Traveling With Bike Across Asia By Aeroplane

Cycling in Sg. Petani (Kedah) with view of Gunung Jerai in the background

I just returned from a 2-month long vacation in my home country. Taking this opportunity to explore my own backyard I packed my bike along; a 23kg worth of oversize baggage. Though this violates Ryan Bingham’s (Up In The Air) and my own rules of light traveler at all counts, I realized how packing goes a long way in minimizing (or vice versa) the cost of baggage fee.

There are abundance resource out there on how to travel with your bike, but few that address the matter of minimal cost. My top priority is minimizing the cost, both of bag bike and baggage fee, so keep on reading if that’s your concern too.

P/s: click the images to enlarge.

1) Bike Bag

Cardbox ($), soft case ($$) or hard case ($$$)?

I intend to use the bike bag for long-term. Although cardbox would the cheapest option there are only so many trips it can survive before the box turn feeble. My other option is a soft case. I found a sweet deal for one particular bag bike on Chain Reaction Cycles retailing for $80.99. Because I also purchased other items the total order exceeded $99 which qualified me for free international shipping.

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The bike bag package from Chain Reaction Cycles

Dimensions of the bag: 128 x 75 x 20 cm
Weight: 6.2 kg

The bag itself is bare minimum, like an unfurnished house; there is electricity and water (practical) but still require you to furnish it to make it liveable (usable in the case of the bike bag).

2) Disassembling and Padding

Furnishing the house means bubble wrapping the heck out of my bike.

By default the bag’s inner wall is lightly padded. But when you’re flying through multiple airports you can’t foresee how the bag will be handled. For added padding and security, consequently my peace of mind, I wrapped every inch of the frame, derailleur, chainrings, and cassette with bubble wrap.

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Bubble wrapping the bike – 95% progress

Here are the step-by-step of how I disassemble my bike without using bike stand:

  1. Place the bike upside down
  2. Remove the front and rear wheels
  3. Spin the chainrings until one of the pedal lays on the floor (since the bag has no internal stand to keep the frame upright)
  4. Immobilize rear derailleur (push it towards hub) using cable tie
  5. Remove the handle bar
  6. Rotate the fork inwards so the stem faces the seatpost
  7. Immobilize the handle bar using cable tie
  8. Wrap everything, especially the derailleur, chainrings, and crankset in bubble wrap
  9. Wrap the bottom of chainrings with cardbox cutout to prevent it from striking the bottom of bag
  10. Wrap the cassette
  11. Overturn the bike
  12. Remove saddle
  13. Wrap saddle

If you have access to bike stand, simply skip step #1 and #11.

Keep in mind it’s important to make sure that no components are loose to prevent them from rattling around. This could lead to scratchings associated with knocks and shocks. For this reason, I used cable ties substantially.

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Immobilizig the handle bar using cable ties

Of course, you can skip the tedious wrapping and store the bike as it is. But I’d rather spend 10% of my time of the day at a friction of cost than forking out money to replace broken components, or worst, claiming damage from the airline which takes time. Ideally you want to be able to eventually ride your bike once you arrive at the destination rather than crying over spilled milk.

3) Packing Layout

Ultimately you want the bag to be able to stand on its own.

I achieved this by placing one of the pedals at the bottom for support (see step #3 above), then sandwiching the frame with wheels. I place both wheels at the opposite end, tuck the saddle between the front fork and the helmet just below the headset.

For small tools like allen keys, screwdrivers, and mini pump, I store them in one of the 8 separate internal storage compartments. The compartments are also where I store the cycling shoes (and running shoes, and flip flops, and slips-on. Well, you get the idea). I may or may not store the toiletries in there as well. Saying the internal compartments are handy is an understatement.

In addition the bag is wide enough that I don’t need to remove the pedals. It also has extra room to fit a foam roller.

4) Mobility

This is where the bag falls short.

With only 1 rear hand strap and 2 small roller wheels on one side of the base, pulling the bag is strenuous for two reasons. First, you have to make sure the beg is tilted approximately at 45 degree for the bag to rolls smoothly. Secondly, as it only has 2 wheels the weight distribution is unbalanced once the bag is tilted. If you don’t pack it properly (see step #3 above) it’ll be 5 seconds before the bag fall off sideways when you try to roll it regardless of the surface.

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Rear hand strap is on the right (where luggage tag is strapped) and the wheels are on the opposite side
Closer view of the wheels and partial side view of the bag

As most airports provide trolleys, transporting the bag in airports weren’t an issue. On the other hand at public places without access to trolley like bus stops I had to have my friend hold the bag on the rear to keep it from falling sideways.

5) Airport Check-in and Baggage Claims

At the dimensions of 128 x 75 x 20cm, the bag is deemed an oversize baggage. This means at check-in the bag must be dropped at a special oversized baggage counter which is usually located at the most remote part of the airport.

This way for your bike bag and that guy’s golf equipment

At the destination the baggage can be claimed from oversize baggage carousel. However, I’ve had the instance where at a smaller airport (still international, only less air traffic) the bag arrived through normal carousel. So check with the airport ground staff.

Bike pick up at oversized baggage carousel

Weight wise, some airlines treat the baggage as part of the free checked baggage allocation while some require additional fees, in which case is treated as sports equipment.

For my trips, I flew with both Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia. The followings are their respective baggage allowance:

Malaysia Airlines checked baggage allowance
AirAsia checked baggage allowance
AirAsia sports equipment allowance

Notice that for checked baggage, Malaysia Airlines offers 39cm more in dimension which consequently qualifies the bag as regular checked baggage. Whereas for AirAsia, the bag is over the size limit hence must be checked as sports equipment. Well, that’s what I tell myself 😉

6) Cost Breakdown

Cost associated with traveling with bike by aeroplane

Bottom Line

In total I flew with the bag 3,064 miles across 3 airports and through 4 trips, transporting my bike without damage. As for the bag itself? It still holds up.

Because the bag has little internal padding, wrapping (and then unwrapping) the bike for extra protection and positioning it could be a time consuming process if it’s your first time. However, once you’ve gotten the hang of it you’ll be done in no time, like muscle memory. And having a cheer squad also helps.

My cheer squad while I unwrap the bike

Frequent bike traveler with little time to spare but extra cash to spend might opt for higher end cases, which offer better protection, increased mobility, and minimal disassembly.

As far as the baggage fee is concerned, my trips within Asia indicated no exorbitant cost as long as the bag doesn’t exceed the dimension and weight limit of free baggage allowance.*

In addition, the bike bag is nondescript with only one tiny logo at the bottom, making it unrecognizable to commoner eyes. I’ve had people at airports intrigued by the massive size come up and ask me the content. In such instance this is great if you don’t want a bag that screams bike. At check-in counters however, you’re required to declare the item for x-ray purpose.

Will I travel with bike again?

As I’m very small in size (XXS frame) finding a rental bike, or even a bike to buy to begin with, that fits (that’s a story for another post) is like hunting for a pot of gold. I’m also a big fan of riding along local cycling routes as the means of sightseeing. If bringing my own bike is what it takes, I’d do so within my capacity.

Jeti Sg. Merbok, Kedah

Would you consider traveling with your bike? Why or why not?

*Some North American Airlines charge $150 for bike fee, given the case is over 158cm (62 inch) and 23kg (50 lbs) for trips within the US and Canada.

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