How To Take Your Bike on an Airplane

You can take a bicycle with you when you travel by plane, bus or train in both the US and Mexico. It’s taken on as checked luggage. In most cases you will need to box your bicycle before you can check it.

Fees

Many airlines will charge a fee for checking a bicycle box, ranging from $50 to $200. A few will take it for free in place of your one free piece of checked luggage. For a general look at airline bicycle fees, click here. It’s best to call ahead to your specific airline and confirm their policy. Some bus lines also charge a fee.

If you do talk to someone at your airline, tell them you are participating in this major group ride and ask them if there’s a way they can waive the fee for you. You’d be surprised how many will offer you a discount or check it for free, especially if you have a frequent flyer account with them.

Where to Get a Box

You should use a bicycle shipping box, not just any box. There are several places to get them:

  • Your airline will provide you with one (probably for free), but be aware they may not always have one on hand. I would not wait till the day of departure to get the box. If you call and they say they have one, get it ahead of time.
  • Bus lines like Greyhound also provide boxes and they are free. Again, not all bus stations will have one on hand because it is not a common request. But it may be easier to drive to your local bus station than to an airport, so call and see if they have one.
  • Your local bicycle store can sell you one.

How to Box It

You will need to do some minor dis-assembly. This is not difficult but it is intimidating the first time you do it. Don’t wait until you show up at the airport—do it days ahead of time so you can take your time. Even when experienced it may take 45 minutes to do.

Here is a detailed video on how to box your bike.

A few general notes:

  • You have probably fitted your bike so that the seat is in just the right place (if you haven’t, it’s a good idea). Use tape or a paint marker to mark the seat position before you take it off so that you can get it back to the exact same position later.
  • When you remove the pedals, put a piece of tape on each one and mark them L and R for Left and Right.
  • One of the pedals—the left one—turns the opposite of every other bolt in the world. Instead of “lefty loosey, righty tighty” it’s the opposite. An easy way to remember this is that both pedals loosen when you turn them toward the back of the bike.
  • There are going to be some small parts that come off your bike. Don’t just toss them in the box! Bag them and make sure the bag is tightly sealed so you don’t lose any pieces.
  • The airline personnel will not be gentle on your bike box, so do whatever you can to secure it/pad it inside the box.

Buses in Mexico

Many of you will need to use a bus to go from your airport to the town where your leg starts. Buses in Mexico are generally quite flexible about what cargo you can bring. The bike can be stored beneath the bus as checked luggage.

It’s unlikely you will be charged a fee to check your bicycle, especially if you don’t mention it till it’s time to board. (You carry your luggage up to the bus and they load it in front of you.) If you are asked to pay a fee, try politely arguing about it; it’s very likely they’ll waive it. Someone will load and unload your bike for you and it is customary to tip this person 5-10 pesos.

I suspect that a Mexican bus company does not care whether you box your bike or not. However, since it is already boxed from the flight, just leave it in the box to help protect it.

Where possible I strongly recommend going with a luxury bus line such as ETN or Primera Plus. These or similar luxury lines are available in almost all Mexican bus stations. They don’t cost much more and you will have less stops, better treatment and be more likely to be on time. Their lobby will probably have wi-fi.

The Return Flight Home

Most of us will be leaving from a different airport than the one we fly into. I do recommend calling your airline well in advance and telling them you’ll need a bicycle box when you leave Mexico. Whether that box is actually there waiting for us will be another part of the Adventure…

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