When you head abroad on holiday with your bike, you'll put a lot of thought into where you go, with which company you fly, and the hotel at which you stay, but how do you ensure your bike travels to your destination 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.
You'll always be ever cautious with your pride and joy, but time-pressed 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 bike to your destination and back unscathed.
Evoc Bike Travel Bag Pro
Versatile travel case
External dimensions: 47 x 36 x 85 cm | Empty Weight: 10kg w/ bike stand
Easy packing procedure
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 are plenty big enough for road and MTB wheels. 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 roller blade wheels and a third which slots into the front handle for easy transition from the baggage claim to your accommodation.
Scicon AeroComfort 3.0 TSA
Bike bag for the hamfisted home mechanic
External dimensions: 109 x 103 x 50 cm | Empty Weight: 9kg
It's not cheap
The 360-degree wheels can cause the bag to wander
The beauty of the Scicon AeroComfort 3.0 TSA is you can pack your bike without turning a single bolt (unless you have thru-axles); all you have to do is remove the wheels.
With a rigid Frame Defender metal base, the bike slots in using your quick release or thru-axles, and comes with plenty of additional padding and a gear bag that's secured to the base under the downtube.
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
No additional frame padding included
Fork mount awkward with thru-axle
Bike bags are expensive, and if you don't have a bundle to drop on a soft travel case, the RoundTrip Travel does well to toe the line between price and performance/protection. Using removable plastic ribbing for shape, the Round Trip 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 things like 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 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
Budget friendly hardcase
External dimensions: 120 x 88 x 39cm | Empty Weight: 11kg w/ padding
Hard case offers superior protection
No latches or hinges to break
Frame not totally secured inside the box
Sometimes simple is best, and that's precisely what the B&W International Bike Box II has to offer. 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.
OruCase Airport Ninja
Best for the mechanically inclined
External dimensions: 69 x 82 x 30cm | Empty Weight: 5kg
No excess baggage fees
Lots of disassembly required
While many airlines are abandoning the extra fees for checking bikes, some still haven't taken note, and that's where the Oru Airport Ninja comes in handy. Travelling with the OruCase Airport Ninja, when asked by desk agents what's in the bag we've told them everything from massage tables and trade show gear, to 'it's just a really weird duffel bag’ — just make sure you’re not wearing a bike t-shirt, trust us.
The Airport Ninja sneaks in under most airlines’ maximum external dimensions limits for baggage and features plastic armour panels which are backed by foam to keep your ride safe. You'll need to remove your pedals, handlebars, front brake, fork and seatpost, and the bag is still a tight fit, but it comes in two sizes to fit a range of frames.
Weighing in at 5kg empty, there is plenty of weight for you to fill the bag with riding clothes (which also work great as extra padding), and there are plush backpack straps to help you get around with minimal fuss.
What to look for in a bike bag
Hard or soft shell
Hardshell case 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 neatly rolled up for storage.
With a plastic base, wheels, internal skeleton, and robust materials, bike bags are heavy before you put anything inside, and some are pudgier than others. Most airlines will give you 23kg / 50lbs before they hit you with an exorbitant overweight baggage fee, and if your bag weighs 12kg empty, when you pack a 6.8kg lightweight road bike, shoes, helmet and a track pump you'll be nudging up against that limit.
Are you just looking to travel with just your road bikes, or will you be taking trips with your mountain bike too? Are you riding an aero road bike with integrated handlebars or TT 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.
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 some bags also require you to remove your seat post, handlebars, and even the fork.
Wheels and handles
For something designed to help you move around with a bike in tow, bike travel cases are unsurprisingly awkward and cumbersome to move around with. If you want to avoid a back injury, a set of wheels should be a minimum requirement, especially if you'll be walking much after you land - some even use easily replaceable roller blade wheels. In addition, you'll want plenty of handles to help you hoist your bag onto a conveyor belt or into the back of a car.
Tips and tricks for bagging your bike
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 them off, the last thing you want is to start your holiday with a bent rotor or a broken derailleur hanger. If you are removing disc-brake 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.
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.
Yes, we have just spent the last few hundred words saying how great the best 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 is perfect for an extra layer of protection. You can also pop into your local bike shop, and if you ask nicely, they're likely to have plenty of spare packaging from a newly unboxed bike.
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 may as well use it.
Deflate your tyres
When you’re packing your bike, take a second to let the air out of your tyres. 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 that an airline employee will pull your bag aside and attempt to deflate them, at the very least, it'll mean someone heavy-handedly rummaging through your neatly packed case, but we’ve heard horror stories of bags and tyres cut.
Avoid the drama and just let the air out. If you're running tubeless, drop them to a reasonable PSI that won't result in a sealant shower.
Extra quick tips
If you need to remove your handlebars, put the faceplate back on your stem so you don't lose the four bolts.
If you need to remove your stem, refit the top cap, then a zip tie around the steerer will keep your fork, headset and spacers from rattling loose.
If you have Di2, unplug the battery. At the very least, it'll save some battery life, but it may also prevent your tightly packed derailleurs from shifting in transit - overworking the motor.
If you have an internal seatpost wedge clamp, remove and pack it safe. You don't want to spend the first hour of your trip fishing it out of your frame.
Take a spare derailleur hanger with you. For the price, it's worth having a spare anyway, not least when hundreds of miles from home.
Some airlines will let CO2 cartridges through, but others will stop the bike and remove them. If you're going to risk it, make them easy to find so the baggage handler doesn't have to empty your entire bag.
If you're using zip ties to hold things in place, you'll need cable cutters or scissors in your case for unpackaging at the other end. You'll also need more for the return journey.
Take your tools. If you're having to disassemble your bike to fit it in the box, you'll need to reassemble it at the other end - make a note of the tools used and don't forget to pack them. Especially your torque wrench. You don't want a 90km/h descent of Alpe D'Huez with badly torqued carbon handlebars.
Bottles are a great hardshell for storing potentially damaging things - ie. allen keys, or items that will pop if crushed - gels, suncream, toothpaste. Wrap them in a carrier bag, though, or you might have oddly flavoured water on your first ride. Shoes are equally useful.