How to Fly with Your Bike

Do you have a few dream cycling destinations that are a bit far from home? Check out this guide on the ins and outs of air travel with a bike!

Bike in front of a huge lake and some mountains in the distance.

Authors bike in front of Herceg Novi, Montenegro. Photo courtesy of Jared Fontaine

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You want to fly to the French Alps to watch the Tour de France and ride the route or travel to Whistler for some downhill cycling, but how should you transport your bike there? How much will it cost? What are some tips for traveling with your bike? Well, I have flown with my bike all around the world to places like Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Colorado, Florida, France, Italy, Croatia, Ireland, and many others.

In addition to being a Curated Cycling Expert, I am an avid road-cycling fan, and I visit France every July to watch the Tour de France and get a taste of the effort by riding the route before the professionals. Here are my top tips for flying with your bike.

Hard, Soft, and Cardboard Cases

Which type of case should you store your beautiful bike in? Just keep in mind that many airport employees don't particularly care about your luggage. Your precious steed is just another heavy box they have to haul on a daily basis. I have used both hard cases and soft cases, and both have been destroyed during airline travel. You usually get five to 10 flights out of a case before it starts to succumb to the wear and tear of flying.

1. Hard Case

A ThuleRoundtrip bike box.

Thule Roundtrip bike box

Pros

  • Most Protection: Hard-case bike cases offer the most protection from direct hits when your luggage is in the cargo hold of the plane. Since the case is made out of hard plastic, the energy from a hit is not directly transferred to your bike and the bike is able to hold its shape. If other luggage is stacked on top of your bike, the hard case gives your bike shape so it won’t get crushed.

Cons

  • Cost: Hard-case or hard-shell bags are generally the most expensive bike cases, usually costing $500 or more. Moreover, most airlines have an oversized baggage policy regarding flying with a hard case because they typically weigh more, and many will stick you with an overweight baggage charge when your entire case weighs more than 50Ib. Most hard cases weigh at least 40lb without your bike even in them! With certain airlines, luggage weighing less than 50Ibs flies free.
  • Storage: Hard cases are not pliable and can’t be folded for storage. If you are in a hostel or tight space, these are too large to fit under a bed.
  • Weight: As mentioned before, weight is a big deal. Airlines generally charge a $50 to $150 fee for transporting bikes, and if your case is over 50Ib you may have to pay another $50-$100 charge. If you are like me and you have multiple flights to different countries in one year, it really adds up. Weight is also a major consideration when you have to roll the bike bag around. Just like in cycling, every gram (or pound) is important when you have to drag the bike upstairs or around a huge airport like Charles de Gaulle in Paris.

Pro Tip: European countries are not Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant so the train station or your older hotel might not have an elevator. Dragging a 70Ib case with your tiny roadie arms, along with your other luggage, can be very tiring.

2. Soft Case

The Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro.

Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro

Soft-case bike bags are similar to hard cases but they use a polyester material (similar to what your backpack is made from) to protect the bike. So instead of a hard shell, many have a frame inside of the bag to create support.

Pros

  • Weight: Soft-case bike bags are significantly lighter than hard cases, which makes it easier to drag your bike around the airport, especially those with wheels. These types of bags are usually light enough to avoid oversized baggage fees.
  • Storage: Since the soft bags are made out of cloth, they are much easier to store. Having a large hard case is not convenient in the middle of your hotel room. Most cloth bags fold down so you can store them under a bed, inside a closet, or out of the way when not in use.
  • Protection: Despite being made of fabric, many soft bags have clever ways of protecting your bike. Some have collapsible frames to add structure to your case, while others have airbags inside to protect the bike.

Cons

  • Puncture protection: If a sharp object pokes your case, the soft case will not provide the same protection that a hard case will. That said, I’ve never had a puncture problem carrying a carbon-fiber bike in a soft case (knock on wood).
  • Price: Soft-case bike bags are very expensive. Most of them cost around $500, and others premium bags are priced around $1,000, which is worth it if you have a $5,000-plus bike. Despite their high price tag, they don’t always hold up to the abuse of airlines and TSA security. I’ve never had anything stolen from my bike bag, but I generally keep anything else valuable in my carry-on.

3. Cardboard Box

Two BIKEFLIGHTS bike boxes.

If you ask your local bike shop, they can likely give you a cardboard box that came with a bike when it was shipped from a manufacturer.

Pros

  • Free: Nice it’s trash to them, most bike shops will give you a bike box for free.
  • Environmentally Friendly: You are using a recycled box made of cardboard instead of a plastic case that will go to a landfill. When you are done with the box, recycle it.
  • Great Protection: Cardboard boxes are capable of absorbing a lot of hits, and they provide structure so your bike won’t get crushed. Also, if the box is dropped, the cardboard and padding inside the box will absorb the hit and not transfer the energy to your steed.
  • Storage: Cardboard boxes are generally single-use so there is no need to store, and you won’t have to worry about carrying around a heavy bike case along with your other luggage while traveling.

Cons

  • Maneuverability: It is very difficult to carry a cardboard box onto a train or bus. Without wheels, it is very hard to transport to and from an airport as well. Also, if you plan to fly or travel to other places after your bike is assembled, then you will have to find another box. On most European high-speed trains, a bike must be placed in a box to be transported.
  • Single-Use: Once you leave the airport, the box will likely be mostly destroyed, and you will not be able to use it for the return flight. If a bike shop does not have extra bike boxes, you might have a hard time finding another box for your return flight.

My Top Pick

I use a soft case to fly to Europe as I feel it offers the best ratio of protection to weight. I really like the EVOC Travel Bike Bag. Many bike bags have problems falling over since their frames do not have any structure. However, the EVOC has a lightweight bike stand inside the bag to give it structure and hold the bike upright. The stand connects to the frame by the dropouts to provide support, and it can also be removed from the bag and used as a stand when you need to work on your bike. Some soft cases have the frame built inside, and for some, the frame is sold separately. Additionally, the EVOC has really nice handles, and the case is very well built. Using this case, my carbon-fiber bike has never been damaged on a flight (again, knock on wood).

Packing Tips

Know Your Setup

You should mark off your saddle height, stack, reach, and other measurements so you or a bike mechanic can easily reassemble your bike. I generally mark off my seat height with a permanent marker, and if you don’t want marks on your bike, just measure the distance from the middle of the chainset and the top of the saddle and use this measurement to get your seat height.

Know How to Disassemble Your Bike

You should know how to take your bike apart and do basic maintenance. Many bike cases are different in terms of how the bike can be stored, but you should learn how to do the following: 1. Remove the handlebars 2. Remove the pedals 3. Remove wheels 4. Deflate tires (especially tubeless tires) 5. Remove the seatpost 6. Remove the rear derailleur

Watch the video below for more information!

Keep Track of Your Screws

One of the worst things is getting to your destination to find out that you have lost a screw or seatpost wedge. Some of these small bits are proprietary and can’t easily (or inexpensively) be replaced. Once you have taken the bike apart, screw the screws back into your handlebars, etc. During the flight, the bike will be tossed around and if your screws and other little bits are not tacked down, then it can be difficult to find them.

Go Wireless

I like using SRAM electronic wireless groupsets. Bikes like the Cannondale CAAD13 Rival are completely wireless and electronic so you can remove the derailleurs and shifters to make sure they are not damaged in flight. Since there are no cables or electronic wires to connect, it is easy to attach them after your flight.

Pack Accessories

I always put my cycling shoes, floor pump, bike computer, flat kit, jersey and bibs, and other accessories in the case. Travel floor pumps are better because they typically weigh 400g or less, which can save you money on the flight. The Lezyne Micro Floor Pump is only 200g and it has a max press of 160 PSI.

Instead of packing your helmet, just wear it. It saves space in your luggage and you can make sure you don’t leave it or that it won’t get crushed in your luggage.

Save Old Tubes

I always keep old bike tubes to tie up anything loose inside of my bike. It is a cheap way to recycle your old inner tubes. Anything that isn’t tied down can smash into your carbon frame. So I use the old inner tubes to tie down the handlebars, floor pump, and seatpost to the frame so that nothing moves in transit.

How to Choose Your Airline

A bike in front of a lake and mountains.

Jared's bike in front of Boka Bay, Montenegro. Photo courtesy of Jared Fontaine

Every airline charges different fees for flying with your bike. If you are diligent enough, you can fly with your bike for free. I generally have two bags: a regular small backpack that I can carry on for free, and my bike bag. Many airlines allow a checked bag for free as long as it weighs less than 50Ibs and is fewer than 115 inches long. Most bike bags are within the linear inches allowed by most airlines.

Price Shop

Always look at the airline ticket cost and that airline’s bike fees. For example, you might find a ticket with United Airlines for $90 and Alaska Airlines for $120, but United charges a bike fee of $150 and Alaska Airlines has no bike fees, so you should go with Alaska Airlines. You should check each airline's policy before you book.

A couple of airlines got rid of their bike fees, and you can fly the bike as regular luggage. Moreover, if a suitcase weighs less than 50lbs and is shorter than 115 linear inches, you may be able to fly your bike for free. I have actually flown my bike for free a couple of times, once on a Transatlantic flight from Paris to Boston where I just had my carry-on.

Airline policies have been recently trending toward allowing sports equipment to fly as normal luggage without checked-luggage fees. Here is a quick list of a few airlines policies (as of early Feb. 2022):

  • Southwest: $75 for a bike with dimensions of 62 linear inches up to 80 inches.
  • Frontier: $75 for a bike.
  • EasyJet: Bikes are considered large sports equipment with a maximum weight of 32kg (70lb) and a charge of 55 British pounds ($75 US dollars).
  • American Airlines: American got rid of its bag fee for bicycles, with a weight allowance up to 23kg (50 lbs) as long as you don't go over your luggage allowance—the number of bags you are allowed to fly with.
  • United Airlines: United primarily serves business customers, which isn’t ideal for budget-minded cyclists. They have a flat $150 fee for bikes.
  • JetBlue: JetBlue charges a flat $100 fee for bikes weighing less than 100Ib.
  • British Airways: As long as your bike is under 23kg (50lb) and you have not exceeded your checked-baggage allowance, then your bike flies for free.

Weigh Your Luggage

Use a scale to weigh your luggage before you get to the airport. You don’t want to be at the airport unpacking your bag at the gate to lose 2lb. I remove anything that is not needed; pieces of paper and other junk can accumulate in your bag. I literally count every gram to keep my bike bag as light as possible. I like being a couple of pounds under the limit just in case.

Pay Ahead of Time

Make sure you pay for the bike at the time of booking your plane ticket for the cheapest price. Most airline websites allow you to add the bike bag when booking your ticket. Also, some airlines will not transport your bike if you don’t tell them in advance. You don’t want any expensive surprises at the airport.

Conclusion

If you plan your trip ahead of time and shop for cheap prices, you should have a fun vacation riding your bike in the French Alps, Hawaii, or wherever you want. If you need any advice on the right case for your bike, what kind of other gear you might need for your particular dream destination, or have any other bike questions, hit up a Cycling Expert on Curated and we'd be happy to walk you through it! Have fun!

Cycling Expert Jared Fontaine
Jared Fontaine
Cycling Expert
Have a question for Jared Fontaine? You can get connected directly with him to learn more.
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Written By
Hi! I am a lover of professional cycling and training. I have been cycling well over 10 years and I usually go to Europe to see the Tour de France and the Giro. I have ridden most of the France mountains in the Tour like Alp d'Heuz, the Galibier, and others. Moreover, I have ridden in Ireland, Germa...

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