I love bikes and I love to travel. Put these two activities together and life’s even better! Here are my top 8 reasons why a bicycle makes a great travel companion. Some of my best trips were those I brought my bike along, or flew with it.

The author on a bike at Willamette Bridge in Portland, Oregon.
Exploring the bridges of Portland, Oregon, view of the Willamette River
  1. Feel good

    When you’re peddling around a new city, your legs and lungs get a great workout, and you’re helping the environment too! By insisting on self-propelled movement, you’re being eco-friendly, heart and health happy, and the best part is, you don’t have to feel guilty about eating more of the local delicacies.

    Brunch in Portland, Oregon includes biscuits, eggs and hash browns
    A big brunch, including biscuits in Portland.
  2. Easy access

    Get right up close to the action. Those pedestrian-only streets, tight alleys, and crowded marketplaces have no room for cars, but with a bike, you can roll right in. Medieval cities like Paris, or crowded markets like those in Chiang Mai, are best accessed by bike or on foot.

    Use a bicycle to find things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
    ChiangMai, Thailand: the old city and narrow streets mean bikes get around faster than cars or tuktuks.
  3. Save money

    If I’m driving to my destination, I slap on a bike rack. Bringing my commuter bike along is cheaper than renting a bike, car or paying for transportation at my destination. I also know the bike will fit me, and be exactly to my liking, unlike other rental bikes I’ve tried over the years.

    Photo of vintage bicycles waiting to be rented in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
    Cute but uncomfortable vintage bikes on my group cooking class in rural Chiang Mai, Thailand

    Flying with a bike only costs $50 with Air Canada (in addition to checked luggage). All you need is a bike box, available from most bike stores. If you’ve checked in your bike as luggage and have our baggage insurance, your bike is covered.

  4. Take a load off…and cover more ground

    Walking is an excellent way to discover a place, but your feet hurt after a few hours! Cycling gets you further, over a longer period of time, with the same benefits as a stroll. Think of it as wandering with a turbo speed option. Go as fast or slow as you like (safely, of course)! Paris is one place my feet are always glad to have a break!

    The author riding a bicycle in Paris, France.
    There’s so much to see in Paris, but watch out for the tourists!
  5. Cyclists are friendly

    City biking is one of the best ways to meet locals. Chat up your neighbour while waiting at a stop light, give a friendly nod, or ask for directions. Having a bike at your side is like a dog: people engage with you more easily. You can even plan an entire cycling tour around the communities, villages or rural destinations you want to visit, or pair a cycle touring with another activity like wine-tasting or a culinary experience.

    The writer sharing a bicycle with a friend in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
    Doubling my new friend in Chiang Mai. The more the merrier!
  6. Bike Shopping

    While on a city break, check out the array of local bikes and take a few out for a spin! Experiencing the stylish city cruisers in Scandinavia, the unique cargo bikes in Portland or marveling at how some ladies cycle bravely in stilettos around the Arc de Triomphe, make you realize that biking culture is inherent to some destinations. Maybe you’ll fall in love with a new bike. On one extended trip to Quebec, I bought a used bike, rode it for a month, and liked it so much I flew back to Vancouver with it.

    The author peddling a cargo bike in Portland, Oregon while three kids relax in a covered front cab.
    The craziest test bike ride ever: 3 kids covered front cab on one of Splendid Cycles cargo bikes, Portland.
  7. Explore like a local

    View the city from a local commuters’ perspective. Research where to rent a city bike for a few days, or take a city bike for a few hours. Paris’ Vélib and Montreal’s Bixi programs are amazingly easy to use and tourist-friendly (although the bikes are pretty heavy, and definitely tough to ride uphill)! Copenhagen by bike, alone or with a family, is quite a treat, as is cycle touring through Burgundy, France, during wine harvest season.

    Pedestrian's view of the sunset over the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon.
    A commuter’s view of the sunset over the Willamette River. Steel Bridge, Portland
  8. Enjoy the seasons

    Being outside, and feeling and smelling the breeze is a great way to experience the seasons.

    Happiness is smelling the wetness of summer rain, as you ride through the Plains of Abraham in Quebec, or around Mont Royal in Montreal. Speaking of rain, Vancouver is a great city to ride if you’ve got the right gear. There are just the right amount of hills, and views everywhere you look. The best time to bike in Vancouver is during cherry blossom season. This year’s Bike the Blossom festival is April 11, 2015.

    Photo of Cherry blossoms near 61st and Ontario Street in Vancouver, BC.
    Cherry blossom lined streets are a typical sight along the Ontario bike path in Vancouver.

Bike travel etiquette and tips:

  • Respect the rules of the road. When in Rome… follow what other cyclists are doing.
  • Be safe: safety gear, lights, helmet. Avoid getting in an accident, but if you do, make sure you have good travel medical emergency coverage, whether you’re in Canada or travelling abroad.
  • If you’re flying, bring a set of tools, or try to pick accommodations close to a bike store that can help put anything back together.
  • Avoid theft with a good quality bike lock. If it is stolen, obtain a police report for insurance purposes.
  • Bike racks: the easier, and cheaper, the more versatile, the better, I say! You can invest in a light and collapsible model, or a more robust, permanent hitch, depending on your needs.
  • Borders: I’ve never had any trouble or questions from border agents when driving across with my commuter bike. If you do have original receipts of purchase, you can keep them on hand if they ask when you return home to avoid any questions about duty.
  • Pick a route before setting off.  Plan ahead for the crazy traffic and labyrinthine streets of Paris, or other large, European cities, or pick routes that avoid going uphill on massive hills in San Francisco.
The author riding her bicycle along a dedicated bike path in Portland, Oregon.
Bridges galore, charming neighbourhoods, and a thriving bike culture. Portland has the best bike lanes and bike etiquette I have ever experienced, hands down!

I’m hoping my next bike travels take me to Iceland, Myanmar, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Vietnam and Pai, Thailand. What about you? Where do you enjoy travelling with your bike? Leave a comment below!

Happy travels,

Leah

  • pamela

    I so enjoyed reading this and as it happens in September I shall be making use of the bike to explore San Francisco. Planning on finally getting my own bike after my April trip and explore more of Vancouver and surroundings. Thanks for the great tips Leah

    • Leah

      Thanks, Pamela! San Francisco has great bike culture, and September is a great time to go. Enjoy the hills, and take some great photos!

  • mv

    Beautiful photos, Leah! I’ve had some amazing cycling adventures in Northern California, but I think my best biking-while-travelling experience was in Bogotá, Colombia. Lots of bike lane infrastructure in a sprawling city, lots of stuff you wouldn’t get to see on the tourist circuit or via public transit.

    • Leah

      Thanks for the comment, Maria! Cycling in Northern California sounds amazing, and good to know that Bogotá is so bike friendly!