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Bicycle Shipping

Bicycle Shipping
Problems or Solutions?

Bicycle shipping is always a concern for any bicycle tourist who travels to distant locales. Yes, bicycles, especially tandem and recumbents, can be bulky and most agents stare when you bring them to the ticket counter. And to make matters worse, luggage handlers can be most unkind with the unruly boxes. So what do you do?

You should read my page on travel cases designed specifically for shipping bicycles. In addition, there is an excellent site that has reader updated input on bicycle on planes, trains, storage, and other important information about traveling with a bicycle: Bike Access. Afterwards, please review the numerous shipping options presented below.

Bicycle Shipping Alternatives and Policies

Airlines

The traditional method to take your bicycle to the start of your touring destination was to purchase a hard shell bike case or box and take in on the plane with you. The airlines would just count the bicycle as one of your checked baggage. Unfortunately, the days of free travel for your bicycle on airlines have long disappeared. Most airlines have adopted a common policy for a passenger’s baggage:

  • Previously, major airlines allowed three pieces, two checked pieces and one carry-on piece, to travel free with you. However, most airlines are charging an extra fee (from $35 to $50) for each checked baggage, and a premium charge (up to $150) for oversized checked baggage. This can vary for domestic and international flights.
  • Carry-on baggage must fit under the seat or in an overhead compartment. Typically the bag should not exceed 9″x14″x22″ and be less than around 40 pounds.
  • In general, checked baggage should not exceed a linear dimension (length + width + height) of 62 inches and a weight of 50 pounds each piece. Otherwise the piece may be considered oversize and/or overweight.
  • Most airlines have started to reject or charge excessive costs for oversize and/or overweight baggage. The additional charge per destination has been running around $80 to $150 in the United States. Some international flights have not been charging the additional fee, but that has been changing recently. So please call the airline before leaving on your flight or you may be hit for the additional fee when you check in.
  • In the past, if your bike got damaged during transport, the airline would reimburse you for the damage. Unfornately, airlines are getting stricter about what they pay. Typically, the airlines have total liability limits that vary for domestic and international flights. In general, airlines will not cover normal wear/tear/minor cuts, scratches, and dents, damage resulting from objects protruding from the case, and damage due to oversized packaging. In other words, if your brake lever is pushing out of the box and it gets broken, you may not be able to get reimbursed for a replacement.

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Bicycle Shipping on Trains

In general, traveling with your bicycle on a train is not as complicated as on airlines. Most trains in the United States and Europe have similar free baggage allowance of three pieces, two checked pieces and one carry-on piece. However, bicycles, either boxed up or assembled, are not usually charged an oversized baggage charge. If the assembled bicycle is checked, the handlebars and pedals may need to be removed. The bicycle usually travels in the baggage car in racks. Some trains may not allow bicycle to be checked, but a lot of the cars have bicycle racks in the rear that you just leave your bicycle. You may be asked to take off all the panniers and place them in the overhead compartment. Bicycle policies for each train line and for each train will vary. So always call ahead and explain your situation before you arrive.

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Bicycle Shipping on Ferries

Commuters are the main user of ferries, and bicycling may be a common mode of transportation for some commuter in certain cities. So from my experience, taking your bicycle on a ferry is uncomplicated. You pay for your ticket, obtain a bicycle permit/ticket (if required), roll the bicycle abroad, and place the bicycle in a rack or secure it to the railing. It seems that each ferry is different, and some even have a bicycle/motorbike area that you may keep your bicycle.

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Bicycle Shipping on Buses

Long distance buses may be another alternative of traveling with your bicycle. Just place your bicycle in a full sized container and let them put it in the baggage compartment. It is no worse or no better than any other public mode of travel.

Commuters with bicycles have become common on public buses/trains in large cities. Many of these local buses have bike racks (racks in the rear of the local trains) that you can leave your bicycle. Just put it in the rack, board the bus or train, and take it off at your destination. No additional charges or hassles. However, the bike racks may be limited to two or three bicycles at one time.

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Bicycle Shipping by Common Carrier

Shipping a bicycle by common freight carrier has increased in popularity during the past decade or so. They will ship a full sized bicycle container without oversize charges and will normally deliever it in two to six days. You can package your bicycle in a hard shell case, commercial bicycle container, or a used bicycle box from a bike shop. Minimum disassemble is required. Some bike shops will even package up your bicycle for a charge and ship it for you. You can have the carrier deliver it to a residence or another bike shop for re-assembly and adjustment (again for another charge). Sometimes the destination bike shop will even store your case for shipment back. A few of the popular common carries include:

  • United Parcel Post (UPS). One to four day delivery in most cases. Insures contents only.
  • FedEx Ground. One to three day delivery in most cases. Insures contents and case.
  • Sports Express. Ships by FedEx Express with significant discounts. One to three day delivery in most cases.
  • Greyhound PackageExpress. One to three day delivery in most cases.
  • Ship Bikes. Requires Air Caddy case. One to three day delivery in most cases. Ships by FedEx at a reduced rate.
  • Amtrak Express Shipping. One to three day deliver in most cases. Small packages less than 50 lbs. (36″ x 36″ x 36″) or large packages less than 100 lbs. (48″ x 48″ x 48″). Bicycles are normally exempt from oversize charges.

Please contact these carriers for up-to-date quotes and delivery times. Some of these carriers offer international shipping.

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Bicycle Torque Coupling (BTC)(S&S Coupler)

Since I am discussing bicycle shipping here, I need to mention a way to breakdown a full size bicycle, even tandems, for airline travel and still meet the checked baggage policy. The BTC (or S & S coupler) is a precision machined lug that is installed in a bicycle frame and allows the bicycle to be packed for easy transportation. The BTC is manufactured by S and S Machine, but it must be installed by a professional framebuilder. The dis-assembled bicycle will fit in a 26″ x 26″ x 10″ hard-shell or backpack-style case. The cases are also sold by the framebuilder.

I use one of the BTC on my Surly LHT touring bicycle, and I love it. The precision and durability is outstanding. For a complete discussion of the BTC, please go to the BTC(S & S Coupler) page.

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About John Stultz

John Stultz is the owner of Bear Paw Tents. He's been bicycle touring for over 30 years and is excited for sharing his insight on cycling. He considers himself an ultralight backpacker and ultralight bicycle tourer. John is the original founder of Bicycle-Touring-Guide.com. He started the website to share his passion for touring and to help people plan for their own bicycle tour.

Comments

  1. You’ve listed some great bike shipping / transportation options. I just wanted to share I ride several organized bike tours throughout the year ( Ride The Rockies and Cycle Oregon) and use High Country Shipping for bike shipping. Someone actually answers the phone & it seems like they actually care. Just another option. http://www.highcountryshipping.com

    • Thanks a lot, Trey! Always great to have another option out there (and an option with real people answering the phone!). Have you used them before?

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