Flying with a bike can be an intimidating task, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right information and preparation, you can travel with your bike safely and securely.
In this article, we’ll look at how to fly with a bike and the best airlines to choose for your trip. We’ll also touch on some of the tips and tricks that will help ensure a smooth and stress-free journey. So if you’re planning on taking your bike with you, read on to find out what you need to know!
You’ll want to research the airline’s bicycle policies before booking your flight. Different airlines have different rules and restrictions when it comes to flying with a bike, so it pays to do your homework in advance.
You’ll also need to decide which type of bike travel bag or box is best for transporting your bike. We’ll cover all of this in detail in our article so that you can make an informed decision about which way is best for you.
Flying With A Bike: Basic Advice
Flying with a bike can be a challenging endeavor. Airlines are becoming more bike-friendly, but size and weight restrictions, airline fees, and baggage policies vary widely between airlines. When planning your flight, there are several factors to consider:
- The safety of your equipment is paramount—you want to make sure your bike arrives intact and undamaged at its destination;
- Size matters as well; you’ll need to determine if your bicycle box or case fits in the transport upon arrival;
- Lastly, cost is an important factor—it may be beneficial to opt for an airline with higher fees but better protection for your bike.
Before you travel with your bike, it’s important to have some basic technical knowledge and tools on hand. Most cases and bags require deconstruction of the bicycle, including removal of pedals, wheels and handlebars. For modern road bikes with integrated cockpits this can be particularly laborious and time consuming; special cases may be required that allow handlebars to remain attached. Depending on the airline and how you pack it, costs can vary dramatically so make sure you do your research beforehand.
It’s also important to purchase luggage insurance before flying with a bike; airlines are often not responsible for damage that occurs during transit. Consider checking your homeowners’ or renters’ policies, or any credit cards that cover such items before leaving home. Doing this will help ensure the safety of all parts of your bicycle when flying with it.
The Different Types Of Bike Travel Bags
Let’s start with the most basic option: cardboard bike boxes. These are inexpensive, but they don’t offer much protection.
Then there’s soft-sided bike bags, which are more lightweight and easier to maneuver, but they can be a bit more fragile.
Finally, there’s hard-sided cases, which offer the most protection, but they can be quite heavy and expensive.
Related: Best Bike Travel Cases
Cardboard Bike Boxes
When it comes to packing your bike for flight, one of the simplest and most common options is a cardboard bike box.
Cardboard boxes are easy to get (often for free) at most bike shops and they’re large enough to fit your bike nearly intact without too much fuss.
Plus, they’re lightweight and don’t incur oversize luggage fees, making them a great choice if you’re looking for an affordable way to fly with your bike.
Just make sure you add extra padding around the frame and components for extra protection.
Soft-Sided Bike Bags
Moving on from cardboard bike boxes, another option for traveling with your bike are soft-sided bike bags. These bags offer a few advantages— they’re usually easy to transport due to straps and wheels, and their size makes them a great fit for rental cars. Plus, you don’t have to worry about oversize luggage fees like you do with hard cases.
On the downside, most airlines require a liability release if you’re using one of these bags. They can also be pricey and you may need to rent one instead of buying it outright. Just remember to add extra padding around the frame and components for extra protection.
Moving on from soft-sided bags, hard-sided cases are the most protective option for traveling with your bike.
These can be a bit cumbersome, as they’re usually large and heavy, but you don’t have to take the frame apart like you do with cardboard boxes.
Plus, airlines will usually insure your bike if it’s in one of these cases, so you won’t have to worry about bike fees.
Unfortunately, they’re also expensive and can incur an oversize luggage fee.
Hard cases come with multiple handles and wheels to make them a bit easier to transport, but they’re still not as convenient as soft bags.
Preparing Your Bike For Air Travel: Packing Your Bike Step-By-Step
Let’s start by breaking down the step-by-step packing process and discuss some tips to make sure you’re prepared.
Step-By-Step Packing Process
Let me guide you through the process of packing your bike like a pro. You’ll need some tools and supplies, like bike-breaking-down tools, pipe lagging or bubble wrap, zip ties, a rag, spare cardboard, and duct tape. You might find some of these items in bike bags and boxes, so check before buying.
Remember, packing your bike might vary depending on the type of bike bag or box you have. For example, Scicon AeroComfort bags don’t need you to remove the handlebars, saddle, or seatpost. Always read the manual that comes with your bike case.
Take off any parts needed to fit your bike in the container. Usually, this includes removing the handlebars and pedals. Take off the wheels and deflate the tires a bit (but not too much). Remove the quick-release skewers and secure them safely. Use plastic fork/rear triangle spacers if you have them. Don’t leave any items loose in the bag; they might cause damage.
