How to Pack a Bicycle for Airline Travel

How to Pack a Bicycle for Airline Travel
Whether you and your bicycle are flying to a road race, a touring trip or for recreational riding, it's crucial that your bike arrive in its destination intact. Cyclists who travel frequently with their bikes may want to invest in a hard-sided bicycle box, but in most cases, a cardboard bike box works just fine and is available free or very cheaply from any bicycle store.

Especially if this will be your first time disassembling your bike, make sure to allow ample time for this process. DO NOT plan to pack your bike at the airport.

Instructions

Difficulty: Moderate

Before You Disassemble

Things You’ll Need:
  • Cardboard bike box at least the size of your bike's frame Plastic fork protector, available at most bike shops Packing foam Packing tape Several zip-top bags Allen key Pedal wrench or hex wrench Rags Large black marker Air pump Digital camera
  • Cardboard bike box at least the size of your bike's frame
  • Plastic fork protector, available at most bike shops
  • Packing foam
  • Packing tape
  • Several zip-top bags
  • Allen key
  • Pedal wrench or hex wrench
  • Rags
  • Large black marker
  • Air pump
  • Digital camera
Step 1
Take digital pictures of your bike before you begin to disassemble it, including close-ups of individual components. These will serve the dual purpose of helping you remember how your bike is put together, and creating a complete pre-travel record in case the bike is damaged in transit.
Step 2
Write your name, address and phone number several times on the box in large black letters.
Step 3
Write "FRAGILE" at least once on each side of the box.

Disassembling the Bike

Step 1
Remove the pedals, using the pedal or hex wrench. You'll have to turn the left pedal clockwise to remove it. (Clockwise threads are used so that your pedaling doesn't accidentally unscrew the pedal.) Place the pedals and wrench in a zip-top bag and tape them to the bike's frame.
Step 2
Let all of the air out of the bike's tires. The de-pressurized air at altitude can cause inflated tubes to burst and damage the tires.
Step 3
Loosen the front brakes and remove the front wheel, using a wrench if it's not quick-release. Store axle skewer and hub hardware in a zip-top bag, taped to the front fork of the bike. The back wheel should remain on.
Step 4
Place the fork protector on the fork to prevent it from being crushed during travel.
Step 5
Use an Allen key to loosen the handlebar stem, and turn the handlebars down to minimize their profile.
Step 6
Re-tighten the handlebar stem. Turn the handlebars sideways against the frame of the bike, and tape one to the frame to secure it.
Step 7
Remove the saddle and pack any hardware in a plastic bag, taped to the bike. Tape or tie the seat underneath the top tube.

Packing the Bike

Step 1
Lay a strip of foam at the bottom of the box to prevent damage to the fork and the gears.
Step 2
Tape or tie the removed front wheel to the side of the frame, so the center of the wheel is about even with the bike's pedals. Place a piece of foam between the wheel and the frame.
Step 3
Tape and wrap. Check the bike for loose parts and tape anything loose to the frame. Wrap any delicate or sharp parts with foam, such as gear shifters and brake handles.
Step 4
Carefully place the bike in the box, back wheel first. The seat stem should be the closest part of the bike to the top of the box.
Step 5
Put the tools, air pump and rags into a plastic bag and place them in the box.
Step 6
Tape the box shut, wrapping the packing tape all the way around the box.
Step 7
Take digital photos of the outside of the box for your records, in case there is damage to the box upon arrival.

Tips & Warnings

 
In most cases, turning the handlebars down will allow the bike to fit into the box. If you have exceptionally large handlebars, you may need to remove them entirely. Make sure you leave the brake cables intact, and use tape to secure the handlebars to the top tube of the bike.
 
While you're planning your trip, contact your airline about specific policies regarding traveling with a bicycle. Many airlines charge $100 or more for oversized packages such as bike boxes. Depending on the price of your ticket, this extra cost may be a determining factor in which airline you choose to fly. Keep in mind that oversize packages such as bikes are often the first to be bumped to another flight if the plane is oversold. If your schedule allows, plan to be at your destination 2 full days before you need your bike for an event.
 
While you're planning your trip, contact your airline about specific policies regarding traveling with a bicycle. Many airlines charge $100 or more for oversized packages such as bike boxes. Depending on the price of your ticket, this extra cost may be a determining factor in which airline you choose to fly.
 
Keep in mind that oversize packages such as bikes are often the first to be bumped to another flight if the plane is oversold. If your schedule allows, plan to be at your destination 2 full days before you need your bike for an event.

Article Written By Katie Lorah

Katie Lorah is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and outdoors enthusiast who has been writing since 2005. She has worked in nonprofit communications and is an avid cyclist, runner, hiker and cross-country skier, all without the benefit of owning a car. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in urban planning and journalism from New York University.

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