Taking your touring bike overseas: My experience with excess baggage restrictions

I recently had a question on my Vivente World Randonneur review by Josh, who asked:

I’m interested in how you are planning to get your VWR over to Europe? Are you looking a taking it with you on the plane and forking out for the excess baggage allowance? Or using some kind of airfreight? Or another option?

I was originally just going to answer directly through the comments, however I know from personal experience that this is a subject that can get quite confusing and complicated. Since I recently booked my flights to Germany after approximately 8 weeks of research I thought it would be best to write a dedicated post to give my experience and why I made certain choices.  I found the biggest factor with taking a bike overseas by air was that there  is a wallet killing combination of an extra item, plus a significant amount of excess weight and also it is classed as oversize.

Excess baggage is an extremely confusing and potentially expensive caveat of taking your bicycle overseas, especially if you have a heavy and bulky touring bike. This is especially the case if you are flying from Australia, as many of the major international airlines have quite cheap and favourable baggage allowances/prices, however almost all of them will use a secondary airline to get from Australia to the connecting airport (usually Singapore or Kuala Lumpur). As I found out after a number of phone calls and emails essentially all of these airlines charge an excessive amount of money for an extra, large and heavy items such as a bicycle. For example KLM Royal Dutch Airlines only charge €100 extra each flight for a bicycle, however their connecting flight between Singapore or Kuala Lumpur and Perth is with either Singapore Airlines or Qantas. Singapore airlines will charge $360 for the first 15kg and then an additional $60 per kg. Qantas charge $525 for an extra 15kg of excess or $875 for an extra 25kg. Even if you only have to pay the higher fee on the way to Europe, and the cheaper fee with KLM on the way back, you are still looking at a ridiculously high excess charge to take a bike with you.

Here’s a table I made for excess fees for each airline. These prices were current about a month ago when I made enquiries, however I suggest that you call or check their respective websites to check the latest fees. The fees won’t change that much, so it will be a good reference at exactly how expensive it can get for a while (I hope it will display correctly, it’s quite a wide image):

Airline Cabin Allowance Check-in baggage allowance Special Luggage fee/conditions
Singapore Airlines 7kg 20kg (1 item only) 6kg excess fee for 15kg ($360), standard excess for every extra kg over ($60 per kg)
Cathay Pacific 7kg 20kg (1 item only) $60 USD per kg of excess luggage between Europe and Australia
Thai Airways 7kg 20kg (1 item only) N/A (I couldn’t find anything on the website, and didn’t have any luck calling them for info).
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines 12kg 23kg (1 item only up to 158cm h+w+d) 100 EUR extra each way – Sports equipment (of max. 23 kg). Fly with Qantas or Singapore Airlines iva Asian airport to/from Australia.
Lufthansa 8kg 23kg (1 item only up to 158cm h+w+d) 150 EUR extra for a bicyclet per direction (15-32kg and/or 1,41-2m restriction)
Emirates 7kg 30kg (no limit on number of items or size) $280 for an additional 5kg luggage weight (or $70 per kg over 30kg total)
Qantas 7kg 23kg (1 item only up to 158cm h+w+d) $875 for 25kg excess; $525 for 15kg extra.
Finnair 8kg 23kg (1 item only up to 158cm h+w+d) 100 EUR extra each way – for one extra item; weight 23–32 kg and/or length 1.51–2 m.
Malaysia Airways 5kg 20kg (1 item only) Excess charge  (~$15 per kg) if weight exceeds free baggage allowance to Europe, 75 EUR ex Europe for bikes.

So to directly answer Josh, I am planning to take my bike by air on the same flight as I will be on. I did look into alternative options, such as shipping by bike over to my family in Germany before leaving, however these all just seemed far to risky and complicated. Instead I just paid the couple of hundred dollars extra and bought a ticket with Emirates as they are well known for having very relaxed baggage allowances (as shown on the table above) which will hopefully be more just enough for my touring bike (17kg), my panniers and camping gear and (5kg) a bag with general personal belonging (8kg). I’ll also put all the smaller and heavier items in my carry on luggage to reduce the load.

Please keep in mind that my situation is a little unique, as I have family in Germany and I will be spending 4 weeks doing regular activities with them, and then I will set off for around 4 weeks to go cycle touring on my own. I am planning to go Scandinavia and the Baltic in order to get away from the crowds of people and do some free, wild camping. This means that not only do I need to bring over my touring bike and camping gear, but I also want to bring my 60L backpack with my regular, daily gear and clothing that I won’t be taking with me while touring (I’ll leave it with my family and pick it up before flying back to Australia). If you were planning to only go touring and managed to get your bike and all your gear into a single bike box weighing less than 22kg, plus 7kg extra for your carry on baggage, it might be a different situation and you may be able to consider other airlines.

