Protecting a bike for shipping, flying or moving
For local trips, you probably place your bike on a rack and drive it wherever you want to go. But what if you’re not taking your car with you on a cross-country move or long-distance vacation? You can disassemble and place a bike in a box for transport. Packing a bicycle involves a few more steps than most of our household packing guides because bikes have a lot of moving parts to secure, and many of them are very expensive, requiring extensive protection. So, set aside an hour or so to walk through these packing steps. Let’s get started!
The packing process depends on your bike
There’s a wide range of distinct types of bikes, and the process will vary for each one. For example, you could be moving a child’s bicycle to a new state, which is entirely different from shipping a road bike to a race. The steps below are very detailed, so some of them may not pertain to the bicycle you have. Feel free to skip over any actions that don’t apply.
Need to pack a motorcycle? Get the steps for packing and moving a motorcycle in this post.
Transport the bike with your vehicle
The easiest way to transport a bike is in the trunk (by removing the wheels, it may fit diagonally inside) or on a locking bike rack. Roof racks are not ideal for long-distance trips, but hitch or trunk racks work great because your vehicle acts like a shield for the bikes as you drive. These types of racks can hold multiple bicycles, freeing up valuable space in the moving trailer. You can drive with the bike uncovered in fair weather but have a cover handy in case you run into inclement weather. And don’t forget to flag the rack with a marker or reflector to alert other drivers that there’s something behind your vehicle.
How to pack a bicycle
If you don’t have a rack or don’t plan on driving, then you can pack your bike for shipping. The goal when packing a bike is to make it as compact and protected as possible inside a secure box. If you’re shipping, flying, or putting one in a moving truck, use these steps to pack your bicycle:
1. Check any shipping regulations
If you plan on flying or shipping the bike with a parcel company, double-check for size or weight requirements. For example, airlines may have oversized regulations or fees, and parcel companies may have guidelines around labeling to be aware of.
2. Order a bike box or case
Ask your local bike shop to order you a bike box, or even better, ask them for the packaging from a new bike. The new packaging would include tons of things you’ll need (and some extras), like foam strips, fork protectors, plastic endcaps for hubs and other packing materials.
If you don’t have a local bike shop, order a bike box or case online. Bike boxes are large cardboard cartons designed to protect a bike during shipping. They come in different sizes, so be sure you get one to fit your ride. They’re very safe for long-distance transport — bikes are shipped from factory to store in similar cardboard containers.
While cardboard boxes are great for moving and shipping, cases are made for traveling by plane, train or bus. Hardshell cases provide the toughest protection, but they weigh more, which can lead to higher fees. They also can’t be broken down, so they take up considerable space in a rental car or hotel room. Soft cases have rigid frames and fabric coverings, and some have foam liners, and they’re lighter and easier to store. Talk with your local bike shop about your travel needs, and they can recommend a case to fit.
3. Gather supplies
Along with the box or case, you’ll need:
- Something to stabilize the forks: sturdy foam, wood block or fork guard
- Something to wrap the frame: packing paper, Bubble Wrap®, pipe lagging or insulation or foam pool noodles
- Spare pieces of cardboard
- Zip ties
- Something to fill the box: packing paper, foam, airbags or packing peanuts
- Tools for disassembly
4. Remove parts and accessories
To make the bike as narrow as possible (so it fits easily into the box), remove any parts and accessories. Some of these will come off by hand, and others will require simple bike repair tools. If your bike seat and handlebars are adjustable, mark the levels with masking tape before removing, so you can put them back in the right place. Take off things such as the handlebars, derailleur, pedals, seat post (keep seat attached), wheels (just front or both, depending on the size of the box) and water bottle cage. Retighten any bolts that remain on the frame so they don’t come loose during transit.
5. Protect the fork
The arch with two sides that holds the front wheel is called the fork. It can flex from the pressure of shipping, so protect them to prevent any curving or bending. Some models will have a thru-axle you can replace once you remove the wheel to hold the fork together. If not, place a piece of sturdy foam, a wooden block or fork guards in between to hold it steady.
6. Create slack in the cables
If the handlebar stem is too tight to flip backward, create a little slack in the brake and shifter cables.
7. Protect the brake
Keep the brake adjusted by placing a small piece of cardboard in between the brake caliper pads.
8. Wrap the frame
Use packing paper, Bubble Wrap®, pipe lagging insulation (from the hardware store) or foam pool noodles (sliced open) to wrap exposed parts of the frame. Use masking tape to hold the protective materials in place.
9. Wrap the parts
Use packing paper, Bubble Wrap® or foam to fully protect any of the parts you removed.
10. Rotate the stem
Turn the front stem (the part that holds the handlebars) so that it faces the rear, making the bike more compact.
11. Attach the parts to the bike
Take every part you removed and find a way to fasten it to the bike using zip ties. Try to keep everything as compact as possible on all sides. For example, place the handlebars vertically on the right side, and set the front wheel on the left side in the middle, where the hub can nest into the frame. If there are any spots where parts will rub the frame, place packing material in between and secure it with masking tape. When shipping your bike for a race or a trip, don’t forget to wrap and attach the tools you’ll need to reassemble the bike at your destination.
12. Place everything in a box
Place a small layer of protective paper on the bottom and sides of the box, then place the entire frame (with everything attached) inside.
13. Pad the box and fill any gaps
Fill any open spaces or areas where the bike will rub the box with crumpled packing paper, foam, packing peanuts or airbags. It should be a snug fit when you’re finished.
14. Close the box
Use plenty of packing tape to secure the box on all seams (don’t forget to reinforce the bottom).
15. Label the container
No matter how you’re transporting the bike, make sure to write FRAGILE on all sides of the box. If you’re moving, write “Bicycle” on the box to make sure you don’t place any heavy items on top of it in the moving trailer. If you’re shipping it, be sure to label the carton thoroughly with necessary information like the shipping and return addresses. For flights, put your name, contact info and flight information clearly on both sides of the box.
16. Secure the box
While a bike will be moved around with parcel shipping or flying, you should tie it down during a move. Place the box in the moving equipment upright against a wall or solid piece of furniture, then use straps or rope to secure it well. Don’t stack anything on top of it.
Have any questions?
If you have questions about packing or moving a bicycle, let us know in the comments below. We’re here to help you find answers!
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