Traveling Around The World With A Bike Friday: Part One

China, Thailand & Bali: What to do, where to ride how to fly

Words and photos by Emily Farthing

When I got to the ticket counter in Shanghai at PVG (there are two airports in Shanghai- important travel tip) they weighed my Samsonite case, bike neatly packed inside, and said it would be 1,494 yuan, equivalent to about 240 USD. This bag’s flight to Thailand was going to cost more than my ticket to Thailand. I had already missed one flight and ate that cost due to lingering in a funky Airbnb in the French Concession with my partner.
This was the evening when I realized there needs to be this blog post- How the f&*^ do you travel through Asia with your bike Friday and not go broke.

Tip One: Airline Choice.

SE Asia is inundated with western backpackers because it’s cheap. You can fly extremely cheap on Airlines that cater to people with no checked baggage and minimal baggage. Thailand, as I learned on this flight is the hot vacation spot for young Chinese, so our weekend trip to the Oregon Coast or Lake Shasta, is their flight to Bangkok or Phuket. They know this little secret and in turn travel light. With Thai Lion or Spring Airlines- Do not try and take your Bike Friday. Instead go with China Southern (Delta Partner), Garuda, or Air Asia; and when choosing Air Asia book from their site. That way you can pre determine the cost of your checked baggage.

 

Tips for Flying with your bike:


15, 20 AND 30KG Are magic numbers. Cheap Airlines will not allow over 15kg. Air Asia will have you pay for up to 30kg (Ideal for your bike and extra goodies) for about $20. Know how much your bag weighs – an estimate. This will help you determine how much shopping you do.
Use Kayak or Edreams to look at ticket prices then book through the airlines directly to avoid baggage fees. I thought I was saving money when using Kayak but in the end, going cheap cost me more than I bargained for. After paying $240 for my bag once, I double checked every airlines before booking again to ensure I wasn’t paying extra. In the end Edreams was the best cheap booking website because it automatically saved my travel preferences and recognized that I was travelling with a large checked bag.

 

Tips for traveling with your bike once you land:
Once I got to Thailand I had learned to always request a 1st floor room. This isn’t always an option but easiest when trying to haul your bike to and from your room.
Let people know you have a bike in there– People look at you gallivanting through Asia like a princess with your closet by your side, but watch their face transform when you let them know that inside that suitcase is a bike! Spread the love!
Map My Ride – a great tool once you get into a city to navigate where safe places to cycle are. I used this in Chiang Mai for great City routes with and with/out bike lanes.
China and Internet- There is no Google in China. Yes, a shocking realization. If you get there and want to access google, google maps or a search engine try these two options:
Use Bing. Yup, it’s that once in a lifetime experience of using this when you never ever thought it would come in handy.
Download a VPN- A VPN is an IP address in another country like the US to trick your devices to think you are in the US. My favorites are STAR, and PROVPN, you can find them in the App Store.

Bali is not the best cycling destination. Bali was one of my favorite places on the entire trip. It is rich in Hindu culture, rituals, jungles, lush rice paddies, monkeys, beaches. However, as for infrastructure, the roads are crowded with moto bikes and the entire time I was there I saw only a handful of cyclists. Of course, if you are determined, you can still ride in Bali, but for myself I found it much easier to see the whole expanse of the island, including the active volcano, and beaches, by renting a moto bike. That being said, I was still nervous at riding the moto bike. Streets in Bali and Thailand are British style – on the left side of the road. As you ride a moto bike or bicycle, it takes time to get accustomed to always being on the opposite side of the street. Take Caution.

Favorite Place to ride:
Coming in at my favorite place to ride my Bike Friday was Shanghai. I love that the streets were full of other cyclists in a wide bike lane. This gave me comfort that the drivers were also prepared visually to see cyclists. Contrary to this, many places like Thailand were just launching bike share when I was there so the culture was still largely focused on motobikes. Shanghai is another world when on a bike. You get to see the hole in the wall noodle shops, clothing stores and street vendors that Didi (Chinese Uber) and taking the Subway just couldn’t provide.
If I were to go back, I would do more research ahead of time on routes. When in China or Thailand, the internet can be very spotty. Knowing some designated routes I’d like to go would be very helpful to set daily ride goals. GOOD NEWS: next up I am heading to South America so I can do my research then share all I learn again with you!

Thanks again to Emily for putting this great piece together! For more of her awesome photos, you can follow her on instagram: @eatpraybike

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11 thoughts on “Traveling Around The World With A Bike Friday: Part One

  1. posicionamientowebeconomico

    Estaba buscando esa informacion hace espacio,
    te lo agradezco, estoy de pacto con tu punto de vista y pienso igual.
    Despues de buscar mucho por Internet encontre lo que buscaba.
    Genial!!! muchas muchas gracias

    Reply
  2. Jeff Holmes

    Forget Thailand, apart from the north & north-east. Laos, Cambodia & Vietnam offer much better experiences, and you can put your bike in or on top of a bus for sections you prefer to avoid. You can take a train from Bangkok to the Laos or Cambodia border, then just ride across & keep on going. Leave the case in a Bangkok hotel & pick it up before you fly home.

    Reply
  3. Jrat

    Great tips! I led a bike tour in China (1984) and probably can’t even imagine the changes. Riding the morning commute with a zillion Chinese on bikes, some carrying as many as four people, was fascinating experience. Your hard-won tips and your observations make me want to pack my Pocket Rocket and go. Thanks Emily!

