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Boxing a Bicycle For Public Transit
Cycle in a Bike Box

                    inbox.jpg (26781 bytes)
            A view inside the bike box

by Harvey Botzman

    Updated December, 2008
    Note 1: It will take you longer to read these directions than to actually box your bike! Nonetheless, they are important to read!
    Note 2: This page may take a bit longer time to load due to the pictures.
    Note 3: If you download this article for publication (in whole or in part) whether for publication on the web or by any other electronic, mechanical or print means; in a club newsletter; paid or free circulation newspaper, periodical or book you must include the by line, the copyright notice, and the author information. It would be appreciated if you included the email address & web site address.
    Harvey Botzman, 1993, 2006.  Mr. Botzman is the author of 7 bicycle touring guide books:
    Harvey will answer your questions on bicycle touring if you write to him at Cyclotour Guide Books,
PO Box 10585, Rochester, NY, USA; e-mail: cyclotour@cyclotour.com    http://www.cyclotour.com
    [Publication's editor may edit this article and if the editor is real nice include a title or two.]
'Round Lake Ontario: A Bicyclist's Tour Guide, 'Round Lake Erie: A Bicyclist's  Tour Guide,
'Round Lake Michigan: A Bicyclist's Tour Guide, 'Round Lake Huron: A Bicyclist's Tour Guide,
'Round Lake Superior: A Bicyclist's Tour Guide, Erie Canal Bicyclist & Hiker Tour Guide,
and
Finger Lakes Bicyclist's Tour Guide.
 

Public Transit to Your Starting Point
     A very efficient and enjoyable way to start your cyclotour is to travel to your starting point is via train, airplane or bus. 
    Cyclotour Guides are designed so that a cyclotourist can begin and end at any point along the described route. Directions to and from major train stations, airports and bus terminals are provided in the text.

General Public Transit Rules
    Each individual carrier - airline, bus and railroad company - has specific rules regarding the transport of bicycles. All carriers allow bicycles to be boxed and shipped as baggage. The carrier's specific airplane, bus or train determines how a standard upright bicycle will be transported. Tandem, long wheel base recumbent and other bicycles may not be able to be transported on airplanes or  buses. Call the specific transportation company you intend to use for information.
    Amtrak, VIARail and the airlines will sell you a box at their terminals. Phone the train and airline company at least 3 days in advance of your departure to make certain there are bike boxes at that station/terminal. Tell the station/terminal baggage person to reserve a bike box for you. 
    Bus companies in the U. S. A. do not have boxes for sale at their terminals. The major bus companies in the U. S. A. now (2006+)  permit the transportation of bicycles in a canvas bag. These bags are available from a number of pannier manufacturers, notably Arkel, and from your local bicycle shop. 
    Some bus companies in Canada allow you to bag your bicycle. Oversize plastic bags which wrap entirely around your bike may be available at the larger Canadian bus terminals. These bags fold down to a 6x6x3" (15.25x15.25x7.6 cm.) package and when layed flat make a wonderful ground cloth under your tent! Read below to find out how to obtain a bike box for bus transport.
    You must have your own tools to pack a bike box or bike bag (cone wrench for the pedals and the proper size hex wrench for the handlebar stem). There are no bicycle tools at train stations, bus or airline terminals.
    If you are traveling via train or plane then purchase the carrier’s box. These boxes are designed to minimally disassembly your bicycle by turning the handlebars and removing the pedals to fit the cycle into the box. Very simple! Scroll down for detailed directions.
    Liability. All common carriers have specific rules and regulations regarding their liability for loss or damage to bicycles. Read the carriers' liability statements carefully. Using the carrier’s bike box generally assures that the carrier can not claim that your home made box was too weak for transporting a bicycle on their facilities.

Bike Box Charges (As of January 1, 2009)
Carrier Bike Box Charge Excess Bag Chg (Optional) Tandems etc. Notes
Train: Amtrak US $10.00 US $5.00 Yes Various options. See policy on web site.
Train: VIARail Free (passengers) CAN $20.00 Yes; CAN$20.00

A few long distance trains have facilities for carriage of unboxed bicycles. Amtrak & ViaRail trains w/out such facilities MUST have a baggage car.

