How do you fly with a mountain bike?
How to fly with your mountain bike one of those questions that you never think about until you decide to go somewhere awesome on a mountain bike trip and you realize that every airline is different. The answer, of course, is that it depends. Sometimes you check it, sometimes you ship it, and sometimes you forget about it and plan to rent when you get where you’re going.
Pack or Ship Your Bike?
The question of whether to pack or ship your bike depends on quite a few factors:
- How long is your trip?
- How soon before your trip can you pack your bike?
- How soon do you need your bike back after you return?
- What Airline are you flying?
- How far away are you going?
- How nice is your bike? (This one sounds funny, but it’s true. If your bike is an old hardtail with a cranky drive train and squeaky brakes, you may have more fun if you rent a nicely tuned new bike while you’re here.)
Depending on which airline you are flying, it can cost up to $300 round trip to bring your bike along in checked baggage. Here are the detailed policies (click the airline name to expand and see full details and fine print) for the airlines that fly to Colorado:
We will accept bicycles as checked baggage provided each piece is properly packed in a soft or hard sided case designed specifically for the sporting equipment piece. If your travel includes multiple airlines, different restrictions may apply.
- Bike is in a hard-sided case, bike bag, or box built for bike transport
- Handlebars are fixed sideways
- Pedals are removed; or
- Pedals and handlebars are wrapped in plastic foam or a similar material
Please note that if your bike is not in a hard-sided case, it will be treated as a fragile item.
Bicycle Transport Fees:
- 150 USD/CAD for travel to all regions (excluding Brazil, Europe, and North Africa)
- 150 USD, 175 CAD*, or 125 EUR* for travel to/from Europe or North Africa
- 75 USD for travel to/from Brazil
*CAD amount will be charged exit Canada, and EUR amount will be charged exit Europe.
Your bike must be packaged in a container (cardboard, canvas, hard shell, etc.) in one of the following ways:
- handlebars fixed sideways and pedals removed
- handlebars and pedals encased in plastic, Styrofoam or other similar material
Bicycles will be accepted in a hard-sided, padded case designed for bicycles. If not in a hard-sided case, bikes will be accepted with the handle bars secured sideways and pedals removed. The bicycle must also be encased in plastic foam, a cardboard box (domestic flights only), or similar material to prevent damage.
- Domestic and International Flights:
Bicycles will be accepted on domestic and international flights for a fee of $50 per bike each way and will count as one of your checked bags. Excess baggage fees may apply.
- Please note: overweight baggage fees will not be assessed for bicycles. However, the maximum allotment of 99 pounds per bag still applies. Bicycle cases should contain bicycles only; cases containing additional items may be subject to excess baggage fees.
- Also note: if bicycle and container are less than 62 dimensional inches and under 50 pounds, the bike fee will not be assessed.
- Bicycles are accepted to all destinations EXCEPT to/from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Peru and Port of Spain.
Bicycles (defined as non-motorized and having a single seat), including Bike Friday and Co-Pilot, properly packed in a hard-sided bicycle box that fall within the dimensions and weight limits established for normal Checked Baggage, (i.e., 62 inches or less in overall dimensions and less than 50 pounds in weight). Pedals and handlebars must be removed and packaged in protective materials so as not to be damaged by or cause damage to other Baggage. Bicycles packaged in cardboard or soft-sided cases will be transported as conditionally accepted items.
The following are bicycle restrictions:
- Handlebars must be fixed sideways and pedals removed, or
- All loose items must be enclosed in plastic foam or similar protective material, or
- Bicycle should be transported in a sealed box.
If your itinerary includes a United Express flight, please contact United for information regarding aircraft cargo hold limits.
United is not liable for damage to bicycles that do not have the handlebars fixed sideways and pedals removed, handlebars and pedals encased in plastic foam or similar material, or bicycles not contained in a cardboard containers or hard-sided cases.
Note: Bicycles will not be accepted during an excess baggage embargo when no excess baggage is allowed.
This chart of policies was researched in April of 2015 and is intended as a guide, not a guarantee. To find the most up to date policies, please check with your airline directly.
If you do choose to fly with your mountain bike, you’ll either want to pick up a sturdy bike box from your local shop or buy a case designed especially for flying with a bike. The bike box will likely be free from the shop and you can probably pay them a little bit to pack up your bike for you. Bike carrying cases will run you quite a bit more, many hundreds of dollars probably. If you’re a frequent bike traveler, it’s really the only way to go. With separate compartments for frame and wheels, padding, and hard sides, they’re definitely the safest way to transport a bike.
If you have the luxury of time and are flying one of the airlines with higher fees, you may want to consider shipping your bike. Packed in a solid bike box and depending on the weight of your bike, it can cost anywhere from about $40- $70 each way to ship your bike to your destination. Important things to keep in mind:
- Confirm with your lodge, hotel, or inn that they are able to receive your bike before you send it to them. If they are unable to receive your bike, you may be able to ship it to one of our local bike shops. If you check in ahead of time, they can even assemble the bike for you (for a fee) and have it waiting when you arrive.
- You can ship your bike in any box that’s big enough. That doesn’t mean you should. Make sure you get a nice, solid cardboard box that’s designed specifically for shipping bikes and pack it well.
Packing Your Bike for Travel
So the answer of whether to fly with your bike or ship it depends on a lot of factors. Hopefully we’ve helped you weigh the pros and cons and you can make the decision that works for your upcoming trip to the home of mountain biking.
When you are ready to pack your bike for travel, remember that structure and padding are both good things for you. These two things will be easier to achieve if you use a specially designed carrying case, but it will cost you more. Using a bike box will work, but may require more time spent packing your bike and arranging your padding. Even if you are traveling with a bike bag, it’s best to head to a local shop and pick up a stockpile of padding: foam for your tubes, some bubble wrap, whatever they can spare.
You should expect to remove the pedals and/or cranks, the wheels, your handlebars, your seat and seat post, and maybe more depending on whether you pack your bike in a box or case. The more you disassemble the bike, the more likely you’ll have it come in at under 62 dimensional inches cut-off for the airlines and under the 108 dimensional inches cut off for FedEx and UPS.
We love this video from Sacred Rides that shows how to pack up a mountain bike for travel. The example in this case is for a soft-sided bike bag, the process is the same for a box or hard case.