June 4, 2014
Summer is the time of year when many of us will be traveling with our bikes. Maybe you’re heading out for a Gran Fondo or century, or taking a long-planned trip to Europe for an epic ride. Either way, you’ll be taking your bike on a plane or shipping it to your destination.
The following guide will help you properly pack a bicycle for shipping using similar packaging materials and techniques that manufacturers use when shipping new bikes.
Getting the supplies you need
The best place to get packaging materials for your bike is a local shop. The better shops will gladly provide you with the following used bike packing materials at little or no cost:
- 1 cardboard bike box
- 1 cardboard small parts box
- 10 or more foam tubes protectors
- 2 or more foam blocks
- 2 or more bubble wrap bags
- 1 fork protector
- 1 rear drop out protector
- 4 wheel axle protectors
- 10 or more cable ties
Be sure to call ahead and provide the size and type of bicycle you want to ship and the shop can prepare the packaging. Be sure to ask for a high quality bike box in like-new condition, extra foam tubes, and an assortment of package padding material to account for differences in bike design.
- 15mm pedal wrench
- 3, 4, 5, 6, 8mm hex wrenches
- Torque wrench
- Soft rag
- Permanent marker
- Electrical tape
- Clear packing tape
You’ll need these tools to dissemble and reassemble your bike, so make sure these same tools are available at your destination or pack them into a small parts box you include with your bike shipment.
- 90 minutes for the first time packer.
- 30 minutes or less with practice.
Before you start, clean your bicycle and inspect for worn parts that could keep you from enjoying your ride later on.
Remove your pedals with a 15mm or 8mm pedal wrench, wipe with a rag, and place immediately into plastic bag so not to lose.
2: Front wheel
Remove your front wheel from your fork. Remove skewer from the axle, reattach nut and spring, wipe with a rag, and place into a plastic bag.
Remove your handlebars by loosing the faceplate bolts. Once the handle bar is removed, reattached the stem faceplate and lightly tighten the faceplate bolts. It’s a good idea to mark your stem and bar alignment with tape to ensure the same position when reassembling. You can always take a photo with your phone to help you get the right position too.
4: The stem
Reverse your stem by loosening your top cap bolt and steerer tube bolts. Once loose, rotate your stem 180 degrees and lightly tighten all bolts.
5: Saddle and seatpost
Remove your saddle and seatpost as one piece by loosing the bolt(s) at the seat tube clamp and pulling the seat upward. Once the post is removed, wipe with rag and lightly tighten the bolts. Again, it’s a good idea to mark your seat post position with tape to ensure the same position when reassembling and take a photo.
6: Rear derailleur
Protect your rear derailleur by shifting the gears to the lightest setting. Clip a rear derailleur protector on the hub axle and rear quick release nut. For even more protection you could opt to remove your rear derailleur, wrap it in padding packing material and secure to the frame with ties.
Remove some air pressure from your tires so that the tires are not at maximum pressure during shipping. If you are riding tubeless, make sure to keep enough pressure to hold tubeless set ups intact so the sealant doesn’t leak out.
8: Wrap it up
Wrap all the tubes with self adhesive cardboard tubing or foam. If a bicycle shop was not able to provide these, you can make your own using cardboard and tape. Tie the stem and bar to the front of the frame. Wrap the rear derailleur and chain in a rag and secure to the chain stay with zip ties. Your goal here is to prevent scratching where surfaces meet while also securing any the contact points with zip ties to limit movement during shipping.
9: Box it up
Place your bike in the box. Make sure everything is secure and that the box flaps will close without bulging. Don’t forget your small parts box. Then adjust your bike and the small parts box, and add extra padding to fill empty spaces. Tape up the box with packing tape.
It should go without saying that if your seat tube sticks out the top of the box you should get a different box. Do not attempt to make a chimney. Similarly, if your bike is too long for the box, get a longer box, otherwise you risk damage to your forks.
10: Ship it or take it
You can use an online specialty service to ship your bike such as Bikeflights.com or deal directly with a parcel post handler like FedEx or UPS yourself. The advantage of using someone like Bikeflights.com is they have experience negotiating the lowest possible rates and guarantee delivery. You can also check a boxed bike at the airport, but you should be ready to pay an additional bag fee. Frontier and Southwest typically charge $50 while the big guys, like United, Delta and American, may charge as much as $175 for domestic and $300 for international. Make sure you clearly mark the box with your name, address and phone number.
Here’s a good video showing you how to pack your bike.
Note: in the video, he is using a bike travel case instead of a cardboard box. Bike travel cases are a fantastic investment if you will be frequently traveling with your bike. You can get a decent soft-sided case for as little as $130, or invest in a hard shell, bombproof case for around $600.
Here’s another good video that goes through the steps for packing your bike.