Different ways for transporting bicycles in India

Having transported cycles across cities, states and even countries via different modes, I'm sharing my learnings with the larger audience.

BHPian ninjatalli recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

Here's a short guide on transporting cycles across the nation.

Frankly, they are unique when compared to other goods (including vehicles) for transport:

  1. They hardly weigh a lot (8 - 12 kgs)
  2. They have fragile components (e.g. rear derailleur) that can break easily if not taken care of
  3. And they offer the interesting conundrum of being expensive (to us owners) but considered a "cheap" vehicle by the masses

Having transported cycles across cities, states, and even countries via different modes, this thread is to share my learnings with the larger audience as increasingly I see we still have different ideas/queries on this even today.

Primarily I see 4 options for transporting cycles:

  1. Via trains - The most affordable and (IMO) the best means of transporting your cycle(s) in the Indian subcontinent.
  2. Via flights - A premium alternative that works efficiently for domestic and especially international travel.
  3. On / in your personal vehicles - Ideal for short & local trips. Or if you are not extremely comfortable handing over your precious cargo to external parties.
  4. Via Movers & Packers - Works well if you are transporting a lot more than just your cycle (to fill up an entire truck). If not, it's a costly and risky alternative that I would not recommend.

There are other means of transporting your bikes - you can always ride them to your destination of course. One can also opt for a Tempo/goods carrier for carrying cycles. And most Volvo buses allow one to carry the cycle in their luggage section for an additional fee. But I wouldn't recommend them - the one time I did that for a relatively short Mumbai - Pune trip, the cycle came out with a few nicks and dents.

In the following posts, I'll expand further on the first three options that I have used in the past for different trips and requirements. I have used Movers & Packers (Agarwal Packers) to transport my cycles along with my household goods and they packaged and transported them (along with the rest of my goods) without any issues. However, I would have not gone for this option if I was only going to transport my cycle as then I would be subjecting it to how they are able to combine it with other people's goods and I would have limited say on that.

Frankly, the best and most affordable option for transporting your bicycle is via the Indian Railways (IR). They are:

  • Efficient
  • Reliable
  • Affordable (extremely!)

I have taken my cycle on numerous journeys:

  • Mumbai to Chennai
  • Goa to Bangalore
  • Kanyakumari to Chennai
  • Chennai to Bangalore
  • Bangalore to Mangalore

And a few more. The process more or less remains the same with only a few minor differences; however, the experience has been pretty much great across all my previous trips using the railways. I have faced zero damage to the cycle on any of these trips. I would wholeheartedly recommend this option to all cyclists for their cycles at any price point.

Let me explain the process in more detail.

Step 1

Select the mode of transport. There are two options that IR offers us - luggage and parcel.

  • Luggage - The cycle can be booked as luggage if you are travelling by the same train
  • Parcel - the cycle is booked as parcel if you are not traveling by train along with the vehicle

A few additional details to remember

  • 'Luggage' gets priority over 'Parcel'. Basically, if you are traveling on the train, your goods have to be on that train itself. Everything else comes next.
  • 'Luggage' option is possible only in select scenarios; at the starting & ending stations; and at a few key / important stations where your train will stop for a longer duration. As a thumb rule, avoid any train that has <5 mins halt time at your start or destination station.
  • For the 'Parcel' option, it's up to a combination of what train is best suited to deliver the goods/cycle to the destination station and depends on a variety of other factors (other goods being transported that day, # of trains running on that route, direct connectivity, etc.)
  • Fees/charges are more or less similar for both options so it doesn't matter.
  • Of course, if you aren't traveling, then a parcel is your only option.
  • For any doubts, head to the luggage counter of your station or call 139.

Note: I have sent my scooter via the parcel option. The vehicle reached the destination 2 days later than planned even though we were told at the source point that it would be sent the same day itself. But no other issue was faced other than that.

