Traveling with your bike–any advice?

I haven’t quite found the ideal way yet to travel with my bike. Of course, my favorite thing is simply to bike to where I want to be, but that’s not always practical. This last trip to California, for example, only 10 days long, would not have happened if I’d had to bike there and home again.

So what’s a girl to do?

i love my bike

I’d really, really (really) love to be able to simply roll my bike onto a train, but Amtrak is incredibly fussy about which lines will allow you to take an unboxed bike aboard. Which is fabulously annoying, since trains are such an untapped possibility for bike travel. I’m not sure if it’s inflexibility or what, but I’m super not impressed with Amtrak’s unwillingness to accommodate bikes, or their responses to me when I’ve brought it up with them. (If I have to go to the trouble of putting my bike in a box anyway, I’m certainly not going to pay the same amount as an airplane ticket to take about 12 times longer to get there; if I could just bike up to the train station and roll my bike on unboxed, I’d seriously reconsider.)

So Amtrak rant aside, the answer to getting my bike to far-away places with me is basically to box it up and then either ship it or take it on an airplane.

On the way down to California, I shipped it since it was significantly cheaper. Southwest Airlines, I learned, considers bikes “oversized” luggage and charges you a hefty fee. (If I’d been smart, I would have taken the baggage fee into consideration for the total cost of my ticket when I was choosing the cheapest airline. Next time.)

please be nice

So instead of taking it along with me on the plane, I slapped a FedEx label on it, left it on my porch, and let ground delivery whisk it away to Tahoe. Unfortunately, when my bike finally arrived, after a few snafus in which I seriously thought it had been stolen, the front dropouts were a bit smooshed, the derailleur a bit tweaky, and the back wheel out of true. Lame. It was all fixable (sort of), but not the kind of thing I wanted to deal with when my bike finally showed up and I was rarin’ to go.

On the way back, I decided to heck with it, I’d pay the fricken airline fee and have my bike with me when I arrived. Both because the idea of being in Portland without a bike made me really sad and because I didn’t trust ground shipping not to further destroy anything (though to be honest, I’ve shipped my bike before with no problem, so who knows).

Just in case, I plastered my bike box with handmade labels that you’ve just seen in the above pictures. “I love my bike!” “Please be nice!” And, for good measure, this one:

thank you(Thank you, awesome baggage people!:)

And you know what? When my bike got to Portland, not only was it in impeccable shape, but one of the awesome baggage people had written a response to me. You can sort of see it in that picture above, but just in case, the close-up:

youre welcome

It may be the wrong “your,” but still. I thought it was pretty darn cute.

I don’t know that the handmade label approach is necessarily a foolproof way to make sure your bike comes through its journey unscathed, but it at least made me feel like I was doing something other than simply packing it up well and hoping for the best.

Like I said, I haven’t yet found the best way to travel with my bike. It may involve a hard case instead of a cardboard box. Or something. If you have any thoughts about this, I’d love to hear them, since I suspect my bike traveling days are far from over.


  1. (If I have to go to the trouble of putting my bike in a box anyway, I’m certainly not going to pay the same amount as an airplane ticket to take about 12 times longer to get there; if I could just bike up to the train station and roll my bike on unboxed, I’d seriously reconsider.)

    I agree with your point that Amtrak should allow roll-on service on ALL of its trains to ALL of its destinations. And yeah, the train can be “12 times longer” than a plane, but I look at the train journey as part of my trip, rather than just a way to get there. Another thing to consider is while a plane will take 1/12 the time of the train, it pollutes about 12 times more. Not to sound too preachy, but overabundant air travel, while convenient, isn’t necessarily the best thing for the planet.

    • Oh man. I hear you so hardcore on that. I actually would rather take trains because I do like to see the landscape that I’m going through, and I actually LIKE trains (as opposed to just putting up with airplanes). And I’ve made that same pollution argument to many a person as well.

      I guess what I’m saying mostly (though I see it didn’t come across that way) is that usually I actually WANT to travel by train, but there are SO MANY factors–factors that seem like could easily be addressed–that turn me off of it. Things like, oh, I’d like to know that I’ll actually get there on time, or I’d like to be able to just roll up and get on, or I’d like to be able to pay something that seems comparable to how much it actually costs to tranport me (though I admit I don’t know this very well for trains, but the cost often seems exorbitant).

      I’m actually a very motivated train customer, but I get frustrated that even for such a motivated customer as myself there are so many roadblocks to actually using it as a reliable means of transportation.

  2. Michael Stewart Anderson

    When I used to travel to South America with my bike I used to take it in a hard case. Usually they just took it as part of regular luggage since it wasn’t heavy, but that was many many years ago.
    Now the airlines gouge you for everything.

    Anyhow, if you feel the need to cart your bike around you might consider a hard case especially given the damage to the forks and such.

    Never had any problem with any of my bikes over 7 trips with my hard case.

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