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Cycling is a great way to explore your locality, but sometimes it takes countless miles of riding before the landscape changes much. That’s why many cyclists also enjoy cycling vacations—to ride somewhere new.
The main challenge faced when contemplating a faraway cycling location is how to get your bike there. Each method has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Shipping a bike is an exercise in limiting risk of damage or loss. Who will be handling your bike along the way, and how should you protect it? This article tells you all you need to know.
Different Ways To Ship A Bike
If you travel with your bike, you’re not shipping it, strictly speaking. It’s a technicality, but it might affect how you pack your bike. Below are some of the options.
On many domestic train services across the world, you’d have no problem travelling with your bike for free. But long-distance or international trains are different.
You may find that a small folding bike incurs no extra charge on any train, but it is likely to count as part of your luggage allowance.
Bigger bikes such as road bikes can either be wheeled straight into the hold of the train as they are, or you might have to box them up first in a semi-dismantled state.
Make sure you know where your bike will be unloaded and moved to at the end of a train journey, particularly if you’re arriving late at your destination.
Typical prices for transporting a non-folding bike in the hold of an international European train are in the region of $40 to $70.
In the United States, you’ll often have to reserve a space for a full-size bike on Amtrak intercity passenger trains. The fees look something like this:
- Carry-on service (bike racks): $0 to $20
- Trainside checked service (bike racks): $5 to $20
- Checked baggage service (baggage hold): $10 checking fee + $15 for a box (on sale at most staffed locations)
The availability of these services varies between routes.
Cyclists can check bikes in using their own containers, which avoids the potential stress of performing mechanical work at a train station.
The cost of taking a bike with you on a plane varies greatly according to airline and the size and weight of the packed bike. It could be anything from no-charge, if it’s part of your luggage allowance, to $350 if it’s oversized or overweight.
Many airlines will accept a bike as checked luggage if it is under 50 lb. (23 kg.) and 62 inches (158 cm). The limits are more generous in some cases.
The biggest concern with planes, even more than trains, is that baggage handlers and time-pressed TSA staff will not care as much about your bike as you do. It’s another box, bag or case. Another bike.
Perhaps the best way to get your bike from A to B is by a carrier such as FedEx or UPS. Why? Because it’s what they do. They’re not people carriers for whom luggage is a necessary inconvenience. They are more accountable than airports.
Sending your bike directly via professional carriers is not the cheapest or best way to go. You’ll often pay a premium price, and insurance is always extra.
A better solution is the bike-shipping companies that offer good discount prices through their buying power with carriers (e.g., DHL, FedEx or UPS). These companies will often sell you a bike box as well.
Well-known bike shipping companies include the following:
- Bikeflights – ships bikes to and from anywhere worldwide (no domestic deliveries within EU countries). Competitive prices and well-liked for their customer service. Uses UPS and FedEx.
- Shipbikes – uses FedEx to ship bikes to and from almost anywhere. Online quotes available for the U.S. and international quotes on request. Prices within the U.S. range from $40 to $120 plus insurance one way.
- SendBike – UK company SendBike ships bikes worldwide using carriers such as DHL and FedEx. Cost of delivery to and from EU countries starts at £69.99 one way, and the service includes free loss or damage cover.
Normally when dealing with these companies, you’ll still hand your bike straight over to the carrier. The benefit lies mainly in the reduced price and availability of bike boxes and adequate insurance.
Before You Pack Your Bike
Before you start packing your bike, consider your options. Many bike shops offer a bike-packing service. Of course, you must pay them, but they are the experts in disassembling bikes.
Even if you’re not utilizing a bike shop to pack your bike, the same shop may be able to give you a used cardboard bike box for free.
Boxes vs Cases
Choosing between a cardboard box and a dedicated bike case or bag is another conundrum you’ll face when trying to move a bike.
One problem with using your own case is that you may not get the best shipping rates if it’s of a non-standard size.
Carriers calculate shipment size using this equation: L+ (2xW) + (2xH)
For example: a standard 54x30x8” bike box = a 130” shipment size (54+60+16).
