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Bikes on boats: A relationship of convenience?

Bob Forgrave

Unless you’ve got a megayacht, space is at a premium. There’s finite storage, and everything is a tradeoff.

Any new purchase needs to be measured against the same two critical factors:

  1. How much will we use it?
  2. Where will we put it that is both convenient and safe?

Sometimes even, “what are we willing to get rid of to make the storage space for this?”

That tradeoff certainly applies to a bicycle, which can be up to 5 feet long (1.5 m) long and 2.5 feet wide (0.8 m) wide. It better be super-valuable!

wide bike bars on dock

Permission to come aboard?    Maybe…

The nautical value of a bike.

It turns out there are a lot of reasons to keep a bicycle on board:

  1. PROVISIONING SUPPLIES. The supplies you’re looking for when you reach port probably aren’t going to be in a store on your dock. Depending upon what you need, they may not even be at the marina. And yet, that’s your destination after getting them. That means you’ll need something with wheel to haul them–either a collapsible wagon with a lot of walking or a bike with large panniers.
  2. EXPLORING. You didn’t come all this way to sit in the marina. Now it’s time to get away from the boat, see new sights, meet new people, and get around. You’ll need a bike that gets around easily, wherever your interests take you.
    riding in the woods

    A day away from the water.

  3. EXERCISE. You’ve been cooped up in a small space for a while. It’s time to stretch your legs and get your muscles going again. But only if the ride is enjoyable. Otherwise you probably won’t do it.
  4. THE NEED FOR SPEED. OK, this one doesn’t affect everybody, but you know if it’s true. You simply like riding on a real bike. Maybe it’s the wind in your hair as you effortlessly breeze down a good shore road at sunset. Or maybe it’s the full-attention rush of rebounding down a not-so-improved trail on a bike designed for absorbing impacts. Whatever it is, you’ll need a bike that matches the activity.   
  5. SAFETY. We don’t think about this often enough, but why do you have a dinghy? If things break down irreparably, that’s your escape vehicle to land. So how do you get help once you’re on land–and will it fit easily in a dinghy?

    bike on a raft

    Tiny boats and bikes can coexist.

Problems with a bike on board.

As we already noted though, it’s not all puppies and unicorns; there are serious space concerns with a bike on board, and other concerns as well.

SIZE. This is a common, glaring problem, but there are at least four ways to solve it:

Standard full-size bike. Keep it above deck, but as out of the way as possible, such as lashed to a railing at the bow. But you know what else is at the bow? Spray. Cover your bike as much as possible, or use a “cheapie” bike that would not be a disaster if it rusts or corrodes.

bike on sailboat

The railing is a good bike place—except for every time you walk past.


House-trained bike. If you have a nicer full-size bike, you can protect it somewhat better by flattening it and moving it to a cabin wall or below deck, if it will fit down the steps. A Flatten Your Bike kit can flatten your bike–handlebars and pedals–in 30 seconds so it can fit easily against any bulkhead.

before flattening after flattening

Full-size folding bike. Strange but true, some full-size bikes can fold in half in under a minute, making them easier to take down steps to put away out of the elements—anywhere you have a 37″ x 14″ x 30″ space.

full-size folding bike

The CHANGE Folding Adventure Bike


Disassembled bike. With enough time, you can make a large bike smaller by taking it apart, putting it in a locker–then you can ride it again whenever you have a lot more time to reassemble it.

Folding bike. The ultimate in tiny storage, a folding bike can fold down to fit in a space the size of a suitcase. Thanks to small (20″) wheels and long posts for seat and storing. Some even have motors to ease the pedaling effort over distances.

2. SAFETY. A boat deck is a busy place, and you don’t even need a sailboat to have lines that need to move freely around the deck, without catching on a bike. The last thing you need at a critical moment, is for something to tangle up in a bike frame, or for a bare ankle to catch a pedal, or an unsecured bike to fall over when a deck hand walks by…


Don’t put a bike here!


3. CORROSION. Bikes have a lot of metal. Boats are around a lot of things that corrode metal: salt water, spray, humidity, fog, condensation–rust sources everywhere.

corroded bike on deck

This bike was useful at one time. Not anymore.

