How to ship a bike; a comprehensive guide
There are many reasons why you might need to ship your bike. To travel to an event, buy or sell a bike, send it to a friend, or go on holiday. We have put this article together to help you understand how the process works and some of the things you need to be mindful of when choosing a company. We have based this on our own experience of shipping bikes both domestically and internationally as well as lots of research into what different companies offer. By understanding the process, the different types of companies you can select, the main drivers for prices and some of the things to avoid you will be able to select the best possible option and price for your circumstance.
9 tips for shipping a bike
Here are 9 tips on how to ship a bike to get you started with how it all works. We will delve into these in more detail in the rest of the article.
- Shop around to get the best price, but ensure you use reputable companies
- Bike-specific shipping companies offer great rates due to the volumes they ship and agreements they have with the large courier companies. You will get a much better price using them than you would be able to get going direct to the large courier companies.
- Insure your bike in case of any damage during shipping. This is usually offered by the shipping companies as part of the booking process.
- Electric bikes cannot be shipped by air which limits the range of destinations you can ship them to.
- Make sure you measure and weigh your bike box accurately and round up in all cases. They will be re-measured and penalties exist if you are incorrect.
- Pack your bike securely in the box to prevent damage while shipping. If you are not comfortable doing it yourself bike shops and some shipping companies can do it for you.
- Size counts. Fit your bike in the smallest box possible to get the lowest cost. Prices increase significantly as the box size increases.
- A cardboard bike box is the preferred option for most shipping companies. Bike travel cases are designed primarily for airline travel and airport luggage systems, not shipping and courier systems.
- Plan ahead. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to find the right shipping company, obtain a box or case and pack the bike into it. It can all take longer than you imagine it might.
Shipping a bike in 6 steps
Shipping a bike is a relatively easy process that anyone can do, but like everything, can be daunting if you have never done it yourself. We have personally had experience shipping bikes that we have sold domestically within Australia on a couple of occasions. We also sent our bikes along with other luggage to the other side of the world when we moved from Australia. In our article below we have set out the 6 steps you need to undertake to ship your bike to help you on your way.
Step 1 – Find a company to ship your bike
The first step in the process is to select the right company to ship your bike. There are usually many options to choose from here, especially if you are shipping your bike domestically. There are broadly three types of companies you will come across and we have provided some information about each one.
Bike-specific shipping companies
The first is bike-specific shipping companies such as SendBike, BikeFlights, ShipBikes, and Bike Delivery. These types of companies focus their entire business on sending bikes locally and internationally. They partner with one or more of the larger shipping companies such as FedEx or DHL to undertake the actual pick up and delivery of your bike. This style of company negotiates rates and options through the larger courier companies that you as an individual would not ordinarily be able to get. This can include price and box sizes. They are able to do this due to the large volumes they send through to the couriers and the fact they specialize in bikes only.
General luggage shipping companies
The second type of shipping company is those dealing with luggage and personal effects who also include bikes in their service lists. This includes companies like Sherpr, My Baggage, and Send my Bag. These types of companies are similar to the bike-specific services outlined above, but send all sorts of packages, not just bikes. These types of companies use a wide range of courier and shipping companies to facilitate the pickup and delivery.
The third and last type of shipping company to consider is the courier companies themselves. These would include companies like FedEx, DHL, and UPS. These companies send all sorts of freight around the world on a daily basis and actually provide the service themselves with their own aircraft, trucks, and vans. In this category, you would also find smaller local courier companies that could also be a viable option.
The table below provides a list of shipping companies and identifies which of the three categories they fall into.
What is the best type of shipping company for a bike?
So what is the best bike shipping company for you to choose? That really depends on your own circumstances and there is no single best shipping company that will suit everyone. Some of the things to consider will be price, delivery times, available destinations, and the service they can offer. It is worth shopping around a little and finding a company that offers the service you are after at the best price. Many of the companies will offer an online cost calculator so that you can compare prices between different companies. Costs can be very different between companies so make sure you check a range of shipping companies before you decide. Like everything you get what you pay for so make sure you check other factors such as delivery times, reviews, and insurance to compare apples with apples.
Step 2 – Obtain a bike box or case to ship your bike in
When it comes to shipping a bike the easiest and cheapest packing option is a cardboard bike box. This is often the preferred method for packing a bike when shipping. We have read that some bike shipping companies will only accept bikes in rigid cases, including cardboard boxes. The soft travel cases that you can purchase to take your bike on an airline are not necessarily suited for transport by courier companies. Make sure you double-check with the shipping company you have chosen on their requirements for packing boxes or cases.
