Whether you’re selling your bike to someone in another country, or need it for an international bike tour, shipping your bike can be a stressful process. As someone who hadn’t had to ship my bike until recently, I’ve now spent a lot of time researching the best ways to transport a bike and the steps you should take. I thought I’d make things a little easier for you by clarifying how shipping a bike actually works.
In general, the most popular method for shipping a bike is by checking it into a flight or by using a specialist bike shipping service. No matter which method you use, you will have to go through the same steps of weighing, disassembling and packaging your bike before you are able to ship it.
So, now we know the basic steps for shipping a bike, and which are the most common ways of shipping one, but how do you actually do it? In the rest of the article I take you through the step by step process of shipping your bike, checking with real cyclists about how they actually do it.
Step 1: Weigh your bike
The first step to shipping your bike is to weigh it. Without knowing how much your bike weighs, you will be unable to work out which bike shipping methods are available to you, and how much they will cost.
You may be able to find out how much your bike weighs if you can find the specifications of your bike model online. For reference, the average road bike weighs 9kg (20lb) and the average mountain bike weighs 15kg (33lb).
If you are struggling to weigh your bike, try using a luggage scale. These are easy to use with bikes as they have a hook and can easily weigh heavier items such as mountain bikes.
Step 2: Get a bike box
So now you know how much your bike weighs, the next step is to get yourself a box to ship the bike in. Some methods of bike shipping don’t technically require you to have a bike box (for example if you checking your bike into a flight). However, I would suggest getting one even in these cases, as purchasing your own box can save you money and ensure your bike is well-protected.
Once you have a bike box sorted, make sure to note down the dimensions of the box itself, as your shipping company will want to know this information.
Where to get a bike box?
Bike boxes are available from a range of different locations, the easiest way to get one will be to order a bike box from a bike shipping specialist or purchase one like this from amazon.
If you have some spare time and are looking to save money, you can try popping into your local bike store to see if they have any spare bike boxes. Often bike shops get their bikes delivered in boxes and so they have some they are looking to get rid of.
Step 3: Arrange your shipping method
Now you know the size of your bike box and how much it weighs, you can arrange for your shipping.
What are the different ways to ship a bike?
|Traditional Post||Easily available||Expensive|
Unable to collect your bike
|Shipping Courier||Easily available|
Can collect your bike from your house
|Specialist bike shipping service||Designed to ship bikes|
Can support you with customs requirements
Can collect your bike from your house
|Expensive international shipping|
|Freight Ship||Good for shipping a bike along with other items||Expensive|
|Checking into a flight||Cheap|
You are able to stay with your bike
|Have to fly at the same time as your bike|
You can send your bike in the same way you can send any large parcel, through the mail. While it might come as a surprise, companies such as the United States Postal Service (US) or The Royal Mail (UK) are able to ship parcels large enough to fit a bike (provided you pack them correctly).
Traditional couriers such as FedEx or UPS are another option when it comes to shipping a bike. These companies are often cheaper than traditional post methods, however, will still be quite expensive, particularly for domestic shipping.
Specialist bike shipping companies
Some companies have been set up with the specific purpose of shipping bikes. In reality, these companies ship their bikes with the same traditional shipping couriers such as FedEx, however, are able to do so in bulk and ship multiple bikes in one go, saving costs.
Some cyclists will consider using a freight service to ship their bikes. Freight shipping makes a good option if you are shipping your bike along with other items for example when moving house.
Checking your bike into a flight
The final option for shipping your bike is to do it yourself. Most airlines will allow you to check your bike onto your flight for a fee. If you are travelling to the same location as your bike, this can be a much cheaper option and allows you to stay with your bike as you travel.
What are the most popular ways to ship a bike?
In order to help you decide which shipping method to use, I asked a large group of cyclists what methods they preferred for shipping their bikes. As you can see, the majority of cyclists preferred to fly with their bikes, however, specialist bike shipping services were the second most popular option.
Not a single rider used the traditional post or freight ship to send their bikes, this is likely due to the increased costs of these two methods.
Step 4: Disassemble your bike
In order to fit your bike into the bike box, you are going to have to partially disassemble your bike. You can do this process yourself or take it to a local bike store that can do it for a small fee.
How to disassemble a bike for shipping?
Shift your bike into the lowest gear
While rotating the pedals, move your bike into the lowest (easiest to pedal gear). This moves the derailer and gear section of your bike into a more slimline position, meaning it sticks out as little as possible. This can help you pack the bike but also reduces the risk of the derailer poking a hole in the box.
Remove the wheels
Removing the wheels is important to help you fit your bike into your bike box. Removing the wheels of a bike should be as simple as unlocking the quick-release mechanisms on the side of each wheel, however, some older bikes will require you to use an Allen key or spanner to remove the wheel skewer instead.
Remove the pedals
Pedals can make fitting the bike into a bike box more difficult, and also can poke holes in the cardboard box. Removing bike pedals requires you to either undo a pedal screw with a pedal spanner or instead use an Allen key on the inside of the pedal. Remember, the left pedal is reverse-threaded.
