Earlier this summer, my boyfriend and I set out to bike from Seattle to Portland in the annual STP ride. The thing is, we live in San Francisco, so riding the STP meant I’d finally have to figure out how to pack a bike and travel with it.
As an obsessively light packer, I hated the idea of bringing something so big and — even worse — checking a piece of luggage. But really, it wasn’t so bad — especially with an experienced bike traveler at my side.
So, if this is your first figuring out how to pack a bike for travel, read on for details on how much you should expect to pay (both domestic and international), how to put that bike in a box, alternative options to checking your bike, other things you’ll have to consider, and (since this is Packsmith) a bike packing list to round everything off.
Shipping vs Checking a Bike
If you’re traveling with a bike, you actually have two options:
- Check it as baggage on your flight with you
- Ship it
Typically, cost and convenience are the biggest deciding factors between the two. Some airlines will make you pay for your bike as oversized luggage, which can get pretty pricey, whereas others are downright reasonable.
You’ll also have to consider shipping addresses and whether or not you’re willing to be without your bike for a few days if you ship it, the price of taxis to and from the airport and all the other little logistics of lugging a bike box around if you check it. Let’s start with the costs:
Costs to Ship a Bike
First of all, shipping a bike, like shipping anything, is cheaper if you’re okay with letting it take 5 business days and don’t need to overnight it. The lighter and smaller your bike, the less expensive it’ll be as well.
- San Francisco to D.C. – I was looking at about $45 each way.
- San Francisco to Seattle – it was a mere $25 with FlightBikes — which is the same amount I paid (minus the extra cost of taxis that I wouldn’t have otherwise taken) to check my bike on an Alaska Airlines flight.
- San Francisco to Paris, France – rates began at $266 one way (yikes!).
Definitely do your own rate search as well, but, based on my findings, it appears that shipping a bike is only worth it if you’re traveling within the U.S. and are fine without your bike for a few days on either end of your trip.
Costs to Fly a Bike
For the most part, airlines treat bike boxes like a checked bag, so long as it’s under 50 lbs and 62 total linear inches. Otherwise, excess baggage fees apply (so maybe think twice about sticking your bike lock in the box). Below, I’ve broken up fees for under/over 50 lbs, as well as international/domestic flights.
Note: Most bike boxes weigh between 10 – 15 lbs. Cardboard boxes are, obviously, less.
- American Airlines – Under 50 lbs costs $25 for domestic flights, $0 international. Otherwise, it’s $150 each way.
- Delta Air Lines – Under 50 lbs costs $25 for domestic and $0 on most international flights. Bicycles over 70 lbs will be charged excess baggage fees and those over 100 lbs won’t be accepted.
- Southwest Airlines – Both domestic and international, checking a bike under 50 lbs is free, yay! Actually, they’ll accept your first two bags for free, so it’s a pretty good deal if you need to check a bike and a bag. The fee is $75 for anything over 62 inches. Bike boxes over 80 inches or 100 lbs won’t be accepted.
- United Airlines – Under the 50 lbs, it’s $25 domestic and $0 international. If it’s over that, expect to pay $150 each way on flights to U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and $200 just about anywhere else.
- Air Canada – For flights within North America, it’s $25 for bike boxes under 50 lb. Bikes up to 70 lbs and 115 linear inches will cost an additional $75 fee. International flights are free for under 50 lbs, $100 for overweight boxes. It’ll also be an additional $100 for a second checked bag on an international flight.
- JetBlue Airlines – Bikes under 50 lbs are $25 for domestic, $0. Otherwise, there will be a charge of $50 (in lieu of an excess baggage fee). Bikes in cardboard boxes are only accepted on domestic flights, and for whatever reason, not allowed at all on flights to and from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Peru and Port of Spain.
- Alaska Airlines – $25 for bikes under 50 lbs, free if you’re flying to or from Mexico, or within Alaska. Otherwise, it’s a $75 overweight charge each way.
- Spirit Airlines – Bikes are $75 each way, regardless of size.
- Frontier Airlines – Likewise, bikes are $75 each way, regardless of size. They may not be over 109 linear inches.
- Hawaiian Airlines – Within Hawaii, each bike costs $35. To and from North America, $100.
- Virgin America – Bikes cost $50 each way. Over 50 lbs will be subject to an additional $50 fee.
