6 Tips for Flying with a Bike

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6 Tips for Flying with a Bike

Whether it’s a dream cycling vacation, a destination triathlon or an out-of-town business trip, there’s nothing quite like traveling somewhere different and heading out for a ride. The only glitch is getting your bike there and back in one piece — and without it costing a small fortune.

Before you head to the airport for your next cycling escape, consider these tips (most of which have been learned the hard way) to get your bike from point A to point B as hassle-free as possible.

CHOOSE YOUR BIKE CASE CAREFULLY

As far as bike-carrying options go, you have three choices: a hardshell case, a softshell case or a cardboard bike box.

While a hardshell case will provide the most protection, they’re often the heaviest option, they cost more and they will incur baggage fees for oversized luggage. (Note: Any of these options will likely require additional baggage fees.) Your cheapest option is the standard cardboard bike box. When packed correctly, it can do a good job at protecting your bike, too. The one downside is inclement weather. If it ends up out on the tarmac for any extended period of time while it’s raining, you could have a big, soggy problem on your hands.

The middle ground is a softshell bike bag. They weigh less, protect your bike well enough when packed correctly — and they’re easier to slip by attendants at the baggage counter without too many questions being asked… if you’re lucky.

TAKE THE TIME TO PACK YOUR BIKE WELL

Ultimately, no matter which case you go with, how you pack your bike will determine how safely it arrives at your final destination. It’s often worth the extra effort of disassembly and reassembly to remove parts that are easily damaged or that make fitting your bike inside its case difficult — such as pedals, handlebars and tri extensions.

To protect other expensive parts, like the rear derailleurs, wheels and your frame, make sure you use extra padding (towels, foam, wheel bags, frame protectors, etc.) to decrease the likelihood of damage during handling.

KEEP THE WEIGHT DOWN

Aside from the large shape of your bag or case, you’ll likely incur even more charges at the check-in counter if your bag is too heavy. While it depends on the airline, most bags over 50 pounds will incur extra fees.

Staying under 50 pounds shouldn’t be a problem with most cases and bikes, unless your mountain bike is a tank. The mistake most people make is packing other gear in the bike bag like pumps, helmets and tools, which can significantly increase weight and potentially cause damage to your bike.

Instead, pack your other bike gear with the rest of your regular luggage. You’ll save money, and you’ll keep your bike safe.

UPGRADE TO FIRST CLASS

Depending on which airline you choose, the fee to check an oversized bag can be as much as $200. After you’ve purchased your ticket, most airlines will include an option to upgrade to first class. Sometimes this fee is less than it costs to check your bike bag (plus, leg room, better service, food and drinks — you get the picture).

Check with several airlines prior to making travel arrangements to see if this might be an option you can take advantage of. You just might be able to save some cash and enjoy your flight a little (or a lot) more.

CONSIDER A TRAVEL BIKE

No one wants to book a cycling vacation and end up with a ruined bike. If you travel a lot, it might be worth it to invest in a travel bike instead of toting your race steed around the world.

Models such as the Ritchey Break-Away feature a frame that can be split apart to make packing it in a small case easy. Most specialty travel frames will also have cables that disconnect as well as custom casing and padding to protect your bike as much as possible.

Out on the road, these bikes perform admirably to their counterparts. The steel version of the Break-Away only adds about 100 grams to a normal frame. For weight weenies, a carbon model has recently been added to Ritchey’s lineup.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT OTHER OPTIONS

Taking your bike on the plane with you is just one option while traveling. If you’re staying with a relative or friend, shipping your bike ahead of time via UPS or FedEx might be cheaper and less of a hassle than taking it on the plane. Unless you’re going overseas, you might be able to ship a bike for less than a $100 and insure it in case damages do occur.

If you don’t want to ship a bike, your other option is to look into a bike rental. Local bike shops are becoming more and more likely to have rentals available — and not just beach cruisers. If you can’t find someone with high-end road or mountain bike rentals to suit your needs, joining a cycling club like Rapha’s RCC could be worth the annual fee. Among other perks, you’ll be able to rent a Canyon race bike in most major cities for a nominal fee.

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  • Hal Ballard

    Be prepared for a sloppy TSA inspection. Every time I’ve flown, the box has been literally torn into. The first time, I lost parts. The second time, I packed anything that could come loose into a plastic bag. The fourth time, I shipped it ahead via UPS. IT cost $20 more than with the airline, but it was all there!

    • Hal Ballard

      I also sent it to a bike shop and it was reassembled by the time I got to my destination for another $20.

  • Michael Lynch

    Airlines now charge $150 each way for oversize luggage (bike carrier). Then, what are you going to do with that huge carrier once you arrive at your destination? If you take it with you, then you need to rent a vehicle large enough to hold it. After 9-11, no airline terminals will allow long-term storage of large items in the airport (from personal experience). The carrier is always the biggest problem. I have flown to Europe twice with a soft carrier before the above happened. Even the soft carrier rolls up, but it is still 5 feet long and a foot in diameter. Too big for most passenger cars. We had to rent vans at a costlier rate. Don’t think I will ever do that again. Very unfortunate…