How to fly with your bike

Our complete guide to travelling with your bike on a plane: packing, luggage, flights, transfers and more

There’s always good riding to be had at home, but sometimes you need your bike fix somewhere else. Often flying remains the easiest way to get abroad, but figuring out how to transport your bike can sometimes feel like a bit of a battle. So we’ve done some research to make it easier for you.

How to pack your bike

If you’re flying with your bike then you’re going to have to pack it up. The days of chancing it and showing up at the airport with an unpacked bike are over. Instead, we recommend you take a bit of time to prepare.

Whether you’re using a basic bike bag or a more elaborate hardshell case, always ensure your pride and joy is stowed securely and safely.

As a rule, you’ll have to take off your wheels, pedals and bars. Most airlines will ask you to deflate tyres and suspension too. However we would recommend leaving a little pressure in your tyres to provide some extra cushioning for your rims.

We’ve previously put together two detailed guides on how to pack both your road and your mountain bike, which should provide you with all the information you need for keeping your bike safe in transit.

What to put it in the bike bag or box?

We would advocate a dedicated bike bag or box, but recognise that the cost can be off-putting, especially if you don’t plan on travelling with your bike very often. So there are some cheaper alternatives you could consider.

A big plastic bag

You could use a simple cycling bag, but further protection is recommended
You could use a simple cycling bag, but further protection is recommended

The most basic option you can go with is the CTC Cycling Bag, a heavy-duty polyethylene ‘plastic bag’ for your bike.

Some claim that because it’s see-through, baggage handlers are more likely to treat your bike with the respect it’s due. We would treat that claim with some scepticism and definitely add padding to protect your bike.

At the very least, we’d recommend pipe lagging to protect the frame tubes (but we'd recommend adding more padding if you can) and frame spacers for the front and rear dropouts to prevent any crush injuries bending or breaking things.

We’d always suggest removing your rear-derailleur and taping it to the inside of the chainstays to keep it protected, too. You should also wrap your chain to keep oil from getting everywhere.

A cardboard box

You could just use a cardboard box if you don't travel frequently
You could just use a cardboard box if you don't travel frequently

You could try and get a cardboard bike box from your local bike shop, though it’s unlikely to be a particularly compact option, so it’s worth checking the baggage size restriction with your airline.

Likewise, cardboard is not the most impact resistant material (nor durable if it’s sitting outside in the rain), so we’d recommend padding out the box to protect your bike.

It is worth bearing in mind that some airlines don’t accept anything other than a “recognised bike bag”, so you should check beforehand precisely what is meant by this.

While these two options are decidedly cheaper than buying a dedicated bike bag or box, if you are travelling regularly then the prospect of investing in a bike bag can seem more reasonable with a purpose-built solution for transporting your bike.

A dedicated bike bag

A bag designed specifically for transporting bikes could be a good investment
A bag designed specifically for transporting bikes could be a good investment

There are two options here: a hard or a soft case. The former will usually provide a bit more security and protection, while the latter is generally a little cheaper, lighter and easier to store when not in use.

You do also get hybrids that aim to combine the best of both worlds. That usually means a soft shell that has an internal frame to add extra rigidity and protection for your bike.

The main advantage of a dedicated bike bag is that it is designed specifically to hold your bike and as such has padding in all the appropriate locations. Being purpose built means it will also have compartments, straps and all the necessary measures to hold its contents and accessories securely.

You can find additional reviews here.

As always, the sky's the limit when it comes to protecting your ride — we reported on this decadent $50.000 bike case from Fairwheel bikes a while ago, but there are definitely some more reasonable options available.

We’ve listed some of our favourites for you below:

Evoc

The Evoc Travel Bag is a solid soft-bag option
The Evoc Travel Bag is a solid soft-bag option

Evoc Bike bags have become a go-to in the cycling world. We gave the Travel bag a 4.5-star review recently. It’s not the cheapest, but provides very good protection and still comes in cheaper than a hard case

Biknd

The Helium bike bag is easy to load up and features inflatable side panels for added protection
The Helium bike bag is easy to load up and features inflatable side panels for added protection
Biknd produces soft bags that add additional protection with inflatable side panels. We’ve reviewed the JetPack in the past, and while it's pricey it performed very well.

B&W hard case

The B&W is a budget hard case — it will only fit a road bike though
The B&W is a budget hard case — it will only fit a road bike though

If you want the ultimate in protection then a hard case is the way to go.

Something like the B&W Bike Box is a cheaper option that provides good protection. However it doesn’t appear to fit mountain bikes.

BikeBox Alan

There are numerous other examples out there. One we have particularly liked in the past is the BikeBox Alan

The Bike Box Alan is a solid, hard case, transport solution
The Bike Box Alan is a solid, hard case, transport solution

Split your bike in two

It’s clear that the problem with bikes is that they are inherently bulky items.

In order to pack bikes smaller, frequent travellers might choose to go with travel bikes that have a frame that can be split in two.

These usually let you then check your bag as normal, rather than as outsize luggage, potentially saving significant costs.

The Ritchey Breakaway lets you split your bike into a more compact package for transport
The Ritchey Breakaway lets you split your bike into a more compact package for transport

One of the slickest solutions we’ve seen is the Ritchey Breakaway.

We reviewed the Break-Away Carbon recently and while it is quite an investment, we feel this could easily be used as your only bike — there’s no compromise on ride quality, just a tiny bit of added weight due to the fittings that allow the frame to be disassembled.

S&S Couplings

S&S Couplings allow you to split your frame tubes for portability
S&S Couplings allow you to split your frame tubes for portability

S&S couplings are a precision fitted, threaded linkage that can be retrofitted to many (round tubed) frames.

The tubes of your bike can then be split for transport but reassembled without any performance impact. In fact, S&S couplings are actually said to be stronger than the tubes themselves.

There are a limited number of approved framebuilders and you can check out the list here, and S&S make cases specifically to fit the compact, disassembled frames.

What else to pack

Remember to pack everything else you will need on your travels as well, but keep an eye on weight and restrictions
Remember to pack everything else you will need on your travels as well, but keep an eye on weight and restrictions

Don’t forget that you’ll need to take all your riding accessories with you too. Make sure you have your essential tools, pump, nutrition, bottles, clothes, helmet and anything else you usually take with you when riding.

Do bear in mind that bike bags tend to add quite a bit of weight on top of the bike itself (and so will your padding if you’re doing a DIY version), so keep an eye on the maximum weight limit of your luggage on your flight and make sure that you don't exceed this or pack any restricted items.

Travelling without a bike

You might be able to ride something very exotic if you hire when you're abroad
You might be able to ride something very exotic if you hire when you're abroad

So far the focus here has been about travelling with your bike. However, you may want to consider just leaving your bike behind and renting a bike at the other end when you arrive.

There are an increasing number of providers who offer high-quality bike rentals in various destinations, and in some cases this can work out cheaper or easier to organise than transporting bikes yourself, especially when you consider transfers.

Getting your bike on a plane

The above information is all well and good, but when selecting your flight things start to get complicated. As a rule we will use a comparison site like Skyscanner or Tripadvisor to figure out which flights are cheapest.

However, hold fire before booking your tickets — figure out how much transporting your bikes will cost because we’ve found that in some cases choosing an initially more 'premium' flight can work out cheaper overall.

Different airlines will treat bikes differently, with some accepting bike bags as part of your baggage allowance (albeit) outsized, while others will require you to pay a surcharge on top of your flight cost to be able to carry your bike with you.

Sometimes we have found that it can be cheaper to upgrade your class of travel rather than adding additional baggage to your booking. You’ll often have a more generous baggage allowances, so it's sometimes worth looking through the fine print to figure out what will work best.

One thing we would add is that it’s always worth calling ahead to let airlines know that you intend to carry your bike. Find out all the information you need in advance because paying for excess weight allowance or excess baggage at the airport is almost always prohibitively expensive.

You should make sure that if you have a transfer flight on a different airline that both carriers will accept your bike on board.

And it's recommended that you insure your bike as airlines won’t cover any damage to your bike. We will be putting together a detailed guide on the best options soon.

Make sure to check your bike over once it arrives at the other end too so that you can flag up any issues immediately.

We’ve tried to collate the terms and conditions of the major airlines here, but do please also take the time to double-check them yourself.

Flying with a bike from the UK and in Europe

We realise that most of these airlines fly internationally and long-haul as well. However for the purposes of this article we’ve done a rough grouping according to whether the airlines fly predominantly in Europe, the US or Australia.

Details correct on 10 August 2018

Air France

  • Requires approval from customer service department at least 48 hours before flight
  • Bikes are not a part of baggage allowance
  • Bike transport within Europe costs €55
  • Price ranges from €40–100 depending on five different flight zones
  • Max linear dimensions of 300cm
  • Weight limit of 23kg

Aer Lingus

  • No online booking available so call customer service centre
  • A bike will cost €50 per flight with a weight allowance up to 23kg
  • For flights to/from North America bikes can be carried as part of your luggage allowance
  • Extra luggage is charged at €75 / $100
  • Business class passengers carry sports equipment for free

Alitalia

  • Sports equipment is counted as part of your baggage allowance
  • Weight allowance up to 23kg
  • Not clear on dimensions

British Airways

  • Bikes allowed as part of your free baggage allowance
  • Call ahead of time to confirm your bike reservation
  • Weight allowance up to 23kg
  • Permissible dimensions of 190x75x65cm
  • Above 32kg you will have to ship anything as freight

EasyJet

  • Bike is counted as large sports equipment
  • Costs £42 per flight with weight allowance up to 32kg
  • Not clear on specific dimensions
  • EasyJet stipulates that no items other than your bike may be transported in the bike box

Eurowings

  • Eurowings cannot guarantee that they will carry your bike if there is not sufficient space (this applies to any airline)
  • £45 / €50 for short haul flight
  • £89 / €100 for long haul flights

Iberia

  • Bike counted as part of luggage allowance for long-haul flights
  • A €45 fee applies for short-haul flights
  • Weight allowance up to 32kg
  • Permissible dimensions of 131x72x21cm

Jet2

  • Taking a bike starts at £30 / €37
  • Weight allowance up to 32kg
  • Permissible dimensions of 182x91cm

KLM

  • Same conditions as Air France
  • Require approval from customer service department at least 48 hours before flight
  • Not a part of baggage allowance
  • Within Europe €55
  • Prices range from €40–100 depending on five different flight zones
  • Max linear dimensions 300cm, up to 23kg

Lufthansa

  • Register bike at least 24 hours before departure
  • Bikes counted as part of your baggage allowance (except in Economy Class Light)
  • Weight allowance up to 23kg for economy, 32kg for business
  • Maximum linear dimensions of 3.5m
  • Additional baggage costs between €70–250 / $80–287

Norwegian Air

  • Adding a bike will cost between £35–45 online
  • A bike will cost £60 on long-haul flights
  • Weight allowance up to 25kg
  • Maximum linear dimensions of 3m

Ryanair

  • Fixed £60 / €60 fee per flight with a weight allowance up to 30kg
  • Large sports items up 20kg cost £55 though it's unclear if this can include a bike
  • Not clear on specific dimensions

Swiss Air

  • Space must be reserved in advance
  • Bikes appear to be part of your luggage allowance
  • Weight allowance up to 23kg in classic, 32kg in business class
  • Dimensions up to 162x92x24cm
  • Additional fees outside allowance are very expensive

Thomas Cook

  • Bikes must be registered in advance
  • Adding a bike will cost between £40–65, booking is cheaper if done more than 30 days before your flight
  • Weight allowance up to 30kg
  • Permissible dimensions of 200x40x100cm

Flying to, from or in the US with a bike

Air Canada

  • Bikes must be registered at least 24 hours in advance
  • Specifically requests that bikes are packed in purpose built bike-bag
  • Bike can be counted as part of your baggage allowance
  • Weight allowance up to 32kg for bikes with no overweight charges
  • Maximum linear dimensions of 292cm

Alaska Airlines

  • Alaska will waive oversize and overweight baggage fees and charge bikes at standard rates
  • Unclear what the weight and size limits are

American Airlines

  • Bike can be taken as part of checked allowance
  • Must be under 50lbs / 23kg
  • Must be under 62 inches / 1.57m in linear dimensions
  • Above this will incur a fee of $150, increasing allowance to 70lbs / 32kg and 126 inches / 3.2m

Delta

  • Bag can be carried as part of your checked luggage on most flights
  • Weight allowance up to 32 kg
  • Maximum linear dimensions up to 157cm
  • Above those limits bicycle is charged at $150

Icelandair

  • Carrying bikes between US–Europe costs £92 / $116
  • Weight allowance up to 70lbs / 31.7kg
  • Maximum dimensions of 87x22x40 inches / 220x55x101cm

JetBlue

  • Bike can be taken as part of checked allowance
  • Must be under 50lbs / 23kg
  • Must be under 62 inches / 1.57m in linear dimensions
  • Above this incurs a fee of $50

Southwest Airlines

  • Bikes can be carried as part of checked allowance
  • Must be under 50lbs  / 23kg
  • Must under 62 inches / 1.57m in linear dimensions
  • Above this incurs a fee of $75

Spirit Airlines

  • Bikes are charged at $75 each way
  • Count towards part of your checked allowance

United

  • Bike can be carried as part of you free luggage allowance
  • Weight limit of 23kg
  • Maximum of 158cm linear dimensions
  • $150 for travel in North America if limits are exceeded
  • $200 for travel everywhere else if limits are exceeded

Virgin Atlantic

  • Bikes allowed as part of your free baggage allowance
  • Weight allowance up to 23kg
  • Overweight luggage or adding extra bags starts at £65

Flying to, from or in Australia

Air New Zealand

  • Items can be carried as part of your checked allowance
  • Items may weigh up to 23kg
  • May not exceed 2m in length

Cathay Pacific

  • Contact at least 72 hours in advance to book bike
  • Bike must be transported in a "recognised bicycle box"
  • Bike counts as part of checked allowance
  • Weight limit of 23kg

Emirates

  • Bikes must be booked at least 24 hours in advance
  • Can be carried as part of your checked baggage allowance
  • Weight limit of 23kg or 32kg depending on the class you are flying in
  • Maximum linear dimensions of 300cm
  • Additional charges are rather expensive

Etihad

  • Bikes are exempt from oversize rules
  • Weight allowance up to 32kg
  • 300cm linear dimensions

Jetstar

  • Bikes can be carried but must pay oversize fee
  • Charged at AU$25 per flight
  • Make sure to purchase enough weight allowance

Malaysia Airlines

  • Bikes will usually be accepted as checked baggage
  • Unclear on specific dimensions
  • Weight limit of 23kg
  • Fees appear to vary depending on airport

Qantas

  • Bike can be carried as part of your baggage allowance
  • Maximum weight of 32kg
  • Dimensions of 140x30x80cm

Qatar

  • Bike will be carried as part of free baggage allowance
  • It is very expensive to add extra items of luggage to your booking

Singapore Airlines

  • Bikes are carried as part of free baggage allowance
  • Weight limit of 32kg
  • Unclear on dimension restrictions

Virgin Australia

  • Bike accepted as part of checked luggage
  • Must be packaged in specific bike case (soft or hard)
  • Weight limit of 23kg (32kg in business class)
  • Unclear on size restriction

At the other end

Once you land at your destination be sure to consider how you are going to transport your bike. In all likelihood you’re not going to be riding away from the airport, so check luggage restriction on any public transport that you might be taking so you don’t run into any trouble. Make sure you know how to get your bike to where you're wanting to go.

It may also be worth considering whether you actually need to fly. There are quite a few options that offer to transport you and your bike more conveniently. For example, in the UK, Bike Express offers transport to mainland Europe at relatively reasonable prices.

Always make sure that you double check terms and conditions before making your booking, and if in doubt contact the airline you intend to fly with. We've flown with our bikes countless times and whilst it can seem a bit of a faff, with a little bit of effort, it's easy enough to get everything sorted out.

Where are you going with you bike next? Do you have any top tips for travelling with a bike? Let us know using the comment box below

Related Articles

Back to top