- Remove or lower your seatpost and saddle. Make sure the clamp is either lightly tightened or removed and kept separately.
- Wrap your bike and its components in padding. You can use bubble wrap, pipe insulation, or pool noodles. Secure the padding with tape or zip ties.
- Attach the handlebars, fork, and seat post to your frame and secure them with zip ties. By attaching everything together, it will be easier for TSA agents to inspect and repack your bike.
- Remove the rear derailleur and any other protruding components that could be damaged during transit. Wrap these parts in padding and attach them to your frame.
- Position the cranks and chainrings, and pad the bottom of the chainring. Add foam padding to the main tubes and other areas that might get scratched.
- Take photos of your gear before packing. Check your bike for damage before clearing customs and get written confirmation of any damage from baggage handlers.
- Fill extra space in your bag or case with kit and shoes. Wrap your pump and other components in padding and place them together in a small bag.
- Close the bag/case and check for any protruding parts. Reposition or add extra padding if needed. Remove old barcodes and mark the exterior with your name and contact information.
Additional packing tips:
- Add padding anywhere two parts touch each other in the luggage. Pack clothing and soft items around your bike: Use clothing, towels, and other soft items to fill empty spaces in your bag or case. This provides additional padding and helps protect your bike from impact.
- Remove and wrap disc rotors to avoid damage.
- Zip-tie everything together inside the case to make it foolproof.
- Leave enough air in tubeless tires to keep them seated.
- Buy CO2 containers at your destination’s local bike shop.
- Remove batteries from electronic groupsets during packing.
- Label your bike parts: Use masking tape and a marker to label each part of your bike as you disassemble it. This will make reassembly easier when you reach your destination.
- Use a bike-specific travel case or bag: Investing in a bike-specific travel case or bag can provide extra protection and make packing your bike much easier. These cases are designed to accommodate various bike sizes and shapes and usually come with padding and compartments to keep everything organized and secure.
- Bring spare parts and tools: Accidents happen, and it’s better to be prepared. Pack a few spare parts, such as tubes, brake pads, and a derailleur hanger, to ensure you can fix any issues on the go.
- Consider travel insurance: If you’re traveling with an expensive bike, it might be worth considering travel insurance that covers bike damage or theft. This can provide extra peace of mind during your trip.
Transportation To & From The Airport
Bike bags are often heavy and bulky, making them tough to fit in a regular car. To make your journey as smooth as possible, it’s essential to plan your transportation ahead of time.
Here are some options to help you and your bike get to and from the airport without a hitch:
- Hotel shuttle: Many airport hotels have shuttles that are large enough to accommodate a bike bag or box. It’s a good idea to give the hotel a call beforehand to confirm that they can transport your bike.
- Ride-sharing services: If you’re a fan of Uber or Lyft, you can request an XL vehicle to ensure there’s enough space for your bike. These larger vehicles are perfect for fitting in bulky bike bags or boxes.
- Renting a car or van: If you’re planning to rent a vehicle, opt for a hatchback or a van to make sure your bike fits comfortably.
- Local transport: Sometimes, you’ve just got to go with the flow! Depending on where you’re traveling, local transportation options like buses or trains might be able to accommodate your bike. Make sure to check their policies and any fees for carrying bikes before you set off.
By exploring these options, you’ll be able to find the most convenient and stress-free way to get your bike to and from the airport.
How Much Does It Cost To Take Your Bike On A Plane?
So, you’ve got your bike all packed and ready for your big trip, but now you’re probably wondering, “How much is it going to cost me to fly with my bike?”
The cost depends on the airline and your particular equipment, but generally speaking, you need to factor in the bike fee, standard checked baggage fee, oversize fee (if applicable), and overweight fee (if applicable).
Cost to Bring Bike = Bike Fee + Standard Checked Baggage Fee + Oversize Fee (if applicable) + Overweight Fee (if applicable)
Most airlines have a policy of applying oversize fees when the combined dimensions of luggage exceed 62 inches. It’s worth noting that while many bags do exceed this limit, gate agents may not always enforce these fees consistently. Additionally, overweight penalties generally apply to bags weighing over 50 lbs, and for bags that are even larger and heavier, airlines may charge extra fees.
In the end, it might be worth paying a little extra upfront for a premium airline that doesn’t have bike penalties. This way, you can enjoy your cycling adventure without worrying about unexpected fees.
Best Airlines for Flying With a Bike
To help you find the best option for your upcoming journey, we’ve compared the bike policies of major airlines. These policies are accurate as of May 1, 2023.
Remember, airline policies can change, so it’s always a good idea to double-check the most up-to-date information on the airline’s website before booking your ticket.
