Bike on a plane

We recently returned to Europe from Singapore, and I decided to take my bike with me on the plane.

Mostly so I would have something modern to ride while the rest of my stuff took the slow boat. You could ride vintage bikes all the time, but it’s nice to mix it up with some more modern gear.

As I never put a bike on a plane before, I was fairly nervous about the whole experience. I wondered “It is going to arrive at all?” “In how many pieces?” “Or bent into a U shape!”, but as George Michael once said, “You gotta have faith”, so I gave it a shot.

First question: What sort of bag to use? Hard case? Soft bag? Or cardboard box?

Though some recommend it, I didn’t feel confident about the cardboard box approach. I imagined luggage waiting on the runway in the rain, resulting in the bike being packed in wet paper maché…

So having opted for a bag, should it be a hard or soft one? A quick look on chain reaction cycles and wiggle.co.uk indicated that prices go from GBP 50-250+.

I opted for a soft case, and chose the Brand-X bag with separate wheel bags for 70 GBP. It had good reviews, and I liked the idea of separate protection for the wheels.

The bag took a couple of weeks to arrive in Singapore, and lugging the massive box home from the post office was interesting to say the least.

From the baggage handlers (“throwers”) views expressed in an article written by one (edit: no longer on the web), it seems like the soft bag was the right choice. I wish I had read that article before ordering the bag!

Second question: How to pack it?

The bag seemed to have even more pockets than I expected, which is good to store some clothes, and adds more padding to protect the bike. Not so good, was that there was little protection inside the bag for forks, derailleur and the chain ring.

I guess packing the bike is pretty straightforward, but once you’ve taken off the handlebars, and the saddle, you’ve got two bits either swinging off the bike or loose inside the bag.

As we had a lot of packing boxes, I ripped one apart and created an internal “box” around the bike to protect it. So not really a vote of confidence for the bag…

The bike wouldn’t fit in the bag with the saddle down (but really I didn’t want to scratch the top of the seat post…). So without adding bits of cardboard to protect the frame from the swinging brake levers/stem etc., I’m not sure what condition it would have arrived in.

Also, the bottom of the bag probably wouldn’t have lasted very long with the chainring sitting against it, being dragged and bumped along conveyor belts. Also the chainring teeth would probably have been bashed around a bit, along with the derailleur.

The chap that checked in our bags recommended I release some air from the tyres, which seemed sensible given depressurisation. Not sure if they would have popped without that, but I can well imagine it’s possible, and they did survive the trip.

Long story short…

Thanks to George Michael’s inspirational words, and some professional baggage handlers, the bike arrived safely with only minor scratches to the frame (the Lemond Chambery frame does seems to scratch if you even breathe on it too hard…), and was re-assembled and ridden within 24h despite jet-lag.

I loved the contrast between riding in the heat of Singapore, and the crisp summer morning ride along lake Zurich. Probably it would have ben considered a warm sunny day for the locals, but used to Singapore temperatures for the last few years, I thought my teeth were going to crack from the cold!

Worth mentioning that our trip was with Turkish Airlines, involved a change at Istanbul (so some extra baggage handling compared to a single-leg flight), and the check-in fee was 160 EUR (one-way Singapore to Zurich). No issues at all.

Do you readers travel often with your bikes? So often that it’s as routine as packing a suitcase?

Any tips for this rookie would be welcome!

Little did George know he would inspire such important decisions as packing a bicycle as hold luggage

8 thoughts on “Bike on a plane

  1. Be sure to check out the current issue of Bicycle Quarterly (Volume 12, No. 4, page 25, “Rinko: Packaging a bike for travel”). The Japanese system of Rinko is a system of packing a bike for train or car travel, or shipping. They have it down to a very efficient, effective, and precise science, and Jan Heine details each step photographically in his article on the subject. Astoundingly, he demonstrates how a bike goes from complete randonneur to a train-ready package in only twelve minutes!

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      • It’s given me pause to rethink how I carry my bike. What is truly amazing about the system is that there are no couplers involved, and only a few simple, seemingly unobtrusive and economical modifications involved. Oh, and the entire bike breaks down and comes back together again using only two Allen wrenches. Incredibly efficient!

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  2. Very interesting post, thanks. I’ve only travelled with my bike in or on a car + twice by train in Poland so far, the last unfortunately wasn’t comfortable.

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    • Thanks Bogdan. I think having some sort of bike bag is definitely helpful if you’re travelling by train. While putting a bike on (some) trains in one piece is possible, it’s never comfortable and getting on and off with bags and a bike is always a pain. If you bag the bike, you have more options on where you can put it (e.g. with all the regular baggage…). I recently bought a Thule bike rack for the car and it is very secure, though a bit fiddly to install. I’m enjoying your blog about cycling through Poland, and have always wanted to see the Bialowieska Forest. One day I’ll get there. Maybe by bike?! I look forward to more of your posts for further inspiration =)

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