Bike bags for flying

A blog post stimulated by John K. comment:

Hi Jan, I’m looking for a bike bag. Can you share with us which one Sharon let you and any pro/negative comments. Thanks

Let me start with a caveat: While I have flown with my bike many times (more on that below), I have only twice flown with my race bike.  So I have scant expertise but am happy to share my two experiences:

The first time I just packed my “old” race bike in a carton box that I got from my local bike shop (  Paid $200 to United to take my Tirreno, my first race bike ever, from Chicago to my mom’s in Belgium, where I keep it to ride whenever I make it back to Belgium.  The carton box worked great–no problems, no issues.  Given that it is cardboard, I bet it gets special care by the air baggage handlers and they won’t pile anything else on it. While I used it only one-way, I guess it would work fine for one round trip.  Definitely something to consider if you do not need to transport it around at your destination (meaning, keep it in one spot) and if you don’t anticipate to fly with your bike often.

The second time was this August from Boston > Zurich > Geneva to the start of the Haute Route Alps.  Two friends were so kind to let me borrow their travel gear: one was the very sturdy hard shell box, the other was a soft bag by Pica Packworks.



I used the softbag simply because the hardshell hardly fit in our minivan (and my wife drove the bag from Chicago to Rhode Island).  Moreover, if wouldn’t even fit in a regular cab.  The softbag worked great: (1) it came in under the weight limit so Swiss Air counted it as regular baggage without a fee; (2) it is compact so I could carry it easily, while rolling my second bag and carrying my backpack, and took it on the train and the bus in Geneva without problems; (3) on the return flight from Nice–recall that my bike was stolen so the only thing I had to take back was the bag– I was able to fold it into the Haute Route bag and again check it as second piece of luggage on Lufthansa: no charge!  Thus the soft bag saved me $400 and was easier.  There was a slight downside: in Geneva, my wheel was slightly out of true, but a 1min visit at a local bike shop fixed that for free. I would definitely use this softbag again IF I had to fly my race bike.

By the way, I always take my derailleur off.  Also, here are some very good travel tips from my buddy Tony of, our other local bike shop,

Typically, however, I fly with my Ritchey Break-Away travel bike.  Benefits: it fits in a hard case that is exactly as wide as one wheel and falls inside the size limits of regular “checkable” piece of luggage.  Thus, everything is greatly protected; you never pay extra charges; and it is the smallest luggage possible for a bicycle.  It easily fits in a cab, hotel, and is easy to move around (the case has wheels).  I am a great fan of my Ritchey Break-Away!  Best engineered travel bike ever (Mr. Ritchey engineered it himself to make travel easier).  Here are some pictures of my bike (which actually is a steel frame cross bike; sometimes I take nubby tires also and can do single track in mountains).

Ritchey and travel box in hotel

Assembled bike in hotel room, with travel case on the side.

Ritchey Break-Away packed 23min45sec

There’s a complete bicycle packed in that case, together with two bottles, and shoes.Ritchey Break-AwayThis is a funny setup from a few years ago: an Aero Edge wheel in the back 🙂  At the time, I had a PowerTap on that wheel…  (I had the Edge rebuilt without the PowerTap because I have a Quarq powermeter in the crank on my race bike.  But I still have the cheapest PowerTap on a basic rear wheel for travel with the Ritchey and for training on the trainer in winter–can’t think about that yet!)

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5 Responses to Bike bags for flying

  1. John K says:

    Hi Jan,

    Thanks very much for the very informative response to my question. My needs are based on my planning to travel regionally to cycle in Asia and back and forth from Singapore to western NC. I was glad to see that the soft bag was a Pika which is the brand I am looking at for several reasons, one being that he makes a bag large enough to carry my 64 cm Specialized Robaix. From my reading on the web the bag does not shout bicycle on it so it is possible, as you experienced, to avoid the higher baggage costs associated with flying with a bike. Never heard of the Richie Breakaway Travel Bike before so thanks for highlighting that as well. BTW, I found you via Gerry who is a dragon boat buddy from his days paddling in Singapore. Thanks again, look forward to meeting in person some day.



  2. suzecycling says:

    After 3 trans-Atlantic trips with cardboard boxes, I broke down and bought an Evoc soft bag. Not because of damage, but because cardboard was hugely unwieldly for me to haul around. So far, good luck with the Evoc. I do twke the derailleur off, carry a spare hanger, and wrap anything I am edgy about in bubble wrap.

    • John K says:

      Hi Suze, Thanks for your comment. When you flew with it were you charged the higher bike fees by the airline or just check in baggage rates Thanks, John K

      • suzecycling says:

        That varies by airline, and needs to be carefully checked. My bag is oversized and identified as a bike, so if the airline charges for bikes, I am charged. If they don’t charge, since I am under the weight limit, I am not charged. My most recent trip to France was the first one I paid anything. I have never travelled with it domestically, though.

  3. Pingback: Bike cases | Haute Route Dolomites 2014

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