Fly your bike for just $30
February 22nd 2019
There’s a reason that most people flying CHANGE bikes around the country are private pilots with their own plane. Flying bikes commercially can be expensive, time-consuming, and bulky. But you can get around it if you’re persistent.
First, what makes commercial airline shipping difficult?
With commercial airline travel, there’s a magic number. All airlines convert your baggage to linear inches, and they all seem to standardize on 62″ as the maximum. After that, you’re into oversize baggage on flights both directions, and the fees add up fast (up to $300 each way on some airlines).
Some airlines will add an overweight fee if the box is over 30 pounds, and a special fee just because it’s a bike. Why? Because they can. Cyclists are less likely to travel with their equipment than golfers or skiers, so there’s less bargaining power for us, and more incentive for airlines to extract payment for boxes that are long and heavy.
A CHANGE bike folds down to 35″ x 15″ x 30″ (the size of the box it comes in). That’s smaller than other full-size bikes, but still 80 linear inches, and way above the 62 for non-oversize baggage. So what can you do about it?
Choose your airline carefully, and ship for $30.
The rule of 62 still applies, but how that number is handled differs significantly across airlines. A February 2019 listing by Bicycling Magazine put Alaska Airline at the head of the pack, with these terms of service:
- Standard/max size: 62/115 inches
- Standard/max weight: 50/100 pounds
- Standard bag fees (1st/2nd/3rd): $30/$40/$100
- Bike fee: None
- Oversize fee: None
- Overweight fee: None
- Total cost: $30
As long as these terms of service apply at Alaska Air, this means that the financial penalties for taking your bike are off the table. Any size bike will ship for $30 (or $40 if it’s not your only piece of baggage, stuffed with your trip clothes too).
These Alaska Air terms apply to any bicycle, not just a CHANGE bike. Now let’s talk about bulk and convenience.
Packing your bike, and dealing with packaging.
Packing a bike is relatively simple nowadays, requiring only removal of the seat, front wheel, pedals, and handlebars. Here’s how, step by step:
Bike packing boxes are often easy to get, but come in a variety of sizes that may or may not fit your bike model. Get one that’s 57″ x 10″ x 34″ and you’ll be able to fit just about any bike in it.
If you’re still doing the airline math, you’ll see that this box is more than 20 linear inches larger than a CHANGE bike carton, but that doesn’t matter if you’re not paying for size with Alaska Air. And even a 35″ x 15″ x 30 carton is big. What do you do with a CHANGE bike carton, or your standard bike carton, in the airport and at your destination? Will it even fit in a taxi? And if you take the bike out of the box, will THAT fit in a taxi?
If your trip involves a loop at the far end, you may be able to reuse your shipping carton by storing it (with permission) during your trip in a hotel storage room. But if it’s point-to-point, you’ll likely need to throw it away and buy a shipping bike box at the other end of your trip–so allow time for that…
…unless you have a commercial travel soft-sided bike shipping bag. Today’s best bike travel bags cost a bundle, and hardshell is still marginally more rugged than soft-sided, but soft-sided is a lot more versatile. When not in use, you can fold it way down.
For example, you can now do straight-line tours, or tours where you use even the last day. You can pull out your bike, fold up the bag it arrived in–and your bike–and fit both in the taxi, Uber or Lyft. Later, at the hotel, you can wrap your folded bag in anything, like plastic duct-taped together, slap a label on it, and mail it to your final hotel so you can spend that last day sightseeing, not looking frantically for another bike shipping box.
Here’s a good bike travel case write-up from Bicycling Magazine.
Can’t I just ride away from the airport with my stuff?
Not usually. That’s a myth. Airports are busy places with big, dangerous roads packed with drivers focused on time, not bicyclists. Be safe; Start your adventure anywhere but here.
And just because you have a CHANGE bike, you have the option of easy use with any car, so make the most of it!
Happy riding, wherever your flights take you.
Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.