So you've booked your trip; maybe you're headed for the Spanish sun, the Rocky Mountains or maybe even South Australia to follow the Tour Down Under. Your tickets are booked, accommodation is sorted, but you still need to figure out how to get your bike there safely.
It's scary to send your bike down the conveyor belt at the oversized baggage check-in and put it in someone else's hands for an extended period of time. You'll be ever cautious with your pride and joy, but time-pressed baggage handlers and automated baggage systems may not be quite as gentle. There are horror stories of airlines destroying bikes but bike bags and boxes are pretty well designed these days and do well to deliver your bike to your destination and back unscathed.
What to look for in a bike bag
1. Hard or soft shell
Hardshell case bike bags were the best way to travel with a bike for quite some time; however, engineers at bike brands are pretty clever and softshell bags are nearly on par for protection, weigh less, and often have removable ribbing so they can be neatly rolled up for storage.
2. Empty weight
With a plastic base, wheels, internal skeleton, and robust materials, bike bags are heavy before you put anything inside, and some are pudgier than others. Most airlines will give you 23kg / 50lbs before they hit you with an exorbitant overweight baggage fee, and if your bag weighs 12kg empty, when you pack a 7kg lightweight road bike, shoes, helmet and a track pump you'll be nudging up against that limit.
Are you just looking to travel with your road bike, or will you be taking trips with your mountain bike too? Are you riding an aero road bike with integrated handlebars or TT bars? Are you riding an XL frame? These are all things to take into account when shopping for a bike travel case because some of the more compact options are simply too small for certain bikes and frame sizes.
4. Some disassembly required
No bike bag will take your bike fully assembled, but some require considerably more disassembly and mechanical acumen than others. At the very least you’ll have to pop your wheels off, but some bags also require you to remove your seat post, handlebars, and even the fork.
5. Wheels and handles
For something designed to help you move around with a bike in tow, bike travel cases are unsurprisingly awkward and cumbersome to move around with. If you want to avoid a back injury, a set of wheels should be a minimum requirement, especially if you'll be walking much after you land - some even use easily replaceable roller blade wheels. In addition, you'll want plenty of handles to help you hoist your bag onto a conveyor belt or into the back of a car.
Tips and tricks for bagging your bike
1. Derailleurs and rotors
Take them off. Just about every bike bag out there comes with some sort of protection for your rear derailleur and brake rotors, but airlines have a knack for rendering them ineffective. Learn from our mistakes and just take them off, the last thing you want is to start your holiday with a bent rotor or a broken derailleur hanger. If you are removing disc-brake rotors, don't forget to put a brake block in the caliper to prevent the pads sticking together or the pistons getting stuck - in a pinch, a folded over business card works, too.
2. Invest in a paint pen
Saddle height and bar roll aren’t something you often think about until either one is a little bit off, and the last thing you want to do on your riding vacation is to pull over constantly a faff with minor adjustments. A couple of dots and lines with a paint pen will allow you to replicate your preferred position on the bike first try every time.
3. Extra padding
Yes, we have just spent the last few hundred words saying how great the best bike bags and boxes are, but there's nothing wrong with a bit of added peace of mind. Some bags come with foam tubing however, pipe insulation is perfect for an extra layer of protection. You can also pop into your local bike shop, and if you ask nicely, they're likely to have plenty of spare packaging from a newly unboxed bike.
4. Fill the gaps
If you have a few spare kilos in your bike bag once it's packed, throw your shoes, riding clothes, bars and gels and whatever else will fit without tipping your bag over the limit. If you've paid for 23kg / 50lbs, you may as well use it.
5. Deflate your tyres
When you’re packing your bike, take a second to let the air out of your tyres. Airlines don’t allow anything pressurised into the cargo hold because it violates civil aviation safety regulations.
Before the engineering types slide into the comments, yes we know that the cargo hold is pressurised to ~10,000ft which will only add ~3-4psi to your tyres, and it’s extremely unlikely a tyre will burst in transit. The reason you need to take this step, is because if you do send your bike through with the tyres inflated, there is the distinct possibility that an airline employee will pull your bag aside and attempt to deflate them, at the very least, it'll mean someone heavy-handedly rummaging through your neatly packed case, but we’ve heard horror stories of bags and tyres cut. Avoid the drama and just let the air out. If you're running tubeless, drop them to a reasonable PSI that won't result in a sealant shower.
Extra quick tips
If you need to remove your handlebars, put the faceplate back on your stem so you don't lose the four bolts.
If you need to remove your stem, refit the top cap, then a zip tie around the steerer will keep your fork, headset and spacers from rattling loose.
