Inspiration: Big Trip

Freighting your bike: by sea or by air?

Top tips for global motorcycle adventure

You want to ride your bike across America, Thailand or Europe but the thought of leaving your best buddy behind is a potential deal-breaker.

It’s a common and understandable dilemma capable of deterring all but the most determined and confident of riders. But getting your own Triumph to the start line isn’t as tough or daunting as you might think. Here’s FTR’s simple guide to help you leave your worries back at home.

What documents will I need?

Most countries will give you a temporary import permit, providing you can prove it’s your personal property. For that you need the registration document (V5) in your name, your passport and driving licence (plus an international driving permit too).

Some countries also require a ‘carnet de passage’ – an internationally recognised customs document entitling the holder to temporarily import a vehicle duty-free into their territory.

Many airlines and shipping companies will only deal with you through an agent so that they know they’ll get all the correct paperwork.

By air or or sea?

Air is obviously far faster and generally more reliable than sea with quicker customs clearance. But it can be expensive.

Sea freighting takes longer and can be unpredictable, with stormy weather capable of seriously disrupting transit times. Ports also tend to be unionised and bureaucratic. However, it’s considerably cheaper than air freight.

If you are travelling in a group, think about hiring a standard 20-foot container which can take six bikes. Another possibility is to use the ‘roll-on roll-off’ ferries that carry new cars between the main hubs of Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia.

Simply ride to the UK port and your bike is wheeled on at one end and off at the other. If you’re ‘old school’ you can hire a cabin on a freighter cruise ship and take your bike as accompanied luggage.

8 steps to prep your bike for international adventure

  • Some airlines insist the tank must be drained of all fuel. Otherwise 2-litres maximum can be left inside.
  • Disconnect the battery and cover the connections with insulation tape to avoid sparking.
  • Remove the screen and mirrors to prevent them being damaged, cover in bubble wrap and strap to the seat.
  • Panniers can normally be left attached but remove the top box and place it on the floor of the crate.
  • Deflate the tyres to around 26psi and slacken off the suspension ready for the bike to be strapped down to the crate or pallet.
  • Removing the front wheel can save hundreds of pounds in air freight charges, which are calculated by volume.
  • Ensure the bike is clean and free from leaks. Some countries are very strict about protecting their environment from plant and insect contamination.
  • Remove any pressurised containers or liquids from your tool kit – jerry cans, chain spray etc.

Kevin and Julia Sanders hold the Guinness World Record for the Fastest Circumnavigation of the World by Motorcycle. In 2004 they set up GlobeBusters, an overland motorcycle expedition company that specialises in taking riders on amazing journeys to unusual destinations. Find out more at