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Transporting bike on the airplane: how to dismantle and pack your bicycle

I don’t know if you have ever experienced a travel by bicycle in a foreign country and, to reach it, you had to embark your faithful companion on a plane. Now this situation has happened to me several times, but it has always been the most irksome task to complete during our cycling travels. After many attempts I think I've reached a good "technique" so to be able to complete the packaging and manage to transport my bicycle on a airplane without spending my travel being obsessed with the idea of seeing my vehicle destroyed once arrived at the airport.

Bike transport on the plane: my first experience

My first experience transporting my bicycle on a plane was a long time ago, in 2000, when I went to Patagonia. At that time the control of weight and size by airlines was less rigorous and I remember that when I had to leave, it took me two days to pack the bicycles in Rio Gallegos, going to pick up boxes of any size in supermarkets and then devoting myself to a collage work worthy of the best Roman mosaics: adhesive tape everywhere, wheels in separate boxes and a huge effort in convincing the employees at the customs not to check the boxes, cutting the tape and dismantling all the castle in the air I had created!
Later, for the travels by bicycle in New Zealand and in Asia I was already prepared and I knew that before starting my packaging work I had to get the right material! Therefore, hereafter I suggest to you the best solution I have found: surely it won’t be the best ever but it’s the one I feel most comfortable with.
 

How to dismantle your bike

The first operation you have to carry out if you want to complete the transport of your bike by airplane, is to dismantle your bike in a proper way. If you know what you have to do you won’t need more than two hours to have your bike ready to be inserted into the cardboard box. I said cardboard because for the kind of travel we do, hard-shell cases (however, in my opinion too expensive) are impossible to manage: you should leave the case at the airport or in a depot, but generally speaking we never re-enter from the same departure airport.
The operations to be carried out on your bike will be the following:
  • deflating your wheels: if swollen may explode at high altitude creating panic on board the plane... you don’t want to pass as terrorists who want to hijack a plane, right?!?
  • loosening the screws that tighten the pipe of the handlebar to the fork to be able to remove the handlebar. Disconnecting the brake and gear wires will be useless: it will be enough to lower the handlebar parallel to the fork and, after packing it with some cardboard, tie to it with some adhesive tape: protect the parts where you put the tape with some other cardboard or something similar if you do not want to ruin the paint
  • disconnecting the pedals: this is a fundamental operation because the pedals could pierce the cardboard since they are protruding elements
  • removing the gearbox: be careful when removing the gearbox from the fork because is one of the most sensitive elements of your bike. Also in this case you should not disconnect the wire but simply protect well the gear with some cardboard (do not skimp especially in this case!) and secure it to the frame with some adhesive tape. The best thing in my opinion is to insert it in place of the wheel among the tubes of the rear carriage so that they act as additional protection
  • removing the saddle and fix it to the frame which is less annoying. Remember to take with you all the necessary tools to assemble again the bicycle when arrived at destination (allen keys and wrenches should be enough). If you are unsure on the kit to take with you, this article could be useful.
aereo ande
 

The ideal packaging for transporting your bicycle by plane

There is no ideal packaging to transport your bicycle by plane because it depends very much on the bike, the trip and the traveler!
There are those who are happy with a simple canvas protection and those who prefer to buy a hard case. In this case we stay in the middle and, as I said before, we prefer to use a cardboard box where to put our disassembled bike perfectly. Generally speaking, if you don’t have a portable or foldable bike, you should get the cardboard box  from your dealer or any shopkeeper: almost all of them are happy to leave the cardboard boxes of the new bicycles they opened that they should dispose of, even if in Kuta, near the Bali airport, they asked us 15€ for each cardboard box (in a country where, with 15€ people live for a week!).
In any case, if you are about to leave, ask a shopkeeper to keep aside the cardboard two or three days before your departing date: you’ll never know! Once you have the packaging, insert your bike taking care to reinforce the most delicate areas with additional layers of cardboard: the terminals of the fork and of the rear carriage where you removed the wheels, the saddle tube and the teeth of the big chain ring.
Now insert your bike into the cardboard box trying to block all possible movements with the wheels. In our latest travels we used to put in the cardboard box also the bags of the bike and the less precious material (clothes, tools...) obtaining two results. The first is the small encumbrance to just one package (some airline companies allow to transport just one luggage); the second one is the greater protection of the bike thanks to the bags.
Once all the material is inserted in the cardboard, close it with adhesive tape: it is not necessary to exaggerate but protect the most delicate points besides sealing well the open side. If the cardboard box doesn’t have them, you can build handlebars crumpling a piece of tape and securing it well to the cardboard: the transport of the bike when is packed is surely the most uncomfortable part of the journey and handlebars could make it somewhat easier...bike transport airplane

Check in and arrival at destination

Make sure to be thoroughly in advance at the airport when you have a bulky baggage as the bike because you could have problems at the check-in desk or when boarding. Now, unlike a few year ago when they used to be less rigorous, I advise you not to exceed the weight limit specified by your airline company because you could unpleasant surprises... and reopen the cardboard box to lighten everything is not an option! Weigh your bike before closing it when at home.
If you didn’t have problems at the check-in desk and followed all the disassembly and packing instructions listed above, enjoy your flight and dream about the journey you are about to undertake.
If you can, especially due to the encumbrance and transport difficulties of your packed bike, I recommend you to assemble the bike directly at the airport when arrived at destination! You’ll immediately jump on the saddle, you’ll be able to check if everything is ok and possibly complaint already at the airport for any possible damages and then you will not have to struggle to carry twenty kilos or more of a bulky ballast.
This short guide just wants to share our experience gained in these recent years of travels by bike and of the occasions we had to transport our bikes by plane. If you have tips or different methodologies to transport your bike by plane, we will be very happy to hear the voice of who have found a smart way to transport their bike by plane.
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Leo

Slow bicycle traveller with a passion for writing and photography. If he's not traveling he loves to get lost along the thousand paths that run through the beautiful mountains of Trentino and Lake Iseo surroundings where he lives, both on foot and by mountain bike.
Eternal Peter Pan who loves to realize their dreams without leaving them too long in the drawer, has devoted much of his life to cycling, traveling in New Zealand, the Balkans, Norway Argentina and many other countries. Lately he spent ten months by bike in South East Asia and crossed the Andes by bike.

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