By Torrey Pass
Flying with your bicycle can be a real gut-wrencher. Aside from the handling surcharge that can sometimes rival your airfare, there’s also the risk that your baby will get mangled in transit. Every time you fly, it’s a roll of the dice. The airline employee who checks your luggage and the baggage handlers at either end are the variables. You can stack the odds in your favor, however, by doing a little research and packing your bike with care.
Read and compare each airline’s baggage policy before you book your flight. The fine print will likely help you decide which company to fly with.
Most major US and Canadian airlines will accept a bicycle in lieu of a checked bag and won’t add a surcharge. You just have to stuff it into a box smaller than 62 linear inches (length + height + width). Given that a standard bike-shipping box is roughly 90 linear inches, the 62-inch standard is effectively going to leave you with a hefty oversize luggage fee. Unless you have a folding bike, the only workaround is to put your wheels and your frame (with seat post, pedals, stem, bars and fork removed) in two different boxes. Consider this option if you have the mechanical expertise to strip your bike down and build it back up again.
How to Find a Box
You should be able to get a free box from your local bike shop. Have one set aside about a week before your flight; boxes are usually broken down and stuffed into the recycling bin as soon as they’re emptied. Ask for a pair of plastic braces that snap into your dropouts (every new bike is shipped with them). These will keep your fork legs from puncturing the cardboard and prevent your frame from being bent due to side impact or stacking.
Ask for some plastic inserts that snap into your hubs. They’ll protect your wheels and keep your axles from punching through the box. If you decide to go with two small boxes, grab one designed for shipping wheelsets – a perfect fit for your hoops. The box should also include some anti-crushing cardboard sections.
Many shops will box your bike for a fee. This is a good option only if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself and if you’re sure someone can assemble your bike for you at the other end.
* Your ride will fit into a standard bike box with pedals removed, handlebars turned or removed and one or both wheels removed. If you remove both wheels, place your frame in the box upside down. Never rest the frame on the derailleur hanger.
* Deflate tires to about half the max PSI written on their sidewalls so they don’t explode at altitude.
* Turn or remove the handlebars. To turn, loosen the stem bolts that clamp onto the fork steerer. To take the stem off, remove the headset adjustment bolt, loosen the stem bolts and work the stem off the fork. Have someone show you how to adjust your headset upon reassembly if you aren’t sure how to do it yourself.