Bikes on a Plane
For people who like to bike outside of their own area code, there can be a few problems. Whether you’re flying a couple of provinces away, across the country, or across the globe, if you’re planning on riding when you arrive, you obviously need to ensure that when the wheels go down on the plane, the wheels go down on your bike too. Here a few things to think about when you’re taking your bike on a plane.
My Bike in a Box!
We all love to open a present and when you arrive at the next location and you get to unwrap your bike in the flat pack box that you’ve stored it in, there’s a certain Christmas feeling. But most of us have probably had that Christmas feeling when we opened up that box to find…it was not what we expected.
Boxes are great for shipping, but no matter how many times you write “FRAGILE” in big block letters, things happen. Boxes are great for keeping things together but much like Schrodinger's cat, who knows if it’s alive or dead. Airports are fast paced spots and sometimes care is not taken with every single package. Whether it was packed under, or behind, or inside something else and how far it was tossed to get there can be a mystery.
If you’re new to packing your bike in a box, drop in to your local bike shop and either ask for a packing list, or some tips. Often times shops will keep boxes and wrapping materials on hand for this very purpose. We supply a handy photocopied to-do list for disassembly and packing, packing materials and a box for $5, or take care of the whole disassembly and packing process for you and hand you a nicely packed box for $45.
There are few things worse than being pressed for time at the airport, and having to unpack your heinously packed bike box for security and then re-pack while security flings everything around in search for contraband.
It's Like a Suitcase... For Bikes!
One of the best ways to travel with your bike is, to no one’s surprise, in a case specifically designed for your bike. Bicycle Travel Bags are a great way to make sure that things stay where they’re supposed to stay and they are typically padded in all the right places. They’re durable, they actually look (relatively) stylish and if you’re going to travel a lot, they’re often a very good investment.
Unlike putting your bike in a box, they’re also pretty easy to manage. Assuming that you have more luggage than just your bike, a bike travel bag is a very good way to make sure that you don’t look too frazzled at arrivals and departures.
When you’re trying to decide between a hard-shell and soft-shell bag, remember to consider how much that case is going to weigh. You don’t want the airline fees to be more than buying a new bike when you touch down. Also to consider are wheels and handles on whatever container you choose. You’re going to want both in order to roll your deluxe biking suitcase through the airport like the champion that you are. We have two rental bags from EVOC available at our shop, and your local shop likely has something available as well.
Wait...Is That a Shopping Bag with a Bike in It?
Why yes it is.
Look, this one is not for the squeamish, but there are more than a few people who swear by travelling with a clear plastic bag, preferably one specifically designed to carry your bike. I’ve seen countless people roll up to the check in kiosk with a fully assembled bike and an allen key asking for a plastic bag to drop the bike in.
But won’t they break it?
Well, it turns out that baggage handlers (usually) are actually human and when they see something that definitely COULD be broken, they tend not to TRY to break it. Bikes packed this way sometimes get a little bit of preferential treatment because people don’t want to watch a bike break right in front of their eyes.
If you are going to pack your bike in a bag, do your best to secure any parts you remove from the bike back to the frame. Zip tying pedals and wheels together and to the frame will help ensure everything arrives together at your destination.
Are You Expected?
Planes are only allowed a certain amount of weight. It’s a Wright Brothers thing. You want to stay airborne and more things in cargo mean that it’s a lot more work to stay in the air.
SO, if the airline knows that you’re bringing a large, possibly heavy item, like your bike: that’s good. The last thing you want to do is find out that your bike made a different flight, or no flight at all, because it had too much junk in the trunk.
The Bike...And Just The Bike.
Depending on what you’re using for a container, it might seem like a good idea to pack extra stuff in with your bike. Try not to do that unless you’re fully prepared to pay whatever overage fees the airline decides based on weight or size. Double check weight restrictions for the airline. My personal preference is a bike bag with wheels, and I jam every piece of clothing, riding gear, camera and tool in that I can fit, as long as it stays under weight.
If you’re using a box, you want to keep it as light as possible. The more things you put in that box, the more chance you’ll pay a lot more or that the bike won’t make it. Worst case scenario is that bike not only gets damaged, but the box explodes and you’re left having to start your trip at a bike shop. There could be far worse beginnings to a riding trip.
What if I Flew First Class?
It might sound a little silly, but some airlines will give you some extra perks (like luggage allowances) if you’re flying in business class versus economy, or coach, or whatever your airline of choice calls it.
And in some cases, the cost to upgrading to those nicer spots can cost less than what you might be charged for bringing your bike with you. So check with your airline to see if hot towels come with extra weight allowances and if you can, fly better for less.
Does Your Bike Even Work?
Sometimes you’re excited to try new things. Travelling with your bike is not the time to do this. If you’re thousands of kilometers away from the bike mechanic that you know and trust, you don’t want that to be the time you’re trying that new part out.
Before you’re travelling with your bike, make sure it is in TIP TOP running conditions. If you know you’re hard on something and you’re not sure if it will last, buy replacements and bring them with you. I recommend at very least your basics: multi-tool, pump, tube, and water bottle/hydration pack.
There are some truly amazing places to ride and while some of them are in your backyard, some aren’t. Getting comfortable with flying with your bike will let you explore. And if you have questions about flying with your bike, stop into the shop and ask. We’re always happy to share our thoughts.