So you've booked your bike vacation; maybe you're headed for South Africa, the Rocky Mountains or maybe even South Australia to follow the Tour Down Under. Your tickets are booked, accommodation is sorted, but you still need to figure out how to get your bike there safely.
It's scary to send your bike down the conveyor belt at the oversized baggage check-in and put it in someone else's hands for an extended period of time. While you are cautious, overworked baggage handlers and automated baggage systems may not be quite as gentle. There are horror stories of airlines destroying bikes, but bike bags and boxes are pretty well designed these days and do well to deliver your pride and joy to your destination and back unscathed.
BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAVE BAGS AND BOXES: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. Hard or soft shell
Hardshell trombone-case-style bike bags were the best way to travel with a bike for quite some time; however, engineers at bike brands are pretty clever and softshell bags are nearly on par for protection, weigh less, and often have removable ribbing so they can be rolled up for storage.
2. Empty weight
With a plastic base, wheels, internal skeleton, and robust materials bike bags are heavy before you put anything inside, and some are considerably bulkier than others. Most airlines will give you 23kg / 50lbs before they hit you with an exorbitant overweight baggage fee, and when your bag weighs 12kg empty, when you pack an 10kg mountain bike, shoes, and a track pump you'll be nudging up against that limit.
Are you just looking to travel with your bike, or will you be taking trips with your mountain bike, too? Does your roadie have an integrated seat mast or aero bars? Are you riding an XL frame? These are all things to take into account when shopping for a bike travel case because some of the more compact options are simply too small for certain bikes and frame sizes.
4. Some disassembly required
No bike bag will take your bike fully assembled, but some require considerably more disassembly and mechanical acumen than others. At the very least you’ll have to pop your wheels off, but bags some also require you to remove your seat post, handlebars, and even the fork.
5. Wheels and handles
For something designed to help you move around with a bike in tow, bike travel cases are surprisingly awkward and cumbersome to move around with. At the very least you'll want plenty of handles to help you hoist your bag onto a conveyor belt or into the back of a car. If you'll be walking much after you land, a good set of wheels will make your life easier.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR BAGGING OR BOXING YOUR BIKE
1. Derailleurs and rotors
Take them off. Just about every bike bag out there comes with some sort of protection for your rear derailleur and brake rotors, but airlines have a knack for rendering them ineffective. Learn from our mistakes and just take the suckers off, as there's nothing worse than beginning to unpack your bike to find a bent rotor or a broken derailleur hanger. If you are removing rotors, don't forget to put a brake block in the caliper to prevent the pads sticking together or the pistons getting stuck — in a pinch, a folded over business card works too.
2. Invest in a paint pen
Saddle height and bar roll aren’t something you often think about until either one is a little bit off, and the last thing you want to do on your riding vacation is to pull over constantly a faff with minor adjustments. A couple of dots and lines with a paint pen will allow you to replicate your preferred position on the bike first try every time.
3. Extra padding
Yes, we have just spent the last few hundred words saying how great bike bags and boxes are, but there's nothing wrong with a bit of added peace of mind. Some bags come with foam tubing however, pipe insulation or a sliced up pool noodle is perfect for an extra layer of protection. You can also pop into your local bike shop and, if you ask nicely, they might even give you some of the packaging from a newly unboxed bike.
4. Fill the gaps
If you have a few spare kilos in your bike bag once it's packed, throw your shoes, riding clothes, bars and gels and whatever else will fit without tipping your bag over the limit. If you've paid for 23kg / 50lbs, you should use it
5. Deflate your tyres
When you’re packing your bike, take a second to let the air out of your tyres because airlines don’t allow anything pressurised into the cargo hold because it violates civil aviation safety regulations.
Before the engineering types slide into the comments, yes we know that the cargo hold is pressurised to ~10,000ft which will only add 3-4psi to your tyres, and it’s extremely unlikely a tyre will burst in transit. The reason you need to take this step, is because if you do send your bike through with the tyres inflated, there is the distinct possibility of an airline employee will pull your bag up and attempt to deflate them — we’ve heard horror stories of bags and tyres cut. Avoid the drama and just let the air out.
THE BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAVEL BAGS AND BOXES YOU CAN BUY
Evoc Travel Bag Pro
Versatile travel case
External dimensions: 47 x 36 x 85 cm | Empty Weight: 10kg with bike stand | Wheel size: 29-inch
Around any bike event, you're likely to see a sea of Evoc bike bags, because they are some of the best you can buy. With room for anything from a lightweight roadie to a long and slack 29er enduro bike, the Pro version includes an aluminium tray that attaches to the axles of the bike inside the bag, and doubles as a work-stand when it's time to rebuild.
Inside the bike is secured with a range of velcro straps and purpose-built padding, and the external wheel pockets will hold up to a 29 x 2.6in wheel and tyre. Inside the bag, there are internal pockets for tools and pedals and the removable plastic ribbing allows the bag to be rolled up for storage.
The back features two ultra-smooth rollerblade wheels, and there is a third which slots into the front handle for easy transition from the baggage claim to your accommodation.
