here:
Charlene (Machka) - 2012 Round the World Tour


I had no interest in driving in Europe.
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Old 01-05-19, 01:38 PM
  #20  
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Originally Posted by sotoo View Post
2. Folding bikes. Super convenient but not preferred due to comfort / generally not enjoying riding folding bikes tested out to date.
What folders have you tested? I plan to do a similar trip as you describe in the next few years, although probably with more self-supported camping, and less internal flights/rental cars involved. I know I'm a fanboy, but the Brompton was a revelation for me despite owning Dahon folders since '91, and frankly it got me back into bicycling and short bicycle touring. A few easy mods brought it to within ~5% of the pace and comfort of my equally priced CX/gravel bike, so that I'm actually now indifferent to riding either on my 15mile exercise loops (no folding intended). I definitely sacrifice/suffer rough pavement, off-road, and mountainous terrain, but for urban/densely-populated/multi-modal touring there are so many conveniences and advantages - the thing even literally converts to a luggage cart (carrying my touring pannier) in 15secs when going inside/through stores, restaurants, hotels, train stations, and museums, and in ~20sec, converts to backpack and shoulder carry so I can carry the entire rig relatively easily ~ half kilometer in tight quarters (eg, staircases, down a beach, bushwhacking to wild camping). In the process of downsizing my life, and my other 5 five bikes will be sold off/given away. Just another $0.02.


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Old 01-18-19, 07:11 PM
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hey Machka - thanks for sharing, that's quite similar to how we were looking to do things (i.e. a number of flights and trains + short touring sections)
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