Bikes, Trains, Planes and Automobiles


Bike transport is a constant challenge at Workcycles. People from all over the world mail, call, skype, tweet, facebook, flickr and visit to buy our special bikes but unless they live in the Netherlands actually getting that bike to them can be expensive. Customers are sometimes incredulous at what it costs to ship a utility bike or trike to their home in another country and sometimes respond with something like “But Chain Relaxion will send a crabon racing bike to me for €10.” Perhaps they will but that’s really a horse of a different color. That crabon, Campagimano equipped Pinarosa weighs less than a ciabatta and can be packed, wheels off, in a torsionally stiff, vertically compliant box the size of its compact geometry frame. Further Chain Relaxion ships about a gazillion packages per day so they get enormous discounts from the shipping firms who want them dearly as customers, and really aren’t all that flexible with high-maintenance, low turnover, little customers like Workcycles.

Workcycles on the other hand, ships each week a handful of bikes that often don’t even fit into boxes. Many leave on their own wheels and if they can be boxed those packages at the limits what UPS and FedEx will accept at all, up there in the “special, oversized package” territory. Should the 30kg contents of the big box dare bulge the sides out making it a couple cm wider, UPS will then charge/fine us for the additional volume. The result is that it costs exponentially more to ship a Workcycles bike from A to B than a Pinarosa. Believe me when I say that we’re constantly looking for better options and negotiating with our transporters. That said we’ve made great strides in reducing transport costs over the last few years and can now at least ship a boxable bike (Fr8, Gr8, City bike etc) almost anywhere in the world for a fairly reasonable price. Cargobikes and bakfietsen will remain a challenge, at least until we have the new Kr8 (modular cargobike) ready for sale in 2013.

We’re here to spread beautiful, handy bikes the world over and not to enrich shipping companies so we heartily encourage our customers to get creative with transportation. And creative they often are, ever inventing new methods we didn’t believe possible. Countless customers have carried bakfietsen home in planes. I don’t fully understand how they succeed in evading the ever stricter baggage regulations but they do it. The most incredible was the guy who enlisted the help of a young employee to carry a disassembled XL classic bakfiets to the airport by train and then proceeded to fly with it all to New Zealand via Los Angeles. The airline lost the front axle but I’m still impressed.

bakfiets hitchhiker amsterdam
This isn’t the couple that rode their new bakfiets from Amsterdam to Copenhagen but it looked something like this except that the box was filled with camping gear.

Combining a holiday in Amsterdam with picking up your new bike is far more fun than waiting for a truck and holding your fingers crossed that it comes undamaged. We also have the opportunity to adjust the fit, explain the workings of the bike, offer some tips and tricks and generally talk bikes. Many from neighboring countries spend a weekend in Amsterdam or at the Dutch beaches and pick up their new bike(s). Some come by car, others by train. Several have ridden their new bakfietsen to the ferry terminal at Hoek van Holland, taken the ferry to England and then ridden to their homes in the UK. A few have even ridden big, classic bakfietsen (the 100kg, mahogany box, 3-wheel kind) all the way from Amsterdam to Denmark, Germany and Belgium. One fellow rather memorably rode a single-speed, fixed wheel bakfiets to Copenhagen with his girlfriend in the box. He now also runs a taxi service there with that same bike.

Not only can it be cheaper to bring your bike in the plane than to ship it, customers have found that they rarely have to pay import taxes or VAT upon arrival. They just saunter innocently through that “Nothing to Declare” door by Customs at the airport. That typically saves between 10% and 50% of the cost of the bike. If you’ll be exporting your new Workcycles out of the European Union we’ll write you a VAT refund cheque so you can get most of the Dutch 21% VAT (Value Added Tax) back at the airport.

Flying with your bike is a topic too broad to cover in this post but here are some basics:
– Please order your bike well in advance to be sure we’ll actually have it here when you visit. Our lead times vary from a week or so to about two months.

– Workcycles will box your bike up securely, when necessary taking the airline’s baggage rules into account. We can, for example, package some parts separately to keep the main box under a certain weight limit.

