Packing A Bicycle
DisassemblyTo ship a bicycle, you will need to do at least some disassembly of a bicycle, regardless of what type of container you put it in.
The wheels need to come out. For most bikes these days, this is a no-brainer.
The pedals absolutely have to go. Pedals can be very difficult to remove, particularly if you are removing them for the first time.
There are special pedal wrenches that it may pay to buy or borrow. They are flat enough to squeeze into the gap between the pedal and crank, and they have the long handles necesssary to generate the leverage you need. They make life better!
If you can't beg, borrow, steal, or buy a pedal wrench,
some pedals can be removed with a Crescent
wrench if it is thin enough to fit between the frame and the pedal.
Some bicycles have a little hole on the inside of the pedal for a hex wrench
(see photo below).
Some pedals can be removed with either a Crescent wrench or a hex wrench, but some pedals can only be removed with a hex wrench. It is advisable to figure this out at some point BEFORE you arrive at the airport with the wrong tools!
WARNING: The pedal that your left foot rests upon when riding the bicycle is a left-handed screw. (This is so that your pedaling action does not unscrew the pedal!) You must screw it clockwise (when looking at the outside of the pedal) to loosen. The right-hand pedal is a normal right-handed screw; if you are looking at the outside of the pedal, turn it counter-clockwise to loosen.
Be advised that as this can be a tight screw to get loose, especially if you've been trying to turn it the wrong way. It may help to have someone heavy around to stand on the wrench.
When you put the pedal back on, place a small dab of grease on the pedal threads before reattaching them. This will make it easier to remove them next time you ship your bike. It may also eliminate the need for the pedal wrenches!
You may also have to take the seat off. This is a simple maneuver (especially if it is a mountain bike with quick-releases), but be advised that the seat post will be all slimey and gooey with bicycle grease. You might want to have some small plastic bags to wrap around the stem.
If you are putting the bike in a huge box (like what an airline will sell you), then you should be able to just turn your handlebars sideways instead of taking them clear off. Usually this means loosening the hex nut at the top of the handlebar stem. (Don't forget to tighten it back up after you have turned the handlebars!)
Bicycle In A BoxThere are a few things you can do to protect your bike from the vagaries of airline handling. Get or make some cardboard tubing the same width as your box. Place it strategically in the box to help reinforce it and keep your bike from getting crushed. Also get a fork brace from a bike store: this is a small piece of plastic that fits between the tines of your front fork, right where the front wheel's axel was before you took the wheel off. This gives the tines some rigidity to help endure getting smacked around.
In theory, if you have a 19" bike, it should fit into a box from a bike shop for a different 19" bike. In practice, it might not work out like this. The shop might give you a mountain-bike box, while you have curly drop handlebars. Also, if you are serious enough about biking to be taking a bicycle with you, you are probably serious enough to have added a rear rack, water bottle cages, a beefy, studly headlight, a trip computer, front and rear reflectors, etc. etc. etc. These all take up room and find the most creative ways to impede a tight fit. You may need to strip your bike down to get it to fit; be sure to plan for random, loose bicycle pieces in your luggage budget.
[For your comparison, disassembly and packing of two bicycles to go into an airline box by two rank novices, one Mom, and one bike-literate friend took about an hour. The second time, it probably only took about 30 minutes, but it took almost an hour for United to find some boxes for us. I recently packed my bike in a bike-store box by myself, and it took me an hour, and I finally just packed the handlebars in my duffle bag. (My headlight and front reflector kept getting in the way. It was easier to toss the handlebars in the duffle bag than to strip the light and reflector.)]
Other Bike Packing Information
Go to Tips For Travellers
Go to How To Get What You Take Into What You Take It In
Ducky Copyright, Kaitlin Duck Sherwood, 1994, with some help on the pedal wrenches section from Frank Wortner, 1995.