I've been asked this question so many times that I can almost give my speech verbatim.
First of all, don't take your bike to the local bike shop (LBS) and have them do it
because when you get to where you are going, you will be as uninformed about what to do as
you were in the beginning. Besides, the LBS isn't going to be there to box it for your
return. You will have to do it.
It's like making chicken soup, first you need a chicken. First, in this case, you need a box that fits your bicycle. Bikes aren't all the same size. Remove the front wheel, turn the forks around if possible and let your bike rest on the fork tips. Measure the overall length and from the floor to the top of the seat tube. Do this as far ahead as possible to give your LBS time to find a box that will best fit your needs.
With these measurements and a ruler, head for your LBS to get a proper size box. Also ask if he will save all the packing stuff that came on the bike he took out of the box and open it without cutting off the lid. While you are at it, see if he has an old quick release front hub and skewer. Never saw an LBS that didn't have a box full of them. You also need three toeclip straps. With hub and straps in hand, head for your local home improvement store to buy a 6' section of foam rubber pipe insulation with a 1" ID and TWO rolls of heavy duty carton strapping tape.
Remember that practice makes perfect. It will take you at least an hour the first time or two, but I can have my bike in or out of the box in ten minutes. Try to get in some practice boxings in before the real thing.
Using a permanent ink, broad-tip marking pen, write your name, address and phone number on the INSIDE of the box, just below the lid. If you have a business card, tape it to the inside of the lid. Then write your name, address and phone number on the outside of the box. Also, put destination phone and address on a piece of paper and tape it to the outside of the box like a shipping tag. I know a person who flew to Spain and his bike went on a different plane. When they couldn't figure out where it was to go there, they sent it back to his home.
First you remove all bags, front rack if equipped, pump, tool kits and things like that. Remove the computer and put it in your pocket. Put the bike in the big/big gears. I know you don't ride like that but you box it that way.
Remove the following items and put in a single pile: Front wheel skewer, water bottle cages, seat with post and pedals. Put one roll of the carton strapping tape in this pile. Put all screws back in the holes they came out of and tighten slightly so they don't come out during shipping. Cut sections of the pipe insulation long enough to cover the top tube, the down tube and the seat tube and split them lengthwise on one side (if they aren't already). Cut two more pieces to cover the fork legs and install that old front hub to hold them in place. You also need an old bath size towel.
Turn cranks so the left one points forward. Place the front wheel on the left side of the frame with the tire just behind the downtube shifter lug. Work the left crank in between the spokes. When the tire is resting against the frame, use two of the toe straps to attach it to the down tube and the seat tube.
Remove handlebars, with stem if you have to. Many later bikes have a clamp that allows you to leave the stem in place and just remove the bars. Now here's the tricky part. Find where the handlebars will fit the best. In some cases it's around the top tube and others it's behind the forks around the down tube. If the stem is on the handlebars, it will need to be loosened and turned out of the way. When the handlebars are in a comfortable place, attach them there with that last toeclip strap.
There were some black plastic things that came in the box. One goes on the end of the rear skewer to protect the rear derailleur, another for the end of the front hub where it rests against the inside of the box and the last one to go into the top of the seat tube.
You should be able to pick the bike up as a single unit and lower it into the box with the rear tire fitting into the folded cardboard guide in one end of the box. It may take some jiggling and moving things around a bit to get it to fit but if you got the proper size box, it will go.
Once the bike is all the way into the box, put the saddle and post into the space on the right side of the rear wheel. Clean your hands on the old towel. Roll the pedals, bottle cages, front skewer and TOOLS TO REASSEMBLE THE BIKE, along with that other roll of tape in the towel, secure it with tape and shove it down beside the rear wheel on the other side from the saddle. That roll of tape? It's to use when you box the bike for the return trip.
All other items that you want to pack with the bike should be rolled in a towel and secured with strapping tape. There is usually room to put things like this between the forks and downtube. The main thing is that you want to have nothing small left to roam around in the box. They hate darkness and try to escape through the hand holes in the box. I've never found a space for the helmet in a standard bike box.
