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.

As I have never put a bike on a plane before, I was fairly nervous about the whole experience. It is going to arrive at all? in many pieces? or bent into a U shape? But you gotta have faith, so I gave it a shot.

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

I didn’t feel confident about the cardboard box approach as I imagined luggage being left on the runway in the rain, resulting in the bike being packed in paper maché…

So having opted for a bag, the question was whether to go for a hard or soft bag. A quick look on chain reaction cycles and wiggle.co.uk indicated that prices go from 50 GBP to 250+.

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

From the baggage handlers (“throwers”) views expressed in the attached article, it seems like the soft bag was the right choice. I wish I had read this article before ordering the bag!

http://cyclingtips.com.au/2014/06/flying-with-your-bike-tips-from-a-baggage-handler/

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

Second step: How to pack it?

When the bag arrived, it seemed to have even more pockets than I expected, which is good to store some clothes in, 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. 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…

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. 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 the 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 chain-ring sitting against it, being banged along baggage conveyor belts. Also the 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. Not sure if they would have popped without that, but they survived the trip.

Long story short, the bike arrived safely with only minor scratches to the frame (the Lemond Chambery frame seems to scratch if you 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 a warm sunny day for all the locals, but I though my teeth were going to crack from the cold!

Worth mentioning that the trip was with Turkish Airlines, involved a change at Istanbul (so some extra baggage handling than on a single-leg flight), and cost 160 EUR (one-way). 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 newbie would be welcome!

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5 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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    • 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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