Organisers of cycling events, an environmentally aware bunch, increasingly insist their competitors reach the start without using aircraft.
The Torino Nice Rally might go this way, although the organiser James Olsen tells me he wants to keep it rideable in 5-days (just!) so people can tackle it with only a week off work.
During my ride, I met people from around Europe and the UK who had travelled to the start by train and bike bus. The challenge of travelling that way from Scotland proved too great for me. Some groups of friends drive. At least one cyclist rode all the way there from the UK, and presumably, home again.
Hardy souls do this ride. You can see Short videos I shot and edited during the ride, and the more considered videos produced afterwards in this YouTube Playlist.
Assuming you are going to fly with your bike you immediately face the question of ‘open-jaw’ (ie into Turin, out of Nice) or in and out of just one of those airports. If you’re flying from a London airport you have the luxury of choice. Elsewhere it’s limited, with flights to Turin from Scotland and the North of England requiring a plane change in Gatwick with the associated potential for bikes to go astray, not to mention additional CO2 emissions with the extra take-offs and landings of four flights in total rather than two.
Fortunately, there are direct Edinburgh-Nice flights, so the choice was made for me.
Then the question is hard-shell bike box or cardboard? You have no choice if you’re flying into Turin and out from Nice, it has to be cardboard (unless you're brave enough to ship your empty box between the two cities). Be warned, bike shops experience high demand for their cardboard boxes in mid-September when the TNR riders hit town. Nice airport sells cardboard bike boxes but, by all accounts, these are very flimsy and need reinforcing with tape to survive the journey. Quite what protection they offer your bike is unclear, but small bags have reportedly dropped out of holes torn in the cardboard.
If you take a laid-back approach to all this and you’re happy to arrive with no real plan, then you’re much cooler than me. I like things nailed down in advance; bookings made, hotels sorted, and transport agreed upon.
Having made a few mistakes, I’m fairly sure I now know the best way I'd want to travel to and from the TNR.
My recommended plan
- Fly into and out of Nice airport and transport your bike in a hard-shell bike box. If you’d like tips on flying with a bike check out this video.
- E-mail airport hotels and ask whether they will store your bike box in exchange for you booking two nights, one outward and one return. Ibis Budget Nice Airport Hotel was happy to do this free of charge. The photo shows my box behind reception waiting to go into their luggage storage. I also did this when I flew to Bordeaux in March.
- Nice Airport T2 International is at one end of a tram line that runs through the city. This is a good way to transport a bike box provided you’re not travelling at rush hour. The first two stops (T1 and Grand Arenas) are free, and the tram drivers are used to people with hefty luggage, but get into the back carriage just to be sure.
I only discovered this on the return, having trundled the box for +30mins to the hotel on my way out. The most significant distance is between the two airport terminals, T2-T1, whereas T1 to the Ibis Budget Hotel is a relatively short hop.
- Most of the airport hotels are in Arenas, but the closest stop for the Ibis Budget is Airport Terminal 1 from where it’s an easy 10min trundle, assuming your bike box has wheels.
- The easiest way I found to transport a bike and rider to Turin is FlixBus. Bikes either hang on the back or go inside the luggage compartment, and you book the bike place when you book your ticket, although you don’t know how it’ll be carried. You’ll need all the bags off the bike if it’s going to hang off the back, so a big, disposable carrier bag is practical into which you stuff that luggage.
- There were no bike spaces from Nice when I booked, so I took the train from Nice to Ventimiglia, stayed one night, and then took the early bus from there to Turin. Direct would obviously be preferable because the Nice-Ventimiglia train gets very busy with tourists heading to Monaco. There was no chance to use the bike hangers with people sitting directly underneath and I couldn't even get onto the train I had booked with SNCF, despite having than bike pace.
People tell me trains are an easy option but I found otherwise. I was told Italian National trains take bikes as they are, while regional trains require them to be disassembled - or was that the other way around? Either way, I found the websites impenetrable. By contrast, the FlixBus website and App were a paragon of simplicity and clarity.
That’s it. The rest is down to you. My analysis of the kit I used, what worked and what didn't, is next.