Strap the lid shut using several strips of the carton strapping tape. You can have too few but you can't have too many. Get to the airport half an hour earlier than you would if not flying with your bike. If the gate ape says anything about letting air out of the tires, just say you knew to do that and have already done so. (It's not necessary but don't try to tell them that)
Don't forget to pack your helmet, gloves and cycling shoes; someone always does.
ADDENDUM #1 (added 1/28/02):
There have been several changes in airport security following September 11th and much of it concerns checked luggage, IE: your bike. One of the big ones is that anything which will not go through their baggage X-ray machine will be opened for hand inspection. The second is that anything that is not recognizable in the X-ray triggers a hand inspection and finally, security people are told to consider as "suspect" all locked or sealed cases and packages. Since your bike box falls under all three of those parameters, depend on it being opened so do not tape it shut. It will likely arrive flapping open and who knows what small items will be missing.
Instead of taping your box shut, buy a couple (or even three for extra safety) luggage straps long enough to go around the box. Cut them down to a length of about a foot longer than what it takes to go around the box. If you leave long "tails" on them, they can catch in their baggage conveyors and be ripped off.
If you look at the buckles on the luggage straps, you will see they are similar to those on toe straps; you press on a tab to release them. The problem is that if your box is laid with the buckles down, the weight of the box can cause them to release. To prevent this, when the straps are tight, bring the loose end around the buckle under that release tab and back up the other side of the buckle and do a "half-hitch" around the strap around the box. In fact, do several half-hitches to take up the remainder of the loose end and then tuck the tip under the strap.
Another trick to keep the buckles from coming open is to locate the straps to where the buckles are over the hand holds in the box. Once the straps are tight, turn them over so the buckles go inside the hand holds.
Since there is no reason to try to slip your bike through as a sales display to escape the fee, might as well spell it out. Print on each side of the box in big, bold letters; "BICYCLE, DO NOT THROW OR LAY FLAT". It just might help in getting it there with less damage.
ADDENDUM #2 (added 11/25/03):
I have had a number of messages concerning domestic and international flights with a bicycle so I sent this message to Delta:
I am planning to fly round trip OKC to London, UK in September and want to take a bicycle in a standard bicycle box, size 54" X 28" X 8" and weight about 50 pounds. It will be my only baggage except one carry-on. Since this in an international flight, will there be any charges for the bicycle?
Delta's reply (August 2003):
Dear Mr. Foreman,
Thank you for your e-mail to Delta Air Lines.
Bicycles are not considered as part of the international baggage allowance and require a fee. A $90 fee applies to each checked bicycle for passengers traveling on a Delta ticket, including codeshare flights. This fee may vary per carrier or destination.
Any bicycle presented for carriage must be packaged in one of the following ways: handlebars fixed sideways and pedals removed and enclosed in a cardboard container pedals and handlebars encased in plastic, Styrofoam, or other similar material Delta bike boxes measure 69" x 39" x 9" and are available at most Delta airport locations.
Note: Some connection carriers and aircraft may not accept bicycles as checked baggage, and may have different limitations.
We appreciate your interest in Delta's Web site.
Online Customer Support Desk
ADDENDUM #3 (added 03/20/05):
Since airlines fees for bicycles are now approaching $100 each way, many people are shipping their bikes ahead via either UPS or FedEx. There are two price break points for shipping. There is a 90" (length + width + depth) and 50 pound class and the next step is 108" and 94 pounds which just about doubles the cost of shipping. If you exceed either the size or weight, it automatically jumps to the next weight class.
The usual bicycle box of 54" x 8" x 28" exceeds the 90" limit and is charged as if it weighed 94 pounds. The new Cannondale boxes are 47" x 12" x 28" which will comes in under the 90" limit and most bicycles weigh less than 50 pounds so it cuts the cost just about in half. The other good point about the Cannondale box is that it will stand up much easier than the 8" deep boxes and are less likely to be laid down with heavy things stacked on top of it.
You will need to remove both wheels for the Cannondale box but it's much easier to pack than the older style ones.
Here's another message concerning this subject:
From a query on the Phred Bicycle Touring List (November 2003):
"We had been planning on using our Cannondale touring bikes for the trip [from USA to Ireland] but it's going to cost an addition $360 in excess baggage charges to carry them so I decided to investigate rental bikes."
