So you want to travel with your bike – I support this choice!
There are many benefits to traveling with your own bike: you know the bike and equipment; you know the size; and for a longer trip it is likely cheaper and easier than renting a bike. There are also some downsides to traveling with your bike: There is a slippery slope of things to pack; you have to have a way to transport the bike; you have to pack and unpack (x2); you have to have a way to deal with the bike box once you are there; and maybe many more.
US (North American??) Travel
In the US, driving is sometimes an option. This has obvious benefits of fitting the bike(s) on/in your car and you can take more stuff than you may while flying. On the fence with fly v drive? Bringing bikes may push your option to drive, especially with more than 1 person/bike!
Flying is where things get tricky. How long will you be gone? If you are at your destination for 2 days or less, for the love of god just bring running shoes! Unless you are at a race, and then it is sort of the point to deal with the BULLCRAP that comes with travelling with a bike.
Steps of dealing with in-states bike travel:
1. Decide your destination and mode of transport for yourself.
- Where are you staying while away? Hotel, friends, family.
- Will you have a vehicle while you are there?
2. Based on the answers to the above questions, you need to decide how you are getting your bike(s) there. There are 2 options (as I see them): fly with the bikes as a checked back or use bikeflights.com.
- SHIP If you have 2-7 days* from the last time you need your bike to when you arrive, it is likely cheapest (and 100% easiest) to use bikeflights.com.
- For 1-way east to west coast (Boston to LA), I could get 1 bike box shipped on Monday to arrive Friday for $77. From Boston to Dayton, OH, it would arrive Wed for $58. *Faster shipping rates are available. Bikeflights.com will ship (largely via FedEx) any type of box from cardboard to hard or soft case, wheel boxes to double pika packs. The services also offer at-home pick-up/drop-off or through a local FedEx office.
- CHECK If you need your bike until the day you leave and the day you arrive at your destination you will likely need to fly with it.
- Shop around for the airlines with the cheapest baggage fees (Southwest, Frontier and JetBlue range from $50 – $75 whereas United, Delta and American reach up to $150 PER BIKE).
- Sometimes you can trick airlines into thinking your bike is not a bike, in which case it may be cheaper. HOWEVER, if you have, let’s say, a double bike bag, it may be oversize and overweight. It is advantageous to then admit it is ONE BIKE with wheels. Then, one bike fee, which is less than an oversize/overweight item. Don’t tell them there are 2 bikes, or challenge them to make 2 bikes out of your bag of bike parts.
- Some cases are the size of normal checked baggage, but you have to remove the fork of the bike. Not recommended for those who are mechanically challenged or lazy.
3. Based on your choice, ship vs. check, you need to keep a few other things in mind.
- If you are shipping:
- If at a hotel, call ahead to confirm that they can take a package on your behalf close to your arrive date. Tell them it is a large box, they should have room in a luggage area or office, but make sure they can keep it in a secure location, or plan for the bike to get there on the day or day after you arrive.
- If you are staying with friends or family, tell them to expect a package.
- If you are flying, how are you getting to your house/hotel? You will need a car large enough to accommodate a bike box (or two or a double) plus all other luggage and people. This is an often overlooked detail that is hilarious to observe the consequences of. Ask for a large enough vehicle from the rental company, or, call a cab and request a van.
PRO TIP: You can mix and match the check vs ship options! Most commonly, you may fly with your bike to your destination then ship it home with bikeflights.com to alleviate the stress of checking it, or to send your tired steed away whilst you vacation like a normal person who cares not for fitness, but instead for fantastic culinary experiences and… whatever else people do when not on a bike.
- If you are travelling internationally you likely get more baggage allowances, however, please do check for the airlines’ rules for sporting equipment. I recently flew both TAP Portugal and Brussels Airlines and on both you need to CALL the airline and BOOK A RESERVATION for your bike. If you cannot select a “Special Item” when buying baggage online, you likely have to call. If you cannot find a 1-800 number, you may need to call on Skype*. I recently had a code-share flight and on the phone they said I had to pay at the airport, but they did not even book a reservation for my bike and the people at the airport gave me a heart attack of a runaround making it seem like I literally may not be able to check my bike. *If you are travelling internationally I suggest anyways that your get the skype app, make a profile and put on $5 or $10 of credit so you can make local calls over wifi if you have to. You can call internationals numbers from the US this way as well.
- Bikeflights.com will also ship internationally! For international shipping I recommend getting their shipping boxes, as they are sturdy for long-haul and multiple uses, and, they are a size that fits within customs regulations. This keeps costs and handling time to a minimum! Additionally, they will fold down and make storage easy while you are in a tiny euro place.
Now Pack Your Crap
No need to reinvent the wheel here, Bikeflights.com has provided some great videos and photos on how to pack your stuff.
I will suggest the following packing tips:
- Always remove your rear derailleur. Use your number 5 allen and pop that off the hanger to prevent pressure on the mech from bending your hanger. This WILL happen if you leave it on, it is a matter of time. Worth the extra 10 seconds.
- Remove disc brake rotors.
- I remove the handlebars from the stem, not the stem from the steer tube. If you remove your stem, make sure to tighten the top-cap appropriately and then the stem to ensure proper compression. Don’t overtighten anything. But this is why I like to take the bars off of the stem because then I just worry about my faceplate.
What to pack in?
- I already mentioned the Bikeflights.com boxes. They fold flat making storage a breeze while traveling or at home.
- Soft cases: many don’t trust them, but, they are more easily stored, often lighter, and I have been using a double PikaPackworks soft case for 2 seasons on airlines and through FedEx using Bikeflights.com and I have had no issues. I have also heard great things about the packability of soft Thule and Evoc soft cases.
- Hard cases are for sure a bit easier on the mind as you think about your bikes getting stack on…. but they are heavy and cumbersome. Life is full of trade-offs.
PRO-TIP: I use bike-clothes and rags as packing material when I travel. Meaning, I tie jerseys, jackets, pants, rags and more around my top-tubes, down-tubs, forks, etc for frame protection. Because 1) I always through away my Styrofoam, and 2) this cuts down on what I need to put in my luggage. I also Put my shoes and helmet in with my bikes. (Keep weight limits in mind here, check with your airline if bikes have a weight limit)
- Shoes (with cleats attached!)
- Kit (I always bring 1 less than I think I need and still have too much)
- Weather appropriate gear, but always bring a rain/wind shell and a vest, even to LA in the summer!
Bike related – If you took it off, put it in! If you used a tool to take it off, bring the tool to put it back on.
- Seat post!
- Brake rotors that you may have removed
- Don’t forget your wheels while we are at it
- A rag
- You can try to bring a small bottle of lube, sometimes TSA takes it.
- Spare tubes if you still do that. (Or just go tubeless and run Stan’s rims that will seat most tires quite nicely with just a floor pump.)
- The smallest yet most adequate pump you can find. If you are lucky, you will be near a shop so that you can hand pump your tires up then ride to a shop to fully inflate. Otherwise bring CO2 and an inflator.
- Don’t worry about extra parts, it is added weight and space, and chances are you can buy It there if you need it. Maybe a rear derailleur hanger if you are riding offroad.
- If you took it off, put it in! If you used a tool to take it off, bring the tool to put it back on. If you are planning on a multi-tool to get you by, make sure you can rebuild your bike with it before you get to your hotel room and have no allen big enough to tighten pedals or long enough to reach your special something or another.
So holy crap I have no idea how I am so good making so many words. I hope this was a helpful resource, and feel free to comment with anything I missed , other questions, or your own comments/rebuttals!