like a bloody clown car
June 10, 2011 4:40 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to check a bicycle as luggage with Southwest. Could anyone advise me how to find a suitable box and then pack the bicycle in compactly enough?

Southwest says it will take the bike free if the box is under 62 inches length+width+height, and for $50 if the box is under 80 inches total.

Following some guides on the internet, I've

- put the seat and seat post down in the main triangle
- laid the wheels to either side of the frame
- lifted the quill stem out of the head tube and taped the handlebars to the top tube
- turned the fork around toward the back of the bike
- twisted my derailleur forward
- removed my chainrings, cranks, kickstand, rack, and fenders.

Despite all this, I can hardly even make the 80 inch cutoff. In fact, my frame and fork alone are 40x26x7 => 73 inches. Has anyone ever gotten down to 62 inches?

Alternatively, considering that my flight is Monday morning, what are my options for shipping the bike (Chicago to New Jersey) via FedEx or some other parcel post, without getting it wrecked in the process?
posted by d. z. wang to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have shipped my bike cross country for rides several times. Every time my local bike shop packed it and shipped it to a local bike shop where I was going. I paid the cost of shipping and tipped the folks on each end. Bike shops do this all the time.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:51 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Who was the carrier and how much did that cost?
posted by d. z. wang at 5:08 AM on June 10, 2011

The cost was less than $100, but I have no idea who the carrier was as it went shop to shop and all I did was drop off my bike and pick it up already put back together. I did not have to bring my tools, etc.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:52 AM on June 10, 2011

When I took my bike across the Atlantic, I packed it myself, and disassembled less than you're describing. Seat, pedals, wheels, handlebars all came off, but nothing else IIRC. I went to REI and got an empty cardboard box from them that was the right size, as well as a little plastic thingy to make sure that the fork didn't get bent in.

I definitely didn't get mine down to 62", but wasnt charged extra. You should check your airline's rules for checking sports equipment - when I fly with skis, I'm usually allowed to check the ski bag and boot bag as a single piece of luggage with no extra charge, and my skis alone are longer than 62". A bike might be similar ...
posted by Metasyntactic at 6:30 AM on June 10, 2011

Best answer: If you are unfamiliar with disassembling and assembling a bike you should have a bike shop do it. You would only reach the 62" limit if you have a folding bike or a really small frame.

A few things to consider for dissassembly:
- remove the rear derailleur completely. It is too easy to bend the hanger otherwise.
- take the seat/seatpost off completely
- of course remove the pedals.
- put a spacer in the dropouts so there's less chance of them getting compressed or bent. you can getsome from a bike shop, or I made mine using 1/4" threaded rod, some washers, & wingnuts.
- use pipe insulation to protect the tubes from scratches
- tape everything down so it doesn't shift, and do not pack extra stuff into the box. TSA will likely open it to inspect and yo do not want them messing around with your packing job.
posted by TDIpod at 6:43 AM on June 10, 2011

I bought a bike earlier this year. I knew I was going to have to ship it again in a few months, so I took a picture before assembling it, which might be useful.

This is a good guide too, especially to how to charm you way out of excess equipment fees.
posted by caek at 6:50 AM on June 10, 2011

Best answer: You won't reach the 62" limit unless you have a folding bike. However, remember that your bike will fit in the box at a bit of an angle, so it's probably less than the 73" you're measuring now straight across.

Get a box from a bike shop--measure the box there to make sure it's under the 80". A lot will give it to you free, some will charge $5, and a few annoying ones won't give you one because they want the $ from packing it for you. I've had my bike packed by a shop twice. One shop did a great job and treated it like it was their own bike. The other seemed to just shove it in and didn't pack it well, so it was pretty scratched up in a couple places when I got to my destination, so I think doing it myself is better.

When I did this the first time, I looked at a bunch of pics of packed bikes to see what my package should look like at the end. Here's an example. That helped me figure out how to fit thing together. I used double-sided velcro (One Wrap) to keep everything together because I could try out different configurations and reuse it at the end. The pipe insulation you see on the example bike is really helpful for preventing scratches and giving you a solid packing job at the end.

You can ship via Fed Ex/UPS/etc. but it's really expensive. If you go this route, it's easiest to ship it to a bike shop at your destination and let them assemble it for you and adjust anything that got out of whack in the shipping process. I've also heard good things about Sports Express but haven't used them myself, and you may not have enough time to use the service.

I'm usually allowed to check the ski bag and boot bag as a single piece of luggage with no extra charge, and my skis alone are longer than 62". A bike might be similar ...

Unfortunately, the bike box doesn't work that way. Your skis are only long in one dimension, which means they still can go through (at least some of) the regular luggage processing. The bike boxes are big in two dimensions, which means that someone has to carry it through the process. They can't just put the bike on the belt at the counter the way they can with skis and golf clubs and such.

Also, it's tempting to put a lot of extra stuff in with the bike, but that makes it more likely to be flagged for inspection by the TSA. If you do include other things, make sure it's not a bunch of loose things. If they inspect your bike, they'll leave you a little note.

Oh, and pack all the small stuff (screws, pedals, etc.) in a bag that's securely taped to the bike or the box. Don't leave it in loose to bang around or eventually find its way out of the box through the handle cut-outs.
posted by BlooPen at 7:06 AM on June 10, 2011

I took a class to learn how to assemble a bike properly. Because there are so many adjustments you must make on the bike to fit your body, it might be easier having a shop do this. They also sell hard cases to pack your box into if you travel a lot, but obviously, that's even more of an investment.

I would use yelp to choose bike shops at home and at my destination. Maybe look for an outfit popular with folks who do triathlons? Those folks are pretty geeky about their bikes, yo.

Have an awesome trip!
posted by jbenben at 7:43 AM on June 10, 2011

Oops. I meant you can buy a hard case to pack your BIKE into instead of using a cardboard box.

Also. You'll need a full set of proper bike tools if you're going to do this on your own. (I'm sure you have this, but just in case:))
posted by jbenben at 7:47 AM on June 10, 2011

Best answer: Forget 62". That only works with some mountain bikes or very small frames. Get a box from a bike store.

You'll probably find you have more space for your wheels if you turn your forks sideways, instead of backwards (less likely to be bent sideways as well). Unbolt your derailleur and tape it where the rear wheel would be. In my experience, you don't need to take cranks, chainrings, or rear racks and fenders off, but you do need to remove your pedals. I always pack lots of stuff around my bike for travel and have had good luck with that method so far. It is best to use a chain without a tool-less link and take the chain off the bike too, if only to keep things clean.

The only extra tool (in addition to a multitool) that I have to carry to pack and unpack my bike is a long-handled hex key to take off my pedals (and I use anti-seize compound on the pedals threads to make sure I can get them off without a huge wrench).
posted by ssg at 9:24 AM on June 10, 2011

Depending on how valuable your bike is and how often you do this sort of thing, you may find the advice from DC Rainmaker to be useful.
posted by dgran at 10:30 AM on June 10, 2011

Response by poster: Just an update: took Amtrak, paid $5 extra handling and am now about to get it professionally re-disassembled for the return trip, also by Amtrak. (Sadly, I have no tools and nowhere to borrow tools in New York.)

Thanks for the advice, everyone!
posted by d. z. wang at 9:00 PM on September 12, 2011

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