•   
  •   
  •   
 

Packing A Folding Bike For Air Travel

December 13th, 2012 19 comments


For our latest bike touring adventure (a winter trip to Cuba), we’re travelling with folding bikes: one Brompton and one Dahon Speed TR.

Outrageous airline fees were the original reason we decided to take folding bike to Cuba. When we booked our flights, we were quoted €800 to fly two full-sized touring bikes to Cuba and back with KLM (it seems this fee has now dropped by half but that’s not what we were told at the time).

Other airlines have more reasonable fees but they don’t fly direct to Cuba from the Netherlands and a direct flight was important to us because we have a baby. Plane changes and airport layovers are to be avoided at this stage of our lives.

To avoid the crazy bicycle charge, we must pack the bikes within the standard limits for weight and size. We also want to make the bikes look as much like regular luggage as possible. Hopefully a ‘normal’ piece of luggage will prevent any chance of a dispute. Sometimes check-in staff freak out as soon as they hear the word ‘bicycle’.

Reader Beware: At the time of writing, our theories are untested. We’ll update with pictures and actual experiences when we return from Cuba.

We debated for a long time about how to pack the bikes. We were more concerned about the Speed TR, because of its larger size.

A friend who also tours with a Speed TR suggested sewing a bag. He even sent us a pattern for his custom-made bag.

Dahon Speed TR Bag

That was a nice idea, but we just didn’t have the time to start sewing a bag.

Next, it was off to our local folding bike shop to see what they could suggest. For the Brompton, they offered the standard box that all Bromptons are shipped in. This is what our friend is using for an upcoming flight.

Bringing a brompton box homeA Brompton and its box. Photo by _Alicia.

We looked at the Brompton box. It’s very robust but we weren’t sure if the B&B in Havana would want to store it for us. There’s also a big picture of a bicycle on the box, which ruins our attempt to arrive at the airport with incognito bikes. And the Brompton box didn’t solve the problem of how to pack the (bigger) Dahon Speed TR….

Back To The Drawing Board 
We searched around the internet a bit more. On the Dahon website we found some bags but they were EXPENSIVE. We asked to see them at our local bike shop and were disappointed by the quality. The bags seemed flimsy for the price.

Note: The Arthurs have done quite some travelling on their Speed TRs and use Dahon bags, bought in China for about $20 U.S. The bags we were shown started at €60.

After quite some hunting, we found the Outeredge 20″ Bike Bags on Amazon. We liked them because:

  • The price was reasonable.
  • The reviews were decent and seemed to suggest that the Dahon Speed TR would fit inside.
  • They weigh 1.3kg and are fairly compact when folded. We’ll try to leave them at the hotel but if we can’t then it won’t be a problem to carry them around Cuba.

Our requirements were met. We ordered two bags.

Outeredge 20

So far, we’re happy with our purchase. The fabric is pleasingly thick. The Brompton fits with tons of room to spare. It takes a little more work to get the Dahon Speed TR inside but it is possible. We will have to:

  • Take the pedals off (they are designed to come off easily; no pedal wrench required).
  • Remove the handlebars from the handlebar stem.
  • Rotate the back rack slightly.

We’ll also pad both bikes out with a bit of foam and cardboard. And we’ll likely follow most of the advice given by the Arthurs. They advised us to:

  1. Put the bike in the lowest gear (biggest cog on the cluster), and remove the click box and the skewer.
  2. Remove the seat post and seat, and remove (or fold) the pedals.
  3. Let down the tyres enough to satisfy the airline staff.
  4. Rotate the cranks so they are horizontal to the ground.
  5. Poke the click box somewhere safe between the spokes, and put a plastic bag around it for protection.
  6. Fold the bike and tape the wheels to the frame so that they do not rotate.
  7. Protect the hydraulic brake cables, especially where they are likely to contact the top of the frame near the base of the handlebar post.
  8. Protect any spot where metal is likely to rub against metal.
  9. Protect the chain ring with bits of cardboard box taped in place.
  10. Put some packing between the spokes and the derailleur.
  11. Pack bubble wrap liberally around the cluster and derailleur, and tape it all together to the wheel.
  12. In summary: tape it into a nice little bundle so that not too many things move.

Another friend suggested putting the bike in a box, inside the bag, and adding inflated balloons for packing. His packed Dahon Speed TR looks like this:

Dahon Speed TR

We’ll be packing our bikes this weekend. Then it’s time to cross our fingers and head for the airport!

Dreaming of a Bike Tour? see our Survival Guide
What Next?
Related Pages
 

19 Responses to “Packing A Folding Bike For Air Travel”

  1. sage says:

    What is a “click box?”

