Bike boxes: how to choose the best bike box
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A bike box is, in simple terms, somewhere to put your bicycle, typically needed when you need to transport your bicycle somewhere. They can be made from cardboard, aluminum, or plastic and provide a hard shell to protect your bike from damage when being transported. A bike box is essential when you ship a bicycle and is highly recommended when you take a bicycle on a plane as checked luggage. They are also useful when taking your bicycle on a train or in a car.
On our various holidays over the years, we have used both a cardboard bike box and an EVOC Bike travel case and have been happy with both. We have put together a review of our EVOC bike travel case and written about using a Cardboard bike box for air travel.
In this article, we go through the basics of bike boxes and cover everything you need to know about them. The two main reasons people generally need boxes are to ship a bike with a courier company or take their bike as luggage on an airline. We have two other articles which go into more depth about shipping bikes and taking a bike on a plane We also have a list of commercially available bike cases that include hard bike boxes, soft travel cases, and lightweight travel cases.
When you think about a bike box most people would immediately think about a hard-shelled container that is rigid in nature. There is another category that we will include in the mix here which has a rigid base with a soft side. The sides are often reinforced with plastic battens to offer more protection for the bike inside. The main advantage of this style of box is the ability to fold down somewhat for storage purposes. They are often lighter than full rigid boxes made from plastic or aluminum.
Bike bags for bike travel
In this article, we have not included any information about bike bags but wanted to make you aware of them. Bags are really only useful in instances where you are transporting a bike yourself and no protection is required. Bags are great for keeping mud and grease off your car or covering your bike on a train but we would not recommend them for shipping or flying. We have used a bag for our bikes previously when traveling on trains in France but never in any other situation.
Bike boxes for beginners
Here we go through the basics of boxes so you have a better idea of how they are made, how heavy they are, how big they are, and how much they cost. There are many different brands and models of boxes available in the market which means there is a lot of variation for all of these factors.
Construction of a travel case
There are three broad styles of boxes available on the market. Each of them has its own pros and cons so choosing the right one for you really comes down to your own circumstance, the type of bicycle you have, and what you propose to use it for.
- Cardboard boxes – the simplest design and are constructed from reinforced cardboard. These are used as boxes for new bikes and as such are readily available and usually easy to get. Most bicycle shops will have a few on hand and be able to give you one for free. This is the lightest transportation option that is also rigid.
- Hard-shelled – constructed from rigid plastic or aluminum. Commercially produced and can be quite expensive depending on the brand you choose. This type of case is the heaviest but also offers the greatest protection.
- Soft-shelled – a hybrid design incorporating the benefits of a fully rigid and fully soft case. Constructed with a rigid plastic base and tough padded nylon sides. This type of case is commercially produced and there are plenty of options available on the market for you to choose from.
Bike box measurements vary with different brands and styles of boxes. In our list of commercial boxes the external measurements range from 110cm – 135cm in length, 74cm – 96cm in height, and 24cm – 39cm in width.
Cardboard bike boxes are more uniform in measurements and are on average 140cm in length, 79cm in height, and 20cm in width. While some boxes may be larger or smaller, the variation is much less pronounced than with commercial models as outlined above.
Hard-shelled bike boxes range in weight from 5kg to 18.5kg, soft-shelled bike boxes weigh between 5kg and 14kg while cardboard boxes generally weigh between 3kg and 5kg.
How much do bike boxes cost?
Bike box cost ranges from free for a cardboard box up to US$1,100 for the most expensive models currently on the market. There are lots of price points between the two extremes and you are sure to find a model to suit your budget.
Where to purchase
Cardboard bike boxes can be sourced from local bike stores, shipping and courier companies, and some airports. The majority of local bike stores will be happy to give you a box for free while shipping companies and airports will charge for them. Expect to pay around US$20.
Commercial models of bike boxes can be found at your local bike shops, online retailers, and second-hand sites. It pays to shop around a bit to find the best deal.
An increasing number of bike shops offer a hire service for bike boxes. If you are only planning on a single trip with your bike it may be more cost-effective to simply hire the box rather than purchase it outright.