Wayne Estes replies:
You shouldn't have to pay ANY oversize luggage fee for single-seat bikes if you check them straight through from Atlanta to Ireland. IATA passenger air tariff regulation 18.104.22.168(a) requires a bike to be accepted as a standard large piece of luggage on international flights. You should only have to pay excess baggage charges if you check more than two pieces of luggage each, or if the second piece of luggage exceeds 42 inches length+width+height. To do this for a long bike tour, you usually have to carry a large pannier as carry-on luggage.
Below is a repeat of some information I posted to the touring list on April 28 :
Today I received a free temporary login and password which allows me to
access the IATA Passenger Air Tariff regulations. I am finding conflicting rules
about bicycles. In the rules section Baggage, General Baggage Rules, Special
Baggage, Special items other than animals: Recreational/Sporting Equipment:
"Bicycles: may be accepted as checked baggage. Check with carrier concerned for charges and regulations to be applied. "
In the rules section Baggage, Baggage Piece Concept, Free Baggage Allowance:
"3. Baggage 3.3 Baggage piece concept 3.3.2 Free baggage allowance 22.214.171.124 Checked baggage (a) Free allowance for adults.
The free baggage allowance for checked and unchecked baggage is determined by the class paid (and not by the class actually traveled) and is as follows:
First/Intermediate/Business Class -- Two checked pieces of baggage of which the sum of the greatest outside linear dimensions of each bag does not exceed 62 inches (158 cms.), and provided the weight of each bag does not exceed 70 lbs. (32 kgs.).
Economy Class -- Two checked pieces of baggage (measured together) of which the sum of the greatest outside linear dimensions does not exceed 107 inches (273 cms.) provided that the outside linear dimensions of each bag does not exceed 62 inches (158 cms.), and provided the weight of each bag does not exceed 70 lbs. (32 kgs.). The articles listed below, regardless of their actual dimensions may be considered as a piece of baggage at 62 inches (158 cms).
(Wayne's words now...) Bicycles are to be considered a standard 62-inch piece of luggage. If a check-in agent asks you to pay for a bicycle on an international flight, tell them that IATA Passenger Air Tariff regulation 126.96.36.199(a) requires them to accept a bicycle as equivalent to a 62-inch piece of checked luggage.
Note that economy class passengers may only check 2 pieces with combined dimensions of 107 inches. So subtracting the 62 inch bicycle, that means that any other item you check may only be 45 inches combined height + length + width. I'm certain that my panniers lashed together exceed that dimension by a few inches. Hopefully they won't notice.
Mundelein, IL, USA
ADDENDUM #4 (added 11/27/05):
I saw a bit on TV this morning about the place in Scottsboro, Alabama where
lost (misdirected as they call it) luggage finally ends up at
www.unclaimedbaggage.com/ While they were talking about a surfboard that someone
lost, I could see a rack of about half a dozen bicycles in the background.
Couldn't tell what they were but it would be very easy for a nice touring bike
to exceed the maximum the airline would pay for it. You can bet if someone was
willing to pop for the fee to ship it, then it was a fairly expensive bike. I've
seen one or two posts on the Touring List about people losing their bikes while
The airlines claim they are able to match 99% of the luggage with the passengers, but that remaining 1% fills a good size store where people can buy your belongings for half of the original value or less.
It takes very little effort to help the airlines return your luggage. First and foremost is a sturdy nametag on the outside (two on large items) I don't mean those little paper things with the rubber string that you can pick up as you check in but one of the really tough ones with a strong strap or better still, a pair of Zip Ties that can't come loose. Try to place them in locations (like under a handle) where they are less likely to get ripped off by the conveyor belts.
Print your name, address and phone number inside the box containing your bike, and then put an identification tag on the bike frame. All my luggage, no matter whether checked or carry on, has a nametag on it as well as one or more of my business cards inside. We all get sheets of our names and addresses to put on envelopes, stick a few of those on small but valuable items.
Believe me, the airlines do try to reunite bags with passengers because they ultimately have to pay for the lost luggage and I'm sure they never get that amount back when they sell it to the lost luggage store. Let's make it as easy for them as possible.
Home | Remembering | Cycling | Flying | Misc
Copyright © 2005 by Jim Foreman