If you’re planning a cycling holiday abroad and taking your own bike, you’ll need to know how to pack a bike box for flying.
The pre-holiday packing faff and experience of flying can be stressful enough. Without the added worry of your beloved bike being damaged in transit.
It’s worth getting clued up on the different types of bicycle box and the best way to pack your bike in each of them. So you can tick at least one thing off your to-do list well in advance.
In this guide, we’ll explain the differences between the cardboard bike box, bike travel bag, and the hard case bike box, and the best way to pack your road bike for a safe and stress-free transit.
Which is best – bike box, bike travel bag, or a cardboard bike box?
Hard Case Bike Box
A hard case bicycle storage box is the sturdiest and most secure option to transport your bike on a plane. It’s probably also the easiest type of bike box to use too in terms of packing and transporting, but the added protection and convenience often comes at a heftier weight and price tag.
Another consideration if you choose a bike box is storage when it’s not in use, because they don’t pack down and can take up a lot of space.
How you pack your bike into a hard case box depends on the brand. As a rule of thumb, most require handlebar removal.
Many hard case bike boxes have specific areas to secure the wheels (often in the lid or ‘top’ of the box). The rest of the bike is usually placed in the bottom of the case with padding around contact points and components.
Whichever bike box brand you choose, make sure you always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for best fit and protection.
Bike Travel Bag
A bike travel bag is often the cheaper and lighter option to hard case bike boxes, still offering good security, but with less protection. These also pack down better than hard case boxes, so you can stow away easily when not in use.
If you’re packing your bike in a bike travel bag it goes in upside down, unless the bag has a solid base. This protects the chainrings, crankset and other components in transit.
Some bags include separate wheel bags to store your wheels once removed. These are usually placed either side of the bike in the main bike travel bag. If there aren’t any separate wheel bags you can add padding around the wheels and the frame for extra protection.
Top tip: If using a bike travel bag, add cable ties to the outer zip for added security. This will provide a barrier against any opportunists wanting a peek at what’s inside. Without stopping airport security from getting in if they need to take a look.
Cardboard bike box
A much cheaper (or potentially free) option is a cardboard bike box. Although they’re not as strong or protective as the more dedicated options. It’s worth asking your local bike shop if they’ve got any kicking around. Even better if they’ve also got the original packaging and protective padding. Plus, no need to store them when out of use – you can simply recycle.
Packing a cardboard bike box is a bit more fiddly because you need to pack the bike as it comes brand new from the manufacturers. You might need to remove one or both wheels, take off the handlebars and also the pedals or other components.
With a cardboard bike box it’s even more important to add padding to all contact points for added protection in transit. So speak to your bike shop for advice on the best way to pack yours.
As a rule, the bike will always go in the right way up, and if both wheels are off, they slot in next to the frame chain side, one at the front, one at the back. If only one wheel is off, that sits at the front, again chain side.
If this all sounds like a bit too much pre-holiday faff, you could always ask your bike shop to pack it for you to put your mind at ease.
Top tip: If using a cardboard bike box. Secure the wheels to the frame with cable ties, and seal the box with strong tape. Don’t forget to write your name, contact and flight details on the box!
How to pack a bike box
Whether you choose a bike travel box, a travel bag, or a cardboard bike box. The way you pack the bike is essentially the same for all. If you’ve never taken your bike apart before it can be quite daunting. So make sure you set aside enough time and space to limit any stress.
Remove the wheels and slightly deflate tyres
- The reason you don’t want high air pressure in the tyres when flying is the risk of them exploding! Don’t remove all of the air or you could risk damaging the rims, however.
- Some bike boxes or travel bags will have specific space or separate bags to put your wheels.
- If you’re using a cardboard bike box you should only need to remove the front wheel. This slots alongside the frame in the box.
Remove pedals, seatpost and saddle
- If you’ve never removed your pedals before, you might find they’re quite stiff. Depending on your bike, you’ll need a pedal wrench or 15mm flat head spanner. If your bike is more modern, potentially an allen key.
- Pack your pedals, seatpost and saddle with padding if there is no dedicated slot in your bike travel box.
- And don’t forget to mark your seatpost so you remember the right saddle height when rebuilding!
- The GCN video below explains how to remove pedals easily.
Protect the forks
- Nowadays many bikes include disc brakes so come with thru-axles instead of a quick release skewer.