Remove the saddle
Removing the saddle of a bike can help you to fit the bike into the box vertically. Most bikes use a quick-release lever to loosen the saddle, however, older models may require a spanner or Allen key to remove and loosen it.
Rotate the handlebars
You do not need to fully remove the handlebars, however loosening them allows you to rotate them, placing them in line with the bike frame and reducing the overall footprint it takes up. To do this, use an Allen key to loosen the handlebars (don’t completely undo the bolt), and then turn them so that they align with the frame of the bike.
Once you have done this, tighten the screw holding the handlebars in place to ensure they do not roll around and scratch your bike frame.
Deflate your tires
Most bike shipping companies or planes will require you to partially deflate your tires before shipping your bike. This is because there are concerns that air pressure changes during flights can cause a tire to burst. While this is very unlikely to occur, doing so is a requirement for most shipping companies.
Now you have fully disassembled your bike, make sure to take some pictures that you could use in any future insurance claims and help you to re-assemble the bike on the other side.
Step 5: Pack the bike into your bike box
You’ve got your bike in pieces on the floor of your living room, the next step is to pack this bike into your bike box.
How to pack a bike for shipping
Protect the bike frame
Some people suggest using foam pipe insulation (which you can get from amazon or a local hardware store) to protect your frame and forks.
Protect the rear wheel axel
Consider wrapping bubble wrap around the rear wheel axle to prevent it poking through the box and damaging the thread.
Protect the front fork
In order to protect the bottom of your front fork and prevent it from poking a hole in the box, you should add some protective wrapping around this area. You can also try using two tennis balls, cutting a hole into them and pressing the bottom of each fork into each ball.
Reinforce the bike box
When placing the bike into the bike box, you can add multiple layers of bubble wrap around the bike generally. This will help to dull any sharp corners on the bike and protect the box and bike.
If you have any specific areas that look like they may get damaged try reinforcing the bike box with a few layers of cardboard taped on.
Fill any empty space around the bike with crumpled newspaper or parcel packing materials to stop the bike from moving around during transit.
Don’t pack loose items
In reality, most bike boxes being shipped in the USA are going to be checked over by the TSA. This requires opening the box and reviewing the contents and is an opportunity for small components such as wheel bolts to fall out or get lost. Because of this, packing loose or small items together inside a second box can be sensible.
Another good tip is to ensure that you do not have any water left in any water bottles that you take with your bike. Liquids in your package can cause the TSA to have to do a more in-depth screen of your bike and may lead to your bottle being thrown out. For this same reason, do not pack any bike tools in this box that could be perceived to be a weapon.
Secure the box
Once you have placed your bike inside the box and added this protection, you will want to securely close it. This can be done with parcel tape across all the box openings. At this same stage remember to stick any printed shipping labels to the box.
Finally, if your bike box does not have any suitable hand-holds, use a sharp knife to carefully cut oval handholds into the side of the box.
Step 6: Prepare customs paperwork
If you are sending your bike internationally and customs laws may apply, make sure to read any local customs information and prepare any paperwork as instructed before you ship your bike. If you are shipping your bike with a specialist bike service, they may be able to help you with this step.
As well as looking at your local customs requirements, make sure to also look at the customs information of your shipping destination.
Step 7: Drop your bike off
You’re almost done, the last step is to deliver the bike to your courier. Where you need to drop your bike off will depend on which courier you are using. In fact, postal couriers or specialist bike services may actually pick your bike up from your house for an extra fee.
Step 8: Collect your bike and reassemble it
Depending on the reason you shipped your bike, you might be done now. For example, if you’re shipping your bike because you sold it, you don’t need to worry about where your bike is going, or reassembling it when it does.
If you are sending your bike for a specific racing or cycling event, I would suggest checking the event page as they often have a location to send your bike before the event. If you are staying at a hotel, most will allow you to send your bike prior to your arrival.
Who should use bike shipping?
Most people on this page will already have a reason they need to ship their bikes. However, others will be wondering why you would want to ship your bike in the first place.
The most common reason is likely to be someone selling a bike online. If you sell your bike through a service such as eBay or Gumtree, then you will need to ship this (sometimes long distances) to the buyer. Shipping your bike can sometimes be the only option.
Other reasons for shipping a bike include:
- Bike touring
- International bike racing events
How long does it take to ship a bike?
Most bike shipping services offer next-day delivery options when shipping domestically within the US, however, those arriving after 4 days are significantly cheaper.
If you are shipping your bike for a biking holiday or racing event, having your bike arrive a few days before you do can be sensible. Most specialist bike services suggest giving yourself a 3 days buffer.
However, if you are shipping your bike to a more remote area where service is more likely to be disrupted then these suggestions increase to a 5-day buffer.
As you can see, the process of shipping a bike can be quite simple as long as you go through all the steps correctly.