How to pack your bike for flight
Flying with a Bike
Many cycling holidays start and finish with you waving goodbye to your precious bicycle at an airport oversize baggage dock. Often, with a fair - and not unreasonable - amount of trepidation.
Unfortunately, one thing you can be sure of: the staff that will handle your bike from that point until you see it again at your destination don’t care nearly as much about it as you do!
This is the first of a short series of blogs about flying with a bicycle.
First we’ll run through the best way to pack your bike. Later we’ll look at different bike box and bag options and finally the bike baggage policies and fees of major airlines, particularly those that service Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
The goal of these blogs is to help you ensure that your holiday is not ruined by a broken bike or any stress over unexpected and exorbitant charges.
Packing Your Bike
Nothing can ruin a cycling holiday faster than arriving at your holiday destination to find that your bike has been damaged in transit.
Airline baggage handlers are not hired for their gentleness! We’ve experienced bike damage in transit ourselves and heard about plenty more horror stories from others.
Your first consideration is what to put your bike in. If you’ve got no place for storage at your destination, then a disposable bike box might be your best option. You can either get one from a local bike shop or buy one at the airport, but make sure you check in advance.
If you’re going down the airline box route, also make sure you allow plenty of time to disassemble your bike and that you have all the tools that you need. You’ll be packing your tools too because you’ll need them at the other end of your journey.
You’ll also need some gaffer tape and some packing, either soft foam or rags. The best packing comes from new bikes which are wrapped in the factory before shipping. Any friendly bike shop will be able to help you because they’re throwing it away every time they assemble a new bike.
To quickly return to your correct seat height when you arrive, mark your seat post where it meets the frame with some liquid paper or a permanent marker before loosening the frame clamp with an Allen key and removing it. There’s no need to separate your seat from the post.
Take the pedals off the cranks. Remember the left pedal is left hand thread. The easiest way to remember is ‘back and down’… you have to push down on both sides if your spanner or Allen key is facing towards the rear wheel.
Take the right hand crank off the frame. You can usually get away with leaving the left one on, but the right is bigger, having the chain-rings attached, and their teeth can both be bent and cause damage.
Take off the handlebars, but leave the brake and gear cables attached (assuming you don’t have wireless electronic!). That way everything will stay in adjustment. You simply turn the bars parallel with the frame and tape them in place so that the levers are protected.
Take your wheels off. If they have quick release skewers, remove these and wrap separately.
Partially deflate your tyres. If you’ve been given packaging from a bike shop you’ll find four plastic round flanges that fit over the end of each wheel axle. These not only protect your wheels, but prevent sharp axle ends from poking through your bike box or bag.
Tape the foam frame protector ‘sausages’ around your frame tubes. You should also find a couple of spacers, one for the fork dropouts and one for the rear stays. Slot them into your front and rear drop-outs. If they’re not well wedged in by the frame pressure then also tape them into place. These will save your frame and forks getting crushed, which can and does happen if baggage handlers decide to use your bike as a step ladder…
Finally, an important detail often overlooked: If you have derailleur gears, you can leave the cable connected, but unbolt your rear derailleur and tape it to the inside of your frame’s rear triangle so that it’s completely protected by your frame. The rear derailleur is one of the most delicate parts on your bike, so it needs protection!
When packing your bike, the wheels usually go either side of the frame. Make sure there’s padding between the spokes and your frame otherwise you could see some nasty frame paint and decal scratches, or worse, upon arrival.
There should be plenty of room inside your bike bag or box for your seat and seatpost, quick release skewers, tools and whatever other accessories or parts you may be taking, but don’t just throw them in loose. Wrap them up and ideally tape them inside the frame’s main triangle.
All of this wrapping and protecting might sound like a lot of work, and it does take a while, especially first time around. But this time spent is a good investment to see your precious bike emerge in perfect condition upon arrival at your destination ready to start your cycling holiday.