Everyone needs a vacation right? But for those who love to ride a vacation isn’t complete without their bike. For many years shipping a bike has been expensive, time consuming and inefficient. It’s likely that you’ve heard some kind of horror story about a $10K bike being damaged in shipping or an airline that “lost” the bike and left the owner empty handed without recourse. Yes, these things have happened and while there’s no guarantee it won’t happen to you, there are ways to do your best to prevent it.
Traveling with your bike means that when you arrive at your destination whether for vacation, a race, a ride or for business your trusted steed is ready to adventure with you. Arriving with your own bike saves time as you don’t need to search, reserve and/or get fitted for a rental bike. It also means that the bike will fit you properly (assuming you’ve had a proper bike fit) and you’ll be comfortable wherever you go.
Like with everything in life shipping a bike safely requires preparation. The steps for shipping your bike aren’t complicated, but waiting until the last minute can result in increased costs and possibly even damage to your bike. Following a few easy steps and doing some research is easy enough for the joy you’ll get by having your bike readily available at your destination.
There are many ways to ship: FedEx, UPS, your airline or companies like Bike Flights or Air Caddy that specialize in simply shipping bikes all day, every day. Regardless of the method chosen, preparations are basically the same.
Plan your timeline. Once you have your trip schedule, back out the dates to allow for 5-7 days shipping time if you want to most inexpensive rates. If it’s time sensitive, expect to pay more. Understand that you’ll be without your bike for a few days before if you ship less expensively, so plan your taper well. Note that some time will be spend reassembling your bike upon arrival, so allow time for that or you’ll end up sleeping with a full bike box in your hotel room wishing you could go for a ride.
Prepare the necessary tools and packaging needed for shipping. Typically bikes are shipped in cases. Some are hard cases, some soft and most often bikes are shipped in cardboard or plastic boxes. Cardboard bike boxes are usually readily available by asking at your local bike shop. Bike shops receive new bikes in boxes often these boxes can be picked up for free once the bike has been built if you call in advance. Note that shops almost never store these due to size, so call ahead and ask what day/time is best for you to pick one up. Bike boxes will typically last one round trip, so don’t plan to reuse, although Air Caddy makes a triangular box that allows for less dismantling of your bike they claim can be used four to six times. Hard cases will be reusable and the most durable protection for your bike but pricing starts at approximately $200 and goes up to a typical range of $500-$800. Most boxes, of all types can be readily purchased on the great big web; again plan ahead to allow time for shipping.
Make the hard case investment if you:
a.) You bought a super expensive bike and are too broke to replace it or its parts
b.) Travel with your bike a lot
c.) Are sentimentally attached to your bike
d.) Just because you and your bike are worth it
e.) You have enough friends that ride you can rent it for their travels and make money
Next, gather bubble wrap, Styrofoam or other packing materials to protect your frame and parts. Get a great tape gun, a few plastic Ziploc bags for storage, a rag, pedal wrench, torque wrench, duct tape and a measuring tape. These items will all be needed for disassembling and reassembling/packing your bike, so they need to go into the box or your carry-on luggage for the trip…TSA may find these items better stored in your checked bags! A must have item (IMHO) is a cheap fork mount, especially for thru axle bikes. It protects the fork from being crushed. If you don’t have one of these check with the bike shop for the plastic fork protector pieces that come with new bike builds; they may be able to save you one!
If you’ve never disassembled or assembled a bike for shipping it’s not rocket science and there are a great many U Tube videos to guide you through the process. If you prefer not to do this yourself, then your bike shop will likely have a service to pack your bike averaging $55-$125.00. Note, you will need a shop to ship the bike to and have it reassembled at your destination as well. Costs go up, but if you haven’t the interest or time having a professional take care of it will give you peace of mind. Important note: mark your seat height and handlebar position with bright duct tape BEFORE disassembling, this will save loads of time and trouble on the other end.
Once the bike is packaged for shipping gather the dimensions and weight before heading online to arrange shipping. Note that the heavier your box, the less likely the delivery person will be to lift it; things on the bottom get lighter boxes placed on top of them, so keep that in mind if you don’t want you bike crushed.
Input the information such as weight, dimensions, shipping location (to your hotel, office or bike shop) and timeline to get you estimated shipping cost. Most shipping companies have the option of home pickup, which is great if you are home and/or live in a safe area where the bike can be picked up without being stolen. If not, take it to a drop off location for safe handling. Be sure to take a copy of your tracking information with you. Also, print your return shipping labels and put them in the box or your carry on.
It’s super important to remember these items as well:
Cycling clothes (check the weather for your destination)
Pedals (you may have packed with the bike), but most have to be removed for packing
A torque wrench and torque specs for your bike; don’t risk ruining your carbon bike if you have one
Pedal wrench for reassembly; it’s hard to pedal without pedals
GPS or phone; of course you want your epic ride on Strava
As a good measure always get a tune and lube before traveling with your bike. It makes for smooth travels wherever you ride.