Packing a Bike for Air Travel

I’m going home for the holidays and I wanted to bring my bike. Initially I thought it would be a huge hassle (and maybe it’s all relative) but after reading a few articles, watching a few Youtube videos and researching my airline baggage policies … I realized it wouldn’t be so bad. And apparently, people fly with their bikes all the time. The problem is, how do I pack my bike? I’ve found four options on the internet:

  • Buy a really expensive hard bike case. (Around $500CAD when I last checked. And apparently slippery on airport conveyor belts. See links below at the very end.)
  • Buy a sort-of expensive fabric padded bike bag. (About $400CAD.)
  • Use a heavy duty clear plastic bike. (Cheaper.)
  • Use a cardboard box. (Cheapest.)
  • Some foldies come with their own case in which you’re ready to go. You might even be able to avoid a bike fee if you don’t tell them it’s a bike! (Shhh.)

Anyway, I’ve never travelled with my bike before and I doubt I would very often nor do I have extra money to splash around for an expensive bike box. So, I opted for the cheapo cardboard box.

What you’ll need:

  • A bike box. (I got one from my local bike shop for $5.)
  • A set of Allen (hex) keys.
  • Pedal wrench. (If you need one. I didn’t.)
  • Bubble wrap.
  • Pipe insulation if you can find some. They’re perfect for wrapping around the frame.
  • Clear packing tape.
  • Electrical tape.
  • A permanent marker.
  • Extra space filler/padding/protection. (A stroke of luck lead me to discover some discarded furniture foam at the dumpster. Mine now. Dumpster diving isn’t so bad. I am shameless.)
My friends: Clear packing tape, electrical tape and bubble wrap.
Discarded foam. My bike. The bike box.

Initially, I thought the box was massive and too big for the airline companies. But my bike Mechanic Jeryl at The Cyclogy on Yio Chu Kang Rd. told me it was a pretty standard box. (Jeryl is awesome and honest, by the way, and his handiwork is reliable.) So I lugged it home on the bus and lo and behold, the overall measurements are within the limit. (115in limit for L + W + H. My box came in around 92in.) DSC_0749

Tape up those edges.
Tape up those edges.
I'm paranoid of the handles breaking so I taped them up as well.
I’m paranoid of the handles breaking so I taped them up as well.

What I did:

  • Cover the entire bottom of the box with clean tape. (In case the floor is wet.)
  • Tape the seams and corners. (In case my box explodes.)
  • Tape around the box just above where the handles are. (In case the handles give away.)
  • Wrap the frame and fork with foam. I had to make little ‘hotdog buns’ with the foam and secure with electrical tape. I use electrical tape at this point because it’s easier to remove from the bike.
  • Unscrew the pedals and wrap in bubble wrap. Set aside.
  • Mark the angle of the handle bar before you remove it.
  • Remove the handle bar ONLY. Don’t touch the headtube.
  • Gently bring the handle bar (shifter and all) to the side and secure to the top tube with more foam and tape.
  • Remove the wheels and deflate the tires. Wrap the quick-release levers in bubble wrap.
  • Line the bottom of the box with cardboard or foam.
  • Put the wheels and frame in and cushion any sharp parts with extra foam and cardboard so it doesn’t puncture the box.
  • Put in any miscellaneous parts/helmet/bike pump etc.
  • fill in extra space with foam/bubble wrap.
  • Seal up with more packing tape.

And you’re ready to go!

Marking the angle of the handlebar with electrical tape.
Hotdog, anyone?
Hotdog, anyone?
Unscrewing the pedals. Luckily my pedals only require a normal hex key.
Unscrewing the pedals. Luckily my pedals only require a normal hex key.
Securing the handlebar to the frame.
Handlebar removed. Don’t forget to replace the screws.
Some extra padding around the frame, especially those carbon forks!
Some extra foam thrown in for safety.
Some extra foam thrown in for padding.
I figured some smiley faces and cartoons would alert baggage handlers of my precious bike.

Some helpful tips:

  • You have to fiddle around with the positioning of the bike to get it to fit in the box properly but I personally found that putting in the rear wheel first, followed by the frame, then the front wheel proved to be the easiest.
  • Cut open a plastic bottle or box and use it as shield around the derailleur. I used a clamshell box from some blueberries and taped around it.
  • Pack in some extra tape and bubble wrap so that you won’t have to go looking for packing materials on the return trip.
  • Don’t forget to pack your pedal lever or Allen keys.
  • Write your name and address of your home/destination on the outside of the box – just in case.
  • Double check with your airline for maximum oversized baggage dimensions and extra fees. For example, Singapore Airlines considers a bike a piece of check-in luggage and is free, whereas Air Canada charges a $50 bike fee and requires you to contact them and declare the bike.

Airport Experience – Update

Made it in one piece!
Made it in one piece!

I was super nervous at the airport when dropping my bike off. But checking in wasn’t as troublesome as I thought it would be. The girl behind the counter knew exactly what to do and in moments someone came to take my bike away. Good, I thought, at least it didn’t go on the conveyor belt with the rest of the bags.

The most interesting thing was all the attention I got from the other passengers. People kept looking at my box and I eavesdropped on people discussing the contents.

At my stopover, however, I was shocked to see my bike going around on the conveyor belt with all the other normal luggage after waiting patiently at the oversized baggage location. I actually gasped out loud and ran over, gingerly pulling my bike off of the belt. I inspected the box for damage. None, luckily.

Nervously, sent my bike off again after checking in my next flight. In Toronto, however, it actually arrived where it’s suppose to be: oversized baggage. And in one piece. Not to shabby at all. I might actually consider travelling more often with my bike.

Here are some articles and videos I referred to when packing my bike:

From a baggage handlers point of view:

Good airlines to fly with a bike:

More about the plastic bag method:

Packing a cardboard box:

Perhaps I was lucky but my journey flying with my bike in tow was mostly smooth. Hopefully you’ve found this article and the links helpful.

Happy cycling!

– J


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