– The rules and fees for bringing a bike on board vary wildly between airlines. Some, like Dutch KLM, are simple: the last time I checked it cost €150 to bring a bike of up to 23kg. Other airlines seem to treat bikes randomly. If bringing bikes home is your plan we recommend researching this before purchasing your plane tickets.


A couple weeks ago we were getting quotes to ship a Massive Rack equipped Fr8 to Brussels and Attila, the mechanic building the bike, offered to just deliver it personally if we’d pay him the couple hundred euro that would otherwise go to the trucking company. Sure why not, as long as the bike’s owner is OK with his new baby being ridden a few kilometers before he gets it? We discussed it with said customer and he was fine with the idea, perhaps especially since Attila could then adjust the bike for him and answer questions on the spot.


And of course it went just fine; customer was happy with his new Fr8 and Attila was happy with a free trip to Belgium. Thanks Attila for the initiative and for the fun, fisheye photos. We won’t be able to deliver a lot of bikes personally but we’ll definitely try to do it when the opportunity arises.


22 Responses to “Bikes, Trains, Planes and Automobiles”

  1. eli Says:

    well, I wouldn’t exactly call it interesting, AND, a bakfiets is nowhere in my budget right now, but…I live in Lexington, KY, and REALLY want a bakfiets! one day….

    there is one guy who rides a bakfiets around town here (I think it’s a Bullitt), and every time I see him, it makes me so happy. he hauls groceries, supplies, kids, etc., in all weather, looking fabulous. such an inspiration!

  2. nicolas Says:

    Well I wanted a Workcycles bike for my weekend in Amsterdam, but you guys were all out! Well, there were two sub-50-cm frames, but my wife and I are tall enough that this wasn’t an option. Our Bike City replacements were totally adequate though (despite their weird fanny-pack-like front bags), and the weekend was beautiful enough for rides to the beach and ‘t Twiske. It was nice visiting the Lijnbaansgracht shop nonetheless!

  3. Anders Says:

    I am looking to buy a bakfiets soon. I live in Oslo, Norway. So if you know anyone going in this direction, I’m interested in hearing from you;)

  4. henry Says:

    Sorry, we have just a dozen or so rental bikes since it’s just something we do mostly as a service to customers than to actually earn a living. And the secret seems to be out that we have nice, incognito city bikes so they sometimes all get reserved in advance. We’re working on building up another five or so rental bikes to reinforce the “fleet”. For a contrast MacBike has some 3000 bikes to rent.

  5. henry Says:

    Olso IS a nice destination though not easily reached by train… especially not with a bakfiets. If we could put together a group order of perhaps ten bikes we could send somebody off for a little holiday with a truck. It might sound strange but we’ve actually been sending Cargobikes in groups like this to Helsinki (except carried by a trucking firm). We’re now working on our third such order.

    Lexington, Kentucky IS rather exotic for somebody born and raised in Europe but probably not terribly practical to send somebody there as a bakfiets courier. 😉

  6. Hjalmar Says:

    I´m possibly in on a group order to Oslo, it would be easier than Amsterdam! In case I would buy two, but I would like to know more about the new cargo-bike before ordering

  7. henry Says:

    Even at two or three bikes there are considerable savings in the per unit shipping costs.

    The new codename “Kr8” cargo bike won’t be ready until at least the beginning of 2013 which probably translates to spring 2013 in the Norwegian climate. It’s a Fr8/Gr8 based bike of the same basic format as our current Cargobike. The basic functionality is the same but it’ll be several kilos lighter and further developed in practically every regard.

  8. Hjalmar Says:

    I think we´ll hang on until the Kr8 is ready, several kilos lighter is very interesting. The climate in Stavanger is very similar to Amsterdam, except not so hot in summer, we cycle through the winter

  9. henry Says:

    Just don’t “hang on” until the kids have outgrown the need to be ridden in the bakfiets since it’s not only super handy, but also great fun. More import to be cycling than to be on the “right bike”.

    I suppose it makes sense that Stavanger has a similar climate to Amsterdam since they’re both on the west coast along the North Sea. Still Stavanger is quite a bit further north so it must be consistently colder there.

    I really do have to bring the family to Norway soon, perhaps for a summer bike tour.

