Author Topic: What to do with a bike box?  (Read 1168 times)

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Offline LouisB

What to do with a bike box?
« on: August 05, 2022, 10:50:39 am »
Hi All

Am in the very early stages of planning an east to west TransAmerican for early May next year, flying into New York or Washington DC from London.

I've found many of the posts on these forums extremely informative, but haven't managed to find a recent answer to one of the first questions which came to mind as I started planning the route. What to do with my bike box / bag? Obviously, I will need it when I fly home to London from Seattle, or wherever my departure airport happens to be, but don't know how to get it there and where it can be stored for the 2+ months I'm en route!

Any advice gratefully received.
Louis
« Last Edit: August 05, 2022, 10:54:37 am by LouisB »

Offline John Nettles

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Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #1 on: August 05, 2022, 11:07:08 am »
Welcome to the ACA Forums!

If you are using a cardboard bike box, I would just trash it at the airport/hotel.  You typically can get one from a bike shop and/or Amtrak (if you are taking the train). 

If you are using a permanent bike box or bag, you will have to ship it ahead.  I would try a WarmShowers host or a bike shop in or near your ending town.  If it is just the bag, you can always ship it via the United States Postal Service (USPS) via General Delivery.  The receiving post office will hold the item for 30 days. However, you can then just send forward again to another post office about 25 days ahead of you.  Of course, General Delivery is best if you don't have to keep reshipping it so finding someone to assist you at your destination is much better.  You address a General Delivery box as:
Your Name
c/o General Deliver
City, State  postal code.

The sending post office will assist you in mailing the item.   

Depending on where you are flying home from, you most likely will be able to get a bike box in any major US city.  Just call them a few days in advance so the shop will save one for you.  They are generally free but I have been charged $5-$10 at times for something they are going to trash ::) .

Also, remember to check the various airlines' Bicycle Policy as some are quite expensive and others are free (usually, non-USA airlines). 

Tailwinds, John

Offline LouisB

Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #2 on: August 05, 2022, 11:16:39 am »
Thanks for the reply John.

Was considering the cardboard box option and throwing it away after arriving. Have never shipped a bike before. In your experience, can airlines be trusted to take care of a bike which only has a cardboard box for protection? Would hate to arrive and then discover that the bike has been damaged by airport handling staff. If I do go this route, are there any precautions I can take to reduce the likelihood of damage?

Many thanks.

Offline ray b

Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2022, 11:20:46 am »
Great advice - especially if your cycling trip does not end at your point of arrival.

If I'm using train or plane, I usually go with the cardboard option. If in doubt about how to pack to avoid damage, take a look at how your local bike shop receives their bikes. They might also have some plastic bits and pieces in addition to advice to make you feel more comfortable with this option.

If you are riding roundtrip out of a big airport like DC or New York, you might be able to leave an expensive box with an airport hotel.
Check in advance, but usually if you book nights to stay at an airport hotel at the beginning and end of your trip, they will store your expensive box or bag for you until you return. The hotel - which usually has a shuttle from the airport - also gives you a base where you can unbox and assemble your bike.
« Last Edit: August 05, 2022, 11:24:54 am by ray b »
“A good man always knows his limitations.”

Offline LouisB

Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #4 on: August 05, 2022, 11:33:07 am »
Thanks Ray.

I'm arriving and leaving from different airports. I'm leaning towards the cardboard box option as it's so convenient, I'm just a little apprehensive about my bike being damaged in transit. Maybe I'm worrying unnecessarily.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #5 on: August 05, 2022, 11:54:22 am »
Airlines are a gamble.  A safe bet is to use UPS or similar.  However, I "think" flights OPERATED (not just booked) by British Airways have a good history of taking care of bikes and I "think" the bikes ship for free depending on your cabin class and/or the attitude of the BA check in attendant.  Note that companies like BikeFlights use UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc. and MIGHT be cheaper depending on the amount of gear you are bringing. 

To save the number of checked items, I usually combine all my panniers into Ikea bags https://smile.amazon.com/s?k=ikea+frakta+bags&crid=2YIZ5ODDIH20J&sprefix=ikea+frakta+bags%2Caps%2C94&ref=nb_sb_noss_1 as they are close to the typical maximum size of 62 liner inches (L+W+H) most airlines use.  I have found that 2 rear Ortlieb bags and a few miscellaneous items fit will in the Ikea bags and they are very durable.  I get another bag, typically a nylon gym bag as I am still trying to find the perfect carry on sized cheap disposable bag, to act as my carry on bag and use the handlebar bag as my "personal item". 

Also, note that some ultra cheap US airlines like Spirit are very strict about size limits and weights.

The big thing is to add up the total cost to ship you bike via the airlines factoring in the bike, if considered oversized or over weight, gear, the amount of free bag allowance, etc. A third bag (bike) can get expensive.

As far as protecting the bike, here in the USA we frequently use lots of HVAC insulation tubing https://www.nationalairwarehouse.com/3-4-copper-refrigerant-tubing-insulation-6-foot-lengths.html to protect the frame.  Look at the various YouTube videos on how to back a bike as there really is a proper way to do it to protect the bike better.  However, nothing prevents a pissed off bag guy who tosses your bike on the ground from damaging the bike.   >:( The fewer connections the less handling the better.