How to choose the right bike box
When it comes to selecting the right bike box for you and your situation there are 6 key considerations we think you need to consider. We have based these on what we have learned over the past 10 years of traveling with a bike and placed them in order of importance.
As with many things, the best bike box for you will be a compromise between the different factors. All the major brands offer great quality and longevity and we recommend you go through each of these points, in turn, to start narrowing down your search.
1. Make sure your bikes will fit
Not all bikes will fit in all bike boxes so it is important you make sure that your bike will fit the box you are considering. If you are planning on purchasing one, manufacturers will specify the type and size of bikes that fit each of their models. While most models will fit a range of frame sizes you may run into trouble if you have an unusually large frame size. Some models are designed for a specific type of bike eg road, mountain bike, etc.
There are different-sized cardboard bike boxes available and you need to make sure you get one that will fit your bike. Your local bike store will be able to help if you are getting it from them while boxes from airports and shipping companies tend to be larger and will fit the majority of bikes.
2. Know how much your bike weighs
If the reason for obtaining a bike box is lots of flying, then the combined weight of the bike and box is an important consideration. All airlines have weight limits when checking in a bike which is usually 23kg (50lbs) for economy class, although some do allow up to 32kg (70lbs). It is important that the luggage you are checking in remains under this weight otherwise excess luggage fees will be charged, and these get very expensive very quickly.
For example, our gravel bikes weigh around 12kg each. If we were to buy a case that weighed over 11kg we would be over the 23kg limit most airlines set for luggage.
3. How often will you be using your bike box?
How often you plan to use your bike box is something else you need to consider when selecting the best option for you. For a one-off trip, a free cardboard box may offer the best solution. Conversely, if you plan to use it regularly then you will need something that is much more durable and reusable.
We purchased our case in 2013 and have used them multiple times since and have let friends use them when they have headed off on holiday. They are still in great condition and will be useful for many years to come. The cardboard boxes we used, however, were single-use only and were in no fit state to be used more than a couple of times
4. How much disassembly is required for bike travel
Generally the smaller the bike box you purchase the more disassembly of your bike is required. For the smallest boxes on the market, you may have to remove the handlebars and even forks from your bike while others will simply require you to take your wheels off. When you are looking at different options make sure you know what is required in terms of packing the bike into the box and that you are comfortable doing that yourself.
5. Will you be shipping your bike?
You may be looking for a box for the purpose of bike shipping for an event or for a holiday. Check with the shipping company you plan to use and see if there are any specific packing requirements that you need to take into account. Many shipping and courier companies stipulate that a cardboard bike box is the only packing option they will accept. The logistic systems of shipping companies are different from that of airlines and many of the bike boxes for purchase are designed with airports in mind and not shipping companies.
6. Other transport considerations
We have already mentioned flying with your bike and shipping your bike, but you may also need a bike box for the purpose of transporting your bike in a car or train. Fitting bike boxes in a smaller car can be problematic so be aware of these limitations. If you are hiring a car it can mean having to hire a larger model which will cost more money.
Train operators may also put size limits on the luggage that is allowed on board for free. If you are planning on traveling by train check to see what you can and cannot bring onboard in relation to oversize luggage. A bike bag may be a much more suitable option for train travel to ensure you meet the operator’s size requirements. We know from our own experiences that our travel
More information about bike travel
As stated above this article is designed to give you a broad overview of bike boxes and the things you should consider when selecting the best one for you. We have a number of other articles and pages which focus on particular aspects of travel with your bike.
- Bike travel cases – a table of over 60 different makes and models currently available to purchase. The table includes dimension, weight, and cost estimates and can be sorted to help narrow your search.
- Airline luggage rules for bikes – a table of over 118 different airlines and their requirements for checking in a bike. You can filter the table to show specific airlines to help work out the requirements for the airlines you use regularly. We review this table multiple times a year to keep it up to date.
- Useful tips about using a cardboard bike box for air travel – handy tips we have learned when using a cardboard bike box for air travel.
- What you need to know about taking your bike on a plane – an article to help you with the practicalities of traveling with your bike on a plane. Includes plenty of handy tips and tricks we have learned over the years.
- Shipping a bike – learn how to get the best deal – a detailed guide on everything you need to know about shipping a bike for the first time.