    Reply
  4. Paula Joy Welter

    Hey, you rock! I love the nuts ‘n bolts info you give! So many people don’t include that nitty gritty detail stuff that makes touring so intimidating!!! Pedal the world and keep sharing!

    Paula Joy

    Reply
  5. Mike Patzer

    Informative article. I have an additional suggestion:

    I have taken my BF all over the planet and when touring I have switched from always using the hard suitcase to a large duffle bag and plastic pallet wrap to protect the bike inside the bag. If you fold the bike tightly and use the wheels as protection on the outside it works well. No damage has occurred because each part is wrapped individually first and then collectively as a solid mass of metal and rubber. This way you aren’t stuck dealing with the suitcase or hunting for a hardcase on the far end of the trip. I use the duffel bag as an extra water shield on the rear rack when I ride and can throw all my gear inside it when moving into or out of a hotel.

    This also is much easier when taking the bike onto a train, bus or subway. It just looks like a large shopping bag and can usually fit onto the overhead racks on many trains.

    Just keep a small roll of pallet wrap and when your ride is over you re-wrap and fly home.

    Reply
  6. Charlie Smyth

    Kayak has an option for checked bags as well as carry on bags, just make sure it stays filled in as you compare prices. But I agree that it is best to get tickets directly from the airline of choice to make sure everything is right.

    We’ve flown to Nicaragua, Australia, Ireland, and regularly to California with Bike Fridays as checked luggage. The big deal is to keep the weight at 50 lbs (though you typically get a little grace for an extra bit as long as you keep it under 52 is my experience). Depending on what I’m packing/where I’m going, I sometimes have to carry pedals, bike shoes, and locks in my carry-on. I probably travel with more tools than really needed! When I go to California to visit family, I’m usually not needing to pull the trailer so that leaves room for other stuff and I always weigh my luggage before I head for the airport.

    Depending on the destination, for international travel from the US, you typically get a checked bag for free. Many times this is two bags (eg Australia). If you have a credit card with the airline, you have additional “free” options (“free” being what the annual fee covers). For California, since I don’t have an American Airlines credit card, I pay $25 each way for the bike/samsonite case. It may be cost effective to have said credit card if you fly enough every year on a specific airline, particularly since most of these cards give you and a companion a checked bag. And this charge varies by airline as pointed out by Emily. For example, a checked bag to Ireland was listed at $100 by United.

    We recently completed a self contained trip to Ireland (14 days of bicycling, 450 miles with 25000 ft elevation gain) where we used 1 checked bag (bike friday), 1 carry on (Rick Steves bag with helmet, pedals, shoes, rain gear, and lock inside as well as the usual needed items) and one largish bookbag type backpack (personal item). I carry camera gear, all our bike electronics and lights, and my wife had the 4.5 lb laptop. We look pretty cumbersome walking down the street with the Rick Steves bags on our backs, the bookbags in front, and pulling the Samsonite bags but it works. It can feel a bit much at times (I’m 62) but we can get to trains and buses outside terminals just fine. We have been able to assemble our bikes at airports and bus stations and ride away.

    Reply
  7. Nina Sabghir

    My NWT packed in the Samsonite was one of my 2 check through bags to Okinawa via Tokyo on Al Nipon Airlines. I then flew back to the mainland, Hiroshima, again at no extra cost. I got very good at packing my bike into a bag for hopping on trains. I did some touring with the suitcase as trailer but found it heavy and awkward especially on those steep, long bridge approaches. So I left it in a train station locker for the excursion from Kyoto to Nara. Next time I’ll bring some light weight panniers as I find them so much easier on the hills. My biggest issue was getting directions. Next time, I’ll get a sim card so I can get things like google translate and various GPS bike routes. I’ll also give my self more time. I under estimated travel time by bike on unfamiliar routes so I didn’t have as much time to enjoy some locations. I was treated to a 50km sight seeing trip around Tokyo with a bicycle advocacy group. That was fun. No baggage, just a light back pack.

    Reply
  8. Tracy Myers

    I lived in China for quite a few years and totally agree that the best way to experience the cities is on a bike. I cycled everywhere while I lived there. While the cities are quite safe if you use common sense and follow the local etiquette, your mileage may vary in far suburban and rural areas where the roads can be very dangerous. Know before you go out on rural roads.

    – Learn and observe the local etiquette. In China for example vehicles turn right on a red light without stopping and assume they have priority over the cross-traffic with the green light.
    – Might is right. Bigger vehicles assume they have priority and will turn directly in front of you or even on top of you.
    – Be aware of taxis in particular as they make any number of unpredictable moves. Same goes for electric bikes, especially people delivering goods.
    – Always do a 360 degree check. There is almost always some traffic going against the prevailing direction.
    – Be very careful riding at night, very very careful. Motorcycles, electric bikes, some cars, and especially large trucks drive without lights at night, often against traffic. Bicycles rarely use lights at night.
    – Bike theft is very common and the bike thieves are very skillful.
    – Pollution can be beyond anything you could imagine. Try a mask like one of the 3M or Respro ones.
    – In China most cities have Giant branded bike shops which are a good bet if you need brand name parts. There are a few Trek stores too. You can find quality parts and better mechanics elsewhere if you have local knowledge, but it’s more hit and miss. The staff will go crazy over your BF in any shop.

    I traveled with my BF without too much aggro. It’s a great way to get around and immerse yourself in the culture.

    Reply

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