This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.
There are many ways and specialized containers to help facilitate packing a
bike. I have flown frequently with my bike for the last 10 years and have
never had any damage when my biked was packed correctly.
Get a cardboard bike box from your local friendly bike shop. Mountain bike
boxes are best because they are a bit wider and easier to pack, but as mountain
bike frames get smaller, road bike sized mountain bike boxes are getting harder
and harder to find.
Here is how I do it:
1) Use 3/4" foam pipe insulation to protect the 3 main tubes (top, down and
seat) and tape in place. Make sure to get the insulation with an inside
diameter that most closely matches the diameter of your frame tubes.
2) Take the seat, pedals, and front wheel off the bike.
3) Use a bit of string to attach the LEFT(non-chainwheel) crankarm to the LEFT
4) Remove the rear derailleur from its hanger and just let it hang.
5) Remove the handlebars and stem from the frame(this may necessitate removing
the cyclocomputer mount, and the front brake cable from the brake - a good
reason for soldering the ends of your cables!) and hang on the top tube.
6) Place a spacer in the front fork (see below).
7) wrap downtube shifters and brake levers with thin foam to minimize
8) Put the seat, pedals and other small parts in a bag and place the bag in the
front of the bike box.
9) Slide the frame in such that the forks are just ahead of the bag.
10) Spread the box a bit and slide in the front wheel on the LEFT side(non
chainwheel) of the bike with the front axle about 8-12" in front of the
seat tube. The end of the handlebars should fit between the spokes of the
11) take the pump off the bike and securely tape it to one corner of the box.
12) use foam squares(I have about 20 1' X 1.5' X 2" pieces procured from
shipping crates at work) to pad the bike from any potential metal to metal
contact. Be sure to put padding on top of the bike, as you never know which
way the bike box will end up.
13) Close the box and tape with strapping tape. Check to make sure the bike
cannot move around inside the box, there should be sufficient padding to keep
any shifting from occurring.
You can make a very inexpensive, yet very effective spacer to prevent damage
to the front fork from an old front axle. Leave the cones and lock nuts in
place and use the quick release skewer taken off your front wheel to secure
the spacer in the fork.
Bring a small amount of grease (35mm film cannisters work great for this)
to aid in re-assembly and throw in some rags or paper towels for wiping
off the excess grease.
Also, note that if your bike has Campagnolo Ergo levers, it is much easier
to remove your stem and handlebars if you leave a little extra cable during
installation. Another alternative is to loosen the brake and shifter cables,
but this is a last resort as it requires that you re-adjust the shifter cable
tension when you re-assemble the bike, which is a bit of a hassle if you have
One nice thing about bike boxes is that you can pack a lot of your extra gear
(and presents) inside the box. I have traveled to Europe using just the bike
box as my only piece of luggage!
I also bring a roll of the 2" wide clear packing tape. This stuff can be used
to reinforce or repair any damage to the bike box that might have occurred in
One note of caution here. I would try and obtain a bike box that closely fits
the size of you bike(i.e. if you have a 58cm frame get a box for a 58cm frame
bike). You want to minimize movement in the box and the box should be packed
tight enough so that you can stand it on end or even possibly upside down. I
would not recommend getting a box that is too big and trying to cut it down to
size. I tried this one year and suffered minor damage to the bicycle because
when I cut down the top of the box, I could not get it to fold over very well
and lost some of the structural integrity of the sides of the box. A heavy ite
was placed on top of my box and the sides of the box could not support it.
Different bike manufacturers use different strengths of cardboard with their
boxes. And the same manufacturer can change the strengths of their boxes from
year to year. Suffice it to say, the stiffer the better.
I have had poor results using the soft sided bags (both padded and unpadded
versions) and I would not recommend them. I think the foam padding gives a
false sense of security to the consumer, but more distressingly to the baggage
personnel who may attempt to place heavy items on top of the bag.
Another method is to use minimal packing and minimal padding to force the
airlines to handle your bike with care. This method entails removing the
wheels, crankarms and rear derailleur. Turn the handlebars and lash the
wheels to the sides of the bike frame. Enclose the whole package in a
sturdy plastic bag. I have never used this method, it works for some
but necessitates some tools like a crank extractor and crank bolt wrench.
Hard plastic cases are becoming popular. However, I am not particularly
fond of them. Besides being expensive, their weight empty(i.e. no bike) is
between 25 and 30 lbs. Ouch! In comparison, an empty cardboard bike box
weighs only about 5 lbs. The extra 20-25 lbs. can be a real factor if you
have to carry your baggage any substantial distance.
In any event, if you would like to begin and end your trip from the same
airport, you can leave the bike box in "checked" or "left" luggage and pay
a small daily fee for storage. One nifty trick if you have multiple bike
boxes is to tape them together and check them as a single box. Hotels near
an airport may also allow you to store your bike box, usually for a small fee.