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The very first time I took my bike on an airplane, I took it apart and boxed it up in the cardboard box it came in. I then had a very large impossible-to-carry box so I bought a small folding cart to roll it around on. I dragged the box to the airport, from the airport, to the train and along a street to my hotel, where I spent half a day re-assembling the bicycle. I also had to arrange to store the box and the folding cart. The hotel agreed for a price and a second nights reservation. On the way back I had to end my trip a day early, disassemble the bike, put it in the box and drag it to the airport again. This is how not to pack a bike for shipping.

There is an alternative to renting a bicycle

Today I ride my fully loaded bike to the airport. I turn the handles, take off the pedals, chock the front wheel so it won't turn and reduce the tire pressure. I then roll it into a plastic bag the airline provides. The next time I see the bike I'm at my destination. I take it out of the bag, un-chock the front wheel, straighten the bars, put on the pedals and pump up the tires and ride from the airport. Even if I have to make a train connection I can roll the bike with panniers on to the train. Very civilized.

 

Strangely, that's not how most people do it. They see their bike as a big investment and as such must be boxed correctly to avoid damage. Plastic boxes are available with little wheels and you can even rent them. Custom made bike boxes have foam cut out to the perfect shape of your bike. I suspect a truck could drive over some of these and they would still protect your bike. Are you that type of person? Are you willing to go to the expense and inconvenience of buying or renting, disassembling, shipping and then reassembly?

 

To avoid that hassle, some people rent a bicycle at the destination. I've done that too. If you are like me who has a touring bicycle that you are very familiar with and maintain carefully, you will never be satisfied with a rental. My Brooks B-17 saddle has been shaped to my anatomy and is superbly comfortable. I am familiar with my gears, in fact I had the entire bike custom made to my shape and specifications. Today I would never consider a rental for anything more than a day trip. Rental bikes tend to be the 'adjust the seat height" sort of custom fit. Spend a week with your arms stretched out to the limit or your back bent over and you'll bring your own bike every time.

 

There are a few risks in shipping your bike. It could be damaged or stolen. Over the years I've had both, luckily it was on the return flight for both and I did manage to recover the stolen bike. If your bike is lost then you may qualify for up to $3300 compensation from the airline. The airlines will compensate you if the bike is damaged, but I find its not easy to collect, especially if you do your own repairs.

 

Please be aware that certain airlines get a reputation for losing or damaging luggage, in fact it is not the airline, but the airport who employ the baggage handlers. The busiest airports seem to be the worst and at least one European airport turns a blind eye to thefts to avoid wildcat strikes from the unionized employees that could shutdown the entire airport.

 

The bottom line. Don't tour with a bike that looks expensive or is delicate. A good old chromoly touring bike with some well-used panniers will not attract the attention of a re-sale thief. Liberating your bike also liberates you so you can trip from one destinational airport to another without worries about

 

See Tuning up Your Bike

 

See Packing Checklist Blog

How to Pack a Bike for Air Travel

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