Packing a Bike Right: Von Hof's Travel Tips
Whether you are traveling for a race or a ride in an exotic locale, nothing can be more stressful than knowing that your bike will be handled by plenty of airline staff or postal employees. We've put our bikes through the ringer of cross-country flights, as well as trips to Asia and Europe. We've listed a few important tips on packing a bike, no matter whether you use a professional travel bag or a cardboard box.
The goal of bike packing is twofold: getting your bike as compact as possible while ensuring that nothing is scratched or damaged en route to your destination. In order to get your bike 12-20 inches thinner, as well protect wheel spokes from getting damaged, you will want to remove the pedals from your crankarms.
Removing the seatpost is also necessary in order to reduce the height of your bike and ensure that the seat tube isn’t damaged if any handlers tip your bike package upside down. Kate uses a tape measure to make sure that her saddle height is always perfect before a ride. Another effective way to make sure that your saddle height doesn’t change is by using electrical tape to mark your correct position before you remove it from your bike.
The most sensitive positions of your bike while in the box are the following: The front fork dropouts, the shifters on your handlebar, and the rear derailleur. Many bike packaging cases, like Kate’s Pika Package, offer secure areas to protect these parts. After she takes off her handlebars from her stem, she uses supplied materials to protect the paint on her top tube, and clip her handlebars to the bike so they are not hanging loose. If you are using a cardboard box to travel, a Styrofoam wrap and zip ties are just as effective, although you will need to have something to cut the zip ties at your destination.
Every travel case, including self-made packages, require the removal of the front wheel. If your bike has a quick release system, having a plastic drop out protective will vastly reduce the risk of damaging your fork in transit. Most of these can be gotten at a bike shop, and also come with new bikes and forks. If you have a thru-axle, like Kate’s cyclocross bike, reinstalling the axle without the wheel in place improves the strength of the fork in the packaging.
If you can package your bike with the rear wheel in place, be sure to put the derailleur in the largest (ie easiest) gear, to keep it as far away from the side of the box as possible. If the system requires you to remove the rear wheel, make sure to reinstall the thru axle or dropout protector. In the photo above, Kate is using a bleed block in her disc brake caliper. This prevents her hydraulic disc brakes from closing mid-trip. Riders with rim brakes or mechanical disc brakes don't need to worry about this step.
The real value in a dedicated travel bag is the compartments, pockets, and packaging, which helps separate frames from small parts. Those using a cardboard box, you can't use too much Styrofoam packaging and tip ties to keep hubs or seatposts from scratching up your paint. It is also not a bad idea to purchase wheel bags if your are going this route.
Most travel bags come with those wheel bags, but Kate's Pika bag does not since it has special compartments to keep the wheels safe. Ideally because these wheels have discs, a patient traveler removes and installs the discs every time they travel. A less patient rider makes sure they have a rotor truing tool at the other end of the flight to take care of the inevitably warped discs.
And that is all there is to it! Most people can fit pumps, a secured tool bag, and even food in their bike bag. The real pros know to carry their helmet, shoes, and pedals with them to ensure those items don't get lost by an aberrant handler. Renting a bike would be heartbreaking but possible. Rarely do places rent out apparel such as footwear.