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Flying with a bike.

I like flying with a bike.

Many people have asked my questions about flying with a bike. So I thought I would write down a few of my experiences, when it comes to flying with a bike.

I have flown with my bike (a bicycle, not a motorbike) many many times. I like to cycle around far flung countries. So I often need to transport myself out there and back, using airplanes.

Getting a bike on a plane is not as easy as getting a suitcase or a backpack on a plane. But it’s perfectly doable. And here are a few ways to do it that I have tried. And also my opinion about how to pack a bike, when flying with it.

Bike cardboard box flying

Putting your bike in a cardboard in an option.

Putting the bike in a cardboard box.

This is the way that most people fly with a bike I think. and it’s a very fine way to do it if you ask me. Bicycles are mostly delivered to bicycle shops in bicycle sized cardboard boxes. and most bicycle shops are happy to get rid of these boxes. So you can usually have them for free, if you ask at a bicycle shop. The advantage with these big cardboard boxes for bicycles are that the local bicycle shop might not have them the day you are there. They might have thrown them out. Or maybe they have not had a delivery of bicycle recently. And increasing number of bicycles also come wrapped up differently these days. In some material that is not suitable as a cover for a bicycle on a plane.

You also have the hassle of getting a bulky box to the airport, as it’s too big to fit to the bike. So normally you will have to pack the bike where you are staying overnight. and then take public transport to the airport, carrying the huge box. But it’s still a pretty good choice for flying with your bike, as it gives the bike good protection. And luggage porters will know that it’s a bike. And hopefully treat with a little respect.

Some airports and airlines also sell these at airports. They like to charge a fair bit for them though. But it’s an option if you can not get a free one. The Dutch airline KLM often have cardboard boxes for sale at airports.

bike wrapped in plastic

You can have your bike wrapped up in plastic at most airports.

Wrapping the bike up in plastic.

Most airports have these machines, where you can have your luggage wrapped up for a fee. These places are meant to be for wrapping up big suitcases. But they can wrap up a bike too. They are not free. But it can be an option if you are not able to get any other cover. I have done it a few times. And I have been very happy with the wrapping job that was done. I have stopped using them though, as I find that my derailleur often breaks during that kinda transport. Luggage porters tend to think that nothing can go wrong when it’s all wrapped up in plastic. So they throw the bike around as if it was a suitcase. I might use this option if nothing else is available. But it will not be my first choice any longer.

Carrying the bike in a soft bike bag.

My preferred way of transporting my bike by plane, at the moment, is this way. I actually bought this soft bag for bicycle transport from a Qatar Airways employee at Copenhagen Airport. I was about to fly with my bike to India, but Copenhagen Airport had just stopped selling cardboard boxes for bicycles, so I was stuck. She told me that she used to go on bicycle holidays with her husband. But they could not do it any longer, because of health issues. So she sold me this bicycle bag for a good price. She lived right by the airport. And her husband brought it over in time for me to check my bike in, in time.

soft bag bicycle flying

I love flying with my bike, using this bag.

I have really been happy with this soft bag for a bicycle. It’s super easy to pack. I just need to take off the wheels and put them in two separate pockets in the bag. Then take off the pedals, steer and the saddle. When you get used to that, it takes less than 5 minutes. And all you need for it is an allen key and a wrench. The bag only weighs a little over 1 kilo. And I can easily fold it up. So that I can have it on the back of my bicycle, while touring around. This way, I do not have to worry about finding a bag for the bike, when I return back home by plane. And I can also fly in and out from different airports, as I can easily carry the back around. This type of bike bag comes in many shapes and prices. The one I show in the photo here costs around 70€. A very good investment if you ask me, as it can be used many many times.

Carrying the bike in a hard plastic bike bag.

This is something I have not done yet. Simply because I would need to have a place to leave it, when I arrive at my destination. And then keep it there until I fly back home. I would also need to fly in and out of the same airport if I used such a bag. But if you do fly in and out of the same airport and have a place to leave it, then it’s a good option. A hard bag will protect your bike a lot more than any other type of bag or wrapping. Most professional racing cyclists use these, as they have very expensive bikes, that they can not afford being broken when on a plane.

Not packing your bike at all.

I have met several people at airports who just rolled up their bike and had it checked in without any protection. They always tell me that this is ok. But be careful here. Many airlines have it stipulated out in the baggage rules that they will only carry bicycles that are wrapped up. I flew this way once. and it was a hassle. I was flying back to Europe from Sao Paulo, Brazil. And I was not able to find a bicycle shop that had a box. Possibly cause I spend too much time giving attention to a girl that I stayed with. And too little to find a box. But she was worth it :-). I was flying with KLM from the Netherlands, who are famous for being a good bicycle airline. But they flat out refused to take my bike on board. I had to politely argue for more than 2 hours with airline staff, before they wrote a contract that I had to sign, saying that they would not refund my 1 cent, even if they broke the bike to pieces, cause I had not wrapped it up. And they were still not happy with me. So I would not recommend it, unless this is your only choice. On another note, I have taken my bicycle onboard many busses in Latin America this way. And that has worked perfectly. Long Distance busses in Brazil and Mexico are great for taking your bike on, without having to wrap it up.

This was a few words about flying with a bike and how I do it. I hope this helps some fellow tour cyclists a little feel free to leave a comment if you agree or disagree. Or have some suggestions for how to fly with a bike, in a way so that it does not arrive in a broken state.

bicycle on a bus.

My bicycle traveling on a Mexican bus.

Have a nice flight. And don’t forget to bring your bike.

Cyclist tan

Happy cycling. Remember to get a tan :-).

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you Claus.
    I took my bike by bus from Bilbao to Santander. The rules said the front wheel must be detached and it must be in a box or a bike bag. I had no box and no bag so, from a shop, I bought a roll of black dustbin liner bags. I put the wheel in one and managed to wrap the bike in a few more and bound it together with a roll of PVC electrical tape I always carry. They accepted it and asked no questions. I wouldn’t do that for a flight. On a bus journey, I can watch it going into the bus and coming out.

    • Hi John. Good to hear that you got the bike on the plane in the end. I was once in the same situation in Tbilisi. I ended up buying a thin foam mattress from a local market and wrapped that around the bike, using some string to hold it. It did not look pretty. But my bike arrived safely back home, after a 48 hour delay :-).

  2. Karl S Reinecker

    Hi Claus, I use a soft bag. It is a little bulky when getting on and off trains, but it can put all my stuff (helmut, pump, tubes, tool kit). At the airline terminal it usually comes out as special luggage with the surfboards and baby strollers, but once it came out as regular luggage. When packing you may want to remind folks that the air cartridges are not allowed and you have to flatten your tires. I was warned that in Spain you can’t put the bike and case in the back of a car as it does not fit in the luggage area. Hopefully we will run into one another again (no literally), cheers my friend…

    • I have actually not cycled in Spain for the past decade, because they keep changing the rules for cyclists. And even the police are sometimes not sure if you are allowed to do what you do, or not. Normally everything goes in Spain. But I find the decision makers lack of bicycle knowledge annoying, to the point where I do not feel like cycling there at the moment.

  3. I’m not a cyclist but it’s good to see you blogging again – it’s been a while!

    • I have been holding two jobs for the past 2 months Sarah. That has given me very little time to blog. But I should be back now, as both my jobs are coming to an end. Might even go traveling again in November or December.

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