bike ready to pack for plane travel

Travelling with your bike

If you’re headed somewhere by plane and plan to do some riding at your destination, you basically have three options:

  • rent a bike when you arrive
  • ship your bike separately
  • pack your bike and check it in on your flight

If you have a quality bike that’s in good shape and suitable to the types of trails you’ll be riding, we recommend that you bring it rather than renting. You’ll have a better riding experience if you’re on a familiar bike.

If you decide to ship it, you’ll need to look into storage fees and insurance as well as the cost of shipping. Most shipping companies take a few days or even weeks to arrive. The speed depends on how much you’re willing to pay.

Packing your bike to travel with you on the plane is likely the most straightforward and budget-friendly option. MEC’s MTB trips include bike packing service at any MEC bike shop.

MEC bike shops

All of our stores have a bike shop, so pick one that’s convenient for you. Call the shop at least three weeks ahead of your travel date so we can schedule a time to pack up your bike. If you have a bike bag or hardshell case, we’ll use that. We can also use a cardboard box, but it might take us a few days to source one for you.

Find MEC bike shops

Using a bike bag or case

If you plan to travel with a bike again in the future, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a bike case or a bike bag. They offer more reliable protection than a cardboard box. You can also consider renting a bag or case for a single trip.

Hardshell cases are pretty common for road bikes, as they’re heavier and often a bit smaller. If you travel a lot with your bike, they’re a good way to go. Bike bags are little lighter (and cheaper) so they keep the overall weight down if you’re packing a burly mountain bike. Most bags are thick and padded and have compartments for wheels, tools and spares. They often have a supportive structural frame that makes it easier to lift or wheel them and prevents the contents from getting crushed.

bike inside bike bag

Tip: It’s totally fine to transport tools and bike gear in a case or bag, but don’t over-stuff it with clothes and heavy items, as it increases the chance of damage in transit or at the airport. If you use a cardboard box, there’s a risk it could be torn, so you could lose any items that aren’t attached to the frame.

Using a cardboard box

A budget option that’s workable if you plan ahead. You can get a box from an MEC bike shop, but they’re designed for shipping and storage, not rough airport handling and conveyor belts, so you’ll likely need a new box for the return trip. Some retailers also sell specialty bike boxes that are structurally reinforced and use thicker cardboard. With either option, make sure you get the right sized box. Remove the front wheel and compare the size of the frame with the size of the box. This will help you figure out if you need to remove the rear wheel as well.

Tip: XL 29er bikes are not easy to fit into any bike box, so make sure you test this ahead of time and not the night before your trip.

Prepare to pack your bike

Don’t wait till the day before your flight to do this. You may need packaging or parts, or find out you have components that need to be replaced. It’s a good idea to get your bike tuned up, at home or at the shop before you pack it, so you know it’s ready to ride.

  1. Clean your bike. Before and during disassembly is the best time to give your bike a good cleaning and to lube pivot points.
  2. Mark the seatpost height and handlebar position – or take a pic of the position of your headset and spacers.
  3. Gather the tools you need:

  • Disk brake/caliper shims. These are plastic pieces that keep the pistons in place in case a lever is pressed when you remove wheel/rotor. If you don’t add shims, the pistons can move and you’ll have to fix them when you reassemble your bike.
  • You can buy shims or call the bike shop to see if they can hook you up with some for free. They’re cheap and prevent headaches when reassembling your bike.


dropout protectors

  • Fork and rear axle dropout protector (for bikes that don’t have through axles).


  • Padding. Pipe insulation available at a hardware store is a good option or ask the bike shop if they have any that you can have for free.
  • Tool to remove and install pedals. Either a pedal wrench (15mm) or an Allen key (Hex 6 or 8mm, check your pedals)
  • Zip ties. You’ll need a handful of these for packing (Don’t forget to throw in a handful if you’re going to pack your bike for the return trip.) You’ll also need a knife or scissors to cut them open.
  • Bags to stash small parts: bolts, spacers and spares. Use something that won’t tear easily, perhaps fabric instead of plastic. Attach the bags securely to the bike, not the box, with the zip ties.
  • Multi-tool. You’ll need it to put your handlebars, derailleur and other bits back onto your bike.

