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Willie Weir : August 30th, 2010

Bikes on Flights–The Frugal Cyclist’s Method

The Frugal Cyclist's method

The cost. The hassle factor. The packing. Flying with a bicycle is no fun. Well, actually physically flying would be amazing. I mean boarding a plane with a bike.

I wrote a column almost ten years ago about this topic for Adventure Cyclist (Flying the Friendly Skies (If you’re a golfer)) and never could get a straight answer from the airlines.

And time has not been a cyclist’s friend. It’s worse now. The airlines are upping their fees for everything. But they seem to see bikes as the biggest cash cow. Delta … $400! Lufthansa … $500! OUCH!!!

There are all sorts of options– from folding bikes to renting a bike at your destination to taking up hiking instead.

But what do we do?

We have Rodriguez travel bikes. Love them. They are equipped with S&S Couplings. These couplings make it possible to pack a standard bicycle into a 26X26X10 inch box. That’s 62 linear inches. That is a magic number. Sixty-two linear inches is what most airlines allow as checked baggage. Anything bigger is subject to charge.

Most people traveling with bicycles this way, carry them in hard shell bicycle boxes. They do the job. But they are expensive and bulky. What do you do with those boxes when you get to your destination? If you are flying home from the same airport, you can try and find a kindly innkeeper who will store them. But they are BIG.

What about a cardboard box? I managed to find a company that sells cardboard boxes in every size imaginable … including 26X26X10. I bought ten of them. We were about ready to travel to Colombia, so I did a test run. I had a speaking engagement in Indianapolis, so I packed up my bike and flew it to Indy and back. The box had it’s share of rips and dings … but that’s what duct tape is for! The life span appeared to be one round trip. Perfect.

Three boxes. Two for bikes. One for stuff.

For our flight to Bogotá, we packed our bikes in two boxes and used a third to pack all our gear. (There are all sorts of pages on the web that go into the details of the actually packing process). I took the extra time to completely cover the outside surface of the cardboard boxes with packing tape. Moisture and cardboard=mush.

We caught a cab from the airport to our hotel in Bogotá. After we unpacked at our hotel, the flattened boxes were a manageable size.  The owner was delighted to store them for us for three months, awaiting our return.

Cardboard? But don’t your bikes get scratched?

Yes. They do. Sometimes even dinged. But they are made of steel, not carbon fiber. They are meant to travel. If you are going on a long distance international bike trip and are worried about your bike getting scratched … you’ve got the wrong bike … and maybe the wrong trip in mind.  I embrace scratches on my bike the same way I embrace wrinkles on my face … they are signs that I’ve lived life! Our bikes have lived well.

We will use the same packing method to get our bikes to Madrid. A note: Airlines are beginning to charge extra fees for bikes regardless of the size of box you pack them in. This means you have to get creative when declaring the contents of your box at the counter. Sports equipment. Display materials. Bicycle PARTS. I’ve heard many a cyclist’s declaration. My favorite was “inline wheelchair”.

A great source for information about bikes on flights is IBIKE (International Bike Fund). They have a detailed post about airline baggage regulations and traveling with a bicycle.

The above isn’t THE way to fly with a bike, just our way.  Feel free to share yours.

5 comments to Bikes on Flights–The Frugal Cyclist’s Method

  • Drew

    thanks for the info Willy!

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kent Peterson, ACA Routes. ACA Routes said: Bikes on Flights-The Frugal Cyclist's Method by Willie Wier: (via […]

  • steve d

    fwiw, S&S sells the 26x26x10 heavy duty cardboard boxes and also a zipped, black cordura cover for them complete w/a handle on one end. throw a strap of climbing webbing on ’em and you’re good to go. looks like “actual luggage” and no “what’s in the box” questions @ check-in. we box up all of the above in one of the boxes and ship to the point from which we depart when we fly open jaw w/the bikes…

    so far, so good.

  • Andrew

    Great idea for frugal minded bike travelers. Speaking of frugal, I’m about to try the same with my 2 Marlboro Fuji Folder bikes that I’m modifying so they can be broken down like a S&S coupled bike, only a lot less expensive. I have two questions about the boxes. Do you line the boxes with anything for additional support? I don’t see any handles, how do you carry them around?

  • Kat Marriner

    The only extra support is the clear packing tape covering the entire outside of the box. Nothing inside. We also tie heavy cord around the boxes. That serves as a handle, but TSA will cut the cord off if they look inside.

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