Getting from Geneva to Aix-les-Bains (and beyond) with 2 bike cases
February 15, 2020 3:24 PM   Subscribe

A couple cycling friends of mine are taking a guided bike tour through the Alps in June. Their tour company (that one of them has used before) has everything covered during the ride but aren't proving very helpful in explaining how to move around Europe with two big bike cases (in addition to the usual backpack).

For various reasons including frame size and physical needs, the bikes have to fly with them. The cases are standard Serfas ones so nothing surprising there. Complicating this is that the tour starts and ends in different (though fairly close-together) cities, so the usual "just ship the bike" doesn't work well because they'd still have to get the shipping boxes from tour start to end. The tour company is unable to move them because their available vehicles are immediately starting SAG, etc. They're arriving on Saturday afternoon and riding out Sunday morning so anything involve La Poste is probably out of the question.

So, their story (the big question is in bold):
We're flying to Geneva with an overnight layover in Lisbon. Lisbon shouldn't be an issue because the airport has paid "left luggage" service.

My concern is getting from Geneva airport to AirBnb or similar lodging arrangement and then from AirBnb to the train station where we'll catch a train from Geneva to Aix-les-Bains, France. Getting from Aix-les-Bains train station to the tour hotel could also be an issue (I don't think it's walkable).

On the return, we'll take a train from Chambery, France back to Geneva, spend one night, and then back to the Geneva airport.

So, overarching question is... is it possible to get from point A to B with 2 bike cases and 2 backpacks (oh, and 2 people) on multiple different occasions given that we wouldn't be able to fit bike cases in a traditional taxi or Uber (European cars = compact).

Maybe we could ship bikes to a bike shop in Aix-les-Bains and then back to the US from Chambery if carting said bikes around is simply not realistic.
Intrepid bike-case adventurers of MetaFilter, any advice or leads for my two friends?

posted by introp to Travel & Transportation around Geneva, Switzerland (4 answers total)
Best answer: The case isn't that big. It's 47″x30″x11″ so like 4 feet x 3 feet. Worst case scenario is they take two cabs. Sit in the front, put the case on the back seat if it won't fit in the boot. It will, though; there will be plenty of mini vans and estates/station wagons in the taxi rank in Geneva.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:49 PM on February 15, 2020

Best answer: I have done this dozens of times for bike touring and randonneuring all over the world and they seem to already know what the answer is. It's either going to cost them a lot of money for cabs, or a lot of money and hassle for shipping.

The size of European cars has never been an issue for me even just ordering random Ubers. They're just going to need 2 of them, one for each bike and person. The case isn't that big.

They probably don't want to hear this after spending the money on the Serfa cases, but the hard cases are the real problem here, not the bikes. Every step of their journey becomes much more expensive and much more of a hassle with a hard case. The bikes have wheels, they can ride them, but you can't ride a bike and carry a hard case. I have a soft case that breaks down to fit into a standard shipping box, I usually just pack that box in the case with a prepaid postage label and send it to my destination (usually by dropping it at a post box inside the airport). I've never had an AirBNB or hotel have a problem with holding a normal size package until my arrival, but they will certainly balk at storing a bike-sized hard case if you mail it ahead.

The other best solution is a cardboard bike box that's been packed by a bike mechanic. Because it's disposable, bike shops are everywhere, they already have a relationship with a shipping company to handle bikes, and pretty much any bike mechanic on earth will do an excellent job of packing it for the cost of their time ($40-60). This is usually the least hassle option IME, you just drop it off and the shop will take care of it. I would start calling bike shops near their hotels/train stations/etc. to inquire.

Maybe I'm not reading their itinerary right, but seems to me the easiest thing to do is fly to Europe with the bikes in cardboard bike boxes, ditch the boxes at recycling bin next to baggage claim, and ride between all of these transfer points. Their problem isn't the bikes, it's the cases.

Also PS: for what a Serfa hard case costs, you can get your bike painted professionally.... twice. Knock on wood, but even after many many flights the worst that's ever happened to any of mine is a few cosmetic scratches)
posted by bradbane at 4:25 PM on February 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In this case it sounds like Geneva might be the right place to store the bike cases and assemble the bikes. The regional TER trains accept bicycles. I've had good luck with leaving bike cases at hotels for relatively reasonable costs.
posted by lantius at 6:42 PM on February 15, 2020

Best answer: Be advised that early June is prime strike season ("la grève"). Train travel may or may not run smooth. The good news is that it's very easy to rent a car in Geneva airport. Just a US driver's license works fine, and it's not any more expensive than the US. If it turns out that way, look up how to exit the airport on the French side vs Swiss side as it there is a special Swiss highway tax, even for just a few miles.
posted by dum spiro spero at 10:05 PM on February 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

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