Tip: If you don’t clean your bike before you pack it, it could potentially be held at the airport if there’s dirt from another country stuck to your tires or frame.

Disassemble your bike

  1. Remove the pedals. Some people like to zip tie them to the wheels (on the same side as your rotor or cassette), others install them facing in toward the frame. We’ll leave this up to you. If you opt to install them facing in, remember to protect your frame.
  2. Remove your wheels(s). If your case, bag or box is big enough, you may only have to remove the front wheel.
    • Shift your chain to the largest front chainring (if applicable) and the smallest rear sprocket.
    • If you have a through axle, reinsert it and lightly tighten it up.
    • If you don’t have a through axle, use a fork dropout protector to prevent you forks from getting crushed.
    • Deflate tires to half the pressure. Leaving some air in helps protect the bike from rough handling. Do not completely deflate tubeless tires ever.
  3. With the front wheel removed, place the brake/caliper shim between the brake pads where the rotor would sit. This prevents compression of pistons if the front brake lever is pulled.
  4. Remove the seatpost. This can be tricky if you have a dropper post. Be careful not to kink any housing or hoses. You may be best off removing the saddle and attaching the seatpost to the frame (use padding in between).
  5. Remove the handlebars. You can remove the bar itself or the stem – your call. This may depend on your box or bag, and you may have to play with the stem positioning. But it’s often easier to keep the bar and stem attached, as there’s fewer screws to do and undo. If you remove the bar, remember to replace the face plate then finger-tighten the bolts so they don’t come loose during transport.
  6. Unscrew your derailleur and leave it dangling so it won’t get knocked off. You can zip tie it to the frame to prevent to prevent too much movement.
  7. Remove your fork if you need to. Tape or zip tie any parts from the headset to the bike.

Pack it

  1. If you’re using a bag, put the wheels in first, with the skewers removed and stored in one of the bag’s compartments.
  2. Cover the frame and fork with protective foam tubes (pipe insulation) or cardboard. You might not need to do this if your bag is well padded. You can use clothes to protect the frame, but consider the overal weight.
  3. Wrap the chain in cardboard or plastic. Not totally necessary, but it prevents the chain from damaging the bike, and keeps grease off the inside of your bag.
  4. Attach the front wheel to the side of the frame (unless your bag has a wheel compartment). Use tape or rubber bands. Pack the wheel with the rotors facing inward.
  5. Attach the handlebars somewhere where they naturally fit without kinking any hoses or housing. Most bags have straps to attach the bars.
  6. Add your gear and tools. Helmet, shoes, pads are OK, but don’t overdo it. Make sure they’re in bags and well secured, so everything stays together if your case or box gets damaged.
  7. Close everything up. If you’re using a box, tape it thoroughly and mark it with your name and contact info, flight details, hotel or other important info.
  8. Final check. Make sure there’s nothing moving or rattling around that could cause damage

Tip: Check your bike as soon as you’re reunited at the airport. If the box or bag suffered any damage, check it very carefully. You’ll need to report any damage to the airline and your travel insurer immediately.

Tips for renting a bike

If travelling with your bike sounds like too much, or you plan to do other activities after you ride and don’t want to haul or store your bike, here’s some tips that will make renting easier.

  • Book in advance, months in advance if you can. Places that rent bikes are usually very busy during high season and will often be booked up.
  • Get the size right. If you know which models are available, find a local shop that carries them and test them out.
  • Ask lots of questions about:
    • damage policy
    • model year of the bikes
    • service and maintenance schedules
    • components
    • pedals provide
    • pick up times and late fees