  10. Mike Says:

    I’m not sure you’d call where I live – Luxembourg – interesting. Depends on your point of view. I already have a Workcycles bicycle and I may get another some day.

    FYI: Getting a bicycle from Amsterdam to just about any city in Europe is fairly simply and straightforward with the train. A cargo bike may be more of a challenge, but it should be possible. I recently took my bike from Luxembourg (where I live) to Amsterdam and back using the regular Intercity trains via Brussels Midi (which has two platform elevators). It was a 7 hour trip including layover. The train I take from Brussels to Luxembourg continues all the way to Basel, in Switzerland. Most Intercity trains have a special compartment for bikes – they don’t all look like the one photographed in this post – you may be asked to hang it up by the wheel or lie it on its side against other bikes. Forget about high-speed services, which don’t have such facilities. On the Intercity, the bike needs its own 10 euro ticket (one-way) which has to be displayed on the bike. Usually you can lock your bike and just go and sit down nearby. Workcycles bikes are fairly heavy, so it’s a good idea to be or travel with someone strong enough to lift your bike onto the train or raise it onto a hook. Watch out for the occasional train that has no bike compartment (they’re supposed to have them and ensure bike transport outside of rush hour). Take the next train – where there’s no space for your bike it’s very problematic, particularly outside of the Netherlands. Also really watch out for thieves in train stations! Not even a moment’s inattention – don’t take your eyes off your stuff, better still lay a hand or foot on it – is my advice.

  11. Andrei Says:

    I just wanted to report that As per recommndation, I bought a bike while on vacation and brought it back to Canada….on may 25th…. And to my surprise, icelandair did not charge anything ….no additional cargo charges as they deemed the bicycle “sports equipment”. My only other possible hurdle was Canada customs as i was over my personal declaration amount….. Explaining what it was i had purchased, the customs officer wished me good riding and that was it, no fees to pay.

    I am sure that not every experience may be as rosy but wanted to provide some optimistic inspiration to others.

    Thanks to all the great staff that my wife and i chatted with for good advice and wonderful customer service.

  12. henry Says:

    Mike, Andrei,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ve also had good luck going about Europe with a bike, even a big, heavy bike with two kids in child seats. There are occasional challenges such as:

    – racing through the crowded platform with said bike to the bike car which invariably won’t land where you guess. My solution is to stand in the middle of the platform and then if the bike car goes by I follow and if it doesn’t reach me I know to go against the train.

    – Outside of the Netherlands many train stations don’t have good, or any lifts. A few times I’ve had to take all of the kids and baggage off the bikes and carry it all up or down the stairs. In a village this is no problem but Euro big city stations are rife with petty thieves.

    More often than not we hear that airport customs agents just aren’t interested in the bikes, regardless of what they cost. But the baggage counter stories vary widely from Andrei’s smooth sailing to absurd charges of several thousand euro for a boxed bike. The moral of the story is to plan carefully in advance. The one universal rule is that the higher your status as a flyer on a particular airline the more you’ll be able to get away with. I believe that most of those who pulled of really extreme feats of airline cargo were flying business class with a zillion air miles.

  13. Brent Says:

    I was one of those guys who brought back a cargo bicycle (alas, not a Workcycles) from Amsterdam to the States as checked baggage. The trick, really, is to fly KLM. They might be the airline the most familiar with hauling bicycles of any, and I found working with them to be a real pleasure. I called them well in advance — be sure to call the agents in the Netherlands, as the U.S. agents aren’t as knowledge about bicycles.

    KLM put me in their system for a standard bicycle, which in 2010 was a 55 euro extra charge, provided the weight didn’t exceed 23 kilos. I had the bicycle packaged in two parts, one for the frame (less than 23 kilos), and the other for the wheels. Together they weighed closer to 30 kilos. My standard baggage allowance was just one bag, which is now common for non-refundable “cheap” economy seats.

    I had two options: 1) check the bicycle frame box for 55 euros, and check wheels separately as an extra bag for 200 euros; or 2) attach the wheel box the frame box and check it as an overweight bicycle for 55 euros plus 100 euros overweight. Obviously, to save the 100 euros, I chose option 2, and duct-taped the wheels to the bike — imagine some guy in the airport winding rolls of tape around some boxes. It was quite possibly the oddest-looking package to come through their cargo systems that day, and got me lots of comments when I arrived in Los Angeles. But customs had no problem with my answer “it’s a bicycle.” They waived me right through.