Here are some ways to reduce the impact of corrosion:

A) Store below deck. If your bike will fit, it’s the best most impactful approach.

B) Cover your bike. At a minimum, a drop-over cover will help. But if you have a waterproof bag or cover that fits your bike–and it’s not put away wet–then this would be a great time to use it.

C) Select water-resistant components. A bike chain has over 100 steel moving parts. If you’re able to use a belt and internal hub instead of a chain, derailleurs, and large gear cassette, that would be useful–although the cost for this set up his higher, and the gear range is less than with a standard chain and derailleur setup.

D) Use special lubrication. Wax lube in a bottle is now an option and can significantly improve the protection of your chain and derailleur.


Simply put, galvanic corrosion is electrically charged corrosion, as if something you own (such as a bike) is turned into a giant battery, generating its own corrosion. For this to happen, you’ll need five conditions to be in place:

  1. A cathodic metal or conducting composite
  2. An anodic metal
  3. An electrical connection between the two (they’re touching, without paint between)
  4. An electrolyte (usually salt water)
  5. The presence of oxygen

The last two are obvious nautical considerations all the time. The first two depend upon what the bike is made of. In this chart, we’ll use graphite as a place holder for carbon fiber. We’ll also pay attention to aluminum alloy, steel, and titanium.

Galvanic Corrosion - SSINA

Carbon fiber won’t rust on its own, but anyplace you have unpainted steel (or worse, unpainted aluminum) next to carbon fiber, that’s a galvanic corrosion risk. For example, where water bottle or disk brake bolts attach to the frame or fork. Or, in the case of a carbon bike, where the bottom bracket shell goes into the carbon frame. How’s that interface?

On our aluminum bikes with carbon forks, the frame paint protects the frame/fork interface, and bolt-mounting insert painting protects the parts of the aluminum frame where steel mount points are used. Even so, we have had at least a couple of customers in humid areas request replacement of the steel front fork mounts with titanium bolts.

Putting it all together.

If you already have a bike that you love, then you may need just a small boost to give that bike a bit more protection on your boat. Consider house-training it with a Flatten Your Bike kit. On a boat, every bit of space saved matters.

Or, if you’re looking for the best bike for a boat, here’s a suggestion: The CHANGE Folding Adventure Bike, from Flatbike, for three amazing reasons:

  1. It can go places. With 38mm tires and a 466% gear range (from 0.78 on steep hills to 3.66 on the flats), this 6061 aluminum bike is equally comfortable on trails or roads, flats or steep hills. That range is for the single-crank 1×11 version. The 2×11 gear range is even larger.
  2. It can fit places. Despite being an excellent full-size bike, it also folds down to 37″ x 14″ x 30″in under a minute, making it more stair-friendly than any other full-sized bike. Store it below deck for low maintenance and longer life. And it’s more secure because it’s out of sight.
  3. It can carry stuff. Because the CHANGE Folding Adventure Bike is a real bike with 700c wheels, it works with standard panniers (or oversize panniers) with plenty of room for your heel on the back of the pedaling cycle, so you can carry all your stuff in fewer trips. Remember that 0.78 gearing? Your wheels turn just 3/4 of a turn for each pedal revolution, transferring lots of power to each increment of climb, which is very welcome when you’ve got a heavy load on a steep hill! So go ahead . . . spring for that cabin on the bluff with the panoramic view.

The same frame is available as a drop-bar bike in the CHANGE Folding Gravel Bike.

Would you like to win a CHANGE Folding Adventure Bike for FREE?

If you want to win a CHANGE Folding Adventure Bike, you’ll have to do something really difficult. You’ll have to visit the Seattle Boat Show and visit a bunch of boating booths. Life’s rough.

The event organizers are having a scavenger-type contest. Visit enough of the displays on the list, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win one of these amazing bikes. The bike you’ll see there is this one below, but the winner can choose among three colors (Arctic Blue, Pine Green, and Matte Black).

bike-artic-blue-section bike-artic-blue

See you at the Seattle Bike Show?

Bob Forgrave


Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.

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