Considerations for Flying & Shipping your Bicycle

Bicycle box shipping

Very last minute, I decided to get my old touring bike I had in Cleveland to San Francisco. I totally underestimated what was involved with packing and shipping my bike as it’s been awhile. Here’s what I learned and recalled a bit too late.

Packing for airplane or mail shipping
I found it pretty easy to pick up a free bike box from a local bike store, and I remembered to ask for those little plastic doohickeys that go between your front fork once the wheel is off, and the other ones to go on the sides of the wheel skewers so the poky parts don’t bust through the box. However, I learned that one size does not fit all and the fork thingy did not fit my bike. This plastic thing is actually a rather important packing aspect as I once had a bike fork ruined on a flight when something heavy landed on the bike box. Given that I was doing this last minute, I did not have time to go get more…so as it stands, we’ll see how my bike makes it without injury. I got bubble wrap to go around my frame and packed clothes around it to fill in the space. Also, I put the loose accessory items (pedals, and extraneous pieces parts) into a bag, which I then taped to my bike so that it would not clunk around during shipping.

Tool check
You are going to have do at least a little bit of disassembling of your bike to fit it into a standard bike box. Probably your handlebars, tires, pedals, and seats are going to have to come off. This is where I ran into my first unexpected problem. I had a set of allen wrenches and went to work taking off the relevant parts. It turned out that I did not have an allen wrench larger enough for one screw that went to my bike seat. Also, taking off my pedals required a wrench that I did not have at my disposal. I was certainly glad to learn what tools I did not have prior to setting out on an expedition. I very well might have been on the road when I found out I was missing tools. Morale of this story…be sure to do a one over on your bike to make sure you have away to take apart everything on your bicycle. If you do not know enough to evaluate this, I recommend taking a bicycle maintenance class or stopping into a bike shop and asking if someone might go over the basics with you.

Getting your bike on the plane for free!

Here’s a little secret. Although an airline will normally charge you extra for a bike, it won’t if it does not know it is a bike –then it just goes as a piece of checked luggage. I always mentally and financially prepare to be “busted” on this deception, but it has not happened yet. The key is to not use a bicycle box, rather pack your bike in a different sized box. I take off both wheels (your back wheel typically remains on in a normal bike box) and find, or cut up and create a new box. If asked, I say “sporting equipment” is in the box. I would be very curious to hear other’s experiences. Be sure to bring extra tape in the off chance that you are asked to open the box.

I just learned the hard way that shipping options and prices differ (or are even precluded) depending upon the size of your bike box. I looked online at the US post office’s website and thought I had things figured out. I got my bike box from the bike store, packed my bike all up, and got to the post office 15 minutes before closing only to learn that my box was too big. I had no options available there to ship my bike. Online I had put in the box dimensions and weight and got a price of $108. If the website gave a size restriction, I missed it. Moral of this story, find out what the box restriction is and pack accordingly. I certainly could have fit my bike into a smaller box, or maybe used two (i.e., put my wheels in a separate one) if I had known.

In the end, I had to rush to UPS (which I was told was less than FedEx, but I do not know this first hand). They took the box, but it cost me $155 to ship it from Ohio to San Francisco including $5 for $500 worth of insurance.

I’ll keep you posted if and when my bike arrives in SF. Now I’ll have a spare for friends (friends about my size anyway)!

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