Choosing The Right Airline
Choosing the right airline for your bike is essential. With a variety of major airlines offering different policies, it can be difficult to know which airline is best.
When researching airline policies, consider factors such as the maximum weight and dimensions allowed for bicycles, the fees charged, and whether or not you need to register your bike in advance.
Alaska Airlines and American Airlines are two of the best options for cyclists; they don’t charge extra fees for taking bikes on board and their customer service is great.
No matter which airline you choose, make sure to check with them regarding their particular bike restrictions and requirements ahead of time so there are no surprises when you arrive at the airport. Also, remember to pack your bike securely in a hard-shell case or protective bag in order to protect it during transport.
Flying With A Mountain Bike
Flying with a mountain bike can be a daunting task. It’s important to have the right gear and preparation before taking your bike on an airplane.
You’ll need to choose between a hard-sided case, a lightweight road bike bag, or a traditional mountain bike bag. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, so consider your needs carefully before selecting a bag.
When packing your bike for travel, it is usually easier to remove the handlebars from the stem than it is to remove the stem from the steerer tube. Additionally, flipping your fork backward will shorten the wheelbase and make your bike more compact in the bag.
Make sure you also deflate your tires enough to fit in your luggage without coming off the bead, and bring along some sealant just in case. Lastly, if you have hydraulic components that may need servicing during flight, be sure to service them prior to packing up for travel.
For extra protection against dirt and dust on long haul flights, bring along a large rag or towel so you can give your equipment a quick wipe-down when you arrive at your destination. This will help keep everything running smoothly until you can give it a thorough clean later on.
Traveling Without a Bike: Bike Rentals and More
While bringing your own bike on a trip is often the preferred choice for comfort and familiarity, there are instances where renting a bike might be a more convenient and cost-effective option. If you’re considering renting a bike for your next cycling adventure, here are some tips and insights based on personal experiences to help you make the most of your rental experience:
- Be flexible with your goals: If you aren’t overly concerned with your finish time or setting personal records, renting a bike can be a viable option for casual cycling trips or races.
- Rent a familiar bike style: Aim to rent a bike similar to the one you use for training. If you’re used to riding a road bike, rent one and bring your own aero bars. Renting a triathlon or time trial (TT) bike without prior experience may not be the best idea.
- Be adaptable with bike geometry: Although you can request the rental bike to be set up with measurements close to your own, it may not be a perfect match. If you require a precise position to avoid discomfort or pain, renting a bike may not be the best choice.
- Arrive early for a test ride: Give yourself time to get acquainted with the rental bike by arriving a day or two before your event. Take it for a short spin to familiarize yourself with its features and handling.
- Know basic bike maintenance: Being comfortable with basic bike maintenance is crucial when renting a bike. Familiarize yourself with tasks like fixing a dropped chain or adjusting limit screws, and consider watching instructional videos, such as those on GCN, to help you learn the essentials.
Renting a bike can be a suitable alternative to shipping or flying with your own bike, particularly if the cost and hassle of transporting it seem excessive. However, it’s essential to be prepared and flexible with your expectations. By considering the points above, you can ensure a more enjoyable and stress-free experience when renting a bike for your next triathlon or cycling trip.
Alternative to Flying With Your Bike: Bike Shipping
When planning your next cycling adventure, you might want to consider an alternative to flying with your bike: bike shipping. Shipping your bike directly to your destination can provide a more convenient and hassle-free experience, saving you time and effort at the airport.
There are several reputable bike shipping companies that specialize in transporting bicycles domestically and internationally. Some of the most popular bike shipping companies include Overnight Bikes, TriBike Transport, BikeFlights. These companies offer various services, ensuring your bike arrives safely and securely at your destination.
The pros of bike shipping include door-to-door service, minimal airport hassle, the ability to ship additional gear and accessories, customizable insurance coverage, and the convenience of having your bike delivered directly to your destination. Furthermore, you won’t need to worry about airline size and weight restrictions or dealing with baggage claim and transportation to and from the airport.
However, there are also cons to bike shipping. You’ll need to source a suitable box or case for your bike and pack it properly, which may require some skill or hiring professional help. Additionally, you’ll be without your bike during the shipping process, and there’s a small risk of damage or loss during transit, although purchasing insurance can provide peace of mind.
In conclusion, the decision to fly with your bike or opt for an alternative like bike shipping ultimately depends on your personal preferences, budget, and travel requirements. By carefully considering the pros and cons of each option, you can make an informed decision that best suits your needs. Whether you choose to bring your bike on the plane or ship it to your destination, the most important thing is that you have a memorable and enjoyable cycling or triathlon adventure. After all, the joy of exploring new destinations and races on two wheels is what truly matters!