Packing A Folding Bike For Air Travel
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.
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.
A 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.
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:
- Put the bike in the lowest gear (biggest cog on the cluster), and remove the click box and the skewer.
- Remove the seat post and seat, and remove (or fold) the pedals.
- Let down the tyres enough to satisfy the airline staff.
- Rotate the cranks so they are horizontal to the ground.
- Poke the click box somewhere safe between the spokes, and put a plastic bag around it for protection.
- Fold the bike and tape the wheels to the frame so that they do not rotate.
- Protect the hydraulic brake cables, especially where they are likely to contact the top of the frame near the base of the handlebar post.
- Protect any spot where metal is likely to rub against metal.
- Protect the chain ring with bits of cardboard box taped in place.
- Put some packing between the spokes and the derailleur.
- Pack bubble wrap liberally around the cluster and derailleur, and tape it all together to the wheel.
- 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:
We’ll be packing our bikes this weekend. Then it’s time to cross our fingers and head for the airport!