Can you Take a Mountain Bike On a Plane?

You have finally built up enough skill and cash to take that cycling trip you wanted. Or, maybe you will be relocating for a month or two and would love to have your own set of wheels as transportation.

Whatever the case may be, you will have to get your bicycle from your residence to its new lodging as efficiently as possible.

You could disassemble the bike, pack it up as securely as possible, and ship it to yourself through the mail.

While this does have its positives and negatives, this article will focus on how to take your mountain bike on a plane.

Taking a MTB onto a plane is possible, and we will break down all the steps for you below to make it as pain free as possible.

How do I Take my Mountain Bike on a Plane?

packaging a mountain bike properly
The majority of airlines will allow you to take a mountain bike onto a plane, given that it is packaged properly and adheres to all of their guidelines.

In this article, we will instruct you on the most common methods to ensure your bike not only makes it onto the plane but back into your possession in one piece.

This being said, you should always look up the rules and regulations of the airline you are flying with as they each have their own unique set of standards.

It is best to warn the airline of your extra luggage ahead of time, and if at all possible, arrive at the airport earlier than usual in case you have to make any modifications to your pack job.

How do you Pack a Mountain Bike for Air Travel?

A quick internet search will reveal a number of techniques for packaging your bike for travel.

We are going to talk about the methods that we found were used the most. The two most efficient ways are either in a box, like the one the bike came in, or a bag, which can be either soft or hard shell.

Let’s jump right in, starting with the box method.

Using a Bicycle Box

Boxes Fast BFHD54828FOL Cardboard Bike Boxes
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All bicycles come from the manufacturer disassembled in a box that is designed to fit the bike perfectly. If you have bought your bike directly from the manufacturer and received it in a box, do your best to hold onto it as this will work well for sending it on a plane.

If you have discarded your box or never received one there is no reason to worry.

Usually rectifying this is as easy as calling up your local bike shop, as they tend to have an abundance of these boxes and in most cases will be willing to part with one for free.

Once you have a box that you believe your bike will fit into, it is time to get to work.

You will want to give the bike a thorough cleaning, removing any caked-on dirt.

This is for two reasons, the first being the chance that a piece of dirt brakes loose in transit. This would allow for dirt and dust to bounce around inside the box, improving the odds of surface damage.

The second reason is that some airlines simply won’t allow it. Too big of a piece could be considered dangerous, as it could contain a number of substances that are not permitted to traverse borders.

Once you have the bike spotless, you can begin the process of disassembling the bike.

Canyon Service – Packaging Your Mountain Bike

The first thing that you are going to want to do is remove the pedals, and after that, you must make a decision on the wheels.

Ideally, if your box permits, you would want to only remove the front wheel. This will give the back end, along with all its mechanisms, extra rigidity.

In most cases, the box that you will have will not allow this and you will have to remove both wheels.

Once both wheels are removed you will have to decide whether you are going to remove the seat post all together, or simply lower it as far as it will go.

If you have removed the back tire, the lowest point of your bike will now be the rear mechanism. This piece is extremely prone to getting bent or damaged and you want to package it with the utmost care.

The best technique for keeping your rear mechanism safe is to detach it from the bike, while still leaving the gear cable and chain attached.

Take all of your rear mechs, and to the best of your ability bunch it all together as high up on the bike as possible. Once it is sitting in a decent position, take some bubble wrap or rags and enclose the entire mechanism within your padding via tape.

Now that you have stripped down the bike somewhat, you might want to think about adding some protective padding to any sections of the frame which you may fear being vulnerable.

You can use pretty much anything that you have readily available to wrap the bike in. Anything from tarp/canvas material, to rags or polyethylene paper, or ideally, bubble wrap.

If you are extremely concerned about the well-being of your bike, then you could go as far as covering it in plumbers lagging.

Now before you place it in the box, it is a good idea to attempt to chalk the bottom of the frame up off the ground. This will help to prevent it from damaging the box or itself along the way.

Once you have placed the bike into the box and lined the chalks up, it is time to remove the handlebars and tuck them into the box beside your forks.

Only take the bars off and leave the stem in, if you remove the stem, there will be nothing to hold the fork in place, and it will bounce around during transport.

The only thing left to be placed in the box is the two wheels. There should be two sections along the inside walls of the box that are free of material and perfect for the wheels.

