Tips on packing up your bike

Credit: Adam Pretty/Allsport
I'm writing this column from inside the fuselage of some French-made Airbus. Thus, my topic is, appropriately, how to journey with your bike.

If youre cash-strapped and pedaling around a junker, you might actually be in luck. Travel with a heap and who cares if the muscle out on the tarmac wrecks it?

In an ideal world youd actually have two bikes, though: a traveler and a ride-at-home steed. I left my fine Hampsten in Italy last trip so Stateside Im riding a 1990 Bridgestone with simple Campy parts, heavy wheels and plenty of dings. I never fret when boxing this baby for a voyage.

Just one ride

Got only one bike? Then, like most of us, youll have to protect your investment. No matter what type of bike box, bag or case you use, you should seriously consider a little babying for your bike.

First off, purchase some pipe insulation. Its a long tube of foam, with a slit down the length of it, which allows plumber types to put the stuff around pipes. We, however, will be bombproofing our Merlins, Treks and Rivendells.

The insulation comes in a variety of diameters, so pick up some small lengths for your seat and chainstays (four stays total, so four lengths). Youll also need three larger cuts for your main triangle (top tube, seat tube and down tube consider a segment for the head tube if you have a really nice ride). You could also protect your fork blades, but most people dont.

Bring it all home and cut it to length; you may have to modify it slightly to fit around bottle cages, brakes, etc. Most folks use a bit of electrical tape to secure the insulation around the frame. Get jiggy with it and make Velcro fasteners if you travel a lot.

Packing it up

Next, the big choice. In what shall you package the bike for the big trip? Most airlines supply corrugated cardboard boxes for bikes. Call ahead if you consider this method. Theyre convenient and easy to pack for most bikes you just have to take off the pedals, pull the seatpost from the frame and turn the bars sideways. But they do cost a few bucks usually less than $40, though and most of the time you have to ditch it after your flight.

Depending upon your choice of carrying system, youll need to break down your bike to varying degrees. For starters, most cases demand removal of the wheels (take out the quick releases, too), pedals and stem. Sometimes youll have to pull the rear derailleur off (though not necessarily disconnect the cable) to protect it.

Most of us, however, will forgo the single-use airlines boxes for something we can use a few times. You dont necessarily have to shell out $300 for a reusable case, though. Ive traveled for several years with a Crateworks case (, 800-934 5214). They make a few models in many price ranges, and Ive used a couple of them. Crateworks uses either corrugated plastic or cardboard to construct lightweight boxes.

I took the corrugated plastic model (which breaks down for easier transport) to the Tour de France last year. I needed max protection for my Hampsten (at that time, unscratched!), but also wanted a box that could compact so I could carry it in my car. The box doesnt reduce to micro-size, but its far superior to hard cases, which are very inconvenient to schlep in a car, and soft bags which wont offer bomber protection.

The Crateworks is a nice compromise between solid protection and portability. And theyre great if youre changing locations or need to stash the case somewhere for an extended stay. Mines been to Europe several times and all over the States, and its still going strong.

Part of the reason its still kicking is the replaceability of its straps, rivets, buckles and walls. My Crateworks, and bike boxes in general, also offer nice storage space on the inside for stolen works of art, huge drums of olive oil and sundry presents for your special someone.

At the lightweight end of the spectrum is a bike bag. Professional riders usually use these as theyre convenient and quick. Your bike literally drops into the bag after removing the wheels and pedals. If you have a small bike, you might get away with leaving the stem in and just turning the bars, but mine a 55-cm road bike usually requires removal of the stem.

Pika Packs, 801-484-0404) makes a great bag of heavy nylon with tough carrying straps, stitching and zippers. Ive twice packed in a Pika for Stateside travel, and my Bridgestone emerged unscathed both times.

The most durable, heaviest and expensive systems are hard cases. These come in a few varieties and can get pretty costly. If you absolutely love your bike, then you should consider a hard case. These usually feature a molded plastic exterior with a layer of foam on the inside. Tough metal buckles close the whole case and theres often little room for extras on the inside maybe shoes, a helmet, some tools.


When traveling, youll need to remember a few things. Bring tools for reassembly allen keys, a pedal wrench, spoke wrench and grease if youre anal about relubing the seatpost and stem.

Also consider spacers to fit between your rear and fork drop-outs. These will protect your frame from being crunched together if a heavy-handed fella gets to your box. Ask for some at your bike shop.

Travel insurance is a good idea, but read the fine print because some policies prohibit unusually expensive single items like that dope Colnago C40. Try explaining why your bike is worth $5,000 to an insurance beer-o-crat.

And, of course, remember the airlines will attempt to drain your bank account at the sight of a bike. Golf clubs, skis, drafting tables all free. A bike? Not free. Plan to pay at least $50 each way.

Keep in mind that international travel with bikes is still free, though at least a third of airline staff will try to charge you. Stand your ground.

For domestic flights, you might also try the old its plumbing equipment explanation, but theyre usually wise to that one. When using an unmarked box or a bag, tell em whatever you can, but watch out, cause the rules say its $50 - $70 each way.

One last note: The U.S. Cycling Federation has had an on-again/off-again promotion with United Airlines and free bike vouchers. You gotta purchase a road or dirt license, and book your travel through the USCFs travel agency at Check first, though, because this arrangement has changed over the years. They also offering bike insurance.

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