Bike touring is almost always more fun when you take your own bike with you, but transporting a heavy, bulky bicycle can seem like more trouble than it’s worth, especially when you have to navigate an airport or three. In order to keep your bike safe and make sure that it’s rideable when you reach your destination, it must be packed correctly and securely.
The Easiest Option
Take it to your local bike shop. Pay some money. Get a professional to pack the bike for you. Your local bike shop is probably the most efficient and safest option. They have experience packing bikes for travel, they very likely will have boxes on hand, and most importantly they have all the tools, even the expensive ones with one obscure purpose that nobody ever uses except when disassembling a bike. But, if you’re the DIY type, love tinkering, or are just traveling to Outer Mongolia where there won’t be a local bike shop to: a) put the bike back together when it arrives, and, b) take it apart and pack it back up when it’s time to come home again, then packing the bike yourself is the way to go.
Boxes, Padding and Tape
Unlike a pair of jeans and your toothbrush, you can’t just fold up a bike and shove it in a suitcase. You need the proper box, not just any old cardboard moving box, but a bike-specific packing box. You’ll still have to take the bike apart to fit it in the box, but bike shipping boxes are made for purpose – they’re sturdier and come with handles or cutouts for lifting and grabbing. You’ll also want some padding; foam, bubble wrap, and some old rags will all come in handy. Don’t forget the tape and be sure to attach small parts to the frame in a plastic bag so they don’t get lost in transit.
Before putting the bike in the box and sealing it up, be sure that you have all the tools you’ll need to put it back together again when you reach your destination. It’s not a terrible idea to stow some spare tools (if you have them) in your seat bag and pack that with the bike, along with spare tubes, some fix-a-flat, and anything else you normally carry for road or trail troubles. That way, if your main luggage is lost or you forget your bike tools on the back seat of the car, you have what you need in the box. Ask me how I know.
It’s also not a terrible idea to take a photo, or several, of the bike disassembling it. As well as close-ups of any adjustable parts. That way you remember exactly what goes where when you’re putting everything back together in the dark or on the sidewalk outside a busy airport in the 90 degrees, 1000% humidity of summer in Thailand so you can get to the beach and get a cold drink.