Air travel and getting to airports

Many airlines take bicycles free of charge, as long as it’s within your baggage allowance. However, most low-cost airlines will charge you a carriage fee.

Check with the airline when booking if there are any special requirements. Most airlines will ask you to arrive early, as you will need to check in your normal baggage and then go to the large items area with your cycle (it’s good practice to inform them that you will be bringing a bicycle anyway). You should ask the airline how you need to prepare your cycle.

This may simply involve removing the pedals and turning the handlebars around so they are parallel with the bike. Some airlines may be happy for you to wheel your
cycle on as it is, others may ask you to pack your cycle in a cardboard box and, depending on the airline, you may be asked to let the tyres down.

In all cases, your cycle will survive its journey better if you remove all extra equipment (lights, drink bottles etc) and wrap up fragile areas (gear shifters and rear derailleur) in foam pipe insulation, rubber (inner tubes work well), bubble wrap or thick cardboard. If you remove the wheels, it is also worth using spacers which fit between the forks to stop them getting misshapen during the journey. Bike shops will often have these left over from bike deliveries. You can also use a bike bag (your bike will still need padding to protect it) or a hard case. Hard cases have the advantage of offering maximum protection and they are also easier to wheel around, though they can be expensive.

It is generally recommended that you try packing your cycle at home first. This is to ensure you have the necessary tools, know what you are doing and don’t suddenly find a vital nut or bolt is rusted firmly in place and desperately in need of some WD40 to help you loosen it!

Folding cycles should be packed in an appropriate hard case bearing in mind that baggage handling can be a bit rough. Or you could invest in a specially designed
travel case.

Getting to airports

Getting to some London airports by public transport is easy. Others can seem almost impossible. There are a few options open to you if you can’t get your cycle on public transport as it is: you can pack your cycle up as a package and cart it around as luggage (this can be unwieldy); you could take a taxi (you should consider if you will need to book a taxi van or people carrier to fit your cycle); or you could cycle your way to the airport.

City airport is extremely central, Heathrow is 15 miles from central London, Gatwick is 35 miles away, Stansted is 41 miles away (for a mostly A roads route) and Luton is 35 miles (again for a mostly A road route).

Depending on where in London you will be coming from, you should be able to devise a route using a combination of the London Cycle Guides and the OS Landranger maps. London Cyclist magazine ran a series of articles on cycling to airports in 2006: contact the office for copies of these articles.

Rail networks which provide services to London airports will usually take cycles during off-peak hours, but up-to-date information on restrictions can be found at the A to B magazine website. It’s always a good idea to call in advance in case policy has changed.

The Gatwick Express accepts full-size unpacked cycles at all times. The Heathrow Express from Paddington accepts a limited number of cycles at off-peak times. While the Stansted Express says it does not accept cycles those that are packed for travel are usually accepted. Thameslink to Luton accepts a limited number of cycles off-peak.