How to air travel with your bike
Choosing the best solution to transport your bike when flying
Bike cases, bike bags and cardboard boxes all have their pros and cons. Many cyclists and triathletes ask themselves the same question year on year – “How can I transport my bike to arrive safe at the upcoming sportive/training camp/competition?”
These are some issues you should consider when choosing the right solution:
- Required level of protection
- Weight restrictions
The first question you should ask yourself is, which level of protection is required to protect your bike from damage on air travel. We have some answers for you!
Almost all airlines require you to check in your bike in packaging. This leaves you with three solutions to transport your bike.
This link has some excellent advice on how to pack your bike in a bag or box.
The cardboard box conundrum
The initially cheapest option one may think of is to get hold of a cardboard box. This option is often available for little or no money. The cardboard box is light, provides extra space to store other equipment and can easily be stacked. After the trip, the box can be recycled. So far so good.
The downside of the cardboard box is that it is unstable and in the event of mishandling by airport ground handling staff, a cardboard box is likely to get seriously damaged, which leaves little or no protection to your precious bike. Torn and punctured boxes are often the result.
The cardboard box itself will not provide enough protection on its own. In order to protect your bike, you will soon be heading to the local DIY store ending up spending additional money on bubble wrap, pipe insulation, cable ties and tape. Bear in mind that this activity will take up a lot of your time you could use riding your bike!
In addition to the low level of protection, you need to know a thing or two about dismantling your bike in order to store it properly inside the cardboard box. Initially, being the cheapest option, the cardboard box requires mechanical skills, provides you with the least protection, and often a bad surprise at your destination.
Cardboard box rating:
- Space for other equipment
- Very easily damaged
- Requires extra time padding
- Requires mechanical skills to pack bike
The bike case – play it safe?
One of the safest options to protect your bike is a rigid bike box. This is often the most expensive option. A bike box provides the highest level of protection, preventing the contents from being harmed by knocks and shocks. Depending on the model, they may have dedicated areas to protect wheels and also provide additional space to store equipment, like a wetsuit, shoes, helmet etc.
Although providing the highest level of protection, there are some downsides to bike boxes. A bike box itself can weigh quite a lot. With an average weight allowance of 20kg for sport luggage with most airlines, some cases alone reach this limit. Packing your bike in the bike case will in some cases result in exceeding the weight allowance and leaving you with an excessive fee to check in the case. Many airlines calculate overweight per kilogram, so any additional weight becomes an important factor.
Do you have the mechanical skills to dismantle your bike to fit it inside the bike case? Most models of bike cases will require the wheels, handlebars, seat post, pedals and rear derailleur to be removed.
If the bike box is the only option you consider, make sure you check out the weight of the case. There are some premium bike boxes that are built with lightweight technology and allow the seat post and rear derailleur to stay in place while protecting your bike optimally.
If you are often travelling to the USA, make sure your bike case is equipped with a TSA lock. Some premium models are very well organized with dedicated spaces for all of your equipment that can be inspected by customs staff without having to remove anything. Make sure the case you choose has sufficient padding and has dedicated spaces for your equipment to avoid customs unpacking your kit for a closer look.
Bike case rating
- Offers maximum protection
- Requires mechanical skills to pack bike
The bike bag balance
A bike bag strikes with very low weight,lots of functionality and a reasonable price. Many bike bags weigh between 3-8 kg and leave you with more than enough headroom to stay within the baggage allowance of most airlines.
Some models of bike bag are equipped with an internal metal structure to mount your bike frame. These integrated solutions protect your fork and rear dropouts from impacts. A cracked fork is an unpleasant thing! The basic bike bags will require you to dismount the wheels, handlebars, seat post, pedals and rear derailleur. Again, you will need to have some mechanical skills to remove and assemble the equipment. Always play safe and get a professional to help you if you are not certain. Safety comes first!
If you can, make sure the bag comes with a TSA lock and wheels to easily move around airports and hotels. Remember, the bike bag is an additional piece of luggage you will have to handle!
There is one premium model of bike bag available that provides the highest level of ease and protection. The SCICON AeroComfort 2.0 TSA. This bike bag allows you to keep the handlebars, seat post and pedals in place. All you have to remove is the wheels. While providing great functionality, the product provides highest levels of protection, with well thought protection placed throughout the bag to protect the critical areas of the bike. This option is the first choice of many professional cycling teams and triathletes worldwide.
All in all, a bike bag is probably the most efficient solution providing the right balance between weight, protection and functionality!
To find out more about soft bike bags, have a look at our dedicated guide:
Bike bag rating
- Reasonable price
- Mechanical skills required