Trains: Commuter Free or ~$5.00 for
a lifetime permit
No Sometimes Usually a lifetime
permit is needed
Airlines: Domestic US $15.00+ US $25.00+ Excess bag & service charges will most likely be assessed. No bikes on US
or Canadian
commuter flights.
Make certain
bike boxes are available at terminal.
Airlines: Overseas US $15.00+ Variable
Bus,  US, Intercity Your own canvas bag Sometimes Bike must fit in
baggage hold
Canvas or sturdy bag, O. K. Travels w/
passenger
Bus, Canada
Intercity
CN $10.00 CN $3.00
Bus: Local Free Free Bike Must
fit on rack
Some municipal US
& Canadian buses
have bike racks.


Other Notes:
    On domestic US flights the excess baggage charge can be as much as US $65.00 in addition to the bike box charge. An excess baggage charge may apply to international flights.
    Generally, commuter airplanes do not have facilities for the transport of bicycle boxes in their baggage holds. Booking a seat on a commuter airplane will most likely mean your bike will be shipped on a different flight than yourself. You may have to ship the bike a day or two earlier than your departure date; and possibly to a different airport than your destination.
    Unless you are using a folding bicycle Amtrak & VIARail only carry bicycles in baggage cars. This is significant! Not all Amtrak or VIARail stations have baggage facilities! Make certain both your originating and terminating stations have baggage facilities. Make certain the train you will be using has a baggage car. Otherwise your bike will be at one station and you at another.
    In 2007, The League of American Bicyclists and Amtrak agreed to a new Amtrak folding bicycle carriage policy. True folding bicycle can be carried, in the passenger compartment, as carry on luggage. The folding bicycle does not count as one piece of carry on luggage. The bike must be folded before boarding the train and, in its folded state, must not be any larger than a 34"x15"x48" (about the size of a folded garment bag).
    As a matter of courtesy to your fellow passengers, the bicyclist carrying a folding bicycle on to Amtrak's trains should pack the folded bicycle in a canvas bag or at the very least, one or two heavy duty contractor plastic trash bags. Amtrak's policy does not specify carrying the folded bicycle in a bag. I suggest using a bag since bicycle grease on your fellow passengers' luggage, clothing or person will only build bad rapport for bicycling & bicyclists. Be civil.
    See Amtrak's bicycle baggage policy: http://www.amtrak.com/; go to the menu item, Traveling with Amtrak; and then to Bring Your Bicycle Onboard.

    Amtrak's policy concerning bicycles in passenger cars is changing. As the National Railroad Corp. (Amtrak) purchases new or reconditions older passenger cars it is making provisions for the carriage of bicycles directly in the passenger compartment. Check with Amtrak. Some trains on California, Vermont & New York routes already have limited space for bicycles in the passenger compartments or carriage of unboxed bikes in baggage cars.
    Write to Amtrak, Vice President, Marketing, 60 Massachusetts Ave., Washington DC 20002; your representative in the House of Representatives; both of your U. S. Senators and the Chairperson of your State legislature's transportation and tourism committees. Ask these legislators to provide sufficient funds for all Amtrak (and other train companies) trains to be equiped with passenger cars capable of carrying bicycles (on a reserved basis) in the passenger compartments and to equip all Amtrak trains with baggage cars. It would not be outrageous also to ask the legislators to fund European/Japanese style super fast trains.
    VIARail Commuter, GO (Ontario, Canada) trains; New York City's MTA trains; Chicago's commuter trains; and most municipal subway/rapid transit systems permit unboxed bicycles on their facilities during non rush hours. A permit may be needed and must be obtained before boarding a train.
    Bus travel presents a different problem. Bus line offices in the US do not stock bicycle boxes. In Canada you must call the bus station 5 days before departure to arrange for a bike box from Greyhound Administrative Services. No bag or box? Do one of the following:
  1.  Obtain a bicycle box from a bike shop;
  2.  Go to Amtrak/VIARail or an airport and obtain a box from those carriers;
  3.  Construct your own box from two or more smaller boxes;
  4.  Put your (unboxed) bike into the baggage compartment when the driver’s back is turned. Many drivers suddenly disappear with the implication that you should do this heinous crime!
    Many local buses (city buses) in the US and Canada now have bike racks on them. Use is usually free of charge. Ah! To be back traveling in Africa (Peace Corps ‘66-’69) where bikes are simply placed on top of the bus or lashed to the wall of the train’s baggage car. How simple! And rarely were the bikes damaged.
    For more information check these web sites:
Amtrak: www.amtrak.com
VIARail: www.viarail.com.ca 
Greyhound US: www.greyhound.com 
Greyhound-Canada: www.greyhound.com.ca  
Airlines: Use a search engine to find a specific airline.
Municipalities: We usually list the availability of municipal buses with bike racks & other bicycle carriage facilities in our books. We  strongly urge you to advocate for bike racks on your municipal buses.

