Flying Bicycles

Flying a bike is easy. You box it up, tag it, pay an extra $20, and bring it to the oversize baggage handling area.

Let’s break that down.

Boxing it up
The very, very nice people at WestJet (my favorite airline) explained that I need to deflate the tires, remove the pedals, turn the handle bars sideways, and place it in a bicycle box. The friendly staff at Fresh Air Experience were very happy to give me an empty bicycle box.

Two days before the flight my son Andrew and I set about cramming my bike into the box. Naturally, it didn’t fit. Not even close. Never fear, the box contained a bicycle before and surely it’s capable of containing a bicycle again. It’s simply a puzzle. And we like puzzles.

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Ninety minutes later we had a box sealed up with a bicycle and quite a bit more. All we needed was an allen key set (Park Tools are awesome), a small wrench, and a philips screw driver to remove the bike racks. Here’s how you do it:

  • Remove the pedals
  • Remove the seat and seat post
  • Remove the handle bars and stem
  • Remove the front wheel
  • Deflate the tires
  • Remove the bicycle racks front and back
  • Remove the front fender
  • Remove the aerobars
  • Remove the handle bar bag bracket

After all that it still didn’t fit. It was a good two inches too long. That is, until we figured out that with the handlebars removed we could turn the front fork 180 degrees. Now it fit, tightly, but it fit.

The next step is to “stuff” in all the left over parts in any space you can find. That’s another puzzle to solve, but after a little trial and error we managed to find room for everything. A bit of bubble wrap helps to keep things from bouncing around in transit. This is also a great opportunity to add in water bottles, pump, bike lock, bungy cords and what ever small knick-knacks that normally attach to your bike. Finally, it’s a two-man job to get the box closed and securely taped up.

Here’s what it looks like when your done (that’s Andrew standing beside the box). Its pretty amazing really. The bike box has handles so it’s really easy to carry.

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Tag it and pay the extra-bag fee
The WestJet website said it would cost $50 to transport a bicycle. It only cost me $20. I simply paid the extra baggage charge. Perhaps if your bike isn’t boxed up you incur an extra fee. Anyway, $20 to send a bicycle across the country is quite a steal.

I should mention that I was able to pack the rest of my gear except for carry-on into a second box. That was also an adventure but well worth the trouble. Besides avoiding a second extra bag fee it’s just nice not having a lot of bags to keep track of.

My carry-on consisted of the two front panniers and the dry sack containing my sleeping bag. Make sure you remove any liquids and knives and such (my multi-tool has a knife).

Make sure each box is under $50lbs or what ever the weight limit is for the airline. If they’re not, your bring too much stuff.

Here’s me with everything I will own for the next 6 weeks.

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Special baggage area
At check-in and they will tag your boxes. They won’t take your bike box and the second box at the normal check in area so you bring it over to the special handling area. They may ask you to open up your boxes to check what’s inside (there goes that beautiful taping job). Fortunately, I didnt have to. Make sure you don’t bring any CO2 cartridges (i.e for tire inflation) or camp fuel.

Finally, place virtually everything you will own for the next 6 weeks on to the over-size luggage ramp is wave your stuff goodbye (with fingers crossed and tear in eye).

No bike box? Good luck.
For Vicki and my cycling trip in Germany we used a thick plastic bicycle bag and that seemed to work ok. A box is obviously better though.

On my cycling trip to Halifax we had to fly our bikes back. We expected they would have bike boxes or bags at the airport. No such luck. So we removed the pedals, deflated the tires, turned the handle bars sideways, and brought our bikes to the special handing area. Then we prayed, and I mean prayed.

Upon arrival in Toronto, as I watched the Air Canada baggage handlers remove the luggage from the aircraft, I watched my front wheel roll down the ramp. The baggage handlers had a good laugh. I didn’t.

When I retrieved my bike at the baggage claim I found out that my left break lever hand been literally torn off. I applied for compensation from Air Canada but it never appeared. It wasn’t worth the trouble following up.

I do know that they have bike boxes at the airport – sometimes at least – I’ve slept on one before. But that’s a subject for another story. In any case, not using a bike box is clearly a risk.

I’m very happy that, God willing, I won’t need to pack my bike up for the return flight since I’ll be riding it home.

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