I travel a lot and ride my bike a lot, but up to now have never travelled by air with a bike. I’ve taken the bike by car but that will only take you so far comfortably (say up to 8-10 hours drive away) and certainly not overseas - this is Australia after all. Train is a great option but really only on the local network, as for long distance travel you have to box it up (as with a plane). This has always been my sticking point as packing has never been my strong suit and having to even partially dismantle the bike sends shivers down my spine. Even in the unlikely event I could put it back together correctly this could take up to an hour or more at both ends (I’d be slow as I’ve no technical nous). And if it wasn't immediately reassembled it at the destination I’d have this heavy awkward box to lug around.
I know, I know - lots of people do plane travel with a full-size bicycle with the minimum of fuss and I’m sure it gets easier every time. But for me that’s not the way to start my travels nor is the best use of my time, even though the reward would be to ride my own familiar bike. Airports can be stressful enough at the best of times.
I decided I’d have to get over this hurdle somehow as my role as editor at cycletoursglobal.com involves increasingly more travel and naturally I want to be able to cycle when I get there. The next opportunity was Launceston, Tasmania. I had been invited to speak at the Bike Futures cycle tourism conference organised by Bicycle Network. As the distance was quite manageable I took the plunge and my local friendly bike shop, Cheeky Transport, was able to fix me up with a Brompton folding bike. I had only ridden one once before but was very pleasantly surprised at how well it handled - and how compact it was when folded. At first the steering was a bit twitchy, probably due to the smaller wheels (16”) but you soon get used to that.
After riding home and a few practice folds I felt confident enough to pack it up in the Brompton B-Bag travel case. This was an ideal fit with enough room to pack some of my clothes, shoes and helmet around it as cushioning protection. The bike itself locks together so well that there is minimal chance of damage by mishandling (two crucial brackets easily screw off and were stowed in a separate pocket in the bag). My other bag was one that neatly clipped onto the bike when riding but also worked well as cabin luggage.
At the airport I checked in at the oversize counter, as there wasn't much of a queue although I could probably have gone to the regular bag drop as it fell within the standard baggage allowance. No issues whatsoever, the bag was just under 20kg (of 23 allowed).
Launceston airport is about 15km south of town and I decided to be brave and ride in. A quick check after I picked it up from the carousel assured me everything arrived safe and sound. Unfolding the bike was a cinch although I didn’t repack very well - I got much better for the bike ride back five days later! After a short moment of panic I found my pump and inflated the tyres as best I could (they were let down for the flight). It was only on the return trip that I discovered the airport had a ‘Bike-port’ with an area to work on your bike, a couple of pumps and an assortment of tools (which fortunately aren’t needed for a Brompton).
The next couple of days were taken up with the conference, which went very well. However we finished early on the Friday so I had the afternoon to explore Launceston properly and by bike. I was lucky to have my own personal tour guide, Di, a local (and Tamar BUG member) who had also been at the conference. She gave a perspective I wouldn’t have gained elsewhere and also meant I didn’t have to check maps all the time so could cover more ground more efficiently - as well as being great company, thanks Di. And who knew Launceston had such a great network of bike paths and routes in and around town!
Anyway back to the Brompton. I kept it in my hotel room so brought it down and unfolded it outside (down to about 15 seconds now!) where she met me. There are a lot of bike paths and trails, most of which the Brommie handled really well. I say most because I did have a flat type at one stage - not long after pumping the types up at a bike station at the university. I decided I hadn’t got enough pressure using the hand pump but obviously did something wrong or the valve stayed open somehow. We rode several kilometres until all of a sudden the front tyre went down. Neither of us had brought a pump but fortunately a friendly cyclist passing by lent his. This worked a treat and the tyre stayed perfectly inflated for the rest of the trip (until time to deflate for the flight home).
Apart from this minor incident the weekend cycling was thoroughly enjoyable - the sealed bike paths were great but even on the semi-sealed or dirt sections the bike handled well - as well as a hybrid and certainly better than a road bike would. I did more riding the next day (probably about 30km). In and around the city is pretty flat although I did find a few hilly sections to test how the Brompton would handle. It was harder work than a full sized bike would be but taking my time, the uphills weren’t too daunting - and I walked the short steeper bits.
On Sunday Di was again my host and took me on a longer road ride out of town - the 'fish shop’ route made famous by local legend Richie Porte. I did get passed sometimes by groups of cyclists out training and the Brompton wouldn’t have been able to keep up with them - but that’s not what I was there to do. The bike definitely required more cycling on longer flat sections and didn’t coast as well as my usual bike - but it was fine for normal touring, I wasn't there to race. It was a comfortable ride and quite an upright position, although more sporty configurations are available (this bike was an M6L for those in the know).
Back at the hotel I quickly refolded it to take it back to my room upstairs - by now I’d done this several times. I packed efficiently for the ride back to the airport. 45 minutes later I arrived to admiring looks and comments from some of the local staff - and almost incredulity when they saw it all packed for the plane. I entered the terminal as just another traveller ready for check in.
Despite the minor drawbacks (it’s not an all-purpose bike - but then, what bike is?), the positives far outweigh any negatives. So I think my next step has to be to make this arrangement permanent and get a Brompton myself. Imagine all the places I can take it to and be totally independent while getting in nearly all the cycling I want!
The Brompton was kindly on loan from Cheeky Transport and my trip to Tasmania was courtesy of Bicycle Network.