Packing A Bicycle For Flying
It’s important to pack your bike carefully for that long oversea flight and also importantly, getting to your first hotel room with a minimum of fuss. The way we pack depends on the airport that is our final destination and hotel options once we get to the airport.
Our bikes in airline luggage and a box.
The arrangement above is our standard way of traveling with bikes, two pieces of luggage and one box. The two pieces of luggage almost alway fly for free, we are charged for the box about 50% of trips, depending on the airline. There are four wheels in the box and the rest of bikes are in the luggage. Our bikes are steel frame and include S & S Couplings on the frame that allows the bikes to be disassembled and placed in containers that fit within airline size guidelines.
Four wheels in a box. Notice the wooden support in the center of the box, through the wheels. This helps to keep the wheels from being damaged during shipping.
The primary reason for using cardboard boxes is that they are inexpensive and easy to find. Sometimes bike shops will give them to you for free. And you can put other things in the box such as cloths and panniers. These items will help protect the bike from luggage handlers.
We frequently travel from and return to the same hotel after completing a ride. Most better hotels will store your luggage while you are traveling, check with the hotel before making a reservation. If you are traveling from multiple locations, cardboard boxes are inexpensive you can just abandon the boxes and find new ones when you are ready to return home. For example, if you are flying a multicity route, into one city and flying home from a different city, just dispose of the boxes and find new ones at the end of the trip.
The Box Any type of box will do as long as it is within airlines size rules. We mostly use bike boxes because they are large enough to hold all four wheels. Wheels are the limiting factor. Since we have S & S couplings on the frames, our frames will fit in any piece of regular sized luggage and the smaller parts such as dérailleur, pedals, seats, etc. will also fit in any type of luggage. With take-a-part frames only one box is needed for two bikes, this box will mostly just hold the wheels. Its possible to put a complete bike into one piece of standard size luggage if you have a small bike but usually two 700cc wheels, bike parts, panniers, and travel necessities will not all fit in a single piece of luggage..
If picking up a bike box at a bike store, ask for plastic spacers which go into empty forks and wheel protectors. These items help prevent forks from being bent and wheels damaged when the bike is shipped.
One bike in a standard size luggage. Note the wooden support in the center.
Packing Materials Bike shops will have packing materials and almost any kind of materials will do. On your return home, you may find a shipping and packing store that will sell inexpensive packing material. Dumpster diving is also a way of getting packing material. Tools, pedals, seat, lights, lock, water bottles or pump can go into the various open spaces of your box or luggage. Fill up any big holes or places where things may move around by putting your cloths in also.
Tools Use the same tools to disassemble your bike as you will use when you get to your destination. That way you can be sure you can put your bike back together. Take along an assortment of screws and small parts that might be needed such as a brake cable, shifter cable, batteries, screws that hold the panniers, zip ties, a universal chain link.
Getting to the First Night Stay
The final choice on how to pack your bike depends on your destination and where you intend to stay the first night.
If You Have a Long Distance or Obstacles to Overcome to get to Your Hotel
If it is a long distance to your first nights stay from the airport, an option is to make your bike box easy to move through the airport and to ground transportation. In some international airports it might be a fairly long walk to a bus or train that will take you into a city. From Seoul Incheon it is about an hour ride into town. An idea we have tried and seems to work great is to fasten a set of wheels to the bottom of the box. The wheels do not have to be any special kind. The wheels used in the photo below where found on a Home Depot close-out rack for fifty cents. The idea is to sort of fasten a skate board to the bottom. I suggest putting a thin piece of wood inside the box to give the wheels some support and fastening the wheels on the outside. Half of an old skate board would work great.
Bike Box Rollers is another idea. These wheels are ready made and will fit any type of box.
Traveling through Seoul Incheon airport with wheels on bottom of box.
Closeup of attached wheels.
If You Have a Short and few Obstacles Your Hotel
If it is a short distance to your first nights stay there are many options.
- You can just get a taxi.
- Have the hotel pick you up.
- Assemble you bike in the airport and ride away. This we have done when we don't want to keep the box. Or maybe take a train nearer to the hotel and assemble the bikes on the train platform.
Close the box with a generous amount of strong tape and write your name and contact details on all sides with a black marker. Close any holes in the box from previous trips. Be sure to tape all corners, the bottom seam and sides.
Remember to bring extra tape in case you need to open your box for inspection and reseal it again. Airlines will usually reclose the box but sometimes they don't have tape.
The return trip home If you are in a city you did not arrive in and your boxes have be abandoned a new box will have to be found. Boxes can be found almost anywhere, in dumpsters, at appliance stores, behind shopping malls. Sometimes just pieces of cardboard will do if you have lots of tape. Scope out likely places to find a box on the last ride day as you near you hotel. We always allocate two nights at the final stay to allow time to pack the bikes.
Empty boxes going to the room to be filled with bikes.
A great find, just the right size.
At a hotel putting our bikes into boxes for the trip home.