Many bicycle tours start with a flight to a foreign state or country. In these instances, flying with your bicycle is a common approach (as is renting a bicycle at the starting location of your tour).
If you choose to fly with your bicycle, however, you might be wondering to yourself, “What exactly do I do with my cardboard bike box or the professional bicycle case I used to transport my bicycle on the airplane once I arrive at my starting location?”
You see, when you fly with a bicycle on an airplane, there comes a point when you need to unpack your bicycle from the box/case and prepare the bike for actually riding. This is the moment when your bicycle’s case suddenly becomes an anchor. No one wants to carry a big bike box or suitcase around with them on the back of their bicycle while they are touring. So what exactly are you supposed to do with the case once you arrive at the start of your tour?
The answer to this question is really rather simple. However, there are four common scenarios, with four different answers.
1: Traveling with a cardboard bike box – flying in and out of the same airport
If you are flying with your bicycle packed inside a cardboard bike box and you plan to fly in and out of the same airport (as shown above with this hypothetical bike tour around France), you have two different options.
If the airport you are flying into has bicycle shops near it, then the easiest thing to do is to simply throw your cardboard bike box in the trash once you arrive at the starting location of your tour. Then, when your bike tour comes to an end, you just need to go to one of the many local bike shops in the area and ask for a new cardboard bike box to use to fly your bicycle home. Most bike shops will give you a box for free if you just ask for it.
The other approach you could take is detailed in scenario 4 below.
2: Traveling with a cardboard bike box – flying in and out of different airports
If you start your bicycle tour in one location (Paris, France – for example) and finish your bicycle tour in a totally different city (such as Zurich, Switzerland), your approach should be the same as in scenario number 1. Fly your bicycle to Paris, throw the cardboard bike box in the trash once you land, and then pick up a new cardboard bike box from one of the local bike shops in Zurich once you arrive there. Then pack up your bicycle and fly home! The key here is to do some research in advance and make sure you are going to be able to find a cardboard bike box once you reach your tour’s final destination.
3: Traveling with a bicycle case – flying in and out of the same airport
If you are using a professional bicycle case (like the one shown here) to transport your bicycle on the airplane, you aren’t going to want to just throw the case away once you reach your destination. Most of these bike cases costs hundreds of dollars, so finding a place to store your case during your bicycle tour is essential. Luckily, this is very easy to do!
If you are flying into the same destination you are departing from, as you might do if you were flying into Reykjavik, Iceland, you just need to find a business or individual located near the airport who would be willing to hold your bicycle case while you are cycling around the country. This requires some advanced planning, but is easy to do thanks to the Internet, email and cheap international phone rates.
If you are staying at hotel near the airport, they should be the first people you ask about storing your bicycle case for you. Most hotels will be happy to store your case for you if you do business with them. Some hotels will charge you a fee for this extra service. Many will not!
If you can’t find a hotel to watch your bicycle case for you, contact other local businesses in the area surrounding the airport. Bike shops are a good place to start, as are tourist organizations and storage companies.
If the local businesses won’t help you, try contacting individuals that live in the area. Use the Warm Showers contact list to find other cyclists / hosts in the area and ask them to store your bike case for you. The Couchsurfing and Global Freeloaders websites are two other good resources you can use to find contacts in the area you wish to travel.
Once you’ve found someone willing to watch your bicycle case for you, simply tell them what day/time you will be arriving in their area and make arrangements to drop of your case. Once your case has been handed over, you are now free to travel by bike. Just return to the business/individual who is holding your case at the end of your tour, thank them (and give them a tip if need be), and then pack up your bicycle and fly home.
4: Traveling with a bicycle case – flying in and out of different airports
Finally, if you choose to travel with a professional bicycle case, but you have plans to fly in and out of different airports (like I plan to do on my upcoming bicycle touring around the Baltic Sea – I’m flying into Poznan, Poland and flying out of Copenhagen, Denmark), then you have to figure out a way of getting your bicycle case from your starting location to your final destination so that your case is waiting for you once you arrive there.
There are a number of different ways you can do this, but besides having a friend or loved one drive the case to your final destination for you, mailing the case is probably the easiest approach.
The tricky part about mailing your bicycle case to your tour’s final destination is that you need to find a reliable business or individual to mail the case to. As was the case in scenario number 3, you will need to do some advanced planning in order to make this happen.
Start by contacting the hotel you plan to stay with at the end of your tour and ask them if you can mail the case to them and have them hold onto it for you until you arrive on your scheduled date. If that doesn’t work, try contacting local bike shops, tourist offices, and related businesses in the area. If that doesn’t work, reach out to friends, family, or strangers via the websites at WarmShowers.org, Courchsurfing.org and GlobalFreeloaders.com. You should be able to find someone willing and able to hold your case for you until you arrive in their city.
Then, once you arrive at your final destination, you simply meet with the business/individual who has been gracious enough to hold your case for you, and take the case back from them. Then all that’s left to do is pack up your bicycle and fly home!
Additional Notes About Flying With Your Bicycle & Storing Your Bike Box / Case
- I recommend asking people at the airport where the best place to set up or strip down your bicycle might be. You don’t want to be ripping your bicycle out of its box of putting it back together again in a high-traffic area.
- Most large airports will not be able to store your cardboard bike box or bicycle case for you. However, some airports do have storage lockers for bicycles that you can rent.
- Smaller airports will, in some instances, store your bike box / case for you, if you ask. But do not expect this at most airports.
- You can purchase cardboard bike boxes at some airports / train stations. You will need to research in advance whether or not the airport you are flying in or out of has bike boxes available for purchase.
- If you are flying out of a location where bike shops are few and far between, you will likely need to figure out some other way of safely transporting your bicycle on the airplane. Many airlines will fly your bicycle as long as it is wrapped in plastic or a zippered fabric bag of some kind. Some airlines don’t require your bicycle to be packed in any kind of packaging at all.
- If you can get your bicycle to fold down to airline friendly measurements (as is the case with my Co-Motion Pangea touring bicycle), you can avoid the costly fees so frequently associated with flying with a bicycle. Prices and rules for flying with a bicycle will vary depending on which airline you are flying with and and which route you are taking.