This 130” (330 cm) shipment size is the maximum you can go to before carriers will charge you a higher rate for a large package. When measuring, round the figures upwards.
The maximum shipment size for a domestic U.S. package is 165”, while 157” is a typical max for international shipments (varies by country).
You’ll benefit from the best shipping rates if the whole package weighs less than 50 lb. (23 kg.) Bikes in hard cases may get close to this, but it’s highly unlikely in a cardboard box.
Hard Shell vs Bike Bag
A hard-shell case offers strong resistance against being crushed or penetrated by other luggage, but that resistance comes at the cost of more weight. A typical hard-shell case will take up half of your 50 lb. luggage allowance on a flight.
Bike bags use padding to protect the bike. They have an advantage over cardboard boxes in that they have handles, making them easier to shift without mishaps. They’re also water resistant, which makes a difference if you fly on a rainy day.
Video: Which Bike Box or Bag?
Tools Needed To Pack A Bike
Before you pack your bike, make sure you have the following tools to hand:
- Pedal wrench
- Hex keys – 4, 5 & 6 mm
- Packing materials (foam pipe insulation, bubble wrap, foam wrap)
- Packing tape (2” wide)
- String, zip ties or Velcro straps
- Plastic bags or a box for small parts
How To Pack Your Bike For Shipping (In A Cardboard Box)
Below, you’ll find out how to pack a bike into a cardboard box ready for shipping.
Step 1. Start Wrapping The Frame
Tape foam pipe securely around all easily accessible parts of the frame, meaning the top tube, down tube, and seat tube.
Use two pieces of foam pipe if the frame is too fat to be encircled by one. You’ll wrap the rest of the frame once the wheels are off.
Step 2. Remove Pedals
Use a pedal wrench or an Allen key (hex key) to remove the pedals. Remember when removing pedals that left = clockwise and right = counter-clockwise, as the left sided pedal is reverse threaded.
Stubborn pedals are removable with a cheater bar / wrench extender.
Wrap the pedals up in bubble wrap and place them to one side in a box or bag.
Video: Removing Pedals
Step 3. Remove Handlebar
To make the bike narrower, you must rearrange the handlebar. Remove the bolts securing the bar to the stem, rest the handlebar on the front tire and lightly screw the bolts back into place. Wrap the handlebar stem with bubble wrap.
Secure the handlebar to the top tube using tape, plastic ties or Velcro strips.
Step 4. Remove Wheels & Wrap Rest Of Frame
To finish wrapping the frame, you now need to remove the wheels. Put your bike into its highest gear at the rear so the chain rests on the smallest sprocket.
Remove the front wheel and wrap the forks with foam pipe. Remove the rear wheel and wrap chain stays and seat stays with foam pipe. Reassemble any quick release skewers, wrap them and put them with your pedals.
Step 5. Remove Rear Derailleur
Not everyone removes the rear derailleur when packing a bike, but it’s vulnerable to damage during transit.
Unscrew the rear derailleur in a counter-clockwise direction, wrap the whole assembly in a plastic bag or bubble wrap and tape it between the seat stays.
Video: How to Remove and Install Rear Derailleur for Travelling
Step 6. Remove Seat Post & Saddle
Remove the seat post with the saddle still attached and wrap it with bubble wrap. Before doing so, mark the height of your saddle with a piece of tape so you can easily replace it at your preferred height.
It is possible to leave the saddle in situ if it will fit inside the box.
Step 7. Pack The Box
Lower the bike into the box and place your wheels in alongside it on the opposite side to your tied handlebar. Put the wheels in wheel bags if you have them.
Use pieces of cardboard to separate different bike elements and to fortify the inside of the box, particularly where the axles press against the side.
Put your small parts bag or box in with the bike (perhaps including tools), securing it to the frame if possible.
Add bubble wrap and other padding until nothing inside moves or rattles. Close the box and tape it up.
Ok, We’re Done…
Transporting or shipping your bike for a vacation or bike race needn’t be stressful provided you study the details. Generally, use a bike case or bag for airports and a box for shipping. Check what’s possible on train services.
We hope this article will help you avoid the choppier waters of bike shipping and allow you to enjoy your destination to the max.
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