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Adventure, Cycle, Travel / April 2, 2017

How to fly with your bike (Part 2)

Written by: Andrew Winohradsky

Last week I provided an overview of the three most popular ways to pack a bike for air travel.

But choosing a vessel for your bike is only half of the battle. If you want it to arrive in a rideable condition, you’ll also have to pack it properly.

When packing, try to imagine what your bike will go through.  Can your pack-job keep your bike safe if it’s dropped from an overheard height onto concrete? Would your bike survive if an 80 lb. bag of luggage was haphazardly tossed on top of it?


Your bike will not be handled gently. Here are some tips to prepare it for the abuse:

1. Brace the frame with PVC

Most frames don’t have threads on both ends of the rear axle. Therefore, if the rear wheel is not in the frame, the frame could be squeezed together by excessive side loading and damaged (this could happen if the case is on its side and luggage is stacked on top of it).

I cut a piece of PVC pipe the width of the rear hub and “install” it when the wheel is not in place and the bike is packed in the case. This will brace the frame and prevent it from being damaged.

2. Remove the rear derailleur

Some case and bag manufacturers claim that with their designs, you don’t need to remove the rear derailleur. I always remove it anyway. The rear derailleur is a delicate part and easily damaged. I also tuck it up and out of harms way, inside of the rear triangle of the frame.



I cut a piece of PVC the width of the inside of the frame and install it on the axle when the wheel is removed. This will prevent the frame from being smashed together and damaged. Photo by Andrew Winohradsky.

3. Puck your brakes

Use brake pucks to hold your brake pads in place while the wheels and brake rotors are removed. There is nothing worse than getting to your destination, assembling your bike, and getting super stoked to ride only to find that a brake pad has fallen out of the caliper and has lost its way somewhere between your home and current location.

If you don’t have plastic pucks, you can also use a small piece of cardboard. Just make sure that the pucks and/or the cardboard are clean so as to not contaminate the brake pads.

4. Add extra padding

Though all cases and bags have some of their own padding, I always add a layer or two of cardboard on the sides and foam on the tops and the ends. This drastically reduces the chance of the bike being damaged by impacts from sharper objects like golf clubs, skis, snowboards, and who knows what else.


Installing brake pucks in the brake caliper once the wheel is removed during travel will minimize the possibility of lost brake pads. Photo by Andrew Winohradsky.

I always line a soft case with a layer of cardboard and sometimes foam if I feel it’s necessary. Nothing sexy here: just a hacked-up old box and foam remnants from a hardware store. Photo by Andrew Winohradsky.

5. Bag up loose parts

I carry all my odds and ends in a thick zippered bag that lives inside my bike case. I do this so that loose parts, tools, etc. won’t work their way around the bike case and eventually do damage to the frame or other components.

I also do this in hopes that whoever inspects the case will put whatever they take out of said parts-bag back into said parts-bag instead of just throwing them back in the case.


6. Document the state of your bike

Take before and after pics (if necessary) of your bike packed in the case. Do the former preferably right when you arrive at the airport. Your phone or camera should record the time and location of the photo.

When you arrive at your destination airport, immediately inspect the bike as soon as it comes out of baggage claim. (This is very important: once you leave the airport with a bike, you won’t be able to recoup any damages). If the bike is damaged, immediately take more photos and file a report with the airline while you are still at the airport.


7. Be present for the inspection (if you can)

At many airports, you can be present as your bike case is inspected before departure. If you do believe that your case will be emptied and then repacked (as it will be with many hard cases), then I suggest that you do ask to be present during this process to ensure proper repacking. Obviously, allocate extra travel time for this step.

For information about bike boxes and bags, check out part one of this series. For more mountain bike tips from Andrew Winohradsky, visit


about the author

Andrew Winohradsky

Andrew Winohradsky has been having a blast working and playing on two wheels his entire life. Starting with BMX and motocross as a kid, mountain bikes came into the picture in the early ‘90s.

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