If you have Di2, unplug the battery. At the very least, it'll save some battery life, but it may also prevent your tightly packed derailleurs from shifting in transit - overworking the motor.
If you have an internal seatpost wedge clamp, remove and pack it safe. You don't want to spend the first hour of your trip fishing it out of your frame.
Take a spare derailleur hanger with you. For the price, it's worth having a spare anyway, not least when hundreds of miles from home.
Some airlines will let CO2 cartridges through, but others will stop the bike and remove them. If you're going to risk it, make them easy to find so the baggage handler doesn't have to empty your entire bag.
If you're using zip ties to hold things in place, you'll need cable cutters or scissors in your case for unpackaging at the other end. You'll also need more for the return journey.
Take your tools. If you're having to disassemble your bike to fit it in the box, you'll need to reassemble it at the other end - make a note of the tools used and don't forget to pack them. Especially your torque wrench. You don't want a 90km/h descent of Alpe D'Huez with badly torqued carbon handlebars.
Bottles are a great hardshell for storing potentially damaging things - ie. allen keys, or items that will pop if crushed - gels, suncream, toothpaste. Wrap them in a carrier bag, though, or you might have oddly flavoured water on your first ride. Shoes are equally useful.
Best Bike Travel cases, bags, and boxes you can buy
Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro
Versatile travel case
External dimensions: 47 x 36 x 85 cm | Empty Weight: 10kg w/ bike stand | Price: £469 / $730 / AU$950
Around any bike event, you're likely to see a sea of Evoc bike bags, because they are some of the best you can buy. With room for anything from a lightweight roadie to a long and slack 29er enduro bike, the Pro version includes an aluminium tray that attaches to the axles of the bike inside the bag and doubles as a work-stand when it's time to rebuild.
Inside, the bike is secured with a range of Velcro straps and purpose-built padding, and are plenty big enough for road and MTB wheels. Inside the bag, there are internal pockets for tools and pedals and the removable plastic ribbing allows the bag to be rolled up for storage.
The back features two ultra-smooth roller blade wheels and a third which slots into the front handle for easy transition from the baggage claim to your accommodation.
PRO Bike Mega Travel Case
Large and simple to pack
External dimensions: 130 x 25 x 77cm | Empty Weight: 8.1kg | Price: £380 / $550 / AU$699
With room to easily swallow road, TT and mountain bikes, the Pro Bike Mega Case is huge and features an aluminium base frame which connects to your bike at the axles. With so much room inside the case, the seatpost doesn't need to be removed, just lowered, and you can get away with simply spinning your bars.
The inside of the bag has plenty of well-padded provisions to hold your frame securely, and even with the four 360-degree wheels at the bottom, the bag tracks easily in a straight line but it can be cumbersome in crowded baggage claim areas or train stations.
The outer fabric seems to mark a bit in transit, however, it's robust and weighing a hair over 8kg you should be able to get your bike and a bit of extra gear inside before you tip into overweight baggage territory.
Scicon AeroComfort 3.0 TSA
Bike bag for the hamfisted home mechanic
External dimensions: 109 x 103 x 50 cm | Empty Weight: 9kg | Price: £899 / $899/ AU$949
The beauty of the Scicon AeroComfort 3.0 TSA is you can pack your bike without turning a single bolt (unless you have thru-axles); all you have to do is remove the wheels.
With a rigid Frame Defender metal base, the bike slots in using your quick release or thru-axles, and comes with plenty of additional padding and a gear bag that's secured to the base under the downtube.
At 9kg empty the bike straps into the bag securely, and the 360-degree wheels allow for easy one-handed dragging. With all of that said, we’ve seen baggage handlers stack Scicon bags upside down on baggage carts on multiple occasions so they won’t roll away, so consider some additional padding for your handlebars and shifters.
Thule RoundTrip Traveler
Soft case nearing budget-friendly
External dimensions: 130 x 36 x 81cm | Empty Weight: 7.7kg | Price: £350 / $580 / AU$599
Bike bags are expensive, and if you don't have a bundle to drop on a soft travel case, the RoundTrip Travel does well to toe the line between price and performance/protection. Using removable plastic ribbing for shape, the Round Trip Traveler folds down completely flat when not in use.
The bike is secured with a fixed-fork block which has adaptors for all modern axle standards and uses a padded bottom-bracket block, similar to the standard Evoc Bag. Inside there are heaps of zippered pockets for things like tools and pedals, and the bag sees padded wheel pockets big enough for 29er wheels and tyres.
