Travelling with your bike isn't actually as much of a faff as most people think. As long as you've got the basics down, the most problematic part is actually dragging the bike to the station or airport. Other than that, the logistics aren't hard at all. Here are some easy steps to follow next time you're going travelling with your bike.
1. How do I book my bike on a train or plane?
Whether you're flying or taking the train, it's always good to book your bike onboard beforehand. Some train companies and airlines charge extra for bike bagsand it's always cheaper to pay before going to the station or airport. However, if you do forget, it's not the end of the world. Airport staff can always sort something out.
Just call up the company and say that you're travelling with a bike in a case. The amount you'll be charged can vary from anywhere between free of charge to around €100, depending on the company.
2. Double check the weight limit
It is important to check what the weight limit is for your bike, before you travel. If you're going by train there's obviously no weight limit to worry about, but when you're flying it normally varies between 23kg and 32kg – usually the lower end of the scale in our experience. It's important to check before you start packing your bike in order to know whether to pack it in a bag or box.
3. What do I pack my bike in?
Airlines and (most) train companies require that your bike is packed into some kind of a case. There are two options – a bike bag or a bike box. Which one you choose depends on a few different things.
Bike bag: Travelling with a bike bag is easier as it's quicker to pack the bike into the bag and it's also well protected and easy to wheel around. On the downside, bags are heavier than a box and you have to buy, hire or borrow one. If you plan on travelling a lot with your bike however, buying a bike bag is worth it.
Bike box: Travelling with a bike box is slightly more difficult as it takes longer to pack properly and it doesn't come with wheels, like bike bags do, making it harder to carry with you. However, it is considerably cheaper to get one (most bike shops give away or sell boxes for a small fee) and it saves a lot of weight. If weight is an issue with the airline, it's worth going for the bike box.
4. How do I pack my bike in a bag?
It doesn't take long to pack your bike in a bike bag because it's already prepared for you: there's protection for your forks, BB, derailleur, wheels and Velcro to fasten it all in safely. Once you've done it a few times, it shouldn't take more than 15 minutes. Here's the steps to follow:
- Pedals: Take them off and put them in a bag or a case.
- Wheels: Remove both wheels and slot them into their allocated slots. Put a piece of cardboard or brake blocks between the brake pads front and rear in case your brake levers accidentally get pushed in during transit. If you feel like being extra careful, remove your brake discs from the wheels as well.
- Derailleur: Take it off and zip-tie it to the rear triangle of the frame to protect it.
- Handlebars: Remove and turn them to one side. You can do this either by taking off the whole stem and handlebar combination or simply unscrewing the stem's front plate, which holds the handlebars in place.
- Bike in the bag: Put the bike into the bag and strap it in securely using the straps so that the bike stays in place. There's normally a protector for the frame that also holds the handlebars in place as well.
- Extra help: Get more bike travel tips here.
5. How do I pack my bike in a box?
It takes a little longer to pack your bike in a box, as there's no pre-made protective packaging or straps. A good tip is to remember to pack everything tight so there are no loose items floating about.
- Remove components: Take off your pedals, derailleur and handlebars, as described above.
- Protection: Your bike is less protected in a box so you need to protect the frame and parts yourself. Use bubble wrap or a similar protective material on your forks, handlebars, frame and derailleur.
- Fasten loose parts: Zip-tie your handlebars to one side of the fork and your derailleur to the rear triangle, making sure where you're placing them is protected to prevent rubbing.
- Wheels: If your box is big enough, keep the back wheel on your bike and only remove your front wheel. It's better for stability and protection. Place the front wheel to one side of the frame, with the brake disc towards the frame. Place protective cardboard and bubble wrap between the wheel and the frame, and make sure it stays on tight. Zip-tie the wheel to the frame. (Tip: If your box is too small for the bike's height, try letting the air out of the shock to lower it.)
- Tape your bike box: A bike box is less hardy than a bag so you'll have to strengthen its weak spots. Tape the entire bottom, as well as the corners. Also reinforce the area around the handles with extra tape, as they easily rip, as well as on the inside of the box where the front wheel will be placed.
- Put the bike in: By now your bike should be a one-piece package and your bike box strongso all you have to do is lift the bike into the box and tape it shut.
- Personal details: Write your name and email address on the box, just in case.
6. What should I think about when packing the bike?
A smart tip when travelling with your bike is to pack a little tool case with it. A small case or bag that doesn't weigh much is perfect and remember to only carry the tools you really need to save weight.
Good tools to have include:
- Multitool with Allen and Torx keys
- Pedal spanner
- Zip-ties and cable cutters
- Chain lube and bike grease
- Spare mech hanger
- Tyre pump and a shock pump
Remember CO2 canisters are not permitted by airlines.
No loose items
There could be lots of extra space in the your bike bag or box so it's possible to stuff other things in as well, such as riding shoes, backpacks, rollers and tools. It's important that there are no loose items in the bag, though. Everything should be tied onto the bike or bag.
The bike carrier will not always be standing up; it will actually be mostly on its side or upside down and crammed in between other suitcases and boxes. Any loose items will move around in the bag, potentially damaging the bike, so put all of your small bits and bobs into bags or your backpack and tie it on properly.
Helmets are hand luggage
It's tempting to put your helmet into the bike bag as well, but helmets are delicate and can easily crack, especially if trapped between the bike and other luggage in the hold. You might get lucky and suffer no damage, but it's not worth the risk – just take your helmet with you as hand luggage. Most airlines are totally fine with it.
7. What to think about when going to the airport or station.
Car: If you have to be driven to the station or the airport, remember that you'll need a car where the back seats can be folded forwards to fit the bike bag or box in the boot.
Train: Most trains have dedicated areas or compartments for bikes and large suitcases, often located in the front or rear of the train. If not, remember not to block any emergency exits with your bike.
8. What to think about at the airport
Once at the airport, you've done most of the hard work. Now all you have to do is check in at the desk and then drop your bike off at the oversized luggage desk. Make sure to have the receipt ready if you've already paid for the bike, as sometimes airlines ask to see it.
Remember that when you pick up your bike from the baggage belt at your final destination, it will most likely be from a different spot to where the normal luggage comes out. Look for signs that say 'special luggage' and head that way.
Good luck and safe travels.