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I'm planning on flying to Japan for a bicycle vacation early this spring. Having had a look at flight bags, I'm puzzled. They are expensive, weigh tons and are huge, I couldn't feasibly bring them with me on my bicycle trek. I might be able to rent storage for roughly a month in Tokyo, but it seems like quite a tedious project on its own.

How do the rest of you manage? Remove the wheels and wrap the thing up in (EDIT: cardboard and) plastic-wrap on the airport, have it checked in instead of luggage, and then use the panniers as carry-on luggage? Is it safe? Has anyone had their bicycle damaged or stolen during transport?

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For packing, a box from a bike shop will do fine and you can chuck it in the recycling when you get to Tokyo and find another before flying out. Most bike shops will give these to you if you ask nicely and even if they charge you, it ain't going to be much.

A much bigger issue is airline choice. Options for flying with a bike range from free to pay by the kilo in excess charges to some obscene special bike charge. Read up and check the baggage allowances for sporting goods very carefully.

If you fly a lot, get a loyalty card, the extra 10kg you get on most airlines' lowest tier covers a bike in a box nicely. And if you get some special luggage tags, that can't hurt either.

My bike has survived a few flights totally unharmed, this was in a bike box though. Though I do have friends who have shipped a lot of bikes all over the place in cardboard and I've never heard of any problems. Not that it can't happen, it's just unlikely. You can't move for bikes/bike shops in Tokyo so getting spares isn't going to be an issue.

Getting your bike stolen is not going to happen. Walking out of the secure side of an airport with a bike up your jumper is going to raise eyebrows.

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  • Very sound advice. – andy256 Nov 10 '14 at 5:15
  • One more reason to get a light bike :D – Vorac Nov 10 '14 at 9:27
  • I will add that a roll of duct tape will do wonders to reinforce a cardboard bike box. Hit the corners and edges and especially reinforce the areas around the handhold cutouts. Those handholds tend to get torn out by the baggage gorillas and can lead to total failure. I've used a single box for multiple trips with duct tape backup. – Deleted User Nov 10 '14 at 18:52
  • What airline gives you 10kg extra luggage allowance with a loyalty card? Is this info now dated? – RoboKaren Dec 21 '16 at 8:12
  • Almost every one I've looked at. I should be clear that I mean the lowest level of benefits, not just membership. – alex Dec 21 '16 at 8:30
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Plastic wrap? Really? Have you seen what happens to regular luggage on airlines these days? Aside from baggage handlers occasionally throwing stuff around, you have all the conveyors and drops and what not.

There are bikes like the Travelers' Check built with SS couplers

enter image description here

which are designed to pack down for flights and stuff (and folding bikes and what not).

But, if you're insistent on taking your bike, pack it in bike bag and fly it. Hardshell (few hundred bucks) is toughest, but the most expensive. Softshell is cheaper and more padded (few hundred bucks). A cardboard box is an option (few bucks), but if the box gets wet or something, it could fail.

This link has inside perspectives from a baggage handler who is a cyclist who suggests softshell since it will load better on a bike.

A cheaper option in net may be to just buy and sell a bike in Japan or rent one there.

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  • Very nice link, thanks! Well, a cardboard box wrapped in plastic wrap could be a cheap and relatively safe way then :) – Jay Nov 10 '14 at 2:47
  • With a steel/aluminum bike you would see any damage, with a carbon it could be difficult to see - but life is full of risks anyway. – Craig Hicks May 25 '15 at 1:38
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I took a bike to Italy in 2012, in a soft bike bag, which weighed ~2kg. The bag was borrowed from my brother who travels frequently with bikes; I followed his advice ...

The bag was my only luggage - everything I was taking was packed in the bag, and around the bike.

Before going,

  • I obtained a "fork cover" for the front fork (a thing like a horses bit that fits into the forks where the axle usually goes), so that the fork ends didn't poke through the bag.
  • Removed both wheels and wrapped them in bubble wrap.
  • Took the chain off the front ring, so that the derailleur could fold up.
  • Wrapped the chain, derailleurs, and chain rings in cardboard.
  • Wrapped every part of the frame in bubble wrap, with the handle bars turned sideways.
  • Strapped the wheels to the frame, then added the rest of my luggage.

As Alex has said - check the airline carefully. I flew with Qatar (it wasn't cheap); when I arrived in Rome I had to go to a special baggage office to collect my bike. I was delighted with the reverence with which the staff handed me my precious steed.

When I unpacked it, everything was 100% fine.

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Wrap your bike in plastic is not an option.

Pay a shop to box in cardboard. In Tokyo pay a shop to assemble.

For the trip back pay a shop to disassemble and box in cardboard.

With assembly, disassembly, boxing, and shipping you are going to pay $1000.
You might want to look at rental.

There are bikes built for shipping.

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  • 2
    That's ridiculous, why should I pay $1000 for something I could easily do myself? I can disassemble, put it in a carton and bring it with me as checked luggage on the airline I'm flying with, for free. – Jay Nov 10 '14 at 2:19
  • You asked about wrapping in plastic. "Remove the wheels and wrap the thing up in plastic-wrap". And there is more to it than just removing the wheels. What airline lets you have full frame bicycle as checked luggage for free to Japan? – paparazzo Nov 10 '14 at 19:28

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