Cardboard bike boxes can often be obtained free of charge from many bike stores or purchased directly from the shipping company. We have a separate article all about using a cardboard bike box which you can access here. While it is focused on using a cardboard bike box for air travel, it still has lots of information for someone looking to ship a bike.
Step 3 – Measure and weigh your bike box and bike
Once you have sourced a box or case to ship your bike the next step before you proceed with a booking is to measure and weigh it. This is important to get right, as underestimating size or weight could cost you additional fees and delay the shipment. When booking online you will need to enter dimensions and weight. Once the shipping company picks up the bike, it will be sized and weighed by them. If you have underestimated either dimensions or weight you will be asked to pay any additional fees before it will be shipped. Our recommendation is to always round up or add a little bit extra to ensure you don’t underestimate it. Don’t forget to weigh the bike and bike box and anything else going into the box so that the weight is accurate.
How to measure your package for shipping
There are three important measurements you need when calculating the size of your packing case:
- Length – the longest side of the packing case
- Width – the widest point of the packing case. Note if your case is tapered in any way you must take the widest point, not the narrowest.
- Height – the height of your packing case
As mentioned earlier if in doubt always round up slightly so that you do not underestimate the size. Ensure your measurements are in the same units as the online booking form uses, inches or centimeters. Shipping and courier companies calculate the dimensions of a box differently from airlines. Instead of using L + H + W they use L + Girth. Girth is calculated as (2 x H) + (2 x W). It is important to know this as most of the companies have restrictions on the dimensions allowable for bike shipping and generally quote the restriction as L + G being less than or equal to a certain number.
For example, our cardboard bike box is 147cm long, 21cm wide, and 79cm high. L +G is calculated as follows: L = 147, G = (2×21) + (2×79) = 200 making L+G = 347cm. We can then check this against any dimension restrictions the shipping company might have. The smaller the size of the bike box you can fit your bike in the cheaper it will be.
How to weigh your bike box for shipping
Make sure you have everything packed in the box before you weigh it, including packaging materials used to protect the bike. Again, it is better to slightly overestimate the weight rather than underestimate it. Weight when shipping is not as critical as it might be when flying with your bike. A bike is relatively light in comparison to the size of the bike box. We have found using bathroom scales works well. We simply weigh ourselves, step back on the scales holding the bike case, then subtract our weight from the total weight to get the weight of the box.
Step 4 – Enter the details into the online booking system
Once you have all the measurements and weight of your bike and bike box, you can head to the website and begin the booking process. The process is nice and easy and includes entering the pickup and delivery addresses, bike box dimensions, weight, and contents. You may then be given a couple of options with pricing for the speed of the delivery. Some but not all companies offer these choices. If you are shipping internationally you may also be given the options of air freight vs sea freight.
Once you have selected the service and pricing you are happy with you can enter the pick-up date you require and make the payment by credit card. You will be asked to enter any additional details the company needs and finally asked for credit card details to make the payment. Once payment is confirmed you will receive a confirmation email with any specific instructions with regard to packing or labeling. In our case, we were emailed mailing labels that we had to print out and attach to our bike boxes.
Step 5 – Pack your bike for shipping
Once you have the service all booked and paid for the next step is to get your bike ready and packed in the box for pickup. We have included some instructions on how to do this in our article about cardboard bike boxes for those who are comfortable undertaking this task themselves.
If you are not comfortable with dismantling a bike and packing it yourself there are a couple of options available to you. The first is to ask your local bike store for assistance. Most will pack a bike in a bike box for you for a fee. Bike stores are highly experienced when it comes to handling bikes and will be able to ensure your bike is well packaged, reducing the likelihood of damage while in transit. The second option is to check if the shipping company will do it for you. While most shipping companies do not offer these services, some do. For example, FedEx, UPS, and DHL all offer packing services for an additional fee.
It is important that your bike is well packed and protected while in transit. Unless the shipping company packed the bike itself, the onus is on you as the customer to pack the bike correctly. You will most likely have to sign a disclaimer that the bike has been properly packaged. If damage does occur while the bike is in transit and the bike is not well packed, you may reduce your ability to be compensated for any loss. We always take some photos of the bike both before it goes in the box and once in the box. It gives us something to show it was packed correctly and in good condition.
Step 6 – Make arrangements for the pickup of the bike
The final step in the process is having the bike picked up by the shipping company. All the bike shipping companies we researched offer a door-to-door service. This means it will be picked up from an address of your choosing and dropped off at an address of your choosing. Some will offer reduced rates if you drop the bike off at a depot or have it picked up from a depot. Be sure to include any instructions regarding pickup and delivery when you make the booking.
Other considerations when shipping a bike.
Now that you know the steps you need to undertake to ship your bike, here are the answers to some other questions you might have about shipping a bike.
