Shipping the bike – Who knew it would be this complicated

Introduction

Before we get started, take a moment and think about the travel and logistics of embarking on a trip like this.  You’re probably thinking, well, I need to fly to Tallinn, Estonia, so that I can begin my trip, and I need to get the bike to Tallinn as well, so I’ll just call up a shipping company, and have them pick it up, box it up, and ship it to Tallinn.  Am I right?  Is that what you’re thinking?

Who knew it was so complicated

As our current president was famous for saying about Healthcare in America, “Who knew it would be so complicated”?

Well, the reality is that I have found that shipping my bike to Europe is a mind-boggling, and complex task.  Let’s see if I can lay it out for you, so that you’ll have an appreciation of what has to happen, in order to get the bike and the rider at the starting point, at the right time.

Air or Water – That’s the question

At the highest level of logistical decision, getting me and the bike to the starting point (Tallinn, Estonia) requires that I decide to either ship the bike on a plane, or on a boat.  Shipping on a plane, as you might imagine is much faster, but also much more expensive, while shipping on a boat or ship should cost thousands less, but it could take up to 7 weeks to get to the destination.

Comparing the costs of shipping my bike against renting a bike

The tour company that I’m using will be glad to rent me a motorcycle, almost identical to the bike I ride today.  They will rent me a 2018 or 2019 BMW R 1200 GS Adventure bike for about $150/day.  And so the cost of renting for the 73 day trip would be about $11,000.  But, there’s a catch (or two).  First of all, I’m planning on adding some tourism time both before and after the trip, so let’s assume that I’ll need the bike for 90 days instead of 73.  The new cost is now $13,500.

At 6’5″ tall, you can’t just purchase a BMW and assume that you’ll fit on it perfectly.  And so, in my case, I’ve had to make numerous alterations to my bike, costing perhaps as much as $4,000 to equip the bike with adjustments that allow it to fit me properly, and also to provide some of the functionality that I desire.  This includes upgrading both the front and rear shocks, in order to perform best with my height and weight.

If you rent a bike from a tour company, you need to be sure that you’ll be able to modify the bike to suit you.  We know that some tour companies allow you to make small alterations to the rental bike (raising the handlebars, and lowering the foot-pegs) but no tour company on Earth modifies their rental fleet with high-end suspension systems.  It’s just not done, and so if I rented a bike, I’d end up with a bike that did not fit me well, did not tolerate my height and weight, and did not have all of the other integrated enhancements that I desire.  Neh, not desire, demand!.

So, if I rented a bike, I’d spend almost $14,000 for the rental, and be mostly dissatisfied the entire trip.  What a bummer…

So, it looks like I’ll need to ship the bike.  I wonder how much that costs…

How much does over-water shipping cost?

I’m going to generalize all of this pricing information about over-water shipping, because the level of detail and variability from shipper to shipper is simply too much to write in this Blog Post, but here goes…

In general terms, shipping a bike from Charlotte, NC to Finland is about $1500.  Some shippers will pick up the bike at your home, and others require that you drop it off at a designated port city.  For example, two of the shippers offer a port in New Jersey, and also Atlanta Georgia.  And so, I would need to get the bike to either of these places, in order to start the journey, or I would need to pay a premium, on top of the $1500 in order to get the bike crated, and protected for the journey.

It’s reasonable to assume that I could ship the bike for about $2000, one way, all in.

How long does it take for over-water shipping?

You can see that the cost structure makes over-water shipping more desirable than the expected costs of air freight, but in order to take advantage of over-water shipping, you have to allow the shippers and agents to completely fill their cargo holds, which could take quite a while.

First, you need to arrive at the port, and get the bike crated up. Then, you need to turn it over to the agent, who works with the shipper to place the bike in a container, which is then filled to the brim with all manner of other items that need to go to the same city that you’re shipping to.  I’ve been told that this part alone could take 1-3 weeks, depending on the amount of cargo being shipped between these two cities, for this agent.

