How to master travelling with your bike

This summer’s cycling adventure in foreign climes will run smoother and be that bit more enjoyable if you heed our travel advice with special input from those who’ve been there and got the passport stamp at Lotto Dstny

Whether you’re racing L’Etape du Tour or simply looking to enjoy a more leisurely bike trip aboard, you’ll firstly have to negotiate the labyrinth of transporting you and your beloved partner (bike) from A to B. That means packing proficiently, keeping everything ship-shape and not falling into myriad travelling traps. That’s where ProTeam Lotto Dstny come in.

The Belgian outfit, who were founded 39 years ago, kindly let us pick their experienced travelling brains at this year’s Amstel Gold, a race where they had high hopes for local rider Maxim Van Gills after his seventh-place finish in 2023. This time around he could only finish 20th, but he put in a fine performance just three days later to finish third at La Flèche Wallonne. No doubt the 24-year-old benefitted from some of the advice that follows. 

Hard or soft?

Few things are more upsetting in life than landing at your destination airport, making your way through security, whipping your bags off the conveyor-belt lottery to discover your freshly cleaned and pristine pride-and-joy’s bruised and battered.

It raises the issue of transporting and protecting your bike from home to hotel; in other words, go hard or soft? As ever in cycling, there is a trade-off whichever you choose. A soft, padded bag is naturally lighter and arguably easier to lug around than its harder sibling. It provides a good level of protection, which can be increased with extra padding, but doesn’t reach the levels of a harder bag.

A hard bag neutralises the threat from the most tempestuous of baggage handlers with the likes of Bike Box Alan – the greatest name for a bike company ever – constructed from strong plastic. That helps keep the weight down but, of course, not to the levels of a material bag. Heavier often equals pricier, too, when it comes to not only the bag but its spot in the hold. Another option is a meticulously packed and padded cardboard bike box. 

Whichever you choose, just ensure your bike fits. This is especially true of modern numbers where fully integrated cables can make parts of the bike trickier to break down. In the past, I’ve used a Triathlon Aero Easyfit box from Mr Alan that’s designed to cater for new-generation TT bikes. It proved usable and protective, albeit isn’t cheap; that said, Alan offers a hiring option, as do several companies like BikeBox Online.

Also note that when it comes to checking in your bike, normally you’ll check in and then be guided to a nearby drop-off. Not a biggy but something to note as it adds a sliver more time to proceedings.

Remove and protect

Disassembling and packing your bike is an art form and is deserving of a feature in its own right. However, your bag should come with clear, detailed instructions on how best to pack yours. However, there’s one area you should pay close attention to. So says Lotto Dstny’s Danish mechanic, Peter Kjaer Nielsen. 

“You must be careful with the shifters as that’s often where things unravel, especially if you’re using a lightweight bag. They can take quite a hit in transit,” Nielsen says. “They might need added protection.” Which might simply be protecting them with bubble wrap, albeit the likes of Scion sell lever-specific covers.

“I’d also recommend removing the rear derailleur from the hangar,” Nielsen adds. “If you’re using an electric groupset, like [Shimano] Di2, this is pretty easily done. If you’re a little more old school and using mechanical, it’s a little trickier as you need to unclamp the cables but it’s not a huge job.”

We’re also aware that, certainly years ago, many airlines asked cyclists to deflate their tyres in case the pressure increase resulted in a bang. To a degree, this is an old wives’ tale as, according to Cycling UK, “While the lower air pressure at altitude will mean an increase in the pressure inside a bike’s tyres, the pressure can’t rise by more than one atmosphere (14.7psi) – even if the plane reached orbit!” 

Nielsen agrees, especially in the modern peloton where tyre pressure is much lower than times gone by.

Pack the essentials

“It was my dream to become a professional cyclist. When I was young, Lachlan Morton inspired me. I remember calling my mum and dad from Belgium to tell them I’d secured a professional contract. It was incredible.”

The words of 24-year-old Lotto Dstny rider Jarrard Drizners, who’s accustomed to travel after upping sticks from his homeland of Australia to Northern Europe via the USA and a spot on the acclaimed Continental team Hagens Berman Axeon.

Drizners is now based in Andorra where he spends an increasing amount of time training due to the time drain of travelling to Barcelona Airport, the flight itself and then the transfer the other end for another training destination. Understandably this is unavoidable when racing, begging the question, what does a professional rider take with them when their bike and cycling accoutrements are taken care of by their team?

“A few things, actually,” he says. “I take my cycling shoes, glasses, bike computer, heart rate monitor, little yoga mat, foam roller, plus a small set of scales. Things like the mat and roller I use a lot at home and want to use them when away, too. I take a little bit of bike kit, too, plus toiletries, spare clothes and charging equipment. I usually take one large suitcase and a rucksack, putting the real essentials in the backpack as my suitcase was lost last year. Also, I pack nutrition like my Precision Fuel & Hydration tablets, plus snacks.”