It is a good idea to take your rotor off your bike if you have one. You can get away with just padding it heavily but to give it a better chance of survival, removal is the best option.

If you do decide to leave it on, face it towards the inside of the box and this will improve the chances of it making it undamaged.

Keeping in mind to put the pedals in the box, you should now have all of the bike pieces inside.

Give the contents inside a quick inspection. Check to make sure there aren’t any areas where two pieces might be rubbing up against each other in a detrimental way, or that there is any sort of unnecessary stress on any part of the bike.

If there is, be sure to either stuff more padding in the box or shift and adjust the pieces until they fit in a more natural way.

Once you have everything seated nicely, you can then go ahead and fill any empty holes of the box with things like your helmet and tools to reassemble the bike, etc.

Make sure that you watch the weight when filling the box as most airlines have a max capacity that they are willing to accept, this will differ between companies.

While using a box is the most inexpensive method it certainly makes your bike vulnerable to being damaged, especially if the box happens to get wet.

A box is nice if you are looking for a lighter option and depending on the purpose of your trip, you may not want to tote a cumbersome bike bag around.

This leads us to our next method of packaging your ride.

Using a Bicycle Bag

Aophire Folding Bike Bag - Bike Cases for Air Travel, Transport, Shipping
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When choosing a bicycle bag, it is important to do your research before purchasing one as there are numerous styles to choose from.

There are both soft and hard shells, with numerous different layouts in a large spanning price range.

The best approach is to take some measurements of your bike and then head down to your local bike shop or sporting goods store and ensure that whichever bag you purchase will fit your bike nicely.

You can get a decent softshell for a reasonable price and the advantage to this bag over a box is that the majority of bags come with an internal metal framework, this provides extra protection from the elements during its trip.

A hard shell is the pinnacle of security when it comes to putting your bag on a plane, the downsides are that they are usually quite heavy and pricey.

Most bags come with a vague set of instructions to help you along in the disassembly and packing process.

The procedure for packing a bike bag will be similar to packing it in a box, the major difference is that the bag is designed for a bike, thus you will find many securing straps, foam chalks, and other relevant features that will help you secure the bike inside.

You will have to remove the pedals, along with both wheels before you attempt to fit the bike in most bags.

When you are packing the bike, with the majority of softshell bags, the bike will be standing straight up and down, as in comparison to hard shells, where you will be packing most of them horizontally.

Place your bike into the bag and shift it into position. You will have to do some independent investigation into your bag, as most come with numerous helpful features specific to the manufacturer/model.

If there is any doubt about the safety of the rear mech, detach it and wrap it like we did when shipping in the box. Also, remember to protect the forks as much as possible.

In a bag, the need to take off the rotor will depend completely on judgment, although to take it off will always be the safer option.

The benefits of a bike bag are immense, they certainly have their downsides but, in the end, they protect your bike from damage, which is really the biggest goal in the process.

Tips and Tricks

booking a direct flight to a destination
The MTB community has come up with a few hacks that they use when traveling with a bike. Those include things like trying to book a direct flight.

The more times your bike is switched from airplane to airplane, the more chances there are of it getting lost or damaged.

Many cyclists skip this headache by simply booking a direct flight to their destination.

If you are having any doubts about your ability to pack your bike in a manner that will assure you a safe arrival, you can always have your bicycle professionally packed.

You can bring your bike to most cycle shops and have them professionally pack your bike in a bike box for a reasonable price.

This not only saves you the headache of having to pack the bike, but it could end up saving you money in damages caused by a poorly packed bicycle.

Be sure to always check your gases. The large majority, if not all airlines, will not allow a bike through security if it has CO2 cartridges on it. In some instances, the airline will also request that you let the air out of your tires, but this is less common.

The last tip we have is to fill your water bottle with small/important items. This could mean a multitool, a mini ratchet set, a spare Allen key, or even an extra mech hanger.

Place the bottle back in its cage once you have filled it with any goodies, this will help to protect the cage from any damage.

Wrapping up

There are numerous techniques to use when trying to ship their bike on a plane.

Whether in a bike box or in a soft or hard shell bicycle bag, the main priority is to keep your bike safe.

Do your own research and decide what technique works best for you. Try out different padding and orientations until you find the perfect combination.

Be patient in the process, stay diligent, and happy riding.

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