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How to Pack Your Bike for Airline Travel

Bike BoxSometimes you just have to bring your bike with you when you fly. Whether you’re going on a biking vacation or joining a bike race in some far away place, there are times when there’s no choice but to pack your bike and get it ready for air freight.

Sure, it can can be a hassle, and it can be a bit expensive. But if you’re going on vacation to a place like Batanes, the hassle and expense are more than worth it.

So just how do you go about it? A lot of readers have been asking me about this after I posted my piece about biking in Batanes. I’m no expert when it comes to packing your bike for flight, but I’ve learned a few things while preparing for our Batanes trip. So I’m now sharing the shreds of wisdom (if they qualify for that lofty description) I gathered along the way.

Get a bike case
If you have the money, it’s worth investing in a bike case. These things are designed to keep your bike safe while in transit.

Aerotech Bike Case

This sturdy hardshell bike case will keep your bike safe. But it weighs 11 kilos and costs 720 euros or 43,278 pesos!

The downside of these bike cases, besides the expense is their added weight. The Aerotech case, for example, already weighs 11 kilos by itself. That’s a lot of extra weight you will have to pay for when flying your bike. If your bike costs almost as much as your car, then the cost shouldn’t be too much of a problem for you. And btw, congrats for being filthy stinking rich! (Can I be your friend?)

Or Get a bike box
If you’re dirt poor like me, your best bet is to get a bike box from your local bike shop. This is a cardboard box similar to the one that was originally used to pack your bike from the factory. If you’re a regular customer at your LBS, they might give you a box for free. But sometimes, they will charge you a minimal fee for it.

Bike Box Cardboard

These cardboard bike boxes are great for transporting bikes by airfreight on the cheap. Photo from Glorious Ride Bikeshop FB Page

In my case, I was lucky enough to have a friend who had a specially designed bike box because of his triathlon pursuits . It’s not exactly a fancy bike case, but it was a bit better than the average cardboard bike box because it has a carry bag. I’m not sure though if this thing is still being manufactured.

In any case, it was still a big karton, and it was a chore to get the bike into the box. So here’s how to do it.

Get some tools.
Like I said, you will need to take your bike apart. A simple bike multi-tool will suffice in most cases. But sometimes you will also need a wrench.

Get some packing material
Packing tape is essential. Bubble wrap or foam pads will also be needed to keep metal from scratching metal.

Learn to disassemble your bike properly
This can get tricky. If you don’t think you’re up to it, ask a bike mechanic to help you. And take notes while you’re at it so you’ll know how to put your bike back together again. But if you’re confident enough to DIY, here are some tips (yet again)

Bike Box

It’s always nice to have a feline overlord supervising the bike disassembly process

Bike in Box

Cat overlord: No, no no human! If you pack it this way, the frame will get scratched. Better start over again!

Cat in a Box

Cat overlord: The bike should fit snugly in the box! Watch me and learn!

  1. First, secure your chain and derailleur.  Put the chain to the biggest chainring, then switch the chain to the biggest sprocket in the rear. Since you’re going to remove the wheels, this should make re-installing them easier since you already know the gearing combination. This way the rear derailleur is also deeper inside the frame which should protect it from bumps when you lay the frame down in the box. Secure the chain with zipties and foam/bubblewrap so they don’t slap against the frame. Others advise removing the rear derailleur and hanger altogether. But master mechanic Mel of Bikefix says it’s better to leave them on because you will have to tune the drivetrain again if you remove them.
  2. Take off the pedals. Just remember the right-sided pedal unscrews counter-clockwise and the left-sided pedal goes clockwise. Tie the pedals together and wrap them in bubble wrap.
  3. Remove the wheels. You need to deflate the wheels as per airline rules. You also need to take out the skewers so they don’t punch a hole through the box. If your tires are of the folding type, you can use them as padding to keep other metal bike parts from hitting and scratching other parts.
  4. Put spacers into your brakes. This is important especially when you have hydraulic brakes which can lock up when the lever is accidentally pressed.
  5. Remove the handlebars. Loosen the screws clamping the stem onto the fork steerer. Remove the headset’s top cap, and just pop the stem and handlebar out.
  6. Take the fork out of the frame. This is not necessary for smaller frames, but for my relatively big size 18 29er frame, it was the only way to get the whole bike onto the box. If you’re going to do this, pay attention to how the headset’s parts come together. You don’t want to waste time figuring out how the fork and headset parts go together.
  7. Remove the seatpost. Or you can also just lower it if that will work with your bike box.
  8. Then carefully put them all onto the box. There’s no one correct way to get them into the box. You just need to make sure that the parts won’t rub and scratch against the other parts. Use bubble wrap or foam padding or rags to protect your bike.

Here are some instructional videos which I also found very helpful.

As you can see, there’s more than one way to fit a bike into a box. Some of them recommend removing the seatpost (I do) while others don’t. Some recommend removing the rotors (I didn’t need to) while others don’t.

Your packed bike will probably look more like this instead of what I’ve shown you in pictures with my borrowed bike box.

Bike packed inside box

Since the cardboard bike box I was using was pretty roomy, I also put my helmet and tools in it, as well as my hydration bag. These helped to keep the bike from rattling or shifting inside the box. This is okay if you’re traveling with a companion who also has check-in baggage allowance. You can mooch off his/her weight limit. But if you’re traveling alone, put the tools and other stuff in your carry on bag to save on the excess baggage fee.

Next, weigh your packed bike and calculate how much you need to pay. Hopefully, it’s not the equivalent of an extra passenger.

And that’s it. Now you and your cat overlord can enjoy some Hoegaarden and try not to miss each other while you go biking in Batanes.

Cat Beer

Bike packed at airport

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