Road tripping in Great Britain is fabulous, but sometimes you just want to go where the sun shines and the roads are empty, which generally means heading off this island of ours and into Europe (or further afield). We recently returned from a two-week road trip over in Spain, and in order to maximise our time and mileage in this fantastic motorcycling country, we decided to spend some cash transporting our bikes without having to ride them all the way. I mean, motorways have their place, but they’re no fun.
There are a few methods to get motorcycles from the UK into Europe and further afield, some involving more riding than others. The train is pretty good for bikes, and we’ve used that a good few times, the ferry from Folkestone, Dover, Portsmouth or Plymouth is very regular and can be convenient, and of course you can also freight your bike by sea or air like we did when we headed over to Vancouver (I’d recommend Motofreight). The option we chose to try out this time was Bike Shuttle.
Bike Shuttle is a Northampton based company that specialises in getting motorcycles to and from Europe in its small fleet of specially kitted out lorries. This allows bikers to fly to Toulouse or Geneva while Bike Shuttle drivers travel overnight with the bikes, meaning riders avoid two or three days of toll roads and monotony (and aching backs…), and can make more of their time away.
We wanted to have as much of our two week holiday in Spain as possible, so that we could see as many mountain ranges and desert plains as we could. We therefore chose the Toulouse route, which leaves Northampton on a Thursday and arrives on a Friday morning. And it really was very easy indeed.
We arrived in Northampton at our allotted 8.30am slot, where we were greeted by name and given our paperwork. We provided a copy of our registration document and a key, signed the customs note to say we’d packed our bikes ourselves (all our camping and other gear could travel with the bikes), put our helmets in the provided hard case and the rest of our bike gear in a large duffel bag, and that was pretty much it. There was a changing room so we could get into some more suitable gear for flying, free tea and coffee while we waited, and toilets on site. While other bikers arrived and got themselves sorted we took the opportunity to take a look around the lorry that would be transporting our bikes to Toulouse and chatted with the drivers, who clearly knew what they were doing, we felt very confident and happy leaving our bikes in their hands.
Our journey over to Luton airport was included in the package we’d booked, which was on a comfortable “executive” minibus that dropped us off at one of the car parks on the airport. I assume the drop off is there to avoid airport fees for using the terminal-side bays, but it was only a ten-minute walk to departures, and we didn’t have any luggage to carry with us so it was no bother (we could have caught the free airport bus but they’re not particularly frequent and we don’t like waiting!). The journey was a little stressful courtesy of a closed M1, but we still got there with time to eat before we caught our Easyjet flight to Toulouse.
It is worth noting that the £399 base price quoted on the website is just that, there are a lot of extras if you want the full service. For example, you pay extra if your bike is considered “big”, i.e. is a GS or cruiser style bike, extra for the airport shuttle, and extra for the hotel in Toulouse. You also book your flights direct with your chosen airline, we went with the recommended Easyjet flight because it was cheap and at a convenient time. In all we paid £1,064 for our two GS’s, including the “big bike” extra, airport transfer in the UK, and our hotel for the night. This was one way, as we were not returning with Bike Shuttle in order to give us more options for our route through Spain. Not a cheap way of doing things, but time is money as they say, and this saved us at least two days, probably three.
We landed in Toulouse at around 3pm and, once through security, caught the hotel shuttle bus to the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, where check in was super easy – we basically just signed next to our name on the group booking and picked up our key. If you do the same, it’s best to call the hotel as soon as you get out of the terminal building as you’ll be waiting a while otherwise. Our room was super nice, there was a bar and a pool, and we basically had the rest of the day to ourselves as our bikes weren’t due to arrive until the following morning. We did think we would use this time to head into Toulouse to see what was there and get some dinner, but we made a mistake and headed to the wrong train station, and so rather than getting the shuttle bus back to the airport to find the metro (which we should have done in the first place), we just went back to the hotel and used the opportunity to relax instead. Still, we had a lovely wander in the sunshine around this primarily residential area. Dinner was actually not too expensive and was pretty decent, so it wasn’t exactly a fail, just not what we’d planned.
Back to our Bike Shuttle experience (I’ll be writing more about the trip itself another time). We were told that our bikes would be ready for us by 10am at the absolute latest, but we actually received a text message at 7.20am to say they had arrived, unloaded, and our keys were available to collect from reception. It really was that simple; we had our bikes and gear before we’d even had a cup of tea, less than 24 hours after dropping them off in Northampton. We still made the most of our included breakfast, naturally!
And that was that. We started our ride from Toulouse in the middle of the morning, riding through the Pyrenees into Andorra and then into Spain. We spent our night at a lovely simple campsite close to Llavorsi in the north of Spain, having ridden around 290km of primarily beautiful mountain roads (well over 2,000 metres more than once), twisting and turning our way through three countries on what could have easily been a motorway day. Being on the good roads straight away made that day much nicer than it would have been without Bike Shuttle.
We’ve already been chatting through ideas for trips where Bike Shuttle will be our service of choice, including spending a week exploring the Pyrenees in greater detail, spending more time in the Picos de Europa, or finding out what the south of France itself has to offer. I am so glad we booked this rather than a two-way ferry crossing or the train – it might have cost a bit of money, but it was smooth, well organised, saved time and tiredness, and was definitely worth it.
If you’re looking to do a motorcycle road trip down in the south of France, Spain, or indeed the Alps or elsewhere, I would recommend checking out Bike Shuttle to see if it could also work for you.
We booked and paid for the Bike Shuttle from the UK to Toulouse ourselves as part of this year’s road trip to Spain. This is not a supported or sponsored post. More on the road trip – and that fab looking tent – another time.