PJAMM BLOG

Transporting Your Bike for Cycling Trips

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I've packed up my bike in a bike bag for air travel over 50 times over the course of 25+ cycling adventures (while each trip involves at least bagging the bike at the beginning of the trip and at the end of the trip, several trips involved multiple flights and locations). I have never shipped my bike to a cycling destination, but I have rented a bike the few times I have not brought my own bike with me.

I have surveyed several of my cycling contacts who have travelled extensively with their bikes for cycling trips to see what their experiences and preferences have been. Combining my personal experiences and the results of this survey, I've come up with this valuable resource on traveling with your bike for a cycling adventure.

First, I am extremely lucky because my bike has always arrived with me at my destination - it has never been lost, even briefly. Second, my experience is that the cost of transporting your bike with you on a plane varies wildly from airline to airline. In 2021 the cost varied from $0 on Alaska and Delta, to $150 on United. The variance can also be drastic from country to country, In Japan in 2018 I was quoted $850 for one bike and three check-in bags. Though I negotiated this price down to $425, I had to shed real tears for that! In the same year the cost in Thailand was $40 total. The worst things that have happened to me while transporting my bike have been: (1) I forgot my bike seat once, and (2) when I was using electronic shifting, the battery didn't work when I reassembled the bike.

I will address the following options in relation to travelling with a bike: (a) what's involved in transporting a bike, (b) costs for doing so, (c) things to look for when buying a bike bag, along with our recommendations, and (d) the possibility of shipping your bike or renting at your destination.

WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS

Below I review the three options for having a bike to cycle with a a distant cycling destination: (1) Renting at the destination, (2) Shipping to your destination, (3) Bringing your bike on your flight.

  1. Renting at a Destination
    • Advantages
      • Convenience of not hauling your bike around the airport.
      • Less chance of TSA related issues (e.g., not getting your bike back in the bag properly).
    • Neutral - cost

      Some rental examples that I've used (I've only rented in two locations):

      • Bikeworks Kona, HI - $65 per day
      • UC Cyclery, San Diego, CA - $80 per day/$320 per week

      Other examples to get a sense of cost:

      • Cyclotron, Denver, CO - $80 per day
      • Tucson Bike Rentals, Tucson, AZ - $75 per day ($60 day for five or more days)
      • BCYCLET, Lyon, FR 75 € (EU) per day
      • Livelo, London, UK $95 - $110 USD per day
    • Disadvantages
      • It's not your bike.
      • It can be more expensive than bringing your own bike if you rent for three or more days.
      • After you land you must travel to the bike rental location which can be time consuming.
    • Things to remember
      • Bring your own pedals.
      • Bring your own handlebar mounts.
      • Bring your own seat/seatpost (I have never done this, but it's something to consider if you strongly favor your own seat).
  2. Shipping to Your Destination
    • Advantages
      • As with renting, convenience of not having to haul the bike around the airport.
      • Less chance of TSA related issues.
      • You can have your bike delivered close to the location of the ride.
      • You can track the shipment in real time
      • You have your own bike for your trip vs. renting.
    • Neutral - cost (from Bikeflights.com)
      • $265 roundtrip San Francisco to New York, NY
      • $248 roundtrip San Francisco to Denver, CO
      • $238 roundtrip San Francisco to San Diego, CA
      • $505 roundtrip San Francisco to Maui, HI
      • $791 roundtrip San Francisco to Geneva, CH
      • $708 roundtrip San Francisco to Milan, IT
      • $708 roundtrip San Francisco to Lyon, FR
    • Disadvantages
      • Cost, it's expensive.
      • Chance of being damaged in transit.
      • You are dependent upon the hours at the shipping destination to get your bike.
      • The bike is not with you when you land - you have to drive to the shipping destination to get the bike.
      • You have to repack the bike to ship it.
    • Note: The only time I was involved in shipping a bike was via DHL from London to California and it was an absolute nightmare for me, ending with the bike arriving weeks late and with a crack in the frame.

