Transporting Bikes From DC to Fort Lauderdale
September 25, 2012 8:27 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to get five people, their camping gear and five touring bikes from Washington, DC to Fort Lauderdale and back again?

After nearly a year of planning I'm finally taking my dream bike tour in December. We're using an Adventure Cycling map and starting from Fort Lauderdale and riding down through the Keys and back across to Fort Lauderdale after taking the ferry form Key West to Fort Myers. I've done a fair amount of bike touring, but never a trip that's started and ended so far from home and I'm totally stumped about how best to transport the tourists, our gear and our bikes from DC to Florida.

The three options I've figured out are as follows (with pros and cons):

Drive from DC to Fort Lauderdale with our bikes.
Pros: Very slightly cheaper than flying. We wouldn't have to take our bikes apart. Roadtrips are fun.
Cons: Would add an extra day to the trip on each end. Where would we put the car while we're riding? Will hotels let you store a car for a week and a half if you have a reservation on either end of the trip? Are there other spots in Fort Lauderdale where you could leave a car safely for that long?

Fly with our bikes checked as baggage on the plane.
Pros: Would have our bikes immediately upon landing.
Cons: Expensive (between $50 and $200 each way depending on airline!). Would have to disassemble and box up bikes. Difficult to get boxed bikes to and from the airport.

Have our bikes shipped to a bike shop or our hotel in Fort Lauderdale before flying down.
Pros: Less expensive than checking bikes as luggage. LBS could help reassemble our bikes.
Cons: Dependent on reliability of FedEx. Would have to disassemble and reassemble bikes. Would have to ship bikes early as the trip begins on a Sunday (no FedEx delivery) due to campsite availability.

Which of these options makes the most economic and logistical sense? If you have traveled with your bike, which would you recommend? Which would you avoid? If we check or ship our bikes how amenable are hotels to storing empty bike boxes for a week or so until we get back? Or would we have to acquire a new box from an LBS in Fort Lauderdale for the trip home? Are there any bike tourist-friendly hotels or awesome local bike shops in Fort Lauderdale that could assist with these logistics?

I can't wait for this trip, but the details of getting there are starting to give me heart burn. Help me, bike tourists of AskMe!

Bonus Question: Before I leave I'll be taking my beloved touring bike in for a tune up. Is there anything in particular I should have the bike shop guys look at and/or potentially upgrade before we depart?
posted by fancypants to Travel & Transportation around Fort Lauderdale, FL (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Drive and leave the car in paid long term parking near an airport or ferry terminal. Way less stressful and no chance of a lost bike.
posted by fshgrl at 8:46 PM on September 25, 2012

One potential other option might be to rent a sleeper car or two and take Amtrak from DC to Fort Lauderdale. It's overnight, but you'd be in the same place as your bikes. (Caveat: I haven't travelled with a bike on Amtrak, but you could probably phone them and ask how the baggage handling would work.) Otherwise, I suspect that driving makes the most sense logistically, given the potentials for losing such essential gear for a bigger group and the hassle of boxing and shipping five separate bikes. (For $400 dollars a bike, you could almost buy a decent used bike and just leave it in Florida!) Have the driver leave the car in a long-term lot like fshgrl suggests and they can hop a cab back to your group and the starting point.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:14 PM on September 25, 2012

Here's another option: the auto train from Sanford, FL to Lorton, VA. You'd have a car if you needed it, be able to safely transport the bikes, and you wouldn't have to worry about the long drive.
posted by Flamingo at 9:22 PM on September 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

Here is one little detail that might make your trip more manageable: There was an interesting post on Cool Tools recently about one of the better ways to ship bicycles. Seems like they really have it down to a science, and significant savings as well.
posted by seasparrow at 9:31 PM on September 25, 2012

So, I think I would go with Option C, with the bikes shipped directly to a local bike shop. Otherwise, you'll have to get to Ft. Lauderdale, pick up the bikes at your hotel, bring them to shop, and have them assembled. If you arrange in advance to have them shipped to an LBS, they can start assembling them in advance. Then, at the end of the trip, bring them back to the LBS and have them pack them up and ship them back. I'd have bike shops on both ends do the shipping.

