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I will need to take my bicycle on a flight with me, but I'm not sure how I'm supposed to pack it. Some websites claim it's sufficient to pack the bike in plastic, but I'm not certain if that's enough for it to survive the trip. Others recommend using the original box, but I no longer have it and have no idea where to get one.

So what's the optimal way of shipping a bike that would be accepted by airlines and keep the bike safe from damage?

  • The optimal way is to have a bike with S&S couplers as this allows the bike to be packed into a suitcase that can be checked as normal luggage. I have one that has probably taken 50 flights without handling damage (though bits have worn out from the frequent disassembly). For less-than-optimal packing of bikes without them I've gotten boxes from my local bike shop. – Dennis Jul 16 '17 at 16:26
  • @Dennis It looks as if the S&S coupler concept only works if you accept severe limitations in the choice of bicycle components. Especially the restriction to 26" wheels will be a no-go for many racing and touring bicyclists (larger wheels won't fit in an airline size suitcase). The example bike models are also very stripped down. It does not look as if there is room for common components like luggage racks or mud guards in the case. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jul 16 '17 at 18:20
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    I had the same question some years ago, and it all depends on the airline. Each airline seems to have their own rules for bicycle packaging from 'no special packaging required' to 'we don't transport bicycles at all'. Depending on where you are flying from, it may also be difficult or impossible to obtain any suitable packaging material on site. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jul 16 '17 at 18:23
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo, My bike is a very old version of this. I have both mudguards and a rear rack for it. My 700x28 tires/700C wheels fit just fine even with the air left in them. I use a soft-sided case and leaving the air in bulges the case a bit but protects the wheels. I've traveled a lot with this bike and have not yet had it refused as check-in baggage. – Dennis Jul 17 '17 at 0:08
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    @IvanMcA that discussion has been had repeatedly over at bicycles.se with no conclusion, but most people saying it doesn't make much difference. Note that most round-the-world cycling records were set on 700C wheels. – Chris H Jul 17 '17 at 8:26
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I have flown my bicycles without boxes on several occasions. Just remove the pedals, turn the handlebars sideways and rotate them down so the brakes levers are not protuding.

You can get a factory shipping box from your local bike shop and use that. Get a big one to have extra space and easier packing.

You can use a large heavy duty plastic bag. But I would prepare the bike the same way as my no box example.

Some airlines may still have cardboard boxes, but these are becoming rarer.

You can buy a bike case. They are not cheap and need to be stored during your ride. But they are sturdy.

You could buy a Bike Friday, which fits in a suitcase the the check-in agents won't know it is a bike.

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    I’d be cautious about shipping the bike without a box. As others have pointed out, baggage handlers aren’t known to be particularly gentle (and conveyor belts may be a risk of their own), so your mileage may vary quite heavily here. – user149408 Jul 16 '17 at 23:32
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    @user149408 - I have been leading bicycle tours all over the world for 30 years, my bikes have more miles flying than most commenters here. Baggage handlers treat unboxed bikes well, they are easier to pick up and load than an unwieldly box, they can see it is a bike, etc. Everyone has secondhand tales of damaged bikes, but realistically the majority travel without issue. – user13044 Jul 17 '17 at 2:32
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    As @Tom says it is substantially easier for baggage handlers to handle an unboxed bike. If they can see it is a bike, and they can wheel it easily, they will do this. If it is in a box it is incredibly unweildy. I've flown with bike 100s of times and IF the airline will take it unboxed (not all will) that is my preference. This is for relatively my sturdy steel/aluminium/titanium touring bikes, my carbon and lightweight titanium road bikes always in a specialized heavy-duty plastic bike box. But most bikes, you can send them as is and IMO it is not only less hassle it's safer too. – Ivan McA Jul 17 '17 at 4:13
  • So you're saying I don't need any packaging at all, as long as I remove the pedals and rotate the wheel + the airline accepts it? – JonathanReez Jul 17 '17 at 8:30
  • @JonathanReez it completely depends on the airline/airport. There is no universal rule. Some (in my experience, most) do, some do not. The issue you don't want to end up in is standing in front of checkin and they absolutely won't take it unboxed, and your flight is within the next 60 minutes, so I would suggest you clarify that in advance and turn up to checkin early. – Ivan McA Jul 17 '17 at 10:06
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There are many options for getting a box for your bike. It all depends on how much you want to pay. I did a quick google of Airline bicycle travel box and came up with choices ranging from cardboard boxes for $US40 to solid plastic travel cases for $US600

Also there are places like this company that will ship your bike for you and have tips and videos on how to pack your bike, and will also sell you packing materials.

  • Note that those solid plastic travel cases are more suitable for road bikes than for touring bikes, as there may be no space for "accesories" like suggage racks, fenders/mudguards, bike lights, etc. – gerrit Jul 22 '17 at 17:39
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Anecdotal, of course, but worked for me on my Warsaw - Sydney trip, where I brought two bikes (one road, one mountain).