  2. JdeP says:

    There are endless discussion of how to pack a Brompton for flying at http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/BromptonTalk/
    One of the standard pieces of advice is to remove the clamps that hold the steering column and the main frame together.
    I’ve flown London-LA return: I used an Ikea bag like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVmQBHwHwSQ, lined it with thick cardboard from old boxes, used lots of bubble-wrap and tape on the sharp/delicate parts of bike, and then filled all the gaps with weightless styrofoam chips.

    • friedel says:

      Thanks for this. I’ll take a look. We’re actually on that Yahoo mailing list but I find mailing lists so tedious to search for information. Just one of my personal quirks.

  3. Ellen says:

    I used a citizen bag (much the same as Outeredge) and also had a cardboard box that I threw away when I reached my destination. It worked fine. It is much lighter too. And I had an extra 24″ wheel in it too. Weight should be ok and you won’t get charged extra. Good luck and enjoy your trip.

  4. Ingrid says:

    You won’t put balloons in your bag, I hope. Imagine someone treats your packages roughly and a shot breaks the silence in the security area of the airport… Oups!
    We wish you happy pedalling on Kuba
    Ingrid and Yves

  5. Rich says:

    I saw these online recently. Would they fit a normal road-style touring bike with pedals off/handlebars loose?

    Cheers

  6. stefan hadjianastassov says:

    I fly often with bike. I usually take with me a Hummer Montague. Sure its performance is not as good as a special road or mountain bike, but its a good all-overall FULL- sized 26″ bike, and it folds enough to make airlines happy. Sure, there is about 1 hour work to assembly it, but it makes sense when you start pedaling. And I Never had to pay extra air-charges so far.
    Bag – I got a big soft shell bag from Salvation Army, $ 7. Very light and very small when packed (after the flight).
    Before the flight a put inside pieces of cardboard to make it harder.

  7. Stephen Jones says:

    I flew KLM last summer from Japan to the U.K.
    It happened that I bought a fairly light road bike( nicely packed in a bag), back from the UK and I was horrified at how much they wanted to charge me to get it on the plane. When i arrived in Amsterdam where i had to change flights, I questioned the amount I had to pay with KLM staff as I couldn’t believe it was correct, but it was.
    In my opinion since billions of people all over the world use bicycles it’s hardly surprising that some people would turn up at the airport with ( surprise! ) a bicycle. Airline staff must be living in a box themselves if they are shocked to see bicycles at the airport. It’s time that airplanes, trains, boats and other forms of transportation had bicycle carrying capacity built into their design.
    You would think at the very least airlines would be able to deal with folding bikes since some people’s baggage is actually bigger.
    Cyclists lose every which way. The hassle of appropriate packing and paying high fees simply because airlines haven’t built the airplanes to handle bikes.
    They could. Instead they are building wider bodied airplanes so they can put in lounge bars and de luxe office seats for rich travelers.
    I have also decided only to travel with my folding bikes now and have even re-focused on not visiting overseas destinations because of the lack of infrastructure for cyclists at airports.

  8. Raymond (Ray of Sunshine) says:

    Enjoyed article on packing Dahon TR Speed folding bike, Thanks for mentioning OUTEREDGE™ cycle Bags VS Dahon™cycle Bags.
    One Question when Packing Dahon Speed did you have to unbolt Rear Rack(Rotate the back rack slightly.) from Dahon Speed Tr. for packing purposes. When touring with my Dahon Speed tr I always take a spare 20″X 2″ tire with me because most Bicycle shops in my neck of the woods do not stock them.I also carry an extra 12″ tire for my Burley trovey Trailer for the same reason. :^D

  9. Robert says:

    Could you please give the dimensions of the outeredge bag, thanks.

    • friedel says:

      They’re a bit difficult to measure as they’re not perfectly square. I’d say the base is about 80cm long by 30cm wide. The height is a comfortable 57cm (when the top is flat) but you could get a bit more height out of it if you need to.

  10. Raymond (Ray of Sunshine) says:

    When packing the Dahon bike, instructions are(remove the click box and the skewer.) What is the skewer? Thanks for your response on this. Is skewer ‘small wire pin’ used by the click box to change gears inside the Scram Dual Rear Hub. In which case I think this meant cover and protect using a small cap to protect from possible damage from rough handling in transit.

  11. Mel says:

    Popcorn (non-buttery) is a packing material I’ve seen used and is compostable.

