How to Fly on the Plane With Your Bicycle

Feb 5, 2017

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For cyclists, the eternal question of bringing or leaving a bicycle on a trip is a big one. On one side of the equation, you have to deal with the packing, transportation, fees and any potential mishaps that may go along with bringing a bicycle. On the other hand, there’s nothing like exploring a different part of the world on two wheels. Whether you’re traveling to an important race, looking to shred some mountain trails or exploring the world through bike tours, here are some tips for handling bicycle transportation when flying.

Get out the Measuring Tape

Although different airlines have different policies, on average, a checked bag can weigh up to 50 pounds and have a combined size (length plus width plus height) of 62 inches, so unless you’re traveling with a foldable or children’s bicycle, your bike probably won’t fit. When you pay extra specifically to check a bicycle, the allowance will increase to 70 pounds and a combined size of 115 inches, though the charge will be noticeably higher. Additionally, bicycles that contain a motor or more than two seats typically cannot be flown or will incur even higher charges, depending upon the carrier.

Packaging a bike is hard. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Size constraints are the largest hurdle when flying with a bicycle. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Case out the Packaging

Flying with a bicycle can be done in two ways, at least when it comes to packing: using a cardboard bicycle box or a custom bike case. Regardless of the method you choose, you’ll be required to remove the pedals and handlebars and fix the handlebars sideways to the frame. Utilizing a cardboard box is straightforward and simple. Boxes can be obtained from your local bike shop and are typically free. Packaging and securing the bicycle can be tricky, as there is a significant amount of extra space in a cardboard box. Although this requires more packing material, it does give you the ability to toss in extra gear. Most high-end bicycles weigh less than 20 pounds, giving you the capacity to bring along nearly 50 pounds of extra gear such as helmets, clothes, shoes and tools. Note that some airlines will not insure bikes that are transported in cardboard boxes, so be sure to check the policy prior to flying.

Custom cases are more expensive, but are more secure. A soft case will cost around $150, while a hard shell will run roughly $300. These cases are specifically designed for bicycles and have integrated padding as well as specially designed sections for various parts of the bicycle. Although hard cases do provide an added level of security, they are not foolproof. One downside to a custom bicycle case is that they typically require more disassembly, including removing both wheels, seat post and handlebars.

The Orucase Airport Ninja costs $399 and fits any road bike and most mountain bikes — and the company can make custom cases to fit anything else. The case is uniquely designed for your specific bicycle so that it fits within the constraints of a typical checked piece of luggage. Although this solution requires a bit of sneakiness — you’ll have to tell the gate agent that the item in the bag is something other than a bike — there has been a significant amount of success.

Regardless of how you pack it, all airlines require bicycles to have handlebars removed and fixed to the bike, pedals removed and tires deflated, so don’t forget to bring the tools required to reassemble your bike, including a multi-tool with 4mm, 5mm, and 6mm wrenches, as well as a pump and pedal wrench.

Price It Out

Flying with a bicycle can cost as little as $50 and as much as $200. Here’s a nifty chart including the costs for major airlines:

Costs

Airlines including Emirates, Etihad, Qantas, Qatar and Singapore have a baggage structure based on weight rather than size. If your bicycle box is under 50 pounds, your bike will count as one piece of your checked luggage.

Final Tips

As soon as you land, be sure to inspect your bicycle. Airlines typically have a four-hour window in which you can submit damage claims.

Leverage your elite status. Although it’s certainly not guaranteed, there is a significant amount of anecdotal evidence to suggest that bicycle fees are not charged to guests traveling with elite status or who have purchased business- or first-class tickets, so it never hurts to ask.

If you are flying a more expensive airline, it may make more sense to mail your bike independently. Shipping costs for a cardboard box can run as little as $70 through a traditional mail carrier like FedEx. If you are unsure of how to exactly package your bike, a local shop will charge around $45 to disassemble and package your bike for you. Additionally, companies such as TriBike Transport will charge $350 to handle all of the logistics with bike transportation, which can be especially helpful if you’re traveling to a race outside the US.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

This article has been edited with updated information on the bike sizes that can fit in the Orucase Airport Ninja.

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