I got 2 cardboard bike boxes from my local bike store (they throw them away - at least in my case - so you can get them free). They're fairly sturdy, definitely more solid then your typical cardboard box. In order to fit the bikes into boxes, I needed to take the wheels, saddles, forks and handlebars off. Didn't need to unscrew brakes - just needed to realign the handlebars to a more vertical position.

I bought foam pipe insulation, cut it into pieces of fitting size and wrapped it around the frame elements (didn't wanna crack it - carbon, I think aluminum/steel might require less care), attaching it with cable ties. I also bought a whole lot of bubble wrap and triple-wrapped everything. Since I had limited luggage allowance, I didn't take a suitcase, instead i stuffed my clothes in with the bikes for even more protection ;)

Taped the boxes shut and wrapped them with plastic wrap.

The bikes weren't damaged, although the same cannot be said about boxes. One axle popped through one of the boxes (undamaged) and the plastic wrap was torn badly.

Naturally, your mileage may vary. Luggage handlers aren't particularly gentle.

Edit: One thing you may want to check first is the luggage size limit (not just weight). I flew Emirates, their rule is that the sum of dimensions of each piece of luggage cannot exceed 300 cm. As far as I remember, the boxes were something like 147x80x30, so they fit in with a bit of room to spare.

One answer suggests having it delivered. This greatly depends on your starting point and destination - I checked the pricing for a delivery from Poland to Sydney - would literally cost me more than flying back from Sydney, picking it up and flying to Sydney again. Can be very prohibitive.

  • delivery depends on the method used. I have heard of people POSTING their bikes to Australia and New Zealand from Europe (in the regular mail) for a cost of only €60-70 or so. Couriers are much more expensive. But many airlines, particularly long haul are free, if it fits within your baggage allowance (typically 20-30kg). – Ivan McA Jul 17 '17 at 4:17
  • It was 30 kg in my case, or rather 60 total, as I wasn't travelling alone. I wasn't able to find a company that would deliver it for a reasonable price from Poland, though. It was either very expensive and taking 3 months, or extremely expensive (as I said, literally more than Emirates tickets there and back, and it's not exactly a budget carrier) and quick. Obviously, if it was a short return trip I'd never bring it with me, but in terms of emigration it made much more sense. – Lasooch Jul 17 '17 at 4:45
  • "Luggage handlers aren't particularly gentle." Indeed. When Star-Peru finished with my Brompton, it cost several hundred dollars to make it rideable again. – WGroleau Jul 17 '17 at 12:38
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It completely depends on the airline as to what they will accept. They are all different, there is no one universal answer. You also won't necessarily get a clear answer from them either, and what they say on their website may differ from the reality of what they actually accept at checkin. Arrive early and be prepared to argue and sign a liability waiver. Note most airlines want advance notice you have a bike. Note as well that in many cases the airline matters less than the airport, it's the airport that does the baggage handling after all.

It also depends on what type of bike it is. I have flown hundreds of times both with heavier duty touring bikes (steel/aluminium/titanium) and lightweight road bikes (carbon or titanium). My touring bikes I almost always fly with unpacked, IF the airline will accept them that way. MOST airlines will. Some you need to argue the point at checkin and sign a waiver. My road bikes I always put in a dedicated heavy-duty plastic bike box (B&W) which cost me hundreds of euros and is extremely heavy.

I am of the view that if you are packing the bike, you either do it properly or not at all. Like Tom says, an unpacked bike is substantially easier for baggage handlers to handle- they can (and do) wheel it about th place. A box converts that into an extremely large, extremely heavy and unweildy piece of luggage and they will handle it roughly. They will literally throw a box off the plane down onto the tarmac. They won't do that with a naked bike, honestly, they will lift it down. I have seen this with my own eyes again and again and again and although I have never had a bike damaged packed in the B&W box, I have had the actual BOX damaged badly, through abuse... because they will absolutely throw boxes around with abandon. I have NEVER had a naked bike damaged in this way.

As such, "wrapping in plastic" is IMO the absolute worst thing you can do. It gives zero actual protection to the bike, but it does convert the bike from an easy to handle object that can be wheeled to a large unwieldy object that can't.

It's advisable if you have big pedals to be able to take them off, but with SPDs, I just leave them on and put some foam on them so they don't damage anything else. I lower the saddle but to be honest that I think is optional. That's it, I literally cycle to the airport, lower the saddle with an allen key, stick some foam on the pedals and give the airline the bike, like this: http://i.imgur.com/jOxBuqf.jpg

  • +1 for the first sentence. Some require boxes (which is not to say they'll take good care of them. I was on the same flight as a competetive team and they used hard plastic cases taking two bikes each. – Chris H Jul 17 '17 at 8:30
  • Interesting to keep the bottles on it, I'd expect the bike to be transported laid down where turbulences might lead to bottle loss ... but we'll, a bottle is cheap – johannes Jul 22 '17 at 23:22

protected by JonathanReez Jul 16 '17 at 23:42

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