I suspect you're going to want to take a last minute trip to a bike shop before your trip anyway, so I don't think you'll be going out of your way to do this.

Plus, this way you can fly with a bunch of stuff and not worry about the hassle of taking your bikes on the plane.

I think your local LBS can give you some great tips on this when you bring your bike in for a tune-up. As for what to ask them to do: just tell them what you're doing, and they'll have some suggestions.

Have fun!

My second choice would be Option A, driving with the bikes, if you have a vehicle big enough to hold all of you and your bikes and your gear. I'm sure you can find a hotel in Lauderdale that would let you keep your car there for a week.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:36 PM on September 25, 2012

How about shipping them via Amtrak Express? You could still fly, if you preferred, but the bikes would take the train. You need to put them in a box, but I think the boxes Amtrak uses are a lot larger than the FedEx box used by EBike (seasparrow's link); typically you just need to remove the front wheel IIRC.

They don't have a lot of information online so you'd need to call them to ask about the closest station to your start point that handles shipments.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:47 PM on September 25, 2012

Also, I've heard anecdotally of people who've shipped bikes via Greyhound (they offer oversized fast freight services), almost always in Amtrak boxes or legit plywood crates. They go to places that Amtrak doesn't, although in Florida that may not be too much of a concern.

If there's an Amtrak station within ~20 mi I'd go that way, but if not, Greyhound or another bus line might be the way to go.

If neither of those pan out, personally I'd ship my bike LTL freight in a big box before I'd start really disassembling it (removing tape, shifters, handlebars, etc.) for FedEx or UPS's standard services. Might cost a bit more, although probably not if you have several bikes and crate them all together, and then reuse the crate for the return trip. I'd consider shipping to a bike store and paying them a reasonable fee to store the crate for you during your trip.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:59 PM on September 25, 2012

Best answer: I would totally do option A. It's a 16 hour drive and you've got presumably multiple drivers. Once you figure in the transit time + bike shelpping/reassembly/dissassembly time for any of your other options, you are not saving all that much time, the logistics are simpler and less heartburn inducing, and it's cheaper.

If you plan everything right so you can minimize stops on the way down (pack meals) and have your bikes prepped and ready to roll before you leave DC, you could leave gawdawful early Saturday morning and be in a suitably situated Ft. Lauderdale hotel by 10 pm and ready to roll the next morning.
posted by drlith at 4:09 AM on September 26, 2012

My first thought was Auto-Train, it's not cheap, but it leaves Lorton, VA at around 4:00 and you get to Sanford, FL some where between 8:00 and 10:00 AM. I've done it twice and it's pretty good. (although the food sure isn't.)

As for parking, there are tons of hotels along 17th St or near the hotel that will allow you to leave your car for a week if you stay a night. Ft. Lauderdale has a ton of cruise-ship traffic and this is a perc of staying in one of those hotels.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:01 AM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: Auto Train all the way! It's the best. It's also incredibly cheap, really; people here are saying it's expensive but I just did it with a sleeper car for under $500. Best money I ever spent. (Honestly, when you calculate gas, meals, lodging for that trip? You're basically paying not much.) Bonus: you can pack up your car with all your crap, so you're not paying shipping. ALSO you can get a group room on the train for less per person.

That's a very good bike trip, by the way. Though I'm slightly sad that you're circling the Everglades. I suppose it can't be helped. (Unless you bike down from Fort Myers to Naples and cut across the Tamiami Trail (aka "SW 8th Street"). But then getting back up to Ft Lauderdale is tricky.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:09 AM on September 26, 2012

Agreed on the train idea, auto train, train just for the bikes. Memail me if you want local bike shop recs, I'll ask some of my big biking friends.
posted by tilde at 7:42 AM on September 26, 2012

Amtrak is amazing for bikes--I'm not sure what the options are like for shipping if you're not taking the train yourself, but checking a bike on the train is by far the cheapest way to transport it. You can buy a bike box from Amtrak for $15, and then it's $5 to check. Your bike will most likely fit if you just turn the handlebars sideways and take off the pedals (or at least, that's how it worked for my Salsa Vaya and my friend's LHT this summer).
posted by Vibrissa at 8:22 AM on September 26, 2012

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