Bike bags/boxes for travel are useful when the destination is too far to ride your bike or if you want your bicycle to be safe while you are traveling. If you search on the market, you will find several types of bags/boxes at different prices and qualities, but which one fits your need?
The following article describes for each type of bag/box what it is good for, where it can be used (suggested places), its pros & cons (in comparison with other options), and some other recommendations. Please note that there are many companies selling these products; in this article, we give only general guidelines.
How does a Bike Bag work?
Generally, a bike bag/box is a container that you put in the luggage rack of a car. If it has 4 wheels, you can simply push it around and if not, you use a strap to drag it behind the car. Most bags have compartments for each part of your bicycle (handlebar, frame parts…) and others equipped with straps to hold them together. Some bags even cover your bicycle completely to protect it from any weather condition.
A good bag allows airflow through the box so that there is no condensation on your bike when taking it out from the bag after reaching your destination. The main problem with most bike boxes is that they break either at their front or a rear zipper which makes them almost useless. You want to avoid this unnecessary and costly damage.
Another important feature to look for is the strength of the wheels. You don't want them breaking while you drag your bike box on bumpy roads. They need to be strong enough so that they won't bend under the weight of your bicycle and luggage which can happen if you overload it as some people tend to do.
Who needs a Bike Bag?
People who either don't have their bicycles with them or those planning an extra long journey, such as cycling across continents, require a bike bag/box in order not to carry around their bicycle during these long trips; unless you plan on leaving your bicycle(s) at someone's house and moving by or train (or boat…), you can't cycle with them.
This means that they are most useful when traveling longer distances by plane or train, but only if the destination allows you to bring your bicycle, which is often not the case in small regional towns or during certain periods of the year. If your travel plans depend on bringing your bike box/bag, it is strongly recommended to confirm whether bicycles are allowed where you are going before buying a bike bag/box. You don't want to discover this after paying for it and find out that it won't fit in the trunk of your car at your final destination!
IATA compliant bike bags/boxes
IATA is an international organization that defines standards to allow for safe transportation of dangerous goods. It specifies dimensions, materials & other requirements for the manufacture of bicycle bags/boxes so that airlines can accept them as luggage. Please note that their specifications are released by contract with each airline so each company doesn't have the right to modify these rules at its will even if it's just a bicycle box or bag within this standard. Prices range from €150 to €300.
The first issue with these boxes is that they are not suitable for airplanes where weight matters! Besides being extremely heavy without any equipment (handlebars, pedals…), they are not allowed on most budget airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair.
Types of travel bags
Cardboard bicycle boxes (bike shippers)
Advantages: very cheap (prices start at €25 ); the box is replaceable; you can get one from a moving company such as PODS, which has partners across the world and will deliver it to your residence; delivery people are used to carrying bicycles so they know how to load them properly into their truck; most of them even provide straps (be careful with any strap that goes around your frame though…)
Disadvantages: you can't carry these boxes on buses, subways, or even your car boot (trunk); the boxes are not strong enough if overloaded; they often do not have compartments for each part of the bicycle which means it's all going in one big mess inside the box; no airflow so it's going to be a real challenge to get your bicycle out of there without any damage.
Hard-shell bike cases/bags
Advantages: Inflatable items such as tires have been known to burst in transit which can cause significant damage when this happens in a cardboard box, but not when it's made from a hard material. The other obvious advantage is that your frame parts are protected against impact during travel even if the box falls off the luggage cart because it has straps for extra safety!
The last argument is hard shell suitcases are usually lighter than cardboard boxes knowing that you will have to carry them around on public transport or lift them upstairs by yourself at times.
Disadvantages: hard shell suitcases are usually more expensive than cardboard bicycle boxes; they are not the same size as regular luggage which means you will have to pay extra for weight and carry-on luggage if needed (most airlines do allow them on board though); not all airports have baggage trolleys near check-in.
When cycling around a city, it is much easier to carry your case/bag by hand compared to your bike box/bag where you can roll it along; since we mentioned that last point, you might want to consider what other passengers think of someone who has a big piece of equipment sticking out everywhere like a bedpost and dragging on the ground. It's going to be hard finding any place in public transport to put a cartoon box, especially when it's wet and dirty.
Soft-shell bike bags/cases
Advantages: they are less expensive than hard-shell cases; you can carry them on buses, subways, or simply by hand; you don't have to worry about weight if flying with the airline.
Disadvantages: since there is no hard outer layer, your frame may be exposed to damage (scratches) if not handled carefully; these suitcases only protect against light rain whereas cardboard boxes can handle medium rain for some time; don't expect too much protection during extreme weather conditions such as heavy snow which basically ruins any type of luggage.
How to pack the bike in a bike bag/box?
