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I have a road bike that I want to bring with me to the place I will be flying to.

I know that there are bags that are designed especially for this kind of situation: the bike travel bags such as the one shown on the picture below. But, as they are expensive (that one costs £250 for example) I would like to evaluate all the alternatives (if any) before I go ahead and spend so much money with something that I would use once in a blue moon. How could I prepare my bike to be taken on a flight if I don't own a bike travel bag?

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Not really an answer, but I have read many horror stories about bicycles being destroyed by the airlines. Bicycles are strong for their intended use, but (for instance) stacking things on top of your wheels, while they are laying on their side, can bend and break perfectly good spokes. –  Jack M. May 16 '11 at 17:31
    
It's not just airlines. I had a beefy touring rack bent out of shape when train staff put the box on its side and stacked luggage on it. –  Мסž May 16 '11 at 22:09
    
Check with your LBS, mine rents hard shelled bike travel cases! Maybe yours does too! –  GuyZee May 18 '11 at 15:30
    
@Jack - This question is now the seventh item on that search! :) (And that's why we're not taking our bikes with us this summer to Portland.) –  Neil Fein May 19 '11 at 2:56

6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I recently flew to Europe with my wife, and we brought along our bicycles. Our solution was to disassemble them the night before and place them into cheap Nashbar bicycle bags. We wrapped pipe insulation foam around just about everything to avoid damage from handling. For extra protection, we then stuffed these into the standard bike boxes provided (at a minimal cost) by the airline. I would highly recommend the internal bags, as the TSA opened both our boxes during each flight, and did not bother to close the boxes back up. Wheels or other components could have easily fallen out in flight had we not used canvas bags inside the larger boxes.

Also, be very careful about which airline you choose to fly on. Most airlines have a surcharge for checking bicycles, and this can vary wildly between carriers. Our tickets were initially on Delta, who wanted to charge us $200 per bicycle per leg. With a 2-leg trip to Amsterdam and back, this would have cost $1,600 to ferry our bikes, which was ridiculous. Thankfully, we discovered this within the 24-hour cancellation window and switched to Continental, who only charged $100 per bicycle per itinerary, costing us only $400.

At the end of the day, though, transporting your bike via airlines is expensive and annoying. Our next touring bikes will absolutely have S&S couplers to allow us to fit the bikes in regulation-size checked luggage, which should help us avoid airline surcharges and additional TSA inspections.

Good luck!

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normally your LBS has spare boxes from sold bikes and they are more than happy for you to take them (always ask first) I use these boxes to pack my bike into - after all they are shipped in them in the first place.

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Not only will your local bike shop have quality 'virgin rainforest grade' cardboard boxes going spare they will also have the plastic braces that fit inside the front fork, the plastic plug to fit into the top of the seat tube, the plastic spacers to fit on the rear q/r and the foam 'pipe wrap' tubes that go around the three main triangles. They may even let you have a few zip ties that you can use to tightly bind the handlebars to wherever they fit in the box. The aim of the game is to not have anything that can fall from the bike or any paint that can be rubbed off, e.g. from the front hub knocking on the down tube.

Try to pay attention to the gears, if the chain is on the outer chainring and on the big sprocket then it is less likely that the rear mech or chainset will get damaged. As for the pedals, you may need to have some lightweight pedal spanner that actually works, or a big 6mm hex-wrench (if your pedals support it). Ideally you want nothing to rattle.

Bear in mind that boxes come in different sizes, you will most likely want the larger size as these boxes are fairly optimised - you won't get a 23" frame to fit into a box originally designed for a 17.5" frame.

If you are doing a cycle tour you can also use some of your clothing items, towel and other soft items to pad out the box. Get this right and you will have one big box and a manageable amount of hand luggage. Get it wrong and you will have a box that you can barely lift and the airline will not take.

Which brings me on to the next point. Not only do some of the 'proper' boxes cost a minor fortune, they can also weigh a metric tonne (or thereabouts). Hence the cardboard box has a lot going for it, not only is it disposable, it is light too.

Remember that baggage handlers will need handles for handling your baggage, use tape to strengthen the hand holes that are already in the box and tape up the top and bottom so there is no chance of your precious cargo bursting.

Before now I have re-assembled the bike in the airport and dumped the big cardboard box in one of their bins. On the return hop I have also managed to find a not-so-local bike shop, obtained a box and packaged accordingly for the journey home. This is less stressful than relying on the airline having a box. Negotiating the airport is always easy enough because they have little trolleys everywhere.

If you have travel insurance take pictures of your bike before departure and write down the frame number. Also make sure that the bike is completely clean as some countries do object to mud being 'smuggled in'.

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Airlines are not going to let you take a full size bike on a plane with the possible exception of a folding bicycle. If you want to transport your bicycle you are going to have to pack it up. Some airlines sell boxes for this purpose. If you don't know how to do it yourself you can always bring it to a LBS and have them do it for you.

Rather then take it on the plane you can send it through the mail to wherever your destination is and assemble it when you arrive there. Better yet you can send it to a LBS on the other side and have them resemble it for you.

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You should seriously consider a hard case. Baggage gets some rough handling and your bike could get damaged. Me, I once had to flatten the chain wheels on a bike after shipping it.

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I don't think you need a hard case, that may just encourage the baggage handlers to treat your bike more roughly. Read this article on the Guardian by Helen Pidd on an economical way to transport a bike. Of course, she may just have been lucky!

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