CTC Cycling UK Plastic Bike Bag
I managed to take this on a trip in 2022 between Bologna Italy and Heathrow on British Airways and it worked well.
The huge upside is that you can fold it and take it with you on your touring trip, no need to find a storage place at the airport.
My bike is a sturdy/cheapish/heavy-ish touring bike, and it arrived without damage.
Folding the bag is slightly annoying as it is a bit hard to get all air out. You basically should start from the back, make it narrow, and push air out with forearm on ground, then fold a bit to prevent air from coming in, and so on. It does not become minuscule, but definitely small enough to carry on the a pannier rack.
How to pack your bike
While the airline guidelines at https://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/baggage-essentials/sports-equipment https://archive.ph/lKvkZ were useful:
If it’s a non-rigid bag, please make sure the handlebars are fixed sideways and the pedals removed or fixed inwards. It’s also best to reduce tire pressures.
they cannot possibly be accurate for every airport, because it is the oversize luggage security people that decide what flies or not, not the airline. Even the check-in people don't necessarily know the oversize details, and in both airports gave me wrong indications, so do get there early.
I would better phrase as:
- turn handlebar
- definitely deflate tires
- lower saddle
- remove pedals. I put my pedals in a plastic bag which I tied to the bicycle, together with the small wrench I used to undo the pedals. Definitely something you don't want to try and take on cabin.
- ask security if you have to take off the front wheel. This was required in Bologna but not Heathrow. The possible problem with removing the front wheel is that the front part of your front mudgard will be destroyed as the bike tumbles around, so you will have to undo the front mudguard as well to prevent that.
Also, you will need some tape to close the bag. I just took some 24 mm wide transparent packing tape https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0772RLVNW , and it worked perfectly. You don't want something wider or stickier than that, as it might be hard to remove afterwards.
Also, obviously you have to train the packing in advance. My pedals and handlebar were a bit stiff since I hadn't removed them since forever, awesome bicycle shop people to the rescue.
I had already broken the mudguard when testing it at home myself, so "no problem removing it" there.
Road mode, with bag folded on top of a pannier rack bag. I don't have a better photo, one day maybe:
At the airport
So what you do at the airport is as follows. Take the bicycle unpacked to check-in. Pray that the check-in person doesn't require you to pack it, because if they do:
- you will have to take the packed bicycle all the way to the oversize luggage point, which might be a bit of a walk with the heavy package
- the security people might ask you to unpack it for their chemical security checks
But if they ask you to put in the bag, you do it, what can you do.
Next, go to the security people, and ask them what they want you to do before you do it.
This is what happened in both airports for me:
- check-in lady didn't ask me to put it into bag immediately, gave me stickers, and told me to put it into bag and take to security people
- I found oversize luggage point, talked to a guy, and he said I could pack it
- I started packing, but then another security guy came and said, don't pack it yet
- they took me into their chemical security check part
- the guy passed a test cloth over every single surface of the bicycle. Just making a hole on the bag as some people suggested would not have satisfied him
- he also asked me to deflate tires, presumably because you could put explosives in the tires
- he also asked me to open my saddle bag, and a plastic bag where I stored the pedals to scan that too
- then he asked me to pack the bike right there at the security area. It was a small space, but with the help of the three Hindi speaking guys, it was easy. You can't go back out of the security room after the check for security purposes
- they put the sticker on the bicycle hand, inside the bag. I asked: "are you sure, how will people see it properly?" He said it's fine. When it arrive in Bologna, they had made a hole through which the handlebar came out with the stickers...
- check-in lade insisted I put into the bag because she didn't believe it would be small enough
- I put into bag, she's happy, I take it to the security people, a bit of a walk
- security person says I need to remove front wheel, so check-in lady was wrong about size which she insisted in checking by making me put it into the bag in the first place...
- I unpack, remove front wheel, repack, security guy is happy
- in Bologna, I didn't even see the security person, everything is done through an intercom and conveyor belt making communication much harder. The security guy even asked "Why didn't you remove the front wheel?". "Because the check-in lady didn't tell me to!"
Getting to the airport
As of 2022, it is currently impossible to "legally" cycle or walk into Heathrow terminals 2/3. There is a tunnel that goes under some runways, but the pedestrian path is closed, and there's a huge sign saying that you cannot walk or cycle on the car lanes. I got there without knowing it, and thankfully I found the place where they park the buses, and the driver took me with my bicycle in the trunk in as he was going there anyways. He also said that there are cameras, and sometimes the police comes pick up cyclists who ignore the sign. The easiest way is without doubt to take the train, which allows taking your bicycle in them unpacked. This terrible situation is due to the works ongoing in the tunnel, and it should be solved when the tunnel is ready:
I would do similar research for any other airport before trying to cycle there.
In Bologna they don't take bicycles on the airport train. But I had checked that the roads were cyclabe in advance on Google Street View
Muhammad saving my life on the bus in Heathrow:
In UK and Italy
Be careful with large cities if you're not used to them! Lots of cars! Danger!
The Alps can be dangerous. Doh!!!
- I had a 900m vertical downhill of switchback on semi crappy roads. And this was part of an Eurovelo route!
- I met a guy that had gone through snow in parts of the alps, in late May. He said he basically skied downhill. And he couldn't break because his hands where too cold. When he reached a village, local people though he was mad.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance. Make sure your insurance covers cycling accidents.