How to Box Your Bike
    The first time I boxed my bike I did it at home. I inserted extra cardboard into the box to reinforce the long sides of the box. I double sealed all edges using reinforced sealing tape. After loading the box into my station wagon and I brought it to the terminal the day before my departure date. It took an interminably long time, 2+  hours.
    What a chore!
    Make life simple for yourself. Pack the box at the terminal. Allow an extra 30-45 minutes to pack the box. It now takes me 15 minutes or less to assemble, pack a bike box and seal the box.
    Before you start on your cyclotour take pictures of your bicycle, with and without panniers. Open the panniers and take some pictures of the contents of the panniers. If any damage occurs in transit you might need these pictures to assert your claim.

The Directions, finally!
Box Preparation

    1. Obtain
        a. Filament packing tape ~2" (~3.2cm) wide.
        b. Cord (you have it in your panniers) or zip ties
        c. Black permanent felt tipped marker.
    2. Obtain a bicycle box.
    3. Clearly mark all six sides of the bike box. Use a black permanent marker. Write in big letters and numerals:
            Destination:
            Departure date:
            Train or Flight number:
            Ticket number:
            Your name:
    4. Make the box stand up!
        a. Square the box and tape one end closed.
            Use filament packing tape ~2" (~3.2cm)  wide.
        b. Some folks place a small triangle of cardboard at the closed end of the box to minimize bike in the box movement.

Bike Preparation
    Or what you must do to your bike to make it fit into that slim box!
    1. Tools
        a. Hex wrenches for
            1) Brake cables
            2) Stem bolt
            3) New fangled pedals
        b. Cone wrenches for old fangled pedals
        c. A screw driver, flat & phillips, might also be necessary.
        d. Tape, cord or zip ties for tying up cranks.
    2  Pedals & Cranks
        a. Remove the pedals using a cone wrench; on newer bikes the pedals (cranks) are removed using a hex wrench.
        b. Tape or tie one crank (if not removed) to a chain stay.
        c. Put your pedals into a pannier or wrap them around the top tube or handlebars.
    3. Handlebars
        a. Loosen the front brake cables.
        b. Loosen the handlebar stem bolt.
        c. Twist the handlebar stem. Usually you do not have to completely remove the stem.
        d. Turn the handlebars so that they are parallel with the bike's top tube.
        e. Wrap or tie the handlebars to the top tube or front rack.
        f.  It is important to make certain the brake or gear levers do not protrude through the side of the box.
    4. Tires
        a. If you are travelling by plane, deflate your tires to 20 psi. Airplane baggage compartments are not pressurized.
    5. Pack up your tools and put them back into your panniers! Check your panniers as separate piece(s) of baggage. Due to security regulations you are not be permitted to carry tool laden panniers into the passenger compartment of an airplane. Checking  the panniers as separate pieces of baggage allow you to make a claim if the panniers are lost or if any items are missing from the panniers. 

Into the Box the Bike Goes!
    1. Wheel or push the bike into the bike box. Yippee!
    2. Secure the bike by wedging your sleeping bag and a pannier between the bike and the box sides. Transportation companies officially forbid anything besides the bicycle to go into the bike box with the bike. Heck, your panniers are permanently attached to your bike!
        a. Do not overload the box with heavy panniers.
        b. Seal the open end of the Bike Box with filament packing tape.
        c. You can place a few extra lengths of packing tape wherever you want on the box!
    3. Bring the filled bike box to the baggage room and obtain a baggage claim check. Keep it with you. You will not be able to claim your bike without this claim check.
    4. Time needed to disassemble your bike and pack the bike box: = 20-45 minutes.

At your Destination:
    1. Claim your bicycle!
    2. I have to preface this discussion of damage claims with the fact that my bike has never been damaged traveling via Amtrak and only once on a plane trip. Amtrak stores bikes in an upright position in its baggage cars. Airlines and bus lines store bikes on their side in baggage holds.
    3. Check the bicycle box for possible in transit damage. If you see any damage to the exterior of the bike box, immediately take a picture of the damage and show the damage to the baggage personnel before you open the box.
    4. Open the bike box, check your bike for any damage or missing items. If damage occurred, immediately show it to the baggage personnel and complete the damage claim form.
    5. Assemