Transporting bikes by plane

The Elder Son and Myself have long had a dream of cycle touring in Japan. This isn't quite as exotic as it seems as he's half Japanese and we can combine it with a visit to Beautiful Wife's family: in fact, it is partly as an escape from said family: lovely people but there's a lot of them and they are all loud extroverts so a little goes a long way...

Anyway, after experiences borrowing bikes locally we've been looking at ways to transport our bikes over there. We're moderately encouraged that several companies will carry bikes for nothing if they are within the baggage limit, but we've been looking a the practical side. On arrival in Nagoya our usual method is to catch the ferry to Tsu, and train to Ise, about 20km away. Japanese trains don't take bikes usually but the ferry does, which means we'll need to cycle from Tsu to Ise.No worries there except that it means we'll need to build the bikes in Tsu, and if we have big bike bags there could be problems.

Looking for a solution we've come across this apparently pretty experienced traveller who recommends just using a nice big clear plastic bag. This is counter-intuitive to me but I can see the logic: it's obviously a bike, so it's unlikely to be thrown about, and the shape means it's hard to stack stuff on top of the bike. Also, it is easy to pack and unpack the bike, and the bag can be stuffed into panniers.

On the other hand, it seems to offer very little protection for the bike.

Any thoughts or experiences?
 

EltonFrog

Yup, no, that didn’t work.
Our experiences is that we have used cardboard bike boxes, BikeBox Alans and a soft padded bespoke bike bag.

You’ll be fine with cardboard bike boxes, free from your lbs. remove wheels, pedals, and handlebars (not completely) and pack using bubble wrap. Put clothes and other things in carrier bags, and fill the gaps in the box then tape up. Sorted-Bosh-Tuesday.
 

Debade

Senior Member
Location
Connecticut, USA
Our experiences is that we have used cardboard bike boxes, BikeBox Alans and a soft padded bespoke bike bag.

You’ll be fine with cardboard bike boxes, free from your lbs. remove wheels, pedals, and handlebars (not completely) and pack using bubble wrap. Put clothes and other things in carrier bags, and fill the gaps in the box then tape up. Sorted-Bosh-Tuesday.
i have used cardboard boxes. Toss them out and stop at bike store to get new ones for your return. In the States, you can pay them to pack it for you. I expect the Japanese will do the same.

The transport I liked best was on Lufthansa. I flew to Edinburgh from NYC. They had a bicycle roll-on policy. Bike just rolled on/off like a train. They only had a flew flights with that feature, then. Perhaps its expanded or cancelled, don't know. A broken fender when arriving that was fixed by LBS and paid for by the airline was the only problem for our two bikes. You may want to check it out and learn if it is available from a departure airport near you.
 

EltonFrog

Yup, no, that didn’t work.
The only damage we had, ironically, was to the BikeBoxAlan we had hired, it got crushed and the spindle in the middle to stop it crushing poked a hole through the case, the bike was fine. We claimed from BA, they paid the hire company promptly, end of. Or so we thought. About a week later a courier turned up returning the Box from being inspected. We repaired the hole and got a free BikeBoxAlan.
 
The trouble with cardboard boxes is that we have to get the bikes to Frankfurt which means trains and riding the bikes to the trains. Also in the link above the writer ppoints out that a cardboard box looks stronger than it is, and is nice and square so it's asking to be dumped on the bottom and have cases piled on top- as @CarlP found with the purpose built case. The writer of the blog post points out if the 'object' is obviously a bike and has lumpy point bits as a bike does, then it's more like to be carried more carefully and placed on top of the pile.

In Japan we'd have to ride from Beautiful Wife's family to the airport as as well, or at least to the ferry, so we can't use boxes there. This has always been the main practial problem before, so I was hoping that using bags may get around that one.
 

Ivo

Well-Known Member
Location
Maastricht
In my experience Frankfurt is the worst airport for flying with your bike. A very extreme interpretation of the overweight rules during checking and very overzealous security guys preventing you to dispose of your box after the return flight. So if possible, find another airport of departure.
 

PaulSB

Legendary Member
@Andy in Germany I think this is a rather personal subject, one where emotion plays a large part of the decision. I cannot conceive of transporting my bike by plane wrapped in plastic or in a cardboard box. I'm sure this has been done successfully thousands of times but I don't want to be the unsuccessful example!

My preferred choice is a rigid box though I have used a bag successfully.

Your relatives live 20km from the airport. In this situation I would ask the relatives to organise a taxi large enough to transport myself and the bike to their house - presuming they do not have a suitable car themselves. Clearly there is a cost involved but if I was making the trip I would simply view this a necessary cost contributing to a successful tour.
 
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Grant Fondo

Oswalds legs look strangely human?
Location
Cheshire
HK to Heathrow was free on Cathay Pacific for my Cannondale MTB. Awesome airline!
 
@Andy in Germany I think this is a rather personal subject, one where emotion plays a large part of the decision. I cannot conceive of transporting my bike by plane wrapped in plastic or in a cardboard box. I'm sure this has been done successfully thousands of times but I don't want to be the unsuccessful example!

My preferred choice is a rigid box though I have used a bag successfully.

Your relatives live 20km from the airport. In this situation I would ask the relatives to organise a taxi large enough to transport myself and the bike to their house - presuming they do not have a suitable car themselves. Clearly there is a cost involved but if I was making the trip I would simply view this a necessary cost contributing to a successful tour.
I see the point, but it's as much a financial as a practical one:

Japanese Taxis are generally pretty small and there's no way you could get a bike in one.

My inlaws are both working and this being Japan, they also have small vehicles and don't have the flexibility to come and get us.

Trains are out of the question.

This is why big/purpose built boxes would be awkward. We could get the bikes couriered the last bit but that would probably be more difficult than riding them.

Added to this the problems of getting bikes to the airport in Germany in the first place where the only option is the train.

If a bag is possible we can solve most of the issues at once...
 
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Dave Davenport

Legendary Member
Location
Hampshire
Thanks for that. Did you do anything different from the account in the link above?
Rather than turning the bars I take the front wheel off and cable tie it to the frame, you can then turn bars and forks sideways so should be less chance of them getting squished and the wheel holds everything in place quite well, it's also a bit more manageable on the luggage trolley. I also tape a few bits of cardboard round the mechs and bar end shifters.
I've used the CTC bags in the past but the last couple of years used some three quid plastic bike covers from Lidl as they're a lot lighter and pack smaller.
Check the check in procedure before you pack anything up too much as when flying out of Heathrow T3 this year, because the bikes weren't in boxes they had to be x rayed by hand and I had to unpack & re-pack them, luckily I'd taken a big roll of gaffer tape. No problems coming back from Vienna though.
 

classic33

Legendary Member
Get a small supply of odd coloured cable ties. Use one on the bag, to seal it, if you use a bag.

Box, use some of the tapes with printing on them. The more obscure the better.

Both give a clear indication of the bag/box being tampered with. Plain tape is readily available as are the common colours of cable ties.
 

Brandane

Is it because I lied when I was 17?
Location
Costa Clyde.
I've used a CTC clear plastic bag once, flying Glasgow to Bordeaux with a change of plane at Gatwick. The only casualty was a slightly rotated shifter which in turn damaged the bar tape, so next time I would loosen off the shifters.
I removed pedals, rotated the bars, and took the rear derailleur off it's mounting and cable tied it to the frame.
Flight was with BA, but that is irrelevant as all (??) airlines sub contract baggage handling to whatever is available at the airport in question.
 
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