How to Pack a Bike for Air Travel in Soft or Hard Bike Cases

Thinking of taking a bike on a plane for a cycling holiday? Worried about potential damage to the bicycle or how much it will cost to take all that extra weight on board?

This article shows how easy it is to pack a bike for either plane or sea travel and offers some useful tips on the best type of bike case together with advice on making sure potentially breakable bike components do not get damaged during the journey.

Best Bike Bags for Air Travel

Bike bags for air travel can be either soft or hard cases or even a cardboard box, as discussed in this related bike cases article. Which to choose depends largely on budget and the cost of the actual bike as hard cases may be the best for protecting delicate bike components but cost 3 to 4 times more than a soft bike bag.

Whichever bike bag is used, the method for packing a bicycle is essentially the same as outlined below.

Pack a Bicycle for Air Travel

While some last minute travelers have been known to shrink-wrap their bikes in cling film on arrival at the airport, common sense demands that a bike is partially dismantled before shipping to protect key bike components. This may sound time consuming but only takes around half an hour once well practised. Just follow these guidelines:

  • Remove the seat post, pedals and both wheels.
  • Deflate tires as required by most airlines.
  • Unscrew the stem and detach the handlebars, turning them sideways so that they can be placed flat in the bike case.
  • Remove the rear derailleur - optional but recommended for soft bags or cardboard boxes.
  • Place all loose components like pedals into a bag and tape to the frame so they do not get lost if the bike case opens in transit.
  • Wrap insulation foam or thick newspaper around the frame for additional protection and secure with zip-ties. It's also a good idea to bubble-wrap any discs (on bikes with disc brakes) as they are prone to bending in transit.
  • Place the bike frame in the bike bag and check that all components are seated as flat as possible.
  • Put the wheels on either side of the frame. Some bike bags come with separate wheel bags; if unavailable, wrap the wheels in bubble wrap or paper.
  • Close the bike case and secure with strong tape.

Cost of Taking a Bike on a Plane

Most airlines make a charge for taking a bicycle on a plane. Costs vary between 30/$50 to 50/$80 per return journey but to get the lowest price it is essential to pre-book the bicycle as part of the baggage allowance.

Expect to pay a higher cost as a percentage of the air-fare for short haul budget airline flights, popular with UK based mountain bikers heading for the Alps. Long haul destinations like New Zealand are usually cheaper as baggage allowances are greater and bikes can often be taken on board for no additional charge.

Pack a Bike with Confidence

With a little practice, it is quick and easy to pack a bike for air travel whether using a cheap cardboard box or an expensive hard bike case. Take care to bubble wrap easy to bend bike components like brake discs and your trusty steed will arrive in perfect condition for that much needed cycling holiday.

Related Articles:

Also of interest to you may be:

Shipping a bike. Some tips and simple instructions for shipping a bike by air or sea.

How to choose the best Bicycle travel bag. The article discusses the types of bike bags and boxes available.

Best bicycle box for air travel. This article looks specifically at hard boxes; the most secure way to keep your bike safe in transit.