- Once the wheels are removed, put the thru-axle back between the forks to act as support and protect from damage. Not to mention getting lost!
- If you have a quick release skewer. Remove it and tape it to your forks in a plastic bag to stop it getting lost.
Top tip: If your bike doesn’t have a thru-axle, ask your local bike shop for a plastic fork spacer that comes with brand new bikes for added fork protection.
Remove the rear derailleur
- This step is more important if you’re using a bike travel bag or cardboard bike box. As the risk of crushing is greater.
- The derailleur is very easy to bend and get damaged in transit. So, it’s definitely worth padding and bubble wrapping it, whether you leave it in situ or remove it.
Adjust handlebar, cranks and chainrings position
- To make sure the bike fits in the box you’ll need to either remove or loosen the handlebars. So you can adjust the angle sideways alongside the frame.
- The cranks (with pedals removed) should be turned parallel to save space in your bike travel box or bag.
Add protective padding to everything you can!
- Baggage handlers get a bad rep, but then they are nicknamed ‘throwers’. So we recommend adding padding around the chainring, derailleur, cassettes, frame and anything else that could get scratched or damaged in transit.
- Pipe lagging and bubble wrap is perfect for this – available in your local DIY store.
Padding tip: Use some of your kit in the box or travel bag to act as extra padding.
Space-saving tip: Use water bottles on the bike to store multi-tools, inner tubes and tyre levers etc. Make sure the bottles are secured in cages on the bike.
Best bike box brands
Bike Box Alan
If you’re looking for one of the best in hard case bike travel boxes. Bike Box Alan is the brand to get. Boxes come with a seven year warranty and the website showcases several Olympic and Paralympic athletes with their bike boxes, if that’s not enough top tier endorsement.
This is a UK manufacturer of the (self-proclaimed) “world’s toughest bike boxes” that take only 10-20 minutes to pack. Their Triathlon Aero Easyfit and Race boxes coming equipped with built-in GPS tracking.
Prices range from £400-£600+, but you can also hire a Bike Box Alan from one of the many collection hubs across the UK.
For step-by-step instructions on how to pack your Bike Box Alan, head to the website.
SCICON bike box or bag
Scicon is another major brand in the hard case bike box field, also proclaiming to be manufacturer of the “world’s toughest bike case”, with its AeroTech Evolution TSA, weighing in at 12kg.
The AeroTech is suitable for road, gravel and cyclocross bikes with quick release and thru axle forks. Priced at the more premium end, at £849, it features a dedicated wheel chamber system, secure locks and high density foam padding with improved shock absorption .
Browse Scicon’s other bike boxes and travel bags at sciconsports.com.
EVOC (Bike Bag)
The higher up the scale you go the less dismantling of the bike you’ll have to do, and if you choose the BORA’s collapsible hybrid design (half bike box, half travel bag) you can easily pack it down and store away when not in use.
Chain Reaction (budget bike bag) RRP £69.99.
If you’re looking for a cheaper bike travel bag option, Chain Reaction’s padded bag comes with mixed reviews (mostly good), and separate wheel bags and eight separate internal compartments for safe packing of clothes, pedals, seat, seatpost and other items.
Weighing in at only 6.7kg it’s nice and light and easy to move about on wheels and with its high quality carry handles.
We’d recommend you pad it out with kit, clothing or towels for added protection.
Insuring your bike for travel abroad
With all the will in the world, it’s worth remembering that baggage handlers have been known as ‘throwers’ for a reason, and a reason that doesn’t bode well for your beloved bike.
So whichever bike box or travel bag you choose, making sure you’re completely covered for any damage in transit will soften the blow should the worst unfortunately happen.
To be safe, always check your bike for damage/loss before clearing customs. Otherwise the airline’s liability is limited, and if your bike is damaged, make sure to get written confirmation of any damage from baggage handlers too if possible
If you’re unable to claim through the airline for any reason, our Bikmo policies cover against damage in transit. If you have any queries around this, please contact the team via phone on 01244 470 551 or emailus at firstname.lastname@example.org
As a British Cycling member, you benefit from a 10% discount* on bike insurance powered by Bikmo, as well as up to 50% multi-bike saving and up to 25% lower premium on electric bikes.
*Minimum premium £3.73/mo and policy wording applies.
For more information about taking your bike on a plane, read our blog.