How To Box A Bike

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 they have 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. If they aren't available, you can use 14" heavy duty Zip-Ties which can be bought at your local home improvement store where you need to buy two 6' sections of foam 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 boxing your bike before the real thing. It's going to take you at least an hour the first time.

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. Finally, under the both belt and suspenders theory, attach a luggage-type identification tag directly to your bike. If you doubt the need for such a system, see http://www.unclaimedbaggage.com/ 

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. This protects the large front chainring and moves the rear derailleur as far in as possible where it will be the least likely to be damaged. 

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, the seat tube and left rear triangle tubes. You need to split them lengthwise on one side (if they aren't already). Cut two more pieces to slide over the fork legs and install that old front hub to hold them in place. You also need two old bath size towels.

Turn cranks so the left one points toward the 10:00 O'clock position. 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. With the tire is resting against the frame, use two of the toe straps or Zip-Ties 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, finding where the handlebars will fit the best. In most cases it's with one end hooked over the top tube and other behind the forks around the down tube. If the stem is on the handlebars, it might need to be loosened and turned so it will fit through the spokes. When the handlebars are in a comfortable place, attach them there with that last toeclip strap or Zip-Tie around them, the top tube and front wheel.

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 goes 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 you have found how to fit the bike in the box, remove it so you can pack other items first.

Roll the pedals, bottle cages, front skewer and TOOLS TO REASSEMBLE THE BIKE, along with that other roll of tape (It's to use when you box the bike for the return trip) and any other small items you want with the bike in the towel and secure it with tape. Place the bundle in the bottom of the box in the space between the fork tips 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. Wrap the saddle and seatpost in the other towel and slide it in on one side of the rear tire and your cycling shoes on the other. Depending on the size and shape of your helmet, and the length of your rear rack, you might be able to fit it in the corner at the top of the box behind the rear wheel. If not, I've never found any other location for it and had to wear it onto the plane. 

Strap the lid shut using several strips of the carton strapping tape. You can use too few but you can't have too many. Since the security problems at airports, you might be better off to buy three luggage straps long enough to go around the box instead of taping it shut. Use one strap at either end and one in the middle. That way, hopefully, the TSA people will close it properly where if they cut the tape to get in, they won't.

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 convince them or they will know that you didn't)

If you plan to travel with your bike on a regular basis, you might consider one of the special cases made for bicycles. They cost around $300 but do provide excellent protection.

Click here for an article on shipping a bike.


Name, address and business card inside box.


Outside of box that I used on trip to Spain. The notice in Spanish says, "Not Trash, Hold For Owner"


Baggage style identification tag attached to my bike.


Best location for handlebars.


Bike ready to go into box.


Be sure to remove anything not needed on tour.


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Copyright 2005 by Jim Foreman