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Flying With Your Bike

Minimize separation anxiety with these tips!

flying with your bikeWhen you travel as a cyclist you often get weird looks. It’s not unusual to have two piled-high luggage trollies for a 45-minute flight. There’s your bike box, or boxes, depending on the event, your suitcase, carry-on, wheel bags, and laptop bag. Plus, if you’re travelling as a team, more often than not there are tool boxes, pumps, trainers, just to name the heavy items. This is the moment when you think, “Maybe I should have taken up running.”

Most of us are used to stares when one of our blinding tan lines slips out, but flying with bicycles is a particularly unique experience for a rider. Not only do you have to deal with the general transportation of your equipment, but airlines don’t appreciate the anxiety that a cyclist experiences when separated from her cherished bicycle. We’ve all heard the horror stories of scratched and damaged frames. I once watched my bag being loaded into the hold, only to witness it falling off the conveyor belt. It doesn’t stop there either! Fellow passengers seem annoyed when they encounter a wheel bag in the overhead luggage compartment or a stray helmet that you attempt to fit under your seat. Let’s face it, people think we’re mad. But whether you’re travelling to a race or heading off on a cycling holiday, it’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve to keep your bike safe and sound on the journey.

After travelling for years with my bike, domestic and international, I’ve learned a thing or two:

  1. Pack properly: Luggage handlers see thousands of bags and yours doesn’t get any special care or attention. Bubble wrap, reinforce, pad, cushion—cover what you can to protect your bike from getting scratched in the box and from any outside impact. The more, the better, in this case! Using clothes or kit is a great way to reduce the bulk in your suitcase and to cushion your bike at the same time.
  1. Wheels: I’ve had lots of success packing wheels separately. Usually, if you explain how delicate they are, they don’t count toward your bag count (especially since they are so light). If you’re travelling with only one special wheel in a small wheel bag, you can sometimes carry it on as hand luggage. It may be taken from you as you board the plane, but if it’s delicate and you’re worried, this way you can still keep an eye on it. Otherwise, bubblewrap your wheels and secure them in a wheel bag. If they fit in your bag or box, take out the skewers (that’s the axel on quick release wheels) and cushion or wrap the gear cluster and the hub.
  1. Allowance: Often you can book sports equipment or an extra bag but if you are on a budget, pack your clothes in your bike bag. As long as it doesn’t exceed the allowable weight, the box is just “oversized” and you may be able to avoid extra charges. Put your clothes in plastic bags to avoid grease.
  1. Security: Tape and cable-tie everything. Take tape and cable ties to the airport in case you have to open and reseal anything. When you check in, ask for “fragile” stickers at the counter and label everything. It doesn’t hurt to put an ID copy in the bag either.
  1. Space: Make sure when you get to where you’re going that you have a large enough vehicle to continue to travel with your bike stuff. A friend once went to a race with only one other teammate and the team had booked them a compact car through the rental company. They had to get two bikes, two wheel bags, two suitcases and a laptop bag into a Chevy Spark…and drive it! You do the math. It was a tight squeeze!
  1. International: If you are travelling overseas, check the luggage limits and sports equipment allowance before you fly. If you have international connections, you can check to see if your luggage has been loaded on your connecting flight by presenting your luggage tag at the desk before you board the plane. They should be able to tell you if your bag has been loaded.

Whether you’re going on an intercontinental cycling holiday or a race a few hours away, following these tips won’t keep the strange looks away but they will help keep your bicycle safe, minimizing your separation anxiety! Happy travels!

Sarah Bonner


Sarah Bonner has lived and cycled in Canada, Africa, and Europe. Currently, she splits her time between the Netherlands and South Africa where she trains and competes at an amateur level. With a Masters in English and a Diploma in Sports Management, Sarah combines her love of writing and passion cycling to share honest advice and inspiring stories. Follow her at sarahkimbonner.wordpress.com

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