Step 2

Select the train that you want to take your cycle with you. As a thumb rule, I look for trains that originate from my source station and end at my destination station for transporting my cycle; even if I have to overlook better/faster train options. Every train has two luggage vans; one van is usually reserved for goods from starting city to the destination city and the other van is reserved for goods for all other combinations. The former luggage van door is locked/sealed at the source station and only opened at the destination so obviously, it makes more sense to get your cycle in that van.

Step 3

Reach the luggage counter on the day of the journey at least 4 hours in advance. Reach the day earlier if your train timing is at odd hours (e.g. early morning). I once reached ~2.5 hours prior to my evening train, and I was told that it might be tough to get a slot on the same train even though I was traveling on it. Luckily there weren't too many goods so no constraints were faced.

The luggage counter is not necessarily at the parcel office (in some cities it can be). In Chennai & Mumbai, the luggage counter is inside the station near the main entrance & away from the parcel office; while in Bangalore & Goa, it is located separately outside the station as a separate building/unit adjacent to the parcel office. Ask around and you'll be shown to the correct premises.

Step 4

The official at the counter would require that your cycle has some packaging. Basically, they need some covering on which they can write down the parcel number or put the tag/sticker. At most stations, you'll have guys loitering around who'll offer to do the necessary packaging for a nominal charge. Or you can carry the packaging material and do it yourself. I have paid different amounts from 50Rs to max 200Rs for this "service".

Step 5

Fill up the luggage form with the key details including your ticket PNR. If you don't have a PNR, then the same form acts as a parcel form. You will also require a xerox of your ID (DL/Aadhaar/etc.) for this process. The official will book the details on the parcel system and give you a receipt. In some places, this is computerized, while in other places it is manually recorded (e.g. Kanyakumari). For main stations like Chennai or Bangalore, I got a printed tag/sticker that I could stick on the cycle along with the receipt. Do not lose this receipt - it's key. Especially the PRR No. / PWB No. on your receipt is important as it allows you to track the transport status online on the Indian Railways site.

Sample receipt for reference

Step 6

The next steps vary from city to city but in general, there'll be a counter/location where all vehicles that need to be transported (usually close to the luggage counter or on platform #1) - your cycle gets deposited there and your work is done. There would be a porter who'll keep track of all vehicles that need to be sent out as luggage/parcel and it's his job from there. At least, that is the process officially. At some places, I have been asked to pay a nominal charge (e.g. recently at Kanyakumari a 100Rs charge), others I just walk away and come back when the train arrives.

Step 7

This is an optional step. If your train is starting from that station, you can choose to be there an hour earlier when it arrives at the station and observe the porter(s) load your cycle onto the luggage van. As a thumb rule, I always try to be there to ensure the cycle is loaded correctly - once my cycle was to be loaded on top of a lot of goods/crates as the luggage van was filled to the brim. I ensured the derailleur and other components would not get impacted and there is a sufficient cushion.

It's always good to see your cycle loaded in front of you

Of course, if you are opting for parcel service, there isn't anything you can do here as there isn't a guarantee on which train your cycle will be loaded. In the past, one had to bribe the porter to ensure the vehicle is loaded asap - but these days, the system is quite efficient and you can expect your vehicle/cycle to be sent asap. You can still choose to do that if you think it'll help.

Step 8

At your destination, get down and head to the parcel office (NOT the luggage counter) as all goods from the luggage vans will be sent there. Many times, I have walked with the porter carrying the goods to the parcel office. You can also choose to come back later to pick it up at the parcel office. Show your receipt at the counter and he'll check for any pending fees (there are penalty fees if your cycle/vehicle has been at the parcel office more than the initial 6 hours). Once all aspects are cleared, he'll sign the form (or give you a delivery token or receipt) and you are good to go.