  14. henry Says:

    Hi Brent,
    I hope you don’t mind that I moved your comment to a more relevant post. I suspect you meant to post it here but clicked the wrong link.

    Did Workcycles pack your bike up for you, a Bullitt, after riding it from Copenhagen? And maybe I helped your partner unload her old Trek frame by trading it for some gear in the shop? If so I eventually built a lovely bike from that frame:

    Thanks regardless for the info about flying with your bike. A couple airlines are even cheaper with bikes than KLM but they are at least consistent and clear in their bike policies. That comes as no surprise being the Dutch airline.

  15. Brent Says:

    Hi Henry:

    Thanks for moving the article. Yes, I wanted it to go here.

    You guys did pack up the Bullitt for me, and did a terrific job. When I got home, I spent ages just unwinding all the protective plastic, etc. I didn’t know whether you wanted to advertise that service, so I left it out of my original post. But, yes, if you need a bike packed up, any size at all, go to Workcycles!

    I don’t know the Trek person. I rode alone, unfortunately or not…

  16. Jess Says:

    I took a workcycles long cargo bike and a workcycles omafiets from Amsterdam to Toronto on an Air Transat flight and it cost me $30 per bicycle. Once we got to the check in counter, I had to take the box off the cargo bike, the pedals off both bikes and turn the handlebars, but that was easy enough. I emailed ahead of time and got confirmation from a customer service agent, I didn’t want any costly surprises when we got to the airport, but it was all good. We got to ride our bikes right to the airport which was nice and low stress.

    The only hassle was navigating my way through both airports, but we managed to find the right elevators and make it through. I’d suggest going ahead of time and maybe planning your path through the airport so you’re not rushing around trying to find a big enough elevator while trying to catch a flight. Also, leave time for the prep of your bike if you’re riding it to the airport.

  17. henry Says:

    Jess, that’s a great story. Were you flying a “regular passenger” of do you have some priority with the airline?

  18. Jess Says:

    I was a club class passenger, but my husband was regular, old economy class and the policy was the same, regardless of your class – $30 per bike (tandem or “long” bikes included) between Europe and Canada. Mind you, that’s per flight segment, so if you have a connection you’re going to pay $60.

    They just put them in these heavy duty plastic bags though (it took 2 bags for the cargo bike). My husband’s light got damaged and one of my cables was bent.

  19. Serra Says:

    Any idea of what shipping a cargo trike to New Zealand would cost? Unless someone would like to ride it from Amsterdam to here? Actually, I’d be happy to meet you halfway… 😛

  20. Maria Says:

    I have been dreaming of a dutch bike for almost two years. When I lived in Italy I had two bikes and both were stolen.

    I was in Amsterdam on holiday with intention of buying my dream batavus bike. So I purchased my bike, took to airport and KLM did not have the tools to break it down, thou someone in shipping helped us get into a box. Her box cost 20 euro and shipping oversize was 100 euro. I got bike from Amsterdam to Los Angeles, rented and SUV and got it Home safely to San Diego. It was well worth every effort.

  21. Claude Says:

    Are you aware that DHL ships from Germany to the ends of the earth a 60xm x 60 cm x 120 cm box for €89 for 20 kg and €121 for 31.5 kg? (and less to USA)? This appears to be a smart way to stimulate German industry. Not sure if they offer the same from your country, but if you can fit your bikes into the box, and get them to Germany, it may be a way to sell to the world at an affordable price. Just send a van across the continent when you have enough orders to make it worthwhile.

  22. henry Says:

    Thanks for the DHL tip but despite the fact that we ship about a million euros of bikes yearly they’ve steadfastly refused to send somebody to talk to us. It seems DHL is only interested in the most ginormous customers in the Netherlands.

    Meanwhile UPS has been treating about as well as one can expect from such a monster of a corporation. They do mangle a fair number of bikes despite our incredibly sturdy packing jobs but we’ve at least got fairly consistent pricing and service terms with them.

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