Pack It Up, Pack It In

By Stephen Ewashkiw | June 10, 2014

14,937 km so far.

We have flown with our bicycles twice before. Every airline has different rules about how you must package a bike for flight, and how much it costs to bring a bike.

Air Asia, who we fly with tomorrow, have very vague packing instructions:

MUST [emphasis mine] be properly packed in recognised bicycle bag or in a protective box or bag or in plastic wrap. Otherwise, we will refuse carriage. Should be of the general and standard dimensions.

Um, OK then.

Mr. Cellophane

The general consensus online is that cardboard boxes are not the best for flying, though most cyclists still use this method. Using plastic sheeting allows baggage handlers to see that they are handling a bicycle, and in theory this makes them more careful. Big flat bike boxes tend to get other heavy boxes stacked (or thrown) on top of them. Not good.

The first time we flew we were very careful. To get from LA to Rome, we wrapped the forks in plumping pipe insulation, wrapped bubble wrap all over, put cardboard around the chainring, gear shifters, and lights, and covered them in heavy plastic sheeting (mattress bags from Home Depot).

bike packed in plastic bag for flying

Careful packing for our first flight, from LA to Rome.

Air New Zealand charged us $300 for the privilege of shipping our bikes. Alitalia then proceeded to lose mine for two days, as well as breaking one of the teeth on my chainring.

For the second flight, from Berlin to Beijing, we were less careful with the insulation/bubble wrap, but still covered the fragile bits in cardboard, put plastic water bottles around the rear derailleurs, and bought heavy duty plastic to wrap them in.

packing a bike for flying

Derailleur protection care of a plastic water bottle.

Hainan Airlines charged us nothing extra, and the bikes arrived safe and sound in Beijing.

Many Asian airlines allow you to wrap your bikes at the airport at the kiosk that wraps luggage in plastic. We decided that this would be our method of packing for our third flight, Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta.

However, the day before we left, Jane got a message on Crazy Guy On A Bike from someone who had not been pleased with the wrappers at KL airport – they were clueless, rough with the bike, and expensive. The next time he flew from KL, he saved $25 (per bike) by wrapping his bike himself – with cellophane. At the last minute, we decided to give this a shot.

Wrap Stars

I spent the afternoon carefully packing various breakable parts on our bikes in cardboard. I covered the brake levers, the gear shifters, my lights, and our crankshafts.

Jane’s note: Meanwhile, I reorganised our panniers so that we would comply with Air Asia’s strict carry-on size and weight rules, and so we wouldn’t inadvertently try and carry on our hunting knife or the like.

Using the great BackHome Hostel common areas for repacking.

Using the great BackHome Hostel common areas for repacking.

We had a very nice man at the motorcycle shop across the road from the hostel remove our pedals, then I boxed those up.

The mechanic at the motorbike shop knew exactly how to deal with bike pedals. Free of charge!

The mechanic at the motorbike shop knew exactly how to deal with bike pedals. Free of charge!

We also put plastic bottles around our rear derailleurs, and then turned the handlebars, as you are asked to do.

Tonight we went to the grocery store and picked up four 60m rolls of cellophane, for a total cost of 32RM (about $9). When we got back to the hostel we spent about 40 minutes wrapping, and wrapping, and wrapping.

Once they started to look like giant plastic-weaving spiders had captured them, the bikes were almost ready.

If only we could train giant spiders to do this...

If only we could train giant spiders to do this…

When we ran out of wrap, we sealed any loose ends with packing tape and I have to say, they look pretty solid.

We had already prepaid 140RM ($43) on AirAsia’s website to ship 25kg each of sports equipment (you save 50% by paying online). And with that, we are ready to fly.

Here’s hoping the cellophane does the trick as we still have about 1,000 km to ride once we get to Java.  

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