How to choose the best bike box
A bike box is, in simple terms, a box in which 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 bike on a plane as checked luggage. They are also useful when taking your bicycle on a train or in a car.
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 bicycle with a courier company or take their bicycle 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. Finally, we have an in-depth article about using cardboard bike boxes with lots more information about using them.
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 we call soft bike boxes. This style typically has a rigid base with padded nylon sides. 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 box basics
Here we go through the basics of bike 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 bike boxes available in the market which means there is a lot of variation for all of these factors.
There are three broad styles of boxes available on the market.
- Cardboard – constructed from reinforced cardboard.
- Hard-shelled – constructed from rigid plastic or aluminum.
- Soft-shelled – constructed with a rigid plastic base and tough padded nylon sides.
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.
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 bicycle stores, shipping and courier companies, and some airports. The majority of local bicycle 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 bicycle shops, online retailers, and second-hand sites. It pays to shop around a bit to find the best deal.
An increasing number of bicycle 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 a number of different things you need to consider to make sure you don’t make the mistake of purchasing the wrong one. Here are our top 6 considerations.
1. Make sure your bike will fit in the bike box
Not all bicycles will fit in all boxes so it is important you make sure that your bicycle will fit the box you are considering. If you are planning on purchasing one, manufacturers will specify the type and size of bike that fits 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 bicycle. Your local bicycle 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 bicycles.
2. Know how much your bike weighs
If the reason for obtaining a bike box is lots of travel on planes then the combined weight of the bicycle 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. If your bicycle already weighs say 12kg and you purchase a box that is also 12kg, you are already over the weight limit on many airlines.
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 travel regularly then you will need something that is much more durable and reusable.
4. How much disassembly is required
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 bike box for the purpose of shipping it to 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.
More information about bike boxes
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 using a bike box.
- 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 100 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.
- 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.