International Airline Policies
- Lufthansa – Most flights allow bikes up to 50 lbs for free. On flights within Europe, it’ll cost $70 regardless of weight (well, unless your bike weighs less than 17.5 lbs, which I doubt) or $150 on intercontinental flights.
- Emirates/Etihad – Bikes are accepted as part of your normal baggage allowance, but fees can get crazy if you’re checking another bag on top of that.
- British Airways – Bikes up to 70 linear inches can count as one of your checked bags (which is typically free). No notes on weight are specified.
- Air France – Depending on what “zone” you’re flying to or from, bike boxes cost 40 – 125 Euros. You must also submit a request to check a bike at least 48 hours before departure.
- Turkish Airlines – Free bags are allowed for up to 44 – 50 lbs (depending on destination and class). No specific notes on bike allowances are made, just that you’re allowed to check one.
- KLM – Depends on flight; I was quoted 125 Euros for an SFO – AMS flight.
- AirAsia – Bikes are limited to 20kg (~44 lbs) and there is a fee which varies by flight. It can cost up to 50% more to pay at the airport, rather than in advance.
- Cathay Pacific – On most flights you’re allowed free bags of up to 44 lbs each. Some flights give an extra baggage weight allowance applied to bikes.
- Japan Airlines – Policies are the same as British Airlines.
British Airlines and American Airlines are said to be two of the most bike friendly airlines for international travel. Most of the Asia/Pacific airlines tend to be pretty good as well.
Additional Costs to Consider
As mentioned above, those costs apply only if you don’t check any other luggage. Checking luggage means you may pay more for that second bag than you did the first. Also consider how much you’ll spend on getting to and from the airport.
For example, I never check bags or take taxis, but did when I went to Seattle. Between my boyfriend and I, we spent $50 each ($100 total) on checking bikes. Plus, we spent $105 getting to and from airports with taxis (we would have otherwise spent $41). Overall, that means $164 in additional spending ($82 each) for our bikes.
Depending on your style, and your trip, you might also purchase insurance, or pay to store your bike box at the airport (which could cancel out expensive taxis).
How to Box Your Bike
Global Cycling Network has a fantastic youtube video on how to pack your bike in a bike box and another version for packing it into a cardboard bike box. Either way, to pack your bike in a box, you basically have to:
- Take off your seat and pedals
- Take off your wheels and remove the quick releases
- Loosen the stem (handlebars)
- Place the side with the gears on the bottom of the foam, handlebars on their side
- Use lots of padding to protect your bike (especially in a cardboard box)
- Make sure you keep all loose parts in a small bag
- Take off any bike gear, like a GPS. Leaving the water bottles is fine.
Where to Buy a Box
Whether you’re shipping or checking your bike, you’ll have to put it in a bike box or bike bag.
You can either pick a cardboard one up from any store that sells bikes for free (or $5 max) or get a nice bike box to keep it extra safe. Bike cases like the Serfas Bike Case and the Vaison Bike Box will run you about $325 and $385 respectively.
A bike bag, on the other hand, is a little less sturdy but a little easier to maneuver through airports and other forms of transportation. I haven’t personally tried it, but I’d be all over it if I were able to fold the bag down, strap it to the back of my bike, and pedal on out of the airport. Competitive Cyclist has some great selections of bike bags.
Bike Packing Checklist
Now that you’ve sorted out transporting your bike, don’t forget to pack all of your bike gear!
- Helmet (bring in your carry on)
- Water bottles (we pack these in the bike box in our water bottle cages)
- Bike shoes
- Bike clothes (2 pairs of shorts, 2 jerseys, arm and leg warmers if you think you’ll need them)
- Flat repair kit
- Bike tools, specifically an allen wrench
- Bike lights
- Lock and keys (think about weight before putting it in your bike box)
If you’re trying to pack a bike to travel, you’ll either be packing it in a cardboard box, or a solid bike box. From there, you can usually check it as you would any other bag so long as it’s under 50 lbs and 62 inches. British Airways, American Airlines, and most of the Asian airlines have bike friendly luggage policies.
Alternatively, you can ship it to your destination through a service like FlightBikes.
To pack your bike properly, make sure you remove the wheels, pedals, and detach your handlebars to lay them on the side.