A mountain bike may seem like a large, unwieldy object when it comes to shipping or flying cross-country, but if you know what you’re doing, you can easily pack your mountain bike into a nice, neat box. Here’s a step-by-step article to show you how.
1. Get a box.
If you saved the box your bike originally shipped in, +1 for you. If not, don’t worry–you can usually find a bike box at your local bike shop, and oftentimes they’ll even give you one for free (if not free, then for a nominal fee). Boxes come in all sizes based on the bike type, so look for a box that held a mountain bike your size or larger.
I ride a size XL 29er, which means boxes are hard to come by locally but I’ve found hybrid bike boxes usually work, as long as they’re meant for a size XL bike.
2. Prepare for disassembly.
Shift your rear derailleur to the largest cog on your cassette to tuck the derailleur in as much as possible. Grab all the tools you’ll need and make sure to keep them together; if you’re flying, you’ll need these exact tools on the other end of your trip.
3. Begin disassembly.
The idea is to disassemble your bike as little as possible while fitting the bike in the box as securely as possible. Remove your front wheel. Pedals will almost always need to be removed; in fact, many airlines require this step.
Next, remove the seat post (leave the saddle attached). Remove the stem (with handlebars still attached) from your fork. Remember to bolt your stem cap back on so you don’t lose any hardware.
At this point you can test to see if your bike will fit in the box lengthwise. If not, it’s time to make more room!
4. Continue disassembly.
Note, this is only required if your bike didn’t fit after completing all the items in step 3. Remove the air from your rear tire to gain an extra inch or two in length. Remove the tire entirely if you could use even more room.
If the bike still won’t fit (but it’s close), try turning your fork around 180 degrees. Your disc brake caliper may be jutting out, so remove it if necessary (I don’t like to do this but in my case, it was necessary).
Bike still doesn’t fit? You need a longer box.
5. Pack the box.
Slip the front wheel and seatpost/saddle inside the box wherever they will fit and rest your handlebars over the top tube of the frame. The hybrid bike box I’m using isn’t super wide, so fitting my front wheel in beside the frame is a no go. To make it all work, I removed my tire from the rim and folded the tire up on top of the bike (extra padding!). The rim fit in beside the bike no problem. If your wheel uses a QR skewer, you may need to remove this to fit the wheel beside your frame.
Keep all the hardware you removed, including pedals, caliper bolts, and skewers, in a ziplock baggie, and tape it to the inside of the box. If you’re bringing tools, I suggest placing those in a bag too and taping them inside the box.
6. Pad the bike.
Ideally your bike will be shipped upright (and not on its side); most bike boxes are marked “this end up,” but that’s no guarantee. For this reason, padding is key.
First, identify any punch points–places where the box looks like it’s bulging near the rear derailleur or fork. Slip styrofoam between the bike and the box at these points and add tape to keep the packing materials in place.
Many bike shops will give you packing materials along with the bike box, so just ask! For example, many bikes ship plastic bits to protect QR fork mounts and rear axles, so pick these up if you can find them.
Next, look for any items that might rub together in transit. Metal on carbon fiber isn’t good, so add padding to any parts or loose items that might cause problems.
Finally, identify any spots where the bike might have an opportunity to move up and down or side-to-side in the box. Pack lightweight materials in to keep the bike as stable as possible. When I’m traveling, I like to put some of my clothes in the box as padding, which also saves me from checking (and paying for!) a second bag at the airport.
If you choose to use a cardboard box, you should be able to get at least a couple round trips out of it… but throw the box away if it becomes damaged. If you plan to fly with your bike on a regular basis, several companies sell hardshell, pre-padded bike boxes. But at hundreds of dollars in cost, you definitely have to be flying on regular basis to justify the expenditure!
It’s pretty easy to pack a bike in a box, and the whole process should take less than an hour. Reassembly is often even faster–just reverse the steps above and ride away!