How to pack your bike and gear on an airplane and avoid excessive fees

DCIM101GOPRO

If you want to explore the world on a bicycle you are going to have to learn how to pack it on an airplane. In my 3 years of cycling the globe I have checked my bicycle at airports all around the world. Polices change but here is a list of the countries and airlines I have used; US to Norway (Air Canada $50 bike fee), Bosnia to Egypt (Turkish Air 40 euros), Israel to Bosnia (Turkish Air 80 euros non-direct flight), Kazakhstan to Korea (Asiana Air no bike fee), US to the Philippines (Eva airlines no bike fee), Philippines to Brunei (Royal Brunei airlines $20 bike fee), Indonesia to Australia (Air Asia $40 bike fee), US to Kazakhstan (Turkish airlines 40 euros), and Laos to India (Air Asia $40 bike fee). My goal in flying has and always will be the same: Pay the fee for checking your bike and then carry all the rest of the gear on free of charge.  If I am paying to check my bike if feel that it is ridiculous to pay more to check my bags, instead I just carry anything that doesn’t fit in the bicycle box on to the flight. This all can be a bit difficult but I am sure if follow my guidelines you will have little trouble carrying this out. Before we get started you will need the following: large bicycle box, plastic guards for fork, derailleur, and hub, a few rolls of scotch tape, zip ties, digital scale, and a permanent marker.

  1. Before you purchase your ticket call the airline and find out what their bicycle policy is. Some airlines offer free checking for bicycles like EVA airlines, and others charge a hand and a foot like United. If you do thorough research you can almost always find an airline going to your destination that will check your bike for a reasonable fee. The most expensive price I paid for checking my bike was on Turkish Airlines, when I flew from Tel Aviv to Bosnia. Their fee for checking a bicycle is determined by the number of stops and since the flight had a stop in Istanbul I had to pay 40 euros to check my bike plus another 40 for the stop, totaling at 80 euros. Make sure you are clear with the total weight and volume restrictions, and print out the information from the website as a reference. From my personal experience size is not as important as weight so as long as the bike is in a cardboard bicycle box you will most likely be fine. Note: I have heard stories of people checking their bicycle in plastic bags, I am sure this works too but you will then have to check a lot of your gear which will get expensive.
  2.  Find a bicycle shop that has a card board box big enough for your bicycle. I call around and find a bike shop that has a large/extra-large box, if they don’t have one at the time they will almost certainly have one in the next few days. Look for boxes that shipped mountain bikes as these are usually bigger, and stronger. If in a foreign country I go to the largest bicycle shop in town, sometimes going through their dumpster. Specialized bike boxes are the best. Either way get a box , and ask for the plastic shipping protectors.
  3.  Determine on how you are going to get to the airport. This may seem simple to most of you as you will likely get a ride in a car. If that is the case you will want to skip to number 5. If you are not getting a ride to the airport, and plan on riding there with the bike box strapped to the back you are a true die-hard and have my utmost respect, proceed to number 4
  4. Strap the bicycle box to the back of your frame and find the best route. The first time I rode my bicycle box to the airport was when I was in Israel, I strapped the box to the back of my rear rack, and pedaled 30 km to the airport. The only road there was a major highway and I often feared that if the box fell off it would be destroyed by traffic. It turned out alright though, and I arrived 2 hours before my flight.

    DCIM100GOPRO

    Inside the Bali International airport. Riding a bike with a huge box strapped to the back is quite normal in Indonesia. In Japan it was extremely difficult as the streets were narrow and the large box constantly struck pedestrians. 

  5. At this point you have either ridden the box to the airport or will be getting a ride to the airport. Time to start Packing: 1. Start by strengthening the bottom of the box by taping the bottom flap, make sure to use plenty to tape. 2. Flip your bicycle over, and remove the pedals, front wheel, front fender and rack, and any other piece of equipment that may interfere with its horizontal placement in the box, tap in the plastic front drop-out protector. 3.Remove the seat post, the stem, and loosen the clamp on the handlebars. Pull out your stem and spin your handle bars horizontal.   4. Lower the pressure in your tires, and place the bike inside the box. (if the bike does not fit you may have to remove the rear rack, and/or the rear wheel).
  6.  Now is the time to start putting all the gear that you are not allowed to not carry-on into the box. Tent, stove, tools, tent stakes, pocket knife, pump, patch kit, lighters, etc. Anything that will get confiscated during the security screening I pack into the box. Keep an eye on the weight. (use the airport scale or a standard step on digital one)
  7. Now side in your front wheel, along with your front fender, place your front rack on top of the top tube as protection. Put your removed seat post and saddle into a space in the box. You want everything to be snug.
  8.  Using bungee cords or zip ties strap as much as you can together. If the box comes open during transit you don’t want anything falling out. I make sure that my quick release skewers are packed into a large box or bag, as well as any other small items or tools.
  9. Once everything is strapped together check the weight, you may be able to stuff more things inside. If you have to remove something, make sure you can carry it on!
  10. Close the box and write your info in permanent marker on the front, back and sides.
  11.  Tape the heck out of the box. Use long sections of tape as well as short!
  12. Make sure your carry on gear/bags are out of sight and proceed to the check-in counter. You may need to ask someone to watch your bags or place them on a cart near your so you can monitor them while checking in. Important: Don’t let the airline check-in counter employee see that you have a lot of carry on bags, if they see them tell them that they are not going on the flight, otherwise they will make you check them and you will most likely have to pay a large fee.
  13. If the bike is a little over weight prop your foot underneath the corner of the box while it’s on the scale, this can decrease the weight by a kilo or two.
  14. If the bike is still overweight or for some reason you are having problems checking it, tell the employee at the counter about your tour, and how much it means to you. Tell them that you have everything you need to live on the road in the box. Smile, be friendly and speak in a kind voice. Check the bike and thank the check in employee. Get your ticket and make sure your box has fragile stickers
  15.  Get the rest of your luggage/gear and proceed to the gate. Note: Security doesn’t really care if you have a lot of baggage so long as you don’t have any forbidden items. If you get caught with a pocket knife, or sharp item they may ask you to check some of your bags. So be sure of what you are carrying and proceed
  16. Once you are through security you are home free, board the flight and look for as much over head baggage storage space as you can. You might get some attitude from the flight attendants but at this point there is nothing they can do but help you find room for your gear.
  17. Get a whiskey, vodka or glass of wine and relax, you did it…Try not to worry about your bicycle and everything you need to live on the road underneath the plane. I am sure it will arrive just fine!
  1. Three rolls of Turkish airlines sticky tape!

I hope this was helpful! If you have any questions please feel free to contact me

-Julian Wong