  3. Bringing Your Bike on Your Flight
    • Advantages
      • Your bike is "with you" for your flight and presumably arriving with you at your destination. 🤞
      • You don't have to travel to a shipping or rental destination after landing.
      • You have your own bike for your trip vs. renting.
    • Neutral - cost

      Airlines that do not charge extra for bike for Domestic US travel:

      Airlines that charge one-way (we only researched the ten most-used US operating airlines):

    • Disadvantages
      • It is a hassle hauling your bike around airport terminals (this is particularly an issue in foreign countries with large airports where you don't speak the language).
      • TSA (or the international equivalent) may not be able to put your bike and bag back together with the tender loving care you would have (I once retrieved a hard plastic box wrapped in duct tape, admittedly that was a tough box to close - the old Serfas plastic bike case).

WHAT'S INVOLVED IN TRANSPORTING YOUR OWN BIKE

Here are my thoughts on what's involved in transporting your bike to your cycling destination:

  • If traveling with your bike, you'll need to invest in a bike case.
    1. I recommend investing in a good bike case if you decide that bringing the bike with you on the plane is preferred and you are going to travel with it once or more every few years. Check out our travel bag review and recommendations blog post.
  • You'll need to break down your bike before each flight and rebuild it afterwards. Depending on the type of travel case you purchase, this will involve:
    1. Removing the wheels. Be sure to let air out of the tires because they can explode since the air inside will expand as the plane gains altitude.
      • Put the skewers or through axles where you can find them.
      • I bring a soft tool bag that I put all my tools and bike parts in during transport, including skewers/through axles that are not used. I pack this bag with the bike itself (most cases require the front axle to secure the front fork in the case).
    2. Removing the handlebars (there are a couple of cases where this is not required - see "Travel Bags" below) and securing them with velcro or zip ties to the front fork.
      • I screw the stem screws back into the stem so they are not lost
    3. Remove the seat (again, a couple bags don't require this - for mid-sized and smaller bikes).
    4. Remove the rear derailleur (not required for all bags).
      • Alternative: Pull the bottom of the rear derailleur up to the right chainstay and secure it with a zip tie (bring scissors or a knife to cut the zip tie later).
    5. Remove the pedals (not required in some bags, but required by some airlines - I recommend always removing the pedals).
      • Be sure to bring your pedal wrench with you.

    That's it - five steps maximum - it's not too hard. I am not mechanically inclined and after the first time or two it became a very simple process. Do not be intimidated by having to "disassemble" (that's an overstatement) the bike to transport it. Generally there are YouTube videos available showing how to pack your bike into the bag you have chosen.

WHICH ITEMS/PARTS TO BRING & WHICH TO LEAVE BEHIND

It may be just me, but I prefer to travel "simple", particularly to remote areas where there is little to no support for bikes (e.g. climbs in Chile, Bolivia, etc). Surprisingly, bike shops are not that easy to find in many areas where you might think they would be, like the French and Italian Alps. Therefore, I try and avoid things that would require repair in a shop like hydraulic disc brakes and electronic shifting. But, as I said, that's just me - many of my traveling partners have used electronic shifting and hydraulics without difficulty. It only takes one issue to possibly ruin a long planned cycling adventure. For example, I used to travel with electronic shifting gear, but stopped when I had an inexplicable problem with my Di2 battery a few years ago.

For a comprehensive checklist of items I always run through when I head out on a cycling adventure please visit:Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A TRAVEL BAG

Wondering what kind of travel bag (hard vs. soft) or which brand to get? Check out our travel bag review and recommendations blog post.


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Jun 22, 2021
Great guide, a few comments derived from my Personal School of Unlikely Occurrences: 1) if you are a Campy person, bring a Campy cassette lockring tool and any other inscrutable Campy stuff you might need. The rule is that no one has it if you really need it. 2) bring an extra seat post clamp bolt! I had one break on reassembly and had to hunt down a new one. 3) Extra chain link, easy to lose, hard to find. 4) Cases: hard shell, no question. I've seen baggage handlers throw (literally) bike boxes on to conveyor belts, etc. My hard case was cracked once via some sort of gorilla force but the bike was unharmed. I can't imagine what would have happened to it with a soft shell.