It's about the ways you use your bike.

Wrap it Up

In Austin, Washington DC on 2 June 2010 at 9:45 pm

So I move more than I’d like to, which means I’ve shipped my bike around the country enough times to have learned some things. First, of all the ways to get your bike from A to B, the best way I’ve yet come across is to have your Australian friend and a blind guy drive it across the country and hand deliver it.

Barring that, I prefer UPS or Fedex to USPS, primarily because you can insure the bike for whatever amount you’d like for a reasonable fee. Standard UPS shipping insurance covers the bike for up to $100, but for every $2, they’ll cover it for $100 more. So, when I recently mailed mine from DC to Austin, $14 covered it for $800–not bad.

If you’ve never shipped a bike before, first thing you’ll need is a box. Never buy one. Most places that sell moving supplies think that those things are worth $30. They aren’t. Your local bike shop recycles plenty of them in a day, and would be happy to give you one. In fact, Big Wheeling Cycles in Alexandria unpacked a recent order just to give me the box I’d requested (so, thanks for that, guys).

Next, you’ll need to find a way to cram your bike into the box. This will involve some dismantling, but if you’re smart about it, and you get a large box, it’s quite minimal, and very doable even for an Australian.

Start with the seat. If you’ve ever adjusted the height of your saddle, then you know what to do. It’s the same bolt, just loosen it more and pull the whole seat post out. This will usually call for an allen wrench, which the multi tool in your emergency kit will have (you do have an emergency kit, right?).

Move on to the pedals. Typically, this calls for a 15mm cone wrench. If you don’t have one, a very thin normal wrench will do it, though it’s nice to have proper tools, and this one will set you back around $8. It’s worth it–besides, you’ve gotta start building your tool collection somewhere.

When removing pedals, keep in mind that to loosen them, turn in the opposite direction that they spin in forward pedaling. That is, while the right pedal loosens counter-clockwise like a bottle cap, the left one loosens clockwise. Bicycletutor has a nice video on how to do this.

Although, there's just one brake cable here, I've used the same technique with a more comlicated road set up with similar success.

Now move on to the handlebars. This can be intimidating when you contemplate all the brake and shifter cables. Don’t worry. If you got a long enough box, you can get away with loosening the bars, rotating them 90˚ and (if it’s a quill) dropping the stem all the way. You may have to cant the bars down a bit to fit the hoods in the box. All of this is done with the bolts on and around the stem. Just fool with them. You’ll figure out which does what. With this little cheat, you don’t have to touch the cables at all.

Next, remove the wheels. This can be a snap if you have quick release. If they’re bolt on, just use a wrench to loosen the axle nuts and slide them out of the dropouts.

From here on, you’ll probably want to lay the bike on its side to avoid damaging the teeth on your chain ring. Speaking of, one trick to protect them during shipping is to use old wine corks like I’ve done in the picture.

Now wrap the pedals and seat individually in newspaper and set them in the bottom of the box. Slide the frame into the box. The wheels should fit next to it, but you may have a little cajoling to do.

My last tip: ship the tools you used to dismantle the bike with it in the same box. If you fly to your destination, you won’t be able to take the tools in your carry on, so you’ll have to check them, which can be a pain. And if you’re moving, and you’re anything like me, you’ll pack the tools and then forget where they are when it’s time to reassemble.

I hope that helps, and happy packing.

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  1. am doomed for a late night bike packing session tonight so thought i would share some things that i find helpful:

    loud music up in the head phones (and beer. obvi.)

    plenty of time and space (don’t rush – this is your baby we are talkin ’bout. also spread out your tools/supplies so you don’t waste your life searching for the allen wrench that was ‘right here a second ago’ that you are in fact sitting on.)

    lots of light (to illuminate fallen odds and ends and the elusive end of the packing tape)

    fork protectors (score this at the bike shop that where you snagged your box. the fork is the most delicate part of my bike and v ‘spensive to replace – it also bears weight when you take the front wheel off and will get banged around in shipping process.)

    bubble wrap and baggies ( for those of us with derailleurs – they need to be padded! also use something to pad the ends of the hubs of the wheels as they can poke through the box.)

    cardboard or spongy pre-wrap for sports injuries work well wrapped about some of your frame to protect your sweet paint job from the helmet that (i hope) you shoved in the box, too.

    a personal allowance on the company ups/fedex account 🙂

    btw, fully intend to use the wine cork trick tonight as well as pass it off as my own idea in future group bike packing sessions.

    your post makes me excited for summer bike trips!

    • Good point about the fork and the axle ends. I just wrapped them in a ball of newspaper and duct tape. I like to just remove the derailleur and pad/wrap it separately; the arms are way too easy to bend. And thanks for the tip about wrapping the frame. I’ve used a beach towel before, but that proved cumbersome.

      Thanks for the comment and happy riding!

  2. 15mm cone wrench was the first bike tool that I ever bought, upon planning to bring my bike with me when I moved to NY via AmTrak. It didn’t work out, because I realised (the night before I left) that showing up in an unknown city with two giant bags full of stuff and a bicycle was not going to be a pleasant experience. One bag is doable on a bike (esp. a backpack) but you can’t ride with a backpack and a duffel, and no cab is going to stop for the guy who wants to strap his bike to the roof. It came later, in the aforementioned blind-guy road trip along with three other bikes in a U-Haul.
    I’m planning on buying a truck ‘fore I leave here and driving my crap out of the city.

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