Many cycling enthusiasts like to take their bicycles with them when they travel. On car trips, bikes can ride along via a top or rear bike rack. Other times, it's more convenient to send your bike to your destination via plane, bus, train, UPS or FedEx.
All of these transport modes require you to secure your bike in a shipping box. There are two kinds: hard-shell, plastic boxes or cardboard boxes (like the one your bike was shipped in to the bicycle shop).
Hard shell cases can be purchased for about $300 to $400. They are typically smaller and more durable than cardboard boxes and come in several different sizes and shapes. Typically, you'll need to remove both wheels to fit the bike into the box. Check your local bike shop or the Internet to see what is available. The Siskiyou Velo bicycle club has several hard-shell bike boxes they rent to members for $10 per week.
Specially-designed cardboard boxes can be bought over the Internet or from transportation carriers and typically cost $100 to $150. These are sturdy boxes that normally can be reused if the shipper does not damage them.
Most bicycle shops will not charge you for cardboard boxes that new bikes were shipped in from the factory. These boxes are adequate for most shipping purposes, except possibly overseas. If you need a box, call ahead, and tell them the size of your bicycle. Most bicycle shops recycle cardboard regularly and don't keep a big supply on hand. If you're uneasy about packing your own bike, most of the local bicycle shops will pack it for you for about $40.
Regardless of the type of box, you will need to do some disassembly and packing to protect the bike and prevent shipping damage. Here are the basic steps for packing a bike into a box:
Shift the chain onto the largest chainring and the second largest cog. Remove the pedals with a pedal wrench (the left one is reverse threaded) and put them in a small box or cloth sack. Remove the seat and clean the grease off of the seat post or wrap it in some cloth.
Remove the front wheel. Install a "fork brace" or "fork spacer" between the dropouts with screws or tape to prevent the forks from bending. Place some cardboard padding or a block of wood between the forks and the bottom of the box so they do not penetrate the bottom of the box. Follow the same process if you have to remove the rear wheel.
If you are putting the bike in a large box, you shouldn't have to remove the handle bars. Loosen the hex nuts and turn the handlebars sideways (45 degrees). Secure the handlebars to the top tube with tape, a zip tie or string.
Wrap the top tube, forks, down tube and seat stays in bubble wrap or pipe insulation and secure it with tape. Place the front wheel on the left side of the bike and as close to the frame as possible by putting the left crankarm between the spokes. Secure the wheel to the bike with zip ties or string.
Before placing the bike in the box, I recommend you get some cardboard tubing the same width as the box and place it strategically in the box to reinforce it and prevent the bike from being crushed. You never know how the box will be stacked when in transit.
Lower the bike into the box and place the pedals and any other parts beneath the down tube. Check to see if the bike is snug in the box and if you need any extra padding anywhere. Don't force anything into the box. If something doesn't fit, rearrange things until it does. Seal the box with heavy-duty packing tape. Use a black felt tip pen to block out any old addresses and print your name and other shipping information clearly and in large letters.
Check in advance with your carrier for weight limitations. Packing items like shoes, helmets, and clothing in with the bike may save space in your other luggage or it may cost you extra for exceeding a weight limit.
This process should take you about an hour (especially if you don't wait until the last minute!). Correctly packed, your bike may have a less stressful trip than you. If your carrier is careful, your bicycle will arrive ready to be reassembled so you can enjoy riding at your new location. Riding is a great way to explore new terrain.
Bicycling enthusiast Bob Korfhage of Phoenix is a former president of Siskiyou Velo bicycle club.