 Rules / fees at delivery point

Additional points to note

  1. The IR transport charges for your 10-12kg cycle will be extremely nominal (the max I have been charged is 200Rs). The IR can "earn" a lot more with goods using the same space your cycle takes but they offer this amazing service so I would advise the IR option over any other means of transport any day.
  2. In a city with multiple stations, this service could be offered at more than one station. For instance, both Bangalore SBC and Yeshwantpur offer this service.
  3. Most porters/railway staff would be unaware of the cost of our cycles but they are definitely aware of cycles and are generally lenient/helpful (maybe fellow cyclists?) so some smiles (and token payment if requested) do help where needed.
  4. If your travel originated from a station with a computerized terminal, you'll get sms alerts of your cycle/vehicle being loaded, unloaded and so on.
  5. The same alerts can also be tracked on the IR parcel website (for both luggage & parcel options).

If the Indian Railways is your VFM option for transportation, the Airways is your premium option for transportation of bikes. From a process perspective, it's pretty structured and easy to follow at any airport, for domestic and international flights.

  • One lands up at the airport, books the cycle as sports luggage at your airline check-in counter, pays the additional charges and lets them handle the "sports luggage" from there on
  • At some airports, the airline check-in staff might ask you to deposit the cycle at a specific counter (say for sports and oversized goods); at other airports, the staff might handle this on their own.
  • And similarly, at the destination airport's baggage claim section, head over to the special/oversized goods counter to pick up your packed cycle (box/bag).
  • You can practically walk your cycle out of the arrival gates and onto the parking area; it's that simple. Even on an international trip, I wasn't stopped at customs or at any other point and literally just walked out and loaded the cycle (in a bike bag) onto the taxi.

What gets interesting is the manner in which you package your cycle. And there are 3 different ways I'm aware of packaging the cycle - these are accepted globally as the means of carrying your cycle with you. Recently bhpian @papr23 showed in his thread that there's a 4th way too!

Option 1. Cardboard bike boxes

This would be my default / preferred option to transport cycles via Air. Simply for this reason, you are not aware of how the package will be handled by the airport staff at two airports, the airline staff and at even more points if your travel requires you to change flights. In such a situation, the box is a familiar piece of luggage that is and will be handled well by all staff throughout the process. To procure the box, I'd recommend heading to a premium cycle seller in your city (even Decathlon might be able to help) to get your cycle boxed. Or at least procure the box and do it yourself at home (there are enough videos online to help you).

One would have to remove the handle, tires and pedals to fit the cycle frame and components inside the box.

Option 2. Bike Bag (Premium)

The next best option is to procure a premium bike bag from brands like EVOC or Scicon which are used by cyclists around the world. However, a bag from these guys does not come cheap and would make sense only if you intend to travel with your cycle frequently over time. Suggestive product options link.

Images are taken from the above product's website

Option 3. Bike Bag (VFM)

Similar to the products from Evoc and others, there are several copy-cat versions available locally. When Decathlon opened shop, they had a bike bag option that wasn't too heavy on the pocket which I had used for an international trip and it worked pretty well (but didn't hold up well over time). There are options available on Amazon and other sites that one can check and use it. I would assume that these wouldn't be as durable as the premium options and that should be kept in mind. @goandude has/had a bike bag that he used a while ago.

Suggestive product: link

Option 4. Temporary / Makeshift Arrangement

In his recent cycling trip to the Konkan, @papr23 showcased how he and his wife cycled to the airport, packed up the cycle at the Hyderabad airport and took their cycles to Goa for a fun riding trip across the Konkan. This seems to be a simpler and VFM packaging option for short domestic flights. No idea if other airports or airlines offer this service but it surely wouldn't be too much expensive for a one-time short travel requirement.

Additional points to note

  1. The above process is for carrying your cycle on a passenger flight and has been tried & tested on domestic & international flights. However, I am not aware if there is and what is the process of transporting your cycle on a cargo flight.
  2. One can also choose to put "fragile" sticker on your bike bag/box; no idea if it really makes a difference. Honestly, most airline/airport staff should be able to recognize the cycle and take care but then there are always ways to screw up.
  3. The premium bike bags from EVOC or other brands might be available on a rental basis in some cycle shops in metro cities or online (no info at my end for available options).

Continue reading ninjatalli's thread for BHPian comments, insights and more information.

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