Another reason I decided that it was ok to spend a bit more for the Emirates flight is for sheer convenience. I can get a flight into Dusseldorf, Germany (only an hour from where my family live) from Perth via Dubia. The flight from Perth to Dubia is 10 hours, with a couple of hours transfer and then around 6.5 hours to Dusseldorf. I will be leaving Perth on early morning and arriving in Germany later that evening at around 7pm on the same day. The return flight back to Perth is almost as easy and fast, with a 5 hour stop over in Dubia being the worst part of the trip (nothing compared to the 20 hour stop over I have to endure last time I flew from Perth to London via KL).

As a final note, I did also consider the idea of getting a very cheap flight (~$1,800 AUD instead of $2,500 AUD at the time) and then using the saved money to purchase a decent touring bike over there, after-all Germany is a cycling country and cycle touring is much more popular than here in Australia. However I found that the second hand market in Germany is pretty scarce and the quality of bikes were mostly inadequate when it came to a purpose built touring bike. Finding the correct sizing was also an issue. I could have bought a reasonably decent new touring bike for around €800-1200 (no where near as good as my VWR, but still capable). However this would have been a pain to sell once I leave and also would have lost a lot of value. In the end I decided I was better off to just take my VWR over considering how perfectly suited it is for loaded, long distance cycling (and that I had just spent $2000 on it!) and that the flight with Emirates wasn’t that much more expensive after taking into these other considerations.

Finally, if anyone wants some information on how to correctly pack you bike for touring, as well as different techniques you can use, check out the Vivente website which has quite a lot of information on the subject.

I hope this information will help Josh and others out there who are also in the same situation as I was. If anyone else has any questions or thoughts please leave them in the comments area below. I will strive to give you an in depth and informed answer if I can.

Happy cycling!

Karl

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4 comments on “Taking your touring bike overseas: My experience with excess baggage restrictions
  1. Bianca says:

    Great blog post. My husband & I are planning a campervan trip around France & Germany next year. We want to take our bikes but reading all of the airline luggage rules was doing my head in!
    Thanks for doing the research for me. Enjoy your trip.
    Bianca

    • No problems. Just be aware that luggage allowances change often so call to double check before booking a ticket. I know a few people who have been caught out. Campervan would be great to have. I’ve been using the trains with my bike in France and it’s a hassle to say the least. Especially on longer trips.

      Enjoy your trip and good luck with your planning!

      Karl

  2. Tony says:

    Hope it’s not too late to reply to this thread.

    I have tripped back over to Europe with a bike several times since settling is Australia over 20 years ago. The last time was 2008, but will be flying back over there with a tourer in 2014.

    My bikes are fitted with S&S couplers as I am a big rider. This allows them to be packed into a smaller case, but the empty case weighs 7kg anyway!

    My thoughts on weight restrictions are:

    1) Fly Emirates – on all economy flights they offer a 30kg allowance as standard compared to the 23kg offered by most other airlines.

    2) Take less. I only take expensive lightweight washable underclothes and outdoor gear such as a fleece and a Goretex rain jacket. And a lightweight sleeping bag and tent, and that’s it. 7kg can be taken in the cabin. Any other clothes, spares, lock and tools I buy when I reach my destination.

    3) Consider sending luggage ahead. In 2008 my wife and i went over for a 4 month cycle tour of Europe so we sent camping gear and a few other items ahead using a cheap luggage forwarding service (we used Pack&Send). I think they charge $15 per kilo and it arrived at it’s English forwarding address in 4 days! We just then took our bikes with us and some hand luggage.

    4) If you travel to the same destination whenever you go over as a starting point (eg to family or friends) consider buying a second bike and leaving it over there. If you like your travel bike too much then just buy some touring wheels, racks, mudguards and leave them over there. Then at least you only need to take a stripped-down bike minus the wheels with you. After all, the frame, saddle handlebars and pedals provide most of the contact between you and the bike and are the critical dimensions that you want to use wherever you cycle.

    Just some thoughts anyway

    • Hi Tony

      Thanks for your comment and adding to the discussion.

      Also for others to keep in mind that 30kg is the official limit for Emirates, however if you are slightly over is would be unusual for them to give you grief. Postage is so extrememly expensive from Australia is is worth the risk of just taking your gear with you and being slightly overweight. Of course less is more. Having essential, good quality, light weight gear is ideal.

      Thanks

      Karl

3 Pings/Trackbacks for "Taking your touring bike overseas: My experience with excess baggage restrictions"
  1. […] also plan on doing a number of articles and reviews in the near future including topics such as taking your bicycle overseas, bicycle security, tactics to carry and pack your gear (commuting), tips and advice for winter […]

  2. […] simply too many options and so many places I wanted to visit and cycle through. I decided to just buy the tickets to Germany and then make plans once I was there. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake on my […]

  3. […] simply too many options and so many places I wanted to visit and cycle through. I decided to just buy the tickets to Germany and then make plans once I was there. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake on my […]

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