Cycling abroad: 4 key tips to stay safe

Cycling abroad

Cycling abroad has become one of the most popular activities in the past few years.

There are many benefits of cycling abroad. It is great for your physical health, your mental well-being and kinder to the environment. It even helps local businesses as you’re more likely to buy local produce like coffees or cold drinks as you take a break. This in turn also helps you meet new people, experience local culture more keenly and see places off the beaten track.

But before you start throwing your helmet in a suitcase it’s also important to be mindful of what you’re doing. Arguably, there are a few reasons to consider why cyclists need to be even more careful when cycling abroad. To help you make good plans and good decisions, we’re going to highlight some of the key points in "how to stay safe whilst cycling abroad?" which we’ve learned from our years of experience in helping cyclists all over the world.

Top tips for cycling abroad:

1. Know where you are

Different countries have different traffic laws, different driver customs and different punishments if you fall foul of them.

For example, in Mallorca you face a fixed penalty for cycling across a pedestrian crossing and fail to give all pedestrians right of way. And in Australia it is mandatory for all cyclists to wear a helmet. And in France it’s illegal to cycle while wearing headphones.

Differences in rules aside there is then simply the road network to consider. Drivers will more-likely-than-not be driving on the right instead of the left - this means care and caution is needed at junctions and roundabouts, especially in built up areas. While caution is needed it is also important to note that confidence is important too. This is because in some cases accidents can be caused by indecisiveness - when a person isn’t sure, or wobbles or starts to move then suddenly stops. Erratic behaviour affects the ability other road users have to anticipate and analyse the road in front. But if you plan accordingly and behave responsibly, then all should be well.

Busy cities can be especially risky for cyclists. Not just with cars on the other side of the road but different signage can create an impact. It can therefore be beneficial to:

  • Plan your route before you set off - paying attention to the terrain, class of road etc
  • Buy a local map - this will help you avoid congested routes or getting lost in a strange country
  • Jot down or memorise a few key phrases in local language to help in case of emergency

2. Prepare for the weather

Whether you are cycling in hot, cold, wet, mountainous or even snowy or desert terrain you need to be prepared.
Clothing. Nutrition. Having the right bike and equipment. Not over-estimating your fitness or ability.

All seasoned cyclists will appreciate these things already. But to those who are only accustomed to the odd pootle it can easily catch people out.

Consider where you are travelling to and see if your checklist could benefit from some of these key points below:

  • Packable clothing - either to protect from sun, rain or cold.
  • Sunglasses
  • Water resistant sunscreen (and a smaller tub to take with you for re-application mid-ride)
  • Electrolyte hydration tablets to replace vital salts lost via sweat
  • Phone and cash in local currency for emergencies
  • Proof of ID - not just for safety but in some countries it is mandatory to be able to present it in the event you are stopped by local authorities
  • Gear - have you got the right tyres, enough inner tubes and other tech for the route you’re doing?

3. 'Hire or flyer?' - travelling with your bike vs renting a local one

Some cyclists can’t wait to take their pride and joy abroad. The benefits are obvious - you know the bike, it’s set up precisely the way you like and it brings you joy. While others feel sick at the thought of travelling with theirs in case something goes wrong in transit or fear that if they suffer a mechanical fault then their whole trip could be affected.

For this second reason many people simply hire a bike when they land at their foreign destination. There may be a small outlay to do this of course but it can offer some peace of mind.

But again - don’t just pay the provider and hop on. There are several key things to consider.

  • Ensure you hire your bike from a reputable company. 
  • Hire a bike that suits your visit. For example if you will be cycling up hills make sure the hire bike has the right range of gears to tackle it.
  • Will you be cycling on roads, dirt tracks or mountains? Whatever the terrain, consider the tyres and if they are fit for purpose. 
  • Check if hydration bottles - and bottle cages - will be provided with the bike.
  • Do the bikes come with spare inner tubes, pumps, tyre levers and multi-tools if things go wrong? If they do then also make sure the spare inner tube valve provided is the same as that on the bike by checking both have the right valve (usually presta or schrader).
  • Are you allowed to swap the pedals for your own so you can wear your cleats?
  • Take care of the brakes! It is common for some countries to actually mount the front brake on the left instead of the right.

Even if hiring a bike it is good practice to bring your own helmet. Not only does this ensure you have a correctly fitting kask but you cannot guarantee the structural integrity of a hired helmet or how many falls, collisions or bumps it has been in. (If you do hire a helmet then look to see if there are bumps, lumps or scrapes to the outside of it as this may indicate it has seen some action and you might benefit from swapping it to another one.)

If you do take your own bike abroad then make sure you find out - BEFORE booking your trip - what the transport policy is of the flight provider. Different airlines have different policies when it comes to taking your bike on a plane. The majority charge per bike per one-way along with a weight allowance. There are also specifications for the packaging of your bike thereafter, as you would not want any damage. 

If bringing your own bike, hard bike cases can be hired from local bike shops or online. Other things to consider are:

  • If you have to break down components to pack your bike, ensure you are able to re-build your bike safely at the other end. 
  • Ensure you have brought the tools that you require to rebuild your bike. 
  • Remember to check gears and brakes prior to setting off. 
  • Most importantly, ensure that you have insurance in place to cover the unlikely scenario where your bike may become damaged or lost in transit. 

4. Get the right travel insurance

As with any trip, travel insurance is important for the safety of you and your bike. You may already have existing insurance such as home insurance, or bike insurance that covers cycling in the UK. However, be sure to check the terms of any existing cover carefully in case there are any gaps in insurance. Ensure you are compliant with the terms of the policy in terms of bike security abroad, packaging etc.

A British Cycling or Scottish Cycling membership will cover most things for cycling abroad, but make sure to look into the finer details of your policy to ensure medical cover.

Not all companies will cover you, for example, mountain biking is deemed dangerous, therefore you may need to take out a separate cover. This ensures the best levels of cover for your bike in case anything happens to it.

Most insurance policies will not cover you for recovery insurance. If you want cover that will collect you in the event of a breakdown / fatigue out on the road, this will require to be arranged separately. 

Annnndd... enjoy!

A good day on the bike is one with no mechanicals. And a good holiday is one where you all make it home with no issue.

There’s no reason then why both can’t be achieved with some simple checks in advance as we’ve hopefully assured.

So wherever you travel and whatever you’re riding… it matters that you have fun, stay safe and enjoy the experience.