How To Pack Your Bike for Air Travels

Are you wanting to venture a little further afield with your bike? It’s something I do every year and the first thing you need to know is how to pack your bike for air travel?

There are a few different ways you can pack your bike for air travel and we’ll be looking at all of the methods here. 

My favorite method is to use a bike bag but hey, you might want something different and that’s okay! 😉

Taking Your Bike On Vacation – Tips To Save You Money

Choose The Right Airline

Some airlines will allow you to check your bike in as part of your usual allowance, this can save you a decent sum of money. 

I would always recommend flying with these airlines when you can. 

For example, United Airlines will allow you to check your bike in as part of your free luggage allowance providing it weighs less than 23kg, with a maximum of 158cm linear dimensions. 

Whereas budget airline, Spirit Airlines, charges $75 each way to travel with your bike. So whilst Spirit may initially seem like a good price, once you add $75 each way onto the cost, it may not work out as such a good deal.

Get A Bike Box From Your Local Bike Shop

If you haven’t already got a bike bag or box, then you can pop down to your local bike shop and ask if you can have a cardboard box that new bikes arrive in.

Some will be generous and give you one for free. Some may charge you something but it won’t be as much as buying a dedicated bike bag or box so you’ll save quite a bit! 

Be sure to read the guide below on how to pack correctly to prevent damage. 

If you don’t like the sound of using a cardboard box to transport your bike, remember that people have been doing it for years and if done correctly, you shouldn’t have any issues!

Look At Insurance

So this one isn’t going to instantly save you money but it could in the long run!

Airlines don’t often cover your bike when it’s on the plane so it’s worth getting insurance for that alone.

However, it’s also worth remembering that you’ll be in a different location, where you don’t know the road, or where best to keep your bike so insurance could be a sensible thing to take out anyway.

Bike packing with a beautiful view

Bike Bags vs Bike Boxes For Air Travels

A bike box might seem like the obvious choice, right? That’s not always the case though!

Bike bags are usually cheaper and lighter. To be honest, they’re also simpler. Inside they usually have high-impact foam and some even have inflatable airbags. As they are fabric material, bike bags are more flexible than bike boxes so they can slide into smaller spaces if required. 

Bike boxes offer maximum durability and protection. Usually made from high-quality plastics and offer lots of security features, they can provide peace of mind if you’re traveling with your bicycle. 

The downside to bike boxes is that they’re heavier and don’t have any flexibility when compared to bike bags.

There is another method of transporting your bike and that’s using a bike cardboard box. I will talk about how to pack your bike into one safely below. You can get bike boxes from your local bike shop as this is what new bikes are transported in. Some shops may charge you something for taking one, some may not. 

If you are going to use a cardboard box to transport your bike, ensure that you protect it sufficiently…tips on this are below! 😀

Related article – The Ultimate Beginners Guide To Bicycle Touring

How To Pack Your Bike Safely

There are two ways to do this and it depends on whether you’re using a bag or a box. I’ll look at the bag method first.

How To Pack Your Bike In A Bike Bag Safely

With a bike bag, it doesn’t actually take long to pack as everything is prepared for you. Your forks are protected, as well as your derailleur, wheels, well basically everything that needs extra protection, has it!

When you have tried this a few times, you’ll have it nailed down to around 15 minutes.

Step 1: Remove the pedals.

Step 2: Remove both wheels. There will be allocated places for them. One thing I do is put some cardboard between the brake pads. The reason for this is that the brake lever could get pressed in transit. If you want to go a step further, you could remove your disc brakes. 

Step 3: Remove your derailleur. I use a drip-tie to attach it to the frame of my bike.

Step 4: Remove your handlebars and turn them to one side. Various ways to do this, you can remove the whole stem or unscrew the stem’s front plate, this keeps the handlebars in place.

Step 5: Now you can put the bike in the bag. There will be straps to keep it in place. In addition to this, there should be a protector for the fame and this will keep the handlebars in place too.

How To Pack Your Bike In A Box Safely

Packing your bike into a box takes a little longer as it’s not ready-made but again, once you’re used to it, it won’t take too long.

One thing to remember is that it’s best to pack everything so it’s tight. This will prevent loose bits from moving around and potentially causing damage.

Step 1: Remove the key components. By this, I mean your pedals, derailleur, and your handlebars. I talk about how to do this above so if you’re unsure, have a read. 😀

Step 2: As a box doesn’t offer the same level of protection as a bag, you need to provide it. Bubble wrap your forks, handlebars, frame, and derailleur.

Step 3: You’re going to have some loose parts so you need to secure them. Use zip-ties for securing your handlebars and derailleur. 

I usually tie my handlebars to the fork and the derailleur to the rear triangle of the bike. 

Step 4: Depending on the size of your box, you might be able to keep your rear wheel on. If you can, great, just remove your front wheel. This will help to keep things more stable and secure.

Take your front wheel and place it on one side of your frame. If your bike has disc brakes, have it facing the frame. 

Use cardboard and bubble wrap between the wheel and frame to add protection. Then zip-tie your wheel to the frame. If you have to remove your rear wheel too, follow the same steps.

Step 5: Now it’s about strengthening the box as it has a few weak spots. 

Tape the bottom and the corners as they are susceptible to ripping. If you can, also tape the inside of the box where the wheels will be placed.

Step 6: Your bike should be in one piece and secure so you can place it in the box now and tape the box shut.

Extra Step: It’s a good idea to write your name and some details (email address) on the box, just in case.

Related article – Planning A Bikepacking Route – Where To Next?

Check Your Airline’s Policy

Airlines policies on traveling with bikes vary, quite sizably so before you travel, so check the requirements. 

Thankfully, they are pretty liberal with their allowances though some will charge you to take your bike, some won’t.

Quite a few airlines, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic for example consider a bike box/bag to be a standard part of your 32kg allowance! 

However, some airlines, such as American Airlines have a size limit of 157cm for the first piece of check-in luggage so that may not cover a bike box/bag.

If in doubt, give the airline a call.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Airlines Have Bike Boxes?

No, airlines do not provide bike boxes. It is your responsibility to protect and enclose your bike correctly before traveling. 

British Airways was one of the first airlines to insist that your bike was fully enclosed. To ensure compliance, they would give passengers a big polythene bag if your bike wasn’t fully enclosed. 

The bags were big enough that you can wheel your bike straight in. However, they provide zero protection and I wouldn’t recommend it! 

Just in case you still fancy rocking up to the airport with the hope of British Airways supplying you with a bag, I should mention, that they no longer do! 

Final Thoughts

Traveling with a bike can be done but without a doubt – it just requires some planning. 

Weigh up the price of the ticket, with all fees included as what appears to be the cheapest, may not be when everything is added to it. 

If you’re intending to travel a lot with your bike, investing in a bike box or bag will serve you well, getting to know your luggage handlers is also worthwhile! 😉

Hi, I'm Harry, the owner of this site! A 30-something MAMIL - a middle-aged man in lycra. An avid cyclist who is looking to maintain a baseline level of fitness to be able to enjoy the great outdoors on weekend rides with his mates!

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