It’s no secret that I think touring by bicycle is one of the greater joys in life. Eventually, however, it comes to pass that there are no more unexplored touring routes right out your front door or the lure of bicycling in foreign climes becomes too much to resist. You want to travel by bike.
You have two options for cycling in places far from home: rent a bike locally or take your bike with you. While the former appeals for ease and convenience, you may be stuck with a bike that doesn’t suit you as well as you’d like, possibly making your touring experience less than it could be. Such concerns don’t exist if you take your own trusty steed with you.
I’ve travelled with my bike twice so far, and have suffered no ill effects. Of course, there are many stories out there of bike shipping gone awry, but I hope with this article to help you avoid your own tale of woe by giving you some options for bike shipping containers.
If you’ve decided to take your bike with you, whether you’re travelling by plane or train (or shipping your bike ahead via UPS or FedEx) you’ll need to pack your bike. It used to be that your only option was a cardboard bike box, but this is no longer the case. There are also specially made hard-sided bike “suitcases” available, as well as soft-sided bike bags.
Cardboard bike boxes are generally repurposed cartons in which new bikes were shipped to a store. These boxes are often readily available and cheap to obtain from local bike shops, although you can buy new ones and one made out of corrugated plastic (for higher prices). They don’t, however, have any padding or shaped compartments built in for cushioning your bike. Additionally, in my experience, they can be unwieldy to travel with as they are large and don’t have convenient handles for carrying. On our first self-supported tour, my friend Mandy ended up pushing hers through the airports. She was also charged additional fees for an oversized bag. On the other hand, the stiff cardboard will generally do a good job of protecting your bike from damage.
An option that gives the hard-sided security of a bike box is a purpose-build plastic “suitcase” (these are usually sold as bike boxes, but to avoid confusion, I’ll call them suitcases). These usually have some sort of built-in padding and may come with bags for your front tire and other removable parts. Additionally, they’ll have handles and wheels to make moving them around easier. They can be quite expensive ($300 and up), but the added security and convenience may make that worthwhile. Airline oversize baggage fees will definitely apply. I owned one of these briefly, just long enough to realize that I could barely move the box empty, let alone loaded with my bike and a bit of extra gear. If this is your choice, shop around to find one that works for you and your bike.
A more recent addition to bike transportation is the bike bag. These bags are padded and soft-sided, and usually quite light. I have one that I’ve used twice on trips within the U.S. and I love it. I purchased mine from Skinz Protective Gear (www.skinzprotectivegear.com), although a quick internet search shows that there are now several brands available. Mine came with bags for the front wheel, handlebars, pedals, and seat/seat post. They all fit within the larger bag and help to protect the frame. While a soft bag doesn’t offer some of the protection that a hard case does, unless your bike is truly abused during transport it shouldn’t matter. My bike came through both round trips, including airline changes, unscathed. The best part is that I can pack my bike, rack, panniers, helmet, water bottles, and other odds and ends into the bag with my bike and still pick it up and carry it over my shoulder. Additionally, I’ve found that if I check in at an airport kiosk and pay the regular baggage fee there, I haven’t been charged an oversized bag fee. It’s not as obviously a bike as a bike box is, and it doesn’t tend to exceed weight limits. There’s no guarantee that this will work for you, but it’s worth a try.
The art of packing a bike for shipping is more than I can go into in this article, but I hope that the options presented here will get you started on your next bike adventure. As always, before you buy, shop around and ask others for their shipping experiences. With proper forethought, travelling with your bike can be a joy, not a chore.
Ride safe and have fun!