The beauty of the Schengen area
Europe is awesome, especially since the 90s when the continent’s unification took up speed. It’s incredible how countries and nations that have fought each other for as long as history remembers finally reached the logical conclusion that cooperation is always better than competition. Today, 26 countries have no borders whatsoever and 420 million people can travel freely from one place to another without obstructions. Four more countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus) are expected to join in at the end of this year, making it possible to travel between the Atlantic and the Black Sea, and the North Sea and the Aegean Sea without crossing any border checks.
So, how do you get through borders in the Schengen area? You just go through. Well, you do have to keep in mind that in the new country, there might be some different rules for cycling or bike transportation. For example, all rear bike carriers for cars are forbidden in Portugal. Moreover, in Spain, for example, it’s compulsory to wear a helmet outside of urban areas (with a few exceptions). On the other hand, in Bulgaria, you need to wear a reflective vest when riding outside city limits at night. So, when you are crossing into a new country, make sure you know the local laws. The beauty of Schengen is that this is all you need to keep in mind when crossing the border.
Crossing a border while carrying your bike
Crossing the border with a bike on a bike rack is really nothing special. Well, at least until the customs officer tells you to open your boot for inspection. Then you must dismount your entire bike collection and let them check your luggage. Other than that, there is really nothing to it. Moreover, during the summer months, so many people travel through these countries with bikes that border police are already accustomed to it.
This being said, you need to follow all local rules for installing and driving around with a bike rack. In general, you need to have a third licence plate if the bike fully or even partially obstructs the visibility of your rear licence number. Usually, such a number is issued by your local authorities, and it costs anywhere from 15 to 50 euros. Of course, this might differ based on your country of origin, so it’s best to ask at your local DMV.
Furthermore, when mounting your bike, ensure your rear lights and stop signs are visible. Otherwise, you may get a hefty fine.
Do that, and you will have no problems passing the border and enjoying the ride.
Crossing the border while riding your bike
Crossing any international border while riding your bike is pretty much the same as passing it on foot. Naturally, there are some things you need to have in mind. For starters, not all borders will let you through. Some borders pass through difficult terrains, tunnels and other infrastructure forbidden for cyclists, so make sure you’ve chosen a route you can actually use. Keep in mind, as well, that not all border officials will let you pass through the pedestrian checkout, and you might be forced to return to the back of the queue. This heavily depends on your attitude and how much of a jerk the border official will be. If you get sent back or pointed to another queue, don’t argue. Just go with what they say. After all, the goal is to cross the border, not to prove you are right.
Some borders have separate lanes for motorcycles and mopeds. You might want to try this one first.
To be honest, wherever you go, you will only get a mix of strange glances and admiration from both other travellers and border officials, so even if you go through the car lane, you will most probably have no problems.
Speaking of the car lane, skipping the queue is always a possibility but make sure the other drivers are OK with it. For example, in the Balkans, the crossing lines may end up being several kilometres long during the summer months, so there are many frustrated drivers, and if you just come and cut in front, they might lose it. A better tactic is to go near the border check and politely explain to a driver that you can’t afford to wait in line, as it is not safe to ride in the dark, so if they are kind enough to let you in front, you will be grateful. 99% of the time, this will work, and the driver will start asking you about your trip. If they refuse, just go straight to the car behind and do the same.
What to bring
That heavily depends on where you are going. For example, if you are entering Belarus or Russia, you will probably need visas. Moreover, each country has its own rules, so you need to check them and prepare accordingly. Nonetheless, we suggest always carrying some essential documents with you. A passport or an ID card – or better yet, both – are a given. It’s a good idea to have a driver’s licence as well, as some countries have rules for needing a driver’s licence to ride on public roads. Also, make sure you have a bell, front and back lights, and some reflectors. We would suggest wearing a helmet, as most border officials are not too familiar with the local laws for cycling. They might try to argue with you over wearing protective gear, so it is better to avoid this needless argument.
Finally, we would suggest having a copy or two of your purchasing certificate (be it a receipt or another document), just in case someone dares to suggest you’ve stolen the bike. This, however, rarely happened, and there is only one such story I read while researching the topic. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The rest is up to you.
Crossing international borders with your bike might only sound stressful. But in fact, it’s quite easy, and more often than not, you are just waved on to continue your journey. Occasionally, you will be asked where you are coming from and where you are going, accompanied by shocked expressions, but in general, you will be met with understanding and kindness. So if you still haven’t tried it and you fear you might get into some trouble, just follow our advice on what to bring, check if there are some special rules for your neighbouring country and just go. There’s really nothing to it.