Whatever kind of bag/box you choose, it's important to pack your bicycle as best as possible so it doesn't get damaged during transportation.
If there are no covers that come with the bag/case (there shouldn't be), then use a sheet or something similar and wrap each part of your frame very well; we recommend using 2 sheets to cover the main triangle – start by wrapping the down tube and finish with the top tube - this way you can make sure both ends will be covered properly. The front fork should also be protected but it has specific covers for this purpose; make sure not to forget about protective corners such as those on handlebars and pedals.
If you have a full-suspension bike, cover the rear triangle too. For extra protection, it's a good idea to strap your front wheel to your frame/fork with strong straps so both don't move around during transport.
Once done, cover it up to make sure your front wheel won't get dirty from all that rubbing against other equipment inside the bag/case. If possible, take the pedals off and use plastic bags over them before strapping them in place or simply put them near each other outside of their covers if there are no specific slots for this purpose (some bike covers include a slot for pedals).
Details such as dropouts (where the wheel axle is clamped), chainstays (the parts the rear wheel axle runs through), and derailleur (the mechanism that changes gears in your drive train) are extremely delicate; it's very easy to damage them especially when rushing to pack everything in the bag. If you don't know how to cover each part properly, feel free to take it somewhere where they do for a small fee or simply make use of our bike travel tips article which will be available soon!
Leave them inside their covers if there are any; then strap both wheels together with strong straps so they don't move around while tapping/stretching the tire. This helps protect the rims against damage caused by changes in pressure during transport.
Again, get rid of the pedals (if you can) and make sure your quick release skewer closure is turned the right way (tighten it if not).
Inside the bag/case:
The idea is to put all heavy items close to each other at the center of gravity; this includes dry stuff like clothing, which should be tightly packed in plastic bags before packing them in your luggage. Also, make use of straps (and inner pockets) to keep everything together without moving around too much; try not to leave a lot of space between each item as they will shift during transport.
Don't forget that straps are good for many things such as fastening your gear on top of a case/bag where pressure from straps can help decrease chances of damaging your bike; we recommend putting all of them underneath the bag/case and bringing only those that are on top (on which you keep some items). Once done, close everything and make sure it's properly closed so nothing moves around.
You can also use tie-down hooks at the bottom of the case/bag to help secure it better; this way you fixed parts of its content such as wheels so they don't move around. Plus, there is less pressure on each part thanks to straps pushing everything towards the center – think about a teeter-totter: if someone sits on one side, then there's more weight on that side but if more people sit near the center then things even out and balance gets easier to maintain.
Top-3 of the best bike bags for travel:
- Scicon road aerocomfort 3.0 bike travel bag:
Dimensions: 118 x 25 x 78 cm (WxLxH) <> 43.5 x 9.8 x 30 inches (WxLxH)
Material: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and nylon
Weight: 5 kg <> 11 lb
Other features: high impact plastic buckles, waterproof zippers, adjustable front fork protection system, internal mesh pockets. Main pros and cons of this bike travel bag: This bike cover is designed for all road bikes with up to 12mm rear axle spacing (takes quick release skewer wheels). It's also compatible with triathlon bikes.
Holds one bike only; not ideal if you still want to carry some clothing/other items;
Internal pocket is useful; can be used for additional pedals or other small accessories when traveling with just a few clothes.
- Velovault2 bike box:
Dimensions: 130 x 25 x 75 cm (WxLxH) <> 51.2 x 9.8 x 29.5 inches (WxLxH)
Material: Aluminum and ABS
Weight: 6.4 kg <> 14 lbs
Other features: smooth-rolling wheels, customizable interior, scratch-resistant surface, 2 TSA combination locks included; includes one repair kit for emergency repairs on the road. Main pros and cons of this bike travel bag: The case also has two sets of 3 digit numbers that can be customized to your preference plus adjustable straps at the bottom to secure it better in place while moving around.
- Bike Box Alan Aluminium 20 inch Bike Case with Foam Inserts:
Dimensions: 115.3 x 25.4 x 15.9 cm (WxLxH) <> 45.5 x 10 x 6 inches (WxLxH)
Material: Aluminum and ABS
Weight: 4 kg <> 9 lbs
Other features: Removable wheels, simple to assemble, 2 TSA combination locks included; includes one repair kit for emergency repairs on the road. Main pros and cons of this bike travel bag: This is a more affordable option that still delivers great performance in terms of sturdiness and ability to protect your cycle from damage during transport even when traveling with it by plane. It has been specially designed for bikes with 20-inch wheels but can be used also for smaller bikes.
Starting the search for the best bike bags for travel we encountered a wide variety of products and brands. We tried to find options that combine high quality and durability with affordable prices while still providing good value to their users. Our article is meant to help you decide which product suits your needs and requirements.