Fuelling strategy

Snacks which are guided by the team’s nutritionists including Lara Van Genechten. “We’ll account for travel in the riders’ plans but most of the time they travel around lunchtime or early in the afternoon, so they can usually eat breakfast at home and dinner at the destination. It’s rarely a full day of travelling unless they’re racing in Australia at a race like the Tour Down Under. A chicken salad wrap is a good choice, as is granola, yoghurt and even a baguette. You’ll also find many of the riders will make pasta salad to take with them on the flight.

“The app, SenPro [which is available to all levels of rider], takes into account Training Peaks data, like calories burnt and power output, so that’ll dictate the macronutrient content. A travel day is an ‘easy’ day, which means their calorie intake will be much lower than a hard training day.”

Battery issues

This is one for the electric bike riders out there, but note that most e-bike batteries are banned from planes, even in hand luggage. Across the board, the standard limit is 100Wh, which is roughly the size of a laptop battery. Some airlines will allow batteries up to 160Wh but you’ll have to seek prior approval from the airline. A company called Swytch sells a 90Wh ‘AIR’ battery while ARCC uses batteries as small as 144Wh, but most others are too high capacity. You might find it easier to hire an e-bike at your destination, but always check with your airline.

Image by Alessandra Bucci

Beat jet lag

If you’re looking to ride your bike in foreign climes that cross multiple time zones, it’s worth rolling out a jet lag-beating strategy. But not if you’re Drizners! “I've never actually been jet lagged,” says the Australian rider. “Normally I’ll caffeinate myself up so I don’t fall asleep and then when I arrive, I’ll hit the bed straight away so I enjoy a really good sleep.”

So, jet lag-defying strategy one: caffeinate up to your eyeballs so you’re wired on the flight before collapsing on landing. Or you could follow the likes of UAE Team Emirates who, like Lotto’s nutritional travel strategy, utilise tech. 

“We monitor rider travel programmes and jet lag as that has a huge impact on performance,” Dr Adrian Rotunno once told Rouleur. South African Rotunno’s the medical director of Pogacar’s UAE Team Emirates. “One useful tool I use is Jet Lag Rooster,” the good doctor continued. “It’s an app and very handy. Just put in your travel requirements, and the app plans how much sleep you’ll need before you get there and between times so you’re fresher when you arrive.”

It's also free and recommends that if you are struggling to sleep, maybe try melatonin. 

Plan for perfect sleep

Luke Gupta is a sleep expert. He has no link with Lotto Dstny, but he does have a strong link with elite sport as he spent many years at the English Institute of Sport. Gupta’s more than aware of sleep issues when both travelling and in the week before your big ride.

“There’s research to suggest that foods that are high in melatonin (e.g. tart cherries, walnuts, tomatoes) may help sleep,” Gupta says. “Melatonin, like most hormones, follows a distinct circadian rhythm. It’s sensitive to light and is released roughly two hours before your normal bedtime. This release of melatonin causes your blood vessels to vasodilate allowing blood to flow closer to skin causing our skin to warm and body temperature to drop. This drop in body temperature causes feelings of sleepiness.”

So, what you eat can help with reducing travel-induced sleep issues. But then there are the sleep issues that arise from anxiety about your ride or race.  

“Nervousness increases cognitive arousal before bed and prevents you from falling asleep,” he says. “Sleeping in a different room to normal, like in a hotel, also creates feelings of unfamiliarity that leads to awakenings in the night. Thankfully, there’s little evidence to suggest that one night of disturbed will have an impact on your race performance. However, there are things you should do around your big day…

  1. Normalise your anticipated night of disturbed sleep (e.g. I am struggling to fall asleep, but so is everyone else also competing in this event).
  2. Go to bed later than normal. Going to bed later will increase feelings of sleepiness, which counteract cognitive arousal. 
  3. Give yourself the best opportunity to get sufficient sleep in the days leading into the ride. Minimising sleep deprivation prior to a known period of sleep disturbance is called ‘sleep banking’.” 

In short, sleep easy, ride hard.

Ride to your chronotype?

Finally, once you’ve landed and you’ve checked your bike is in one piece, you’ll be champing at the energy bar for a ride. Which is absolutely fine but keep it easy, check everything’s working okay and pay even closer attention to the cars and the like because a) you’re tired and b) you’re riding on new roads.

That’s the broad advice. If you’re a committed marginal gainer, you could dig deep into your chronotype. You’ll probably know yours instantly but an online assessment like the Munich questionnaire will tell you whether you’re an owl, lark or in-betweener. By knowing your chronotype, a genetic trait, you can plan your day to ride at your optimum.

It’s an area that’s increasingly coming under the spotlight of elite sport. The Seattle Seahawks, for instance, made changes to training times and flight times off the back of determining their players’ chronotypes. As games reached the end, they knew which players would likely have the most energy to push on for victory. If all that sounds a little stressful, just stick with the shakeout.

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