When we toured New Zealand in 2009 we used the traditional method of boxing our bikes to take them on the plane. In practice this method has several disadvantages.

  1. Typically you’ll take your bikes to a LBS to get them packed. In the summer this could mean taking your bikes in several days before you leave in order to get them turned around in time. Sometimes you need your bike up until the day you leave.
  2. In a box, a bike becomes a tidy geometric object like any other piece of luggage. It will get set on its side. It will get things stacked on top of it.
  3. Bike Boxes are very awkward to carry. If you don’t have long arms them you will likely be dragging it through the airport.
  4. Cost. Expect to pay $50-$70 per bike to have it packed.
  5. Last but not least, you’ve got to get your bikes re-boxed at the end of your trip. We got lucky in Christchurch and found a box big enough to fit my bike but it was a close call.

For our trip to France we’re going to try using clear bike bags from Wiggle.co.uk. I’ve done the following:

  • deflate the tires
  • Detach the bars and turn them sideways
  • pull off the pedals and attach them to the rear wheel
  • detach the derailleur and loosely reattach it to the frame
  • drop the seat post
  • remove the front wheel and tied both wheels so they can’t turn
  • Trimmed the and of the bag and attached the bag to the frame in several places

I’m going to use plenty of 12″ re-closable zip-ties for all of this. I’ll be able to reuse a few of them by attaching the rolled up bags to our racks for the duration of the trip.

In addition to securing the bike, I’ve secured the water bottles and panniers to the bike. This should save considerable space in our single duffel bag without increasing the dimensions of the bikes by too much.

The advantages to using a plastic bag seem to be

  1. A bike is much easier to carry – for yourself and the baggage handlers – by using the top tube or grabbing the saddle.
  2. Because you can see exactly what’s inside, a handler is not likely to put it on its side or stack anything on top of it.

My initial impression of the bags is very good. I was concerned the bag wouldn’t accommodate my XL Fargo but there’s plenty of room to spare.

Update: We’re back from the trip.

Packing bicycles for air travel