Tailwinds, John

Offline John Nettles

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Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2022, 12:02:24 pm »
If it were me, I would arrange a nonstop flight from London to and then take a train or bus to Yorktown to start the ride.  Of course, you have to figure in the bag fees again  ::) .  Buses tend to be cheaper and they are not nearly as nice as European buses.  Please don't judge us by our trains and buses!

Offline staehpj1

Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2022, 12:24:53 pm »
I have often had a bike shop box and ship a bike for me to get it home at the end of a trip.  The cost was always reasonable (about US$100).  That was always within the continental US though.  Not sure if that would work as well for international shipping or not.

Companies like bikeflights.com or shipbikes.com are reasonable for domestic US shipping and can provide boxes, but again, I am not sure about international shipping.  It may be worth checking.

If flying with the bike, a bike box that a new bike came in may be the best bet.  Call ahead to be sure they have one for you.

I have used a soft case than can be folded up pretty small for mailing ahead.  A warmshowers host or bike shop might be recruited to accept and hold it for you.  A cheap one with no padding like the Transit model from Performance or Nashbar can be padded up with corrugated cardboard.   That way you can ship the empty case without the cardboard.

Offline LouisB

Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2022, 12:40:19 pm »
Thank you all for your advice.

I have a few months to think about it and research costs, practicalities etc.

Offline John Nelson

Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2022, 03:27:10 pm »
Checking your boxed bike on a plane is always a gamble, but it usually works out well. To improve the odds, reinforce the box as much as you can without exceeding the weight limit. The box will be opened for inspection, so make it easy to open, and don’t put anything in the box that may require them to remove the bike from the box in order to see everything. If they have to remove it, they will not repack it as well as you did. Remember that the box may get set down roughly, turned upside down, etc., so pack assuming that will happen. Use care that no part of the bike can poke through the cardboard (forks, pedals, shift, levers, chainring, etc.). Don’t leave any loose parts in the box in case the box gets ripped open.

Despite all that, I do believe that taking the bike with you on the plane in a disposable box is better than the alternatives.

Offline LouisB

Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #10 on: August 05, 2022, 03:53:09 pm »
Thank you John.

I'm certainly of a mind to use a disposable cardboard box.

Offline Westinghouse

Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #11 on: August 05, 2022, 11:18:17 pm »
I used commercial airlines, international and domestic, on four occasions to begin long bicycle tours. A cardboard box encased the bicycle on all those journeys. Everything came out well. Leave the box. Maybe somebody could use it. I have left bicycle boxes in airports, a train station and bus stations. You could place it near a dumpster, if there is one. On one travel I loaded bicycle and gear in a bike box and a smaller box in San Diego, California. The train can sell you one. They are tall. Turn the handlebar in line with the top tube and lift it in. Just leave  the box. I was looking around for a place to put a box. There was no place. What else can you do?

Offline Tandem Tom

Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #12 on: August 06, 2022, 07:07:43 am »
We are leaving for Denmark in about 2 weeks. Flying Iceland Air as they have a generous bike box allowance. I work pt in a bike shop so I got 2 ebike boxes then reinforced the interior sides and bottom by gluing cardboard in running the opposite direction. OCD maybe but....
In the US TSA will open the boxe and put a bit of tape back on. So I bought cheap 1" webbing and buckles to make the box easy to open and close.
This is the second time doing this because we had to leave the first set of boxes in Helsinki as we rode to Amsterdam. We also carried plastic mattress bags for that flight home as I did not want to run around trying to find a box and then get it back to where we were staying. This process allows us to ride to the airport and prep our bike in a quiet corner.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #13 on: August 06, 2022, 10:11:53 am »
We also carried plastic mattress bags for that flight home as I did not want to run around trying to find a box and then get it back to where we were staying. This process allows us to ride to the airport and prep our bike in a quiet corner.

Tom, have flown with just a plastic mattress bag on US airlines before or just Icelandic Air?  If US, How was that?  Any grief at the check in counter?  Handling?  Etc.? 

Tailwinds, John

Offline staehpj1

Re: What to do with a bike box?
« Reply #14 on: August 06, 2022, 10:34:27 am »
We also carried plastic mattress bags for that flight home as I did not want to run around trying to find a box and then get it back to where we were staying. This process allows us to ride to the airport and prep our bike in a quiet corner.

Tom, have flown with just a plastic mattress bag on US airlines before or just Icelandic Air?  If US, How was that?  Any grief at the check in counter?  Handling?  Etc.? 

Tailwinds, John
I too am curious about the mattress bags.  When I google "plastic mattress bag", what I get doesn't look all that suitable.  The dimensions are way off for a bike and the weight seems to indicate they are fairly flimsy.  Not sure I found the right kind of bags.  Anyway, it seems like tou could buy some heavy drop cloth, PE sheeting, or tarp material and duct tape and make a better bag.

I also wonder, have US carriers accepeted bikes in just the bag and if so how did it go?  I'd think you could use big sheets of corrugated cardboard to add some protection like I do with my soft case if desired. That would involve schlepping cardboard to the airport or scrounging some there, but might appease counter agents and protect the bike a bit.