How To: Pack a bike for travel

Traveling with your bike can be a great way to explore a new locale, but it doesn’t work if your bike is damaged en route. We reached out to Sue George at BikeFlights.com for some expert tips on how to pack your trusty steed. 

What are a handful of steps that are must-dos for packing a bike?

1. Wrap each frame tube with dense foam padding.

2. Remove the rear derailleur from the frame.

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3. Remove the wheels, disc rotors and QR skewers if present. Cover the ends of the hub axles.

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4. Place spacers between the dropouts to prevent squeezing.

5. Remove stem and/or handlebars and wrap with padding.

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6. Remove seat and seatpost and wrap separately.

7. Remove pedals and other accessories and store separately.

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8. Place everything in a box and shake it. Listen for loose or rattling items.

You can find more tips and video demonstrations at bikeflights.com/pack.

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Ok, I got a box from the LBS. What else do I need?

While you are at your local bike shop getting a box, also pick up the following packing materials: foam tubing for wrapping your frame’s tubes, plastic axle protectors for your wheels, frame and fork dropout spacers to match your axle type and width and bubble wrap and foam for extra padding and wrapping components. Shops get these materials with every new bike. If they’re willing to save their boxes for re-use, they’ll often also have saved key packing materials for reuse. Zip ties are super useful for securing padding and components in place. Packing tape will be needed to seal closed your box.

Can you reuse a cardboard box? What considerations do you need to make when using one?

Yes, you can reuse a cardboard box if it is in good condition. Prior to re-use, inspect the box for damage such as compromised cardboard or holes. You want to make sure it is structurally sound ahead of each trip.

Every box is different in thickness and durability. The most expensive bikes tend to be shipped in the strongest cardboard boxes with the best packing materials, so you are better off getting a box that was used to ship a higher end bike. Most cardboard boxes will last for one to two round trips, assuming they are not damaged en route or left outside in wet weather. If you are questioning the state of your box, get a fresh one from a shop or buy a new one from the BikeFlights.com online store. It’s definitely worth a little extra time or money before you ship rather than risking shipping your bike in a compromised box.

Important note: when packing your bike, you should assume that your bike box or case will be laid on its side during transit. Other boxes could be stacked on top of it or even dropped on it. Therefore, we recommend adding supporting smaller cardboard boxes or foam blocks that protect against forces that arise from such stacking.

What are the big differences between packing for shipping or packing for airline travel?

Our standard suggestions for how to pack a bike apply to packing for both shipping and flying. One big difference is that you can put more gear in your bike box when you ship it versus when you fly with it. Airline overweight fees typically kick in at 50 pounds and ramp up as weight increases. Shipping overweight fees don’t kick in until 70 pounds and are less expensive per additional pound than airline overweight fees.

Furthermore, when you ship your bike, you save hassle at the airport because you don’t have to get your bike there and back plus lug it through the airport. Using the door-to-door service that comes along with bike shipping, you can travel easily and lightly through airports with just your carry-on or other small luggage.

Shipping companies always have the right to inspect your bike box or case, but they do it much less often than TSA. When you fly with a bike, TSA will almost surely open the box to inspect contents and may also partially unpack and repack your bike during their inspection. Some TSA agents are better than others when it comes to properly re-packing your bike. If they do a poor job, your bike is more likely to get damaged en route.

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Are there any differences between shipping road bikes, mountain bikes, etc.?

The same basic packing principals apply for shipping different kinds of bikes; however, depending on the size of the bike and the size of the box or case you are using, you may have to do some things differently.

Very generally speaking, road bikes of a given size can be packed into smaller boxes and cases than mountain bikes of a similar size.

To fit everything in your box or case, you may have to remove your bike’s fork, especially on larger bikes or mountain bikes with lots of travel. If you are shipping a fat bike or a big travel downhill bike, you may have to use one box for your frame and one for your wheels (and other gear) – everything might not fit in one box.

Do I need to let the air out of my tires?

Letting some air out of your tires can make your wheels fit more easily into your box or case, but don’t let it all out—especially if you run tubeless and have liquid sealant inside. You can be left with a mess of sealant everywhere if your tire unseats during travel so that sealant leaks out.

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What kinds of things are most likely to get damaged?

  • Scratched, dented or cracked down tubes, seat tubes and top tubes from contact with your wheel axle or cassette. We recommend double-padding those three main tubes, using axle protectors, padding your cassette and securing your wheels in place.
  • Bent disc brake rotors. We recommend you remove your rotors for shipping.
  • Bent derailleurs (and hangers). We recommend you remove your derailleur and hanger, if possible, for shipping.
  • Damaged cockpit controls (brakes, shift levers). We recommend you pad your cockpit controls.
  • Cracked seat stays or fork legs from not using a dropout spacer. We recommend you protect your dropouts by installing and securing axle spacers in place.
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