Tips on Traveling by Plane with Your Bike: The Cheap and Easy Way

Oftentimes, ardent international mountain bikers require hauling their beloved two-wheelers across boundaries via air travel, and all airlines have clear-cut guidelines regarding bike transport. Though these rules are basically similar, they also sport subtle differences that may make or break your flight, depending on your choice of airline.

Let’s face it, air travel charges are high enough, without considering the extra bucks you’ll fork out in the unfortunate event your bike surpasses the stipulated luggage transit rules. Airlines usually demand that you partially take apart your bike and cover it fully as a package before checking it in. These measures are not only aimed at smoothing the bike’s procession through airport conveyor systems, but they also provide for safe handling by the airport luggage crew. Moreover, a completely enclosed bike presents fewer chances of scraping or scuffing passenger luggage.

Requirements for bike air transit

Before your adored bike is accepted as luggage on a plane, there are preset airline laws that you must invariably adhere to: You’re required to reduce the bicycle to a height of one meter or less, deflate the bicycle’s tires in part, and moderately disassemble and enclose the bike entirely. Most airlines allow for a total dimension of 62” and a weight of 50 pounds for all packages going into a plane’s luggage bay, after which extra charges are imposed on all excess baggage.

Pre-packaging bike preparations

Bike packaging for air travel is regarded by most cyclists as one of the most cumbersome legs of their adventures. Though this exercise should be intricately handled to guarantee bike safety en route, it needn’t be as challenging as it sounds. Here’s the easiest and most practical disassembly strategy as you prepare to travel with your bike.

  1. Dislodge the bike’s front wheel, if yours isn’t a foldable bike, to lessen the overall length and re-screw the axle. You can also use a bogus axle in place of the real one to shield the front fork and quick-release fittings from warping on impact.
  2. Loosen the handlebars and twist them parallel to the frame to limit your bike’s width. Furthermore, compress the stem to diminish its height and shelter the levers below from damage. You should also turn the bike’s bell downwards below the handlebars.
  3. Unscrew the rear mech (derailleur) from its hanger, cover it with PVC tape, and then secure it to the chainstay or frame using cord or twine. This will protect the hanger and derailleur from distortion during packing and transport.
  4. Unhinge the rear mudguard from its dropout, then push it down on the wheel and secure it using zip tie or tape.
  5. Fit a suitable cover over the saddle to protect it from being roughed up in the course of bike packaging and cartage.
  6. Conceal the frame and stem under sufficient pipe lagging to keep them from scraping, which often results in color and finish breakage. If your mountain bike contains disc brakes, be sure to detach them and place them safely with adequate padding between the brake pads.
  7. If your mountain bike contains disc brakes, detach them and place them safely with adequate padding between the brake pads.
  8. Secure bike bottles and the tire pump in their cages safely onto the frame using PVC tape.

Packing a bike for air cartage

Whether you own the most expensive tour bike on the market, a budget Cross Country (XC) mtb, or mountain bike, airlines are quite stringent with luggage shipment. The majority, if not all, demand that you fully pack the partially-taken-apart bike as one package. There are several bike packaging approaches available, each sporting unique pros and cons.

a. Cardboard boxes

Stowing a bike in a cardboard box is one of the most cost-friendly, easiest and most readily available approaches. However, it takes up a considerable portion of time, energy, and finances to fully stuff all the parts in the box, especially when you include extra padding for added shock muzzling. Still, airport luggage crews handle cardboard-boxed bikes surprisingly delicately as they are perceived as fragile.

b. Heavy-duty plastic bike bags

Acceptable for a majority of airlines, a plastic bag is inarguably the cheapest means to prepare your bike for airline travel. Some actually only require you to place your semi-disassembled bike on the surface and then wrap it up. Several bike enthusiasts report that their prized machines receive gentle treatment from luggage handling personnel when packaged in transparent polythene bike transport bags.

c. Fabric bike carriage bags

These are fabric zip-ups designed specifically for bike transport. Built with soft fabric, they shield the bike from being damage. Although they expedite customs clearance with their devoted bike-part compartments and are remarkably easy to move around airports, as they sport wheels or shoulder straps, they also necessitate extensive bike disassembly, which is time-consuming and tedious. They are also more costly in comparison to the aforementioned options.

d. Hard case bike boxes

Definitely the safest bike transit arrangement, hard-shell bike transport cases are built to protect the enclosed, partly dismantled bike from damage through shock absorption. The downside is their bulky weight and unfriendly purchase prices.

Though the method you opt for to stow your bike during air travel boils down to personal preference, you’re advised to always consider your budget, the price point of the bicycle, as well as the ease with which you can pack and unpack the bike. Furthermore, it’s critical to check with various air transport service providers to gain an in-depth perspective into their luggage cartage policies and insurance coverage.

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