Mar 8 2012

Flying with bicycles: How to box or bag your bike for travelling!

A quick guide to what to expect and how to prepare if you’re thinking of flying your bike somewhere

Linds and I expected to be flying with our bikes, but due to a nasty knee injury (click here for details!) actually ended up having our bikes sent to us in Sri Lanka while we were already travelling; probably a bit of an unusual way of doing it, and one that I would recommend you try to avoid! Whatever your plans, here is what we’ve learnt about flying bikes over the last few months:

Check the terms and the forums before buying the flights

If you’re committed to taking your bike – and let’s face it, hire bikes can be a bit of a gamble – google the airline you’re using (‘bicycles British Airways’ for instance) and see what the latest goss on the forums is regarding their attitude to bikes. Many seem to turn a blind eye to the excess baggage charges if you turn up with a bicycle, but some do not – amongst them is Emirates, who would have charged our friends about £1,000 in excess baggage to bring our bikes from the UK to Sri Lanka. Check their terms and conditions too so that you know what the damage will be if they do charge you. Remember to check in dead early for the best chance of getting away scott-free!

Packing

There are 4 main options here.

  1. Buy a purpose made bicycle case.

    Obviously useless if you’re flying into one airport, cycling cross country and flying our of another. Never used these myself, but it sounds like the sensible way forward if you’re going to use it regularly and you’ve got the cash! These have good reputations:

  2. Use a bicycle box.

    This is what we did. Go to your friendly local bike shop and nab one of the big cardboard boxes that the new bikes come in. Try to get one that’s still intact – ie hasn’t been flattened for disposal. These have big metal staples in, which helps. Also ask them for a plastic fork spacer, and some plastic hub axle protectors. Tell them what it’s for, and they will in all likelihood be more than happy to help. It also helps to tell them what bike and how big it is, so you can get an appropriately sized box.Pack it up like this:

    • Duct tape the ass out of it. All seams should be taped with good tape, inside and out , especially if your box isn’t still stapled. Also put some around the hand hold holes to reinforce them.

    • Prep the bike.

      • Remove the front wheel. Put the plastic fork spacer in to stop the individual fork blades getting bent.

      • Take the quick release skewer out of the front wheel, and pop the plastic hub axle protectors in. If you haven’t got any, place plenty of thick stuff over the axle ends and tape in place to stop the axles punching their way out of your box and getting damaged.

      • Let the tyres down until they have only a little pressure – maybe 10psi – in them. This stops them blowing up at altitude!

      • Remove the pedals. I put the pedals, front wheel QR and other assorted bits and bobs in a bag tied to the frame in case the box broke.

      • Take the handlebars off by removing the stem from the forks. Be careful of kinking your cables!

      • Remove the rear derailleur, wrap it and any spare chain flapping about in newpaper, and wedge between the wheel and the frame or somewhere else out of the way. Tape in place if need be. Again, don’t kink your cables or chain.

    • Pop it in the box. You will probably have to snug the front wheel in front of the cranks and put it in the box at the same time as the bike. You may find you need to remove the seat to close the box.

    • Pad out the rest of the box with your panniers, clothes, children or anything else less precious than your bike that you can think of. If you have lots of spare room in there, consider adding some spacers to hold the sides of the box apart – try polystyrene, bits of plastic drain pipe cut to size etc.

    • Seal it all up with miles of duct tape.

    This method worked great for us.

  3. Buy a padded bicycle bag.

    These are probably the most popular way to go. the bags offer varying degrees of protection; many are very close to the levels offered by the hard cases, but with less weight. the following are highly regarded:

    But if you’re balking at £200+, these two look like conspicuously good value, at under £70 each:

  4. Use a CTC Clear plastic bike bag.This is a relatively new method, and one that intrigues me. It’s very simple, and reportedly very effective. You buy one of these clear plastic bags, which fold down small enough that they’ll fit in the bottom of your pannier, and simply take the pedals off, straighten the bars, wrap up the rear mech and chain, and pop it in the bag. The theory is that if those kind-at-heart baggage handlers can se it’s an unprotected bike, they’re extra careful with it and make sure it’s looked after. Sounds good to me! We haven’t used it because of the huge amount of other stuff we had shoved in the boxes when yours were shipped out to us, but I might be tempted to try it next time!

Getting a bike shipped somewhere

We got this done. It was stressful! The big companies like DHL and FedEx wanted over a grand to ship our two bikes from Manchester to Sri Lanka, which was out of the question. We found a company called Intercargo who offered to fly them for £480. I wouldn’t use them again. The bikes sat in their warehouse for two weeks before they eventually shipped them when I emailed threatening to contact Trading Standards, Advertising Standards, and the big guns – BBC Watchdog! We had no end of bother picking them up too – see here for the story. So check the following:

  1. That the price includes insurance for the full value of the bikes

  2. That the price includes for the bikes clearing customs at the destination

  3. Whether the service is door-to-door, airport-to-airport or something in between.

Finally

Enjoy! You’re off away with your bike – what could be better?! Read about our travels through Sri Lanka, India and Nepal with our bikes here, if you need some inspiration!