YT Industries Body Bag
A box cover offering the best of both worlds
External dimensions: 34 x 90 x 134cm | Empty Weight: 4.5kg
The YT body bag combines the best aspects of using a cardboard bike box and purpose built bag to travel with your bike. The Body Bag is basically a box cover, made from water resistant nylon with replaceable rollerblade wheels on when end and handles galore.
With reinforced corners, the bag features internal cinch straps the zipper goes nearly all the way around the case and YT even includes a TSA friendly lock.
Weighing just 4.5kg, you’ll need to source a box that measures 34 x 90 x 134cm, which unsurprisingly happens to be the dimensions of the boxes YT uses.
Pro Bike Mega Travel Case
Large and simple to pack
External dimensions: 130 x 25 x 77cm | Empty Weight: 8.1kg
With room to easily swallow road, TT and mountain bikes, the Pro Bike Mega Case is huge and features an aluminium base frame which connects to your bike at the axles. With so much room inside the case, the seatpost doesn't need to be removed, just lowered.
The inside of the bag has plenty of well-padded provisions to hold your frame securely, and the four 360-degree wheels at the bottom makes the bag move easily in a straight line, but can be cumbersome in crowded baggage claim areas or train stations.
With handles galore, the outer fabric seems to mark a bit in transit, however, it's robust and, weighing just over 8kg, you should be able to get your bike and a bit of extra gear inside before you tip into overweight-baggage territory.
Scicon AeroComfort MTB 3.0 TSA
Bike bag for the hamfisted home mechanic
External dimensions: 109 x 103 x 50 cm | Empty Weight: 9kg
The beauty of the Scicon AeroComfort 3.0 TSA is you can pack your bike and hardly turn a bolt. Packing is a simple as removing the wheels and turning the bars.
The bag is built around the Antishock Bike Frame (ABF) which is 12mm and 15mm thru-axel ready and designed to secure 26-inch 27.5-inch and 29-inch bikes. The reinforced wheel pockets are located inside the bag and feature plastic caps so your cassette won’t poke through the bag.
At 9kg empty the bike straps into the bag securely, and the 360-degree wheels allow for easy one handed dragging. With all of that said, we’ve seen baggage handlers stack Scicon bags upside down on baggage carts on multiple occasions so they won’t roll away, so consider some additional padding for your handlebars and shifters.
Thule RoundTrip Traveler
Soft case nearing budget-friendly
External dimensions: 130 x 36 x 81cm | Empty Weight: 7.7kg
Bike bags are expensive, and if you don't have a bundle to drop on a soft-travel case, the RoundTrip Traveler does well to toe the line between price, performance and protection. Using removable plastic ribbing for shape, the RoundTrip Traveler folds down completely flat when not in use.
The bike is secured with a fixed-fork block which has adaptors for all modern axle standards and uses a padded bottom-bracket block, similar to the standard Evoc bag. Inside there are heaps of zippered pockets for items such as tools and pedals, and the bag sees padded wheel pockets big enough for 29er wheels and tyres.
At the back, there are two sizeable alloy roller wheels that don't get caught up on cracks or doorways and, at 7.7kg empty, it's noticeably lighter than pricier models.
B&W International Bike Box II
External dimensions: 120 x 88 x 39cm | Empty Weight: 11kg with padding
The B&W International Bike Box II is one of the simplest options on the market There are no complicated packing procedures - instead, you get a few layers of foam to protect the frame from the wheels and box, and it all fits inside two interlocking plastic sides.
The clamshell design utilises six self-tightening velcro buckles to prevent the case from slipping open, and it features a surprising number of handles given the design. B&W International has updated the case with a new plastic designed to flex and not crack and there are no latches or hinges to break.
With room for up to a 62cm frame, the case rolls on four wheels: two fixed and two free rotating and weighs 11kg with the included padding.
Cross-country speed with surefooted descending for all-day fun
External dimensions: 130 x 25 x 80 cm | Empty Weight: 9.8kg
Using unique inflatable padding and strategically placed rigid reinforcements, the Biknd Jetpack is well padded and big enough for just about any bike. The Jetpack does well to keep everything separated and insulated from clanging into other parts of the bike during transit, the inflatable cushions insulate your wheels from the outside of the bag without adding much bulk.
The bag opens flat to simplify packing, and the bike connects at the axles to an aluminium frame — Bikend includes adaptors for every modern axle standard. With access to both sides of the bike, packing is simple, although you will need to remove your bars.
Even with the airbags, the helium is not all that light tipping the scales a 9.8kg, but it does offer considerably more padding than any other soft case.
Best for the frugal traveller
External dimensions: Varies | Empty Weight: Varies
Yes, we realise the irony in recommending a cardboard box after we've spent all this time talking about the merits offered by purpose-built bike travel cases; but considering a box is how even the most expensive bikes are shipped from the factory - they work pretty well for travel, too.
First and foremost bike boxes are free. Boxes are also lightweight, meaning you can throw other gear in for extra padding. Sometimes it can be a struggle to manipulate your bike and get it securely packaged inside but it's the easiest solution for those who don't travel frequently.
That said, a cardboard box is not weather resistant and if it's raining or gets wet, the integrity of the box can be compromised.