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02-10-2023 | Frank Jansen

10 pro tips for transporting your bike on an airplane

When heading to Mallorca or Gran Canaria, I usually prefer the convenience of renting a bike. However, there are instances where renting isn't feasible or desirable. In such cases, I bring my own bike. Due to my work for this website, I've flown with a bike over 30 times, and in this article, I'll be sharing my top tips.

Tip 1: Don't worry

The foremost tip is also the most crucial—don't worry about flying with a bike. It's simpler than you might think, and the risk of damage is minimal; I've never experienced it in my 30 flights. Of course, taking the right precautions is essential (more on that later). With proper preparation, it doesn't add much extra time either.

At the airport, start by checking in at the desk as usual. Here, you'll check in your regular luggage. Your bike case receives a special baggage label, and then you drop it off at the odd-size counter. This process takes a maximum of five minutes extra time.

Please also read: Four ways to safely transport your bike by plane

Tip 2: Always keep one set of clothes separate

In a bike case, bag, or cardboard box, you can pack a considerable amount of extra gear. Often, checking in an additional bag is unnecessary, saving on ticket prices. Helmet, shoes, food, clothing, pump, toiletries—they all fit easily. However, always keep your shoes and at least one set of clothing separate. Also, consider separating pedals, especially if they have a power meter or if you use a different system like Speedplay or Time. In case your suitcase doesn't arrive, you can still attempt to rent a bike for the necessary duration.

Tip 3: Weigh your suitcase or bag

Bike bags are not consistently weighed at the airport, and it largely depends on the personnel you encounter at the counter. Some may weigh, while others may not find it necessary. Regardless, it's wise to weigh your items at home on a personal scale, especially if flying with an airline with strict weight limits. For instance, Transavia allows 32 kg, Ryanair 30 kg, and KLM only 23 kg on certain flights. Weighing at home ensures you're within the limits, and if weight is a concern, consider using a lightweight cardboard box, which typically weighs about 3 kilos.

Tip 4: Always disassemble your derailleur

While many bike cases and bags allow leaving the rear derailleur in place, I strongly advise against it, particularly if you have a smaller frame size. The risk of the derailleur hanger bending is significant, and disassembling it takes minimal time. I also disassemble the chain, placing it in a ziplock bag to avoid staining clothes, for example.

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Tip 5: Put an AirTag in your bikecase

While I've never personally experienced it, the possibility of your bike case getting temporarily lost exists. Placing an AirTag in your case can be a lifesaver. It not only provides peace of mind but also ensures you know your bike is on board when you board the flight.

Tip 6: Maintain tire pressure

During check-in, you'll likely be asked about the tire pressure. Politely confirm that the tires are flat, but crucially, leave them fully inflated. The air pressure in the cargo hold is equivalent to that at 2000 meters, making it perfectly safe to keep the tires full.

Tip 7: Secure the brakes

For those with disc brakes, insert something between the brake pads to prevent the need to push back the pistons. Special plastic blocks designed for this purpose are available, or you can cut an old card into four pieces as an alternative.

Removing the discs from the wheels might be considered, but in my experience, especially with a hardcase bike case, it's often unnecessary.

Photo: Last week, I rode carefree on my own bike in beautiful Portugal.

Tip 8: Pack the right tools

Upon arrival, you will reassemble the bike. I bring a tool with various sizes of allen keys for the wheels, pedals, and derailleur. Additionally, I carry a pair of missing link pliers (along with work gloves) for chain mounting and dismounting. A tool for aligning a brake disc, and considering a mini torque wrench, can also be invaluable.

Tip 9: Plan transportation

Most hatchbacks can accommodate two bike cases or boxes with the seats down. However, if you're a party of four in a car, you'll need a large MPV, passenger van, or a larger van. Most SUVs may not fit bike cases widthwise in the trunk.

When using cabs, opting for a station wagon or MPV is generally sufficient. The back seats may need to be folded down, but that's usually all that's required.

For airport travel in, public transport is my preference. Carrying a bike case on the train is surprisingly easy, thanks to elevators available at almost every trainstation.

Tip 10: Consider CO2 or opt for a hand pump

The regulations around flying with CO2 cartridges can be confusing and vary by airline. In 2023, many airlines allow up to four cartridges; check Transavia's rules as an example.

It's often necessary to pre-register them, although I've never personally done so. My suggestion is to divide the cartridges between the bike suitcase and other hand luggage. It's also wise to carry a printout of the rules from your airline, as airport staff may not always be well-informed. Such documentation has saved me once when authorities in Cyprus insisted on inspecting my suitcase for cartridges.

Of course, alternatives exist. Consider bringing a hand pump or purchasing cartridges at your destination. There are also compact electric pumps designed for travel.

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