  12. Brimstone says:

    So I’ve done this a few times, hard case and soft, with a 26″ Montague, a 20″ Dahon, and a 16″ Downtube. Here are some pointers:

    -”Crush protectors” are key, even with a ‘hard’ case. These are usually PVC pipe sections that are placed through the spokes to support the sides of the case when 20 other bags are on top of it. They can obviously be placed in other strategic locals. They can be constructed of strips of cardboard rolled into a stiff triangular tube. They should have some kind of footer on both ends to spread the force. I use plywood discs. The cardboard variety can simply have the ends splayed back.

    -I leave the seat tube in place and push it down so it is centered vertically on the bike to take any vertical loads. Pad the bottom of the tube very well with stiff cardboard. The seat pads the top pretty well. Because I have a dual kickstand that is height adjustable, and can leave it down at the same height as the bottom of the seat tube, I have a more protected place to position the crank than sticking straight out the front.

    -If you remove a wheel you’ll need to use a spacer between the dropouts and fork or they WILL get bent. Use a wooden dowel with washers held on the ends with wood screws that fit tightly where the hub would normally be.

    -Whether or not you remove the wheel, pad the axle (skewer) ends very well or better remove the axle. You can run a ziptie through the hub to hold it in place. New bikes always come with protectors for this; save’em or see a bike shop for freebies.

    -Don’t deflate the tires unless required. They will not be affected by barometric conditions, even at full inflation, and inflated tires will protect the rims and frame much better than deflated tires.

    -Use reusable zip-ties to bind everything together -tightly- to prevent things from rubbing and shifting. Particularly the cranks. If there are no pedal pockets in your bag zip tie them to the frame. Place any small loose parts in a strong bag zip tied tot he frame. This allows a security inspector to lift the whole thing out and put it back without losing pieces or putting it back in wrong.

    -Throw in some disposable gloves and a few paper towels.

    -Take a photo of the packed bike and put it on top (for repacking reference), with a note to security along with your phone number asking them to call if they inspect it so you can make sure things go back where they should. I have never been called but others who do this have.

    -Mask areas that might rub with removable duck tape, like paper masking tape but stronger.

    -Better than balloons are those inflatable packing bags that things come shipped in nowadays. Much stronger. Collect them and use a soda straw cut at an angle to form a point. Stab them at an angle (to penetrate one side only) and deflate. Use a marker to mark the hole and cover with a flap of tape. Now you can deflate them at destination and pack away, they weigh nothing, and carry your straw to re-inflate for the trip home.

    -Use selected items to pad out the bag. Clothes, tent, sleep pad, helmet, panniers, inflated platypii, towel. You DO know where your towel is, don’t you? Watch the weight. Can you get away with one checked and one carry-on bag? Maybe…depends on how many pockets you have on your pants.

    -If you wanna get real anal you can use thin garbage bags and a can of expandable polyurethane foam to make molded padding. Cover the offending part (i.e. that protruding crank) with the bag. Make a form of cardboard around the part and spray the foam =inside= the bag so it sticks to nothing, using gravity to best advantage, avoiding voids and remembering the foam sill expand. A lot. I’ve never done this with a bike but have with military equipment. I fantasize about covering the folded bike with a bag, placing it inside a box and filling the whole thing up with foam thus encasing it completely in a block of polyurethane…..

    -Address tag with itinerary attached to the frame and to the outside of the bag. One never, ever checks a packaged bicycle, folded or otherwise. One checks a “folding wheelchair” or “sporting goods” or at worst “bicycle parts”. One removes all indiscreet labeling from the exterior of the bag or case. One might go so far as to place misleading decals on the outside….

    -Your precious may not end up on the regular baggage carousel, rather it may go to an ‘over sized’ luggage holding area. Like the Guide says, ‘Don’t Panic’.

    -If you need to collect cardboard for the trip home don’t wait till the last minute. grocery and liquor stores are good bets.

    -Do research ahead of time and locate a repair shop near the destination airport that might be able to fix whatever gets broken or bent. Have that phone number & address handy; it’ll numb the shock and pain of seeing your baby all smashed up.

  13. Janet says:

    You could also have used a Montague folding bike(www.montaguebikes.com) as I do. It folds in under 20 seconds and is very convenient to travel with. Once in Cuba, you just need 20 seconds to be ready to ride.
    Enjoy the convenience this folding bike offers!

  14. Sid Loso says:

    Hi

    How did your folding bikes fare during the trip? Were they damaged at all?

    Thanks… sid

  15. Patrick says:

    Hi, may I know if you can travel on budget airlines with a foldable bike? I know most budget airlines impose some fees on checked in baggage. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s possible to hand carry a foldable bike into the plane no matter how small is it. Hence, can anybody provide some advise on traveling on budget airlines with a foldable bike. Thanks

Leave a Reply