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