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Bike shipping: Are bike shipping services worth it?

By Micah Ling

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Whether you’re shipping for vacation, a race, a cross-country move, or to sell your bike, there are a few things to know so that everything goes smoothly.

What bike shipping methods are available?

There are three main options when you need to get your bike from point A to point B. First, you can DIY it and ship via a carrier like FedEx or UPS, which offer shipping deals for bicycles. Of the two, FedEx tends to offer better pricing on shipping bikes, and they offer doorstep pickup and dropoff options. Second, there are bike shipping services such as BikeFlights and ShipBikes that specialize in all the details of getting your bike where it needs to go, often partnering with local bike shops. And finally, thanks to a variety of bike cases, you also have the option of bringing your bike with you on a plane if you’re flying to a riding destination.
Steve packing up a bike

Are bike shipping services worth it?

It kind of depends where you’re going, what you’re doing, and how much time you have (or don’t have). If you’re short on time getting other preparations ready for a big trip, and don’t want to pack the bike yourself, it might be worth it to leave the work to the pros. If you’re shipping a bike to sell, bike shipping services can make sure your bike arrives in the condition your buyer is expecting.

Bikeflights.com

BikeFlights is a bicycle shipping service that is affiliated with bike shops around the world. If you want to leave the packing to the professionals, you can check the BikeFlights website for a list of bike shops that they work with. The bike shop will pack your bike in a new or lightly used bike box and ship it wherever you need it to go. If you have it sent to another affiliated bike shop, they’ll unpack and fully assemble your bike for you at your destination. The average cost for shipping is about $60, plus box and disassembly.

Pros
If you want, they’ll take care of everything for you
The website makes it easy to get quotes on shipping
They offer a range of insurance coverage
High-quality bike boxes
Ships internationally
Can accommodate most ebikes

Cons
Can get pricey depending on destination and timeframe
They only work with UPS, so if you’re not near a drop-off, it’s more expensive
Difficult to get customer service outside of business hours

How much does it cost to ship a bike?

Depending on how fast you want your bike at your destination, and whether or not you pack it yourself, shipping via FedEx or UPS can run anywhere from $50 (or less), if you do your own packing and don’t need it shipped quickly, to $250 (or more) if you need it expedited and have professionals disassemble and pack it for you. Rates are higher to ship to Alaska or Hawaii.

How long does bike shipping take?

Most shipping services estimate 3 business days, though it can take as long as 5 business days. BikeFlights guarantees that your bike will arrive on time or they’ll give you a $500 refund. If you need your bike for a weekend race, it’s best to set the arrival date for mid-week, so that even if something delays your bike, you’ll still have it for your event.

Without any sort of premium insurance protection, BikeFlights estimates shipping a bike from New York City to Boulder, Colorado will cost $75 for 6-day ground transportation. You can bump that up to 3-day air, but that will run you about $390.

Going from Denver, Colorado to San Francisco, BikeFlights will have your bike to you in 2-3 days for only $65.

Austin, Texas to Emporia, Kansas? For $60, BikeFlights will have your bike there in 2 days.

(All price estimates are for one-way transportation.)

How do I package a bike for shipping?

To pack your bike yourself, you’ll need the following supplies:

  • Bike box
  • Zip ties
  • Padding
  • Brake pad spacer (can be a cardboard scrap)
  • Pedal wrench
  • Allen wrenches
  • Bike repair stand (ideal, but optional)



If you need packing supplies, check with your local bike shop. Start by removing your bike’s pedals. Next, use the padding to wrap and protect all of the tubing on the bike’s frame. Then remove the rear derailleur, wrap it in padding, and secure it to the bike with a zip tie. Remove your front wheel, and if you have a thru-axle, be sure to put it back in place to protect the fork during shipping. Take that brake pad spacer and put it between your front brake caliper’s pads — this will keep the front brake adjusted while in transit. Secure your front wheel to the frame with more zip ties. Next, remove your handlebars and attach them to the drivetrain side of your bike. The key is to have everything secured to the frame with plenty of padding. Anything loose that can contact the frame, will cause damage in shipping. Remove your seatpost and attach it to your rear wheel in a vertical position. Put plastic end caps on your hubs for further protection. Then take the whole bike, with all parts securely attached, and slide it into the bike box. Look to see where you need more padding. Close the box and give it a shake to see if anything is rattling. Then tape it up and send it on its way.