At the back, there are two sizeable alloy wheels that don't get caught up on cracks or doorways, and at 7.7kg empty, it's noticeably lighter than pricier models.
B&W International Bike Box II
Budget friendly hardcase
External dimensions: 120 x 88 x 39cm | Empty Weight: 11kg w/ padding | Price: £264 / $299 / AU$399
Sometimes simple is best, and that's precisely what the B&W International Bike Box II has to offer. There are no complicated packing procedures - instead, you get a few layers of foam to protect the frame from the wheels and box, and it all fits inside two interlocking plastic sides.
The clamshell design utilises six self-tightening Velcro buckles to prevent the case from slipping open, and it features a surprising number of handles given the design. B&W International has updated the case with a new plastic designed to flex and not crack, and there are no latches or hinges to break.
With room for up to a 62cm frame, the case rolls on four wheels, two fixed and two free rotating and weighs 11kg with the included padding.
Biknd Helium V4
Protecting your bike with airbags
External dimensions: 130cm x 37cmx 85cm | Empty Weight: 9kg | Price: £599 / $650 / AU$980
Using unique inflatable partitions and strategically placed rigid reinforcements, the Biknd Helium V4 is one of the most well-padded cases of the bunch. With the ability to carry two wheelsets, the Helium bag puts two airbags on either side to absorb impacts while the rigid base and front cover protect fragile handlebar components.
The bag opens flat to simplify packing, and the bike connects to the frame at the axles. There are special compartments for your pump, helmet and shoes and sturdy end caps to prevent hubs from poking through the bag.
Even with the airbags, the Helium is not all that light tipping the scales a 9kg, but it does offer considerably more padding than any other soft case.
OruCase Airport Ninja
Best for the mechanically inclined
External dimensions: 69 x 82 x 30cm | Empty Weight: 5kg | Price: £320 / $499 / AU$737
While many airlines are abandoning the extra fees for checking bikes, some still haven't taken note, and that's where the Oru Airport Ninja comes in handy. Travelling with the OruCase Airport Ninja, when asked by desk agents what's in the bag we've told them everything from massage tables and trade show gear, to 'it's just a really weird duffel bag’ — just make sure you’re not wearing a bike t-shirt, trust us.
The Airport Ninja sneaks in under most airlines’ maximum external dimensions limits for baggage and features plastic armour panels which are backed by foam to keep your ride safe. You'll need to remove your pedals, handlebars, front brake, fork and seatpost, and the bag is still a tight fit, but it comes in two sizes to fit a range of frames.
Weighing in at 5kg empty, there is plenty of weight for you to fill the bag with riding clothes (which also work great as extra padding), and there are plush backpack straps to help you get around with minimal fuss.
Bike Box Alan Original Premium
A well considered simple hardcase that just works
External dimensions: 116 x 96 x 36cm | Empty Weight: 11.2kg | Price: £425 / $525 / AU$775
The Bike Box Alan Premium is a hard case box that claims to fit road bikes up to 65cm in size. Our 58cm test bike had plenty of room to spare, so we're confident the claim is true. It is a super sturdy, hard-wearing box that comes with a seven-year warranty.
The solid plastic case takes the brunt of all heavy-handed impacts while your bike is in transit, and the inclusion of an anti-crush pole prevents lateral pressure on your chainstays and forks, should your chosen airline decide to stack your bike at the bottom of the pile. There is a weight penalty, however - an empty box weighs in at 11.2kg.
Two layers of foam padding prevent damage from within, and the myriad Velcro straps and internal instructions make packaging a straightforward process.
Removal of your handlebars, seatpost, wheels, pedals, and rear derailleur is required, which does take up some of your precious ride time but for the protection on offer, it's a sacrifice worth making.
Best for the frugal traveller
External dimensions: Varies | Empty Weight: Varies | Price: Free from bike shops
Yes, we realise the irony in recommending a cardboard box after we've spent all this time talking about the merits offered by purpose-built bike travel cases; but considering a cardboard box is how all bikes are shipped from the factory, it's unsurprising that they work pretty well for travel, too.
First and foremost, you can buy a cardboard bike box, but you will be able to source one for free; your local bike shop will be glad to part with a box if you ask nicely enough.
Boxes are also lightweight, meaning you can throw other gear in as extra padding. However, convincing your bike to fit into the box can be frustrating if you’re not well practised, and if it's raining, the integrity of the box can be compromised. Therefore, we suggest buying a couple of rolls of tape/cling film, put one in the box for the journey back, then wrap that box from top to toe.
If you have any more bike box packing top tips, feel free to drop them into the comments below!