How much does it cost to ship a bike?
Cost is the first question many people wonder about when thinking about shipping a bike for the first time. Like many things, there is no single simple answer to the question of how much it costs to ship a bike. The cost of shipping a bike depends on a range of factors including distance, speed of service, box size, and weight. If you are shipping your bike domestically you may be surprised to discover that it is not prohibitively expensive to ship a bike. For example, in the USA you can ship a bike within the mainland states for as little as $74. Once you start looking at international destinations, however, the costs will increase significantly as there are fees for customs clearances added in as well.
We have researched the cost of shipping a bike within and from a number of different countries. Given that cost varies greatly depending on where you live, we have included the cost on a separate page. Select a country based on where the pick-up will be.
Can I ship an electric bike?
Shipping an electric bike is problematic due to the size of the lithium batteries used in them. Under the International Air Transport Association rules, lithium batteries over 160kWh are classified as dangerous goods. Shipping companies may accept them if the journey can be completed using land transport only. For example, shipping companies in the USA will accept them within mainland USA as they can be transported on rail or road. Electric bike batteries are banned from being loaded onto aircraft and as such international shipping via airfreight is not possible. You can find the regulations for shipping lithium batteries on the IATA website.
How long does it take to ship a bike?
There are three main factors that determine the time it will take to ship your bike, your location, chosen service level, and distance. If you reside in a larger town or city it is likely there will be daily shipping options in and out of your location. By comparison, if you live more remotely, there may only be pick-ups and deliveries a few times a week. Most shipping companies will offer a standard or express shipping service, the latter costing more. If you need to get a bike somewhere quickly then the express service can offer same or next-day delivery in some instances. The distance can also be a factor in the time it takes to ship a bike, but this is not as critical as the first two.
Can I ship a bike internationally?
If you need to ship a bike internationally it is possible and all bar one of the companies we researched offer international shipping. Depending on the reason for shipping your bike, import duties may be payable at the other end. Your shipping company will be able to assist you with any questions about this and you may have to pay a deposit for these. There may also be a requirement for you to pay customs processing fees which apply to international shipping.
Do I need insurance when I ship my bike?
We would highly recommend insuring your bike while it is in transit to ensure you are covered for any damage that might occur. The majority of shipping companies will offer insurance for an additional charge. The charge is based on the declared value of the bike you are sending and can be included as part of the booking service. It is important to read the fine print and make sure that you are fully covered. For example, does the insurance include new for old, what evidence do you need in the event of a claim, and are there any age limits on the bike that you are insuring.
If the insurance policy offered by the shipping company does not suit your requirements there are companies that offer transit insurance. A third-party insurance company may also save you some money on the cost of the insurance compared to what the shipping company can offer. This was our experience shipping our own bikes and other belongings internationally.
Shipping a bike vs flying with your bike
If you are planning a holiday and want to bring your bike, you may consider shipping your bike rather than bringing it on a plane with you. So is it cheaper to ship your bike rather than check it in on a flight? The short answer in most cases is that shipping your bike will be more expensive than taking it on the plane with you. While many airlines will allow you to bring your bike on as checked luggage for no additional costs, fees on those airlines that do charge are typically lower than shipping costs. Shipping costs will not necessarily be significantly higher than the alternative, but it will cost more in the majority of cases.
However, as in many cases, it is not quite as simple as that and is dependent on your own personal circumstances. We have listed some of the things you should consider when looking at shipping a bike overtaking it as check-in luggage.
- What other luggage do you need to bring? Taking your bike on a plane will not cost a lot as long as you are able to stay within the luggage allowance. However, if you go over the allowances, either weight or size, excess baggage fees get very expensive very quickly. If you need to bring more than just your bike and riding gear, shipping your bike may work out cheaper.
- Ease of travel. While shipping your bike may cost more than taking it on a plane with you, it means that don’t need to worry about navigating airport terminals, train stations, etc with a large bike case in tow. The convenience of turning up at your final destination and your bike box is already there or delivered soon after your arrival is tempting.
- Car hire. Shipping your bike to your final destination could also mean that you can save money on car hire by not needing a bigger vehicle that will fit a bike box. This will obviously depend on how much you will need a car at your destination.
- Bike hire. If you are heading away on holiday and were planning on hiring a bike for a longer period of time, you might find that it will be cheaper to ship your bike rather than hire. Dependant on a few different factors but is worth considering.
Other information on our site
- View the rules for bikes on over 100 different airlines in our easy to read table. See which airlines do charge a fee for a bike and those that do not.
- Our article about using a cardboard bike box has lots of information about this form of bike case.
- If you have an electric bike you can read our article on why taking them on a plan is not possible and some of the alternatives you could consider.