“What is that???” I hear that about ten times when I am at the airport with my bike. Traveling by plane with a bike can be a very expensive and very tricky thing to do, but I’m writing this post to give you a little guide to make things easier should the day come that you need to bring your two wheeled buddy on a trip with you!

Part 1: How do you pack it?

Well, there are some options. Hard case, soft case, or cardboard box. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each.

Hard Case

Weight is your main issue with a hard case. Most airlines will charge you extra if your bike+box weigh over 50 pounds, and a lot of hard cases push it over that limit. Hard cases can be nice because they offer the most protection and you can wheel them. They are pricey to buy, but as long as you are ok with the extra weight and bulk, this is your ticket. I normally do not travel with a hard case because mine always weigh more than 50. There are also times where you have to pick it up and lift it, and I struggle under the weight of a 50+ huge, awkward box.

Soft Case

This is a great option. Soft cases are normally less expensive to purchase than hard cases. While they do not provide the same amount of protection as a hard case, they are still pretty good and often light enough so you won’t go over the 50lb weight limit. Most of them also can be wheeled which is extremely helpful.

Cardboard Box

I prefer the soft case option, but I don’t have one, nor do I want to invest in one at the moment so I often opt for the cardboard box. Call up your local bike shop and ask them to set aside a bike box for you. In addition, pick up bubble wrap, zip ties, and other packing material. A cardboard box does not offer the protection that a case offers, but if you pack the bike correctly, it can be just as effective. Things to remember are to remove the derailleur and hanger because they get bent really easily, and to be careful if you have a mountain bike because the rotors can also get bent.

The cardboard box is also a good option because it gives you options. Maybe you need to transport your bike one way and someone can drive it back? The box can be broken down and recycled. Also, having a cardboard box is useful because if you need to travel back with it, you can get rid of it and get a new one from a bike shop before you leave so you won’t have to cart the box around with you. With a hard or soft case, you’ll need to transport the case after you’ve built your bike(unless you build it at your hotel), but having the versatility can help. Shipping the bike is also an option with the cardboard box and can sometimes be cheaper than flying with the bike.

For all bikes, there is some disassembly required when packing the bike. In a cardboard box, you typically only have to remove the front wheel. Cases generally require you to remove both wheels. The stem will have to be removed, and the handlebar removed from the stem. The seatpost with the seat still attached will need to be removed. Additionally, the pedals need to be taken off the cranks and the skewers need to be removed from the wheels. If it’s a tight fit, you can also let air out of the tires. As mentioned above, it’s very good practice to remove the derailleur and hanger (you do not have to undo the cable, just zip tie it to your frame)

Wrap the frame in bubble wrap, and use your clothing as padding – just make sure you don’t get grease on it! Clothing as packing material is a great way to bring more stuff that you need and putting it to use instead of dead weight in your suitcase. Don’t forget to bring some tools to rebuild your bike.

Airline Bike Travel: Part 2 – Airline Fees