Next, you need to understand that the container then has to be placed on a cargo ship, and obviously these ships need to be unloaded, and then reloaded.  After loading of all containers, the ship then follows its schedule, and embarks for the port of call. This part of the process could, once again, take 2-3 weeks.

Once the bike is on the water, it has to make it’s way to Europe, which could be another 2-3 weeks.  and finally, the ship has to be unloaded, and each container has be unloaded as well. This could take another week at the port.

Adding all of this up, and considering all of the variables, you should assume that you’ll be without the bike for about 7 weeks, give or take.

Being without the bike is a minor inconvenience, but the bigger issue is that I need to time these activities so that there is virtually no chance that I’ll miss the start date for the tour.  So, I’d need to add another 1-2 weeks, raising the total of shipping time to 9 – 10 weeks maximum.

Summarizing, if I ship using over-water container ships, I can spend $2000, be without the bike for 9-10 weeks, and still not be 100% assured that I’d be able to star the tour on time.

Given all of these variables, and the difficulties that come from having the bike arrive early, or late, we really need to look at shipping using Air Freight.

How much does it cost for Air Freight?

Well, I’ve been asking standard air freight carriers, and I’ve received a couple of estimates, ranging from $7,000 – $8,700 USD, one way.  But, at least it will arrive on time.

What are you kidding?  I can’t spend $8,000 to ship the bike, that would simply kill me, so I need another plan.

As it turns out, Air Canada seems to be the world’s leader in Motorcycle shipping, via Air Freight.  It may sound Strange, but I’ve heard about Air Canada’s special deals, and discounted shipping fees for several years now, but have never had the need to really look into them.  And so today, I called Air Canada to inquire about shipping costs, and you know what I discovered?

Air Canada is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most competitive motorcycle shipping company in the world.  There are a few stipulations that you have to manage to, but overall their package is compelling and cost effective.

They offer two pricing models.  If you’re shipping to Europe the cost is about $1300, and if you fly on Air Canada, the price will drop to about $1000.  So, it’s a cost effective model, but there are, of course, several issues with their model.

So, what’s wrong with Air Canada Cargo shipping?

First of all, they do not ship from the US, so I’d need to get the bike to Toronto or Montreal.  The next issue is that they don’t fly to Tallinn, Estonia.  The closest destination is Frankfurt, Germany, which is 2000 miles from Tallinn, Estonia.  And so, even though it sounds like a great option, you can see how it’s unusable, right?

Notice the distance between Charlotte, and Toronto, as shown below.  I suspect that I’d make this ride in about 2 days, relaxing a bit, and enjoying myself along the way.

What are the traits of a good Adventure Motorcyclist?

Ask 10 people, and you’ll get 10 different answers, but all of those answers would include a statement something like this…  An Adventure Rider must be able to adapt, and get along.  On any adventure, there will be a myriad of disruptions, interruptions, and impossible challenges, and since you’re committed to your own personal adventure, you have to figure out how to make it all work.  Whether it’s having a blacksmith weld a broken frame, or having a 10 year old kid in a village use gasoline fumes to seat your tire after changing a flat, you have to be prepared to think like a 3rd world person.  Remember, you’re in a remote place, and you can no longer expect the “customer service team to make it right for you”.

So, the essence of an Adventure rider is to be flexible, adaptable, and to be a creative thinker.  And so, let’s revisit that question about Air Canada Cargo

More about Air Canada Cargo.

If we simply get just a little bit creative and put on our thinking caps, we can find a way to make the Air Canada issues become virtues.  So, once again, here goes…

Instead of trying to fly into Frankfurt, and then traveling 2000 miles overland, I could fly into London.  Flights from Toronto to London are plentiful, and because of the high number of these flights, I’d have a lot of schedule flexibility.

So, I could fly to London, and pick up the bike in London.  From there, I could begin an “alternate journey” to either Helsinki Finland, or Tallinn, Estonia.  The trip would be a combination of trains, high-speed trains, and ferries.  The journey of 2000 ground miles could be replaced with a journey of trains and ferries, which is probably about 2300 – 2500 miles.  But, imagine how awesome it would be to spend 4 days on a train or ferries, making my way across the North Sea, into the Baltic Sea.  Or perhaps, I’d travel by train to Hamburg, Germany, and then take a ferry across the Baltic Sea to Helsinki, where I might spend a few days, at which time I would once again get on a ferry, cross the Baltic Sea to Tallinn, Estonia, the starting point of my tour.

Let’s take a look so that you can see the options…

As we look at the options, and if we close our eyes and add a little bit of imagination, we can now see that what was recently seen as a logistics problem, is now another phase of an Epic Adventure.  Hooray for us, put another one in the W column.

How do we get the bike back home at the end of the trip?

Now, if you thought that getting the bike to the start of the trip was hard, wait until you see this next part; Getting it home.

Looking at the map below, you’ll see that it is many thousands of miles of transport to get the bike back to Atlanta, or Charlotte.  In fact, it’s just about halfway around the Earth, so it’s roughly 25,000 miles from Bangkok to Atlanta.

The good news is that by that point in time, I will have been riding for nearly 100 days, and it will be the winter period in South Carolina.  So, I can put the bike in a container, and then wait for it to make the slow journey back home, right where it all started.

In Conclusion

I’ve still got a bit more work to do, in order to be sure that I’ve got it all worked out, but we can now expect that I’ll be able to ship my bike from Toronto, to London for about $1,700, then I’ll spend another $1000 or so to get to Helsinki (hotels and berths on the train or ferry), and then another $100 or so to get to Tallinn.

All of this seems to me to the foundation of a good plan, but as a great General once said, no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and so I need to be prepared to adapt and adopt.  Good thing I’ve got 10 1/2 months of time to plan.

About the Author

Cliff Musante

Cliff Musante is a technologist, business leader, motorcycle enthusiast, father, grandfather, and more. In June, 2013 his passion for motorcycles was revitalized, and he set out to ride across Patagonia. Since then, he's logged thousands of miles, ridden across the US, and is planning a trip through Russia and China. This 'Blog is the story of all of his adventures.

Comments

  1. Many years ago we shipped our GoldWing to London via Lufthansa. The cost was much less than renting a bike for seven weeks. The good thing was that the bike was put on a palate and bubble packed with our equipment in the saddlebags and trunk. The other good thing was that you were not required to drain all the gas and the oil from the bike. Shipping on a boat usually may requires that you first drain the fluids. The other nice thing was simply being able to ride awayaway from the dock warehouse after the bubble pack was removed. Good luck – Jim Roberts

    1. Hi Jim,
      Excellent suggestion about using Lufthansa. I’ve called them, but it seems that I’ll need to talk to a specialist, which I’ll do on Monday, when they return to work.
      thanks for the suggestions

  2. wow…the adventures begin! a day in the life of a motocyclist world travellor. glad you have such a wonderful trip ahead of you in 2019.
    Anne

    1. Hi Anne,
      Nice to hear from you. Yes, for sure. This post describes the first of many, many adventures that I’ll have, all of which will be in advance of the real adventure. But, getting there is half the fun, right?

    1. Bruce,
      I would love for you to be able to join me. So, think about it, and let me know if your Adventure gene starts to get stimulated.

  3. Wow, and wow again. You should contact the History channel to do a reality TV show. This is great stuff. It could be titled. Cliff, World Adventurer.

  4. What a fantastic trip! I can’t wait to follow you travels. Love the details of the planning too–keep them coming! Yes, nothing is easy, but nothing worthwhile is easy either.

    1. Larry,
      Thanks for the support. I’d like to see many of you folks report back that, as a result of reading this Blog, that they’ve decided to head out on their own adventure, no matter how large or small.

  5. The route of this adventure is daunting friend. Tallinn to Bangkok!!! There are some serious miles, territory, mountains, and cultures to traverse. It’s a bit of a joke, but when one puts these two points into Google Maps and asks for directions, Google says “No Way” ! I notice that prior posts discuss the tour route, so I’ll catch up. Just the same, kudos for “The Adventure” .

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