Top Flight

Travelling with a bike can be fraught with pitfalls and hazards, but if you take the proper precautions, you and your beloved machine should make it to your destination in one piece.

Plane travel with a bike can be done cheaply without having to buy an expensive bike box. You just need to strike up a relationship with your local bike shop and ask them to keep hold of an empty box for you with all the packing materials. They’re stout enough for a round trip, and make more sense if you only use planes occasionally. Be considerate and pick it up right away, though, since most bike shops lack the space for long-term storage.

Tools required

  • Allen key multi-tool
  • Pedal spanner
  • Protective plastic bits
  • Cutter
  • Masking tape, packing tape
  • Zip ties/pipe cladding
  • Toe straps/bungies

Plane Sailing

1. Use protection
First, prep the box by laying down a protective layer of bubble wrap, cardboard, or a piece of Styrofoam, particularly at the point where the fork will rest. Standard-issue bike boxes usually come with precut hand holds, but if yours is missing them, now’s a good time to put some in with a sharp blade. Position them ergonomically on either side, near the top. Remove the front wheel and deflate both tyres until soft. Tape the front skewer to spokes, or stuff it into the seatpost with padding. Now install a fork protector as pictured, and secure it with some tape; masking tape or electrical insulation tape work best, since they peel away easily and leave no residue. Anything stronger also runs the risk of removing paint from your frame.

2. Big Ring/Big Cog
Protect your drivetrain components by setting your gears in the big ring and big cog. This will pull the derailleur inboard towards the spokes and out of harm’s way, rather than protruding against the inside of the box where it can get damaged by an outside knock. Use the derailleur protector as pictured, sliding it between the small cog and frame, and capping the quick release skewer. Extra foam pipe cladding can be put on the seat-tube, seatstays and chainstays. Wrap the pedals and other loose parts separately. The seatpost assembly can be boxed or wrapped in bubble wrap. The key thing is to keep anything from rattling around inside the box and causing damage, especially the pedals or a metal seatpost.

3. Boxing Clever
Copying the manufacturer’s packing methods is quick and effective, and re-using the bespoke protectors makes even more sense. Cover the left crank arm with a plastic sleeve, attached with tape, before inserting it between the spokes of your front wheel, as you place the wheel against the middle area of the frame. Be sure to place protective plastic caps over the axle ends to stop them gouging. Inserting a layer of cardboard between the wheel and frame works well; if no plastic axle caps are available, any strong tear-resistant material should do, taped into place. Remove the bar from the stem and re-attach the clamp with bolts all the way in. Loosen the stem at the fork. Put the bike in the box, positioning the bar and stem appropriately.

4. Shroud of touring
Cover up the bike with some added protection by grabbing a large sheet of cardboard and folding it in two, then sliding it over the bike as a protective shroud. Or use a couple of sheets of extra cardboard or bubble wrap on either side, followed by a layer on top. Make sure to put a protective plug into the seat-tube, held in place by tape, as an added measure. This will eliminate any chance of terminal damage to the clamp area in case the bike gets dropped upside down – which it will. A cardboard shroud or bubble wrap over the bar and controls will offer added protection. If you’re tucking them lengthwise along the head-tube and fork, put something between those as well. Ensure your lever tips don’t come into contact with the frame.

5. Tape Gun Academy
Tape up the entire length of the box flaps lengthwise, then cross over with added strips, doubling up where the wheel and fork come into contact with the ground, as well as using extra layers around the corners, which often take a beating. Fashioning straps or ropes as handles can cause more problems than they’re worth, and adds to the risk of the box getting tangled on conveyor belts. More important is to reinforce the hand-hold cutouts with tape. Now scrawl a few big ‘up’ arrows on the sides to help baggage handlers keep it upright as much as possible, along with destination details. Finally, carry an extra roll of packing tape within easy reach, in case the box has to be opened up for security reasons. Bon voyage!

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