Several folks have written me in the past week, asking about the best way to ship a bike. It’s a natural question. After all, if a CHANGE bike rides well and folds in half quickly, then it must be the most awesome bike ever for taking everywhere on planes, right?
Maybe. But first, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture.
When and how would you bike in another country?
Biking, in many cases, is better established, more supported, safer, and even more fun in other countries. So of course you’ll want to add biking to your travel experience. But on what bike? Here are three typical scenarios for non-racers:
- Your own epic journey. This is the big self-supported touring trip that you’ve researched for a long time and are finally making a reality. You’re leaving nothing up to chance, and that includes your faithful ride. Of course your trusty bike comes with you, and disassembling it into a bazillion pieces and reassembling it in a foreign hotel room is just part of the journey. Solution: Ship it in a box; And if you’re flying back out of another city, ship the empty box ahead so you don’t have a scavenger hunt at your final destination.
- A bike tour. Someone else is planning the trip, and you’re on board as part of a package. (We saw a lot of this when we walked the Camino trail in Spain, with some very similar bikes zipping past.) Different countries have different bike cultures and dominant bike types, and sometimes experiencing this range is half the fun.
Solution: Rent a bike, and have the provider make sure it’s properly maintained and a good fit. If you know you have special fit issues, then maybe you can accommodate in a small way, such as by taking your favorite seat or gel cover, or handlebar end grips that allow you to sit differently.
- A biking day. Walk through a foreign city or breeze through more of it on a bike! When you don’t have a bike you need to keep track of, you can move lightly when that makes sense, and move fast when you make the spontaneous decision to rent. We did this in both Copenhagen and New York’s Central Park, and they were completely different, amazing experiences with different types of bikes. One was even a tandem!
Solution: Look for local bike-share or bike-rental outfits the moment you touch down…or before. You might even support them in our own city to return the favor.
Here’s the usual way to pack a bike…
OK, you’ve decided to pack your own bike. We can think of shipped bikes as fitting into two general sizes of boxes: fully assembled (54″ x 28″ x 8″, 56″ x 32″x 10″) and disassembled (30″ x 30″ x 8″). You can find these inexpensively on ULINE, but then you need to buy in bulk (at least five). And if you’re using the small box to ship your frame, then you’ll need another box for your wheel set, as well as all the time and effort needed to strip, package, and reassemble your bike correctly.
Clearly, if you use a larger box, there’s one level of effort, while if you strip the frame entirely, it’s another. Generally, the smaller you get the box, the less it will cost, and the second option will get you down to a 30x30x8 box.
…And here’s the easy way.
A CHANGE bike comes in a 35″ x 30″ x 14″ box, with only the quick-release pedals, seat, and front wheel removed, and with mountain bikes, the handlebars. For the first three, you’ll need a set of fingers. For the handlebars on some models, you’ll also need one size of Allen (hex) wrench.
It’s probably possible to get a hard case the exact right size for a CHANGE Bike, but why? The bike fits perfectly in the container it arrived in, and can always go back when it needs to travel.
The best shipping service is…
…a matter of some contention. Everyone has their favorites. But here are three specialized providers, and what they would charge for Seattle to Boston, door to door residential, with full-size boxes and CHANGE Bike boxes at 40 pounds. (If you add more stuff, it’s going to be heavier):
- Shipbikes.com: Full-size box, $74.52. For a CHANGE Bike box, just $45.50.
- Bikeflights.com: Full-size box, $72.00 by FedEx. For a CHANGE Bike box, just $47.00 by FedEx.
- Other services like LuggageForward cost a minimum of $169, but also ship to 200+ countries.
The bottom line is, it isn’t that expensive to take your favorite wheels with you. Is that important, or is experimentation part of the adventure? If you’re shipping, here are three final bits of advice to make the experience a positive one…
- Mark out all the addresses you’re not using. You want to end up in the same location as your bike!
- Reinforce the seams with tape. You don’t want surprises there either.
- DON’T cover the handle holes. You’ll want airline folks to have a good grip when loading and unloading…
Now have fun! And if you’re an old hand at this type of travel, what shipping service do you prefer?