Should I get bike shipping insurance?

All shipping companies offer different shipping insurance options. This gives some peace of mind in case of damage or loss. Be sure to read all literature about the details of the insurance. For instance, BikeFlights is very specific about what it covers, depending on if the bike was sufficiently packed. So, if you’re packing your own bike, follow the guidelines very carefully.

What are common bike shipping mistakes?

Improper packing

Use plenty of padding to cover your entire bike frame and anything easily damaged. Don’t skimp on protection — both when it comes to foam wrapping and insurance. It’s best to spend a few more dollars up-front for peace of mind. Remember, loose parts inside your bike box are perhaps more likely to cause damage than anything outside the box so pad up, and cinch everything down tight. Also, remove all old labels if you’re reusing a box — nothing from previous shipments should remain on a box that you’re using.

Incorrect measurements

Never try to cram your bike into a box that’s too small. Enter accurate dimensions and weight when using a shipping service — it’s very important that this information isn’t an estimate. Use a tape measure and scale to be exact, and for fractions, always round up.

Unforeseen delays

It’s never a good idea to wait until the last minute to ship. From holidays to inclimate weather, a lot of factors can delay arrival times. It’s best to have an extra day or two to so you’ll have your bike when you want it.
Flying with a bike
Photo: Lucas Klappas | Flickr Creative Commons

Should I bring my bike on a plane with me?

Bringing a bike on a plane means, if all goes according to plan, your bike is always with you. You just pack your bike, check it at the ticket counter, and then put the bike back together when you land. This does require that you bring tools, and things can always happen in transit. But generally, this option cuts out the middleman. Capable home mechanics can reassemble their bikes when they arrive, cutting out the inconvenience and expense of finding a local bike shop at their destination.

This is a great option if you plan to travel a lot with a bike. Pay attention to extra charges, though. Some airlines charge a bike fee. You’re also at the mercy of baggage handlers, and the possibility of lost cargo if you have a layover or switch planes.

Here’s a brief rundown of major airlines and what they charge — most assign fees according to size and weight. “Overweight” is generally anything over 50 pounds and “oversized” is generally over 62 inches x 110 inches. All fees listed are for one-way and domestic flights.

Some sneaky cyclists will lie about what’s in their bike bag to skirt excess fees. However, if you don’t declare that you're flying with a bike, you forfeit your right to insurance reimbursement if something were to happen.

Airline fees for bikes

Alaska: No extra bike fee, no overweight fee
American: No extra bike fee, overweight fee: $130
Delta: No extra bike fee, oversize/weight: $100
Frontier: Bike fee: $75, oversize/weight: $75
Jet Blue: Bike fee: $100 Southwest: No extra bike fee, oversize fee: $75
Spirit: Bike fee: $75, oversize/weight: $30-$100
United: No extra bike fee, oversize/weight: $100-$200

If you’re traveling internationally, bringing your bike on the plane is probably the best bet. But if you don't want to deal with that, BikeFlights ships worldwide, and can even help with pickup or delivery at your destination.

Conclusion

Shipping a bike might sound stressful, but if you take the time to research the best bike shipping option for your needs and your destination, and if you do the work to make sure that your bike is properly packed, there’s very little hassle.

If you travel often and want to bring your bike, it’s worth investing in your own bike case, such as an Scicon, Evoc, or Pika Case. Most of the time, you'll end up flying with a bike.

Those who occasionally travel for an event or a bike tour will probably prefer BikeFlights. It's certainly less hassle than toting a bike box through airports!

Finally, if you’ve got several bikes, are often buying/selling, and know your way around bike tools pretty well, it's smart to DIY and ship with UPS or FedEx.

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