From the bicycle’s earliest days, cyclists have ridden across borders to wherever their imaginations and legs could propel them. But there’s more to preparing for a cycling vacation abroad than logging training time. You also need to understand your rights and responsibilities while traveling internationally with a bike. Here’s what you need to know to ensure a smooth trip.
By Bob Mionske
Pack Your Bike Right
If you are traveling by air and bringing your own bicycle, you will need to follow the carrier’s rules for transporting it. On some airlines, that means nothing less than a hard-shell case; other carriers allow you to use a cardboard box or soft-sided travel bag. If you don’t follow the guidelines, the airline might still ship your bike, but it will require you to waive your right to any compensation should the frame or parts be damaged.
Plan for the Worst
When you check your bike in, be sure to declare its value and purchase additional insurance from the carrier to cover the cost of replacement, if you’re not already covered via a credit card or other travel insurance. Keep in mind that lying about the contents of your bike box (“It’s a massage table”) could prevent you from being compensated for damages if the airline mishandles it. And although cycling is one of the safest physical activities you can engage in, give yourself some peace of mind and make sure your insurance covers you for accidents, illness, and loss while traveling. If there are any gaps in your coverage, purchase additional insurance.
Know the Rules
Your passport can get you into another country, but it doesn’t give you special rights there. You still have to obey the laws, which may be different from those that exist here. For example, if you are riding in the United Kingdom or Japan, you will be pedaling on the left side of the road. In many places, cycling laws and penalties are stricter than they are in the US. Helmet use is mandatory for all cyclists in Australia, and if you are caught pedaling while intoxicated in Poland, you could end up spending the night in jail. Sometimes the laws work in our favor: When a driver and a cyclist collide in the Netherlands, the driver is assumed to be at fault unless he or she can prove otherwise. Before you leave home, familiarize yourself with the laws of the nations you will be visiting—a local cycling club or shop can be a useful resource. And if you do find yourself on the wrong side of the law while traveling, contact the American consulate for assistance.
If I stop to help an injured rider, can I be held liable if something goes wrong?
Probably not. Every state has a Good Samaritan law to provide some legal protection to anyone who renders emergency aid to an injured person. The laws vary, but generally they protect somebody who acts in good faith.