You booked a vacation to Europe to tour historical landmarks in one of the greatest months of the year for cycling, July. Two weeks is a long time without riding your bike, so you start looking at rentals and figuring out logistics of how to ride while away. After much discussion and heartache you decide to bring your adopted member of the family along with you, saving you time and money. Bike rentals are expensive and it is difficult to dial in the fit when pushed for time. You’ve decided to take your bike, but how are you going to get it there? Flying with a bike is actually much easier and more convenient than many people think. Below are a few tips on how to make flying with a bike a breeze.
Four+ Weeks Before Flying with a Bike
Unfortunately, you can’t show up to the airport and slap a SeaSucker Rack to the roof of the plane. Luckily, there are plenty of bike cases you can purchase to put your bike in. Pick a box that will accompany your needs in the future as well, because most of them are not cheap. Does your significant other take their bike too or do you have extra wheels you want to carry? Purchasing a double bike case may be more expensive upfront, but will save you money at the airport by only having to pay for one box. Also, cases are different sizes depending on how much work you are willing to do. A smaller box may require you to remove the fork, handlebars, seat post etc. while larger boxes may only require you to remove the front wheel. The Oru Case, or the “airport ninja” is one of the more popular bike cases. The Airport Ninja is smaller and very discrete which can help save on airport fees.
One Week Before the Flight
Make sure to take the bike by your trusted local bike shop to get a tune-up and ensure everything is running properly. Landing somewhere with a worn-out chain and stretched cables is unacceptable. The trip has already been planned in advance so leaving with a well-tuned machine is a must. No one wants to waste his or her vacation time running from bike shop to bike shop looking for break pads. Pick up an extra derailleur hanger too; those things have a special gift for bending during flights and each one is specific to the frame making them difficult to get Ask your local shop if you don’t know what one is but do so a few weeks ahead as it may need to be ordered.
24+ Hours before the Flight
After hunting the last KOM on your home turf before leaving for vacation give the bike a good wipe down and double check that everything is good. One of the most important steps of flying with a bike is making sure to properly pack the bike. It’s never a bad idea to grab some extra packing foam from the bike shop, double protection is great for this cause. Packing the bike will differ depending on which case, but watching videos of other people using the same case can simplify the process. Once the bike is packed, evaluate how much space is left in the bag and start cramming more stuff in to fill the empty space. Water bottles, training food, and essential tools for putting the bike back together are great items to fill the extra space. When flying with a bike, never pack your cycling shoes or helmet in the bike case! Cycling shoes are one of the most user specific pieces of gear that a person owns. Shoes can take weeks to position cleats back to their original point and can cause serious injuries if not aligned properly. If the airline losses the bike for a couple days you can always count on Plan B and rent or borrow a bike until yours arrives, but shoes are irreplaceable. Also, remember to remove CO2 cartridges from the saddlebag, they will be confiscated by TSA.
At the Airport
By no means is I Love Bicycling insinuating readers should lie about what is in their bike case when flying with a bike, but discretion is highly advised. Airlines have been known to charge up to $250 for a bike one way! Yet a piece of “oversized luggage” may only cost $25-$50 per way, your choice. A few good ideas to answer, “What is in the large case?” are “sporting equipment”, “medical equipment”, or “art”. All honest answers in there own right. These responses have worked in the past but will depend primarily on the airline’s staff. Have the bag marked fragile and offer to carry it to TSA yourself. The less time someone else handles your bike the better the chance it makes it out alive. Arrive a bit earlier than normal when flying with a bike; this process can take awhile and rushing around an airport is never fun or good for recovery.
Typically when flying with a bike the case is considered oversized and will be waiting at a different location than normal baggage claim. Everyone is in a hurry to leave the airport upon landing, but it is highly advised to open the case at the airport and make sure nothing was damaged during the flight. If something did break, head to the airlines customer service and file a complaint. Some airlines will replace what was broken, but most are not held responsible. If the airline states they are not responsible for the damage, file a formal complaint and contact someone at the airlines corporate office for reimbursement for all or part of the damage. Bike cases are built tough and if you properly packed the bike there is not much to worry about.
Remember to follow these simple steps when flying with a bike to reduce stress and ensure everything goes according to plan. Waiting until the last minute is a horrible idea when flying with a bike; preparation is key. Hopefully these tips help for the next time that you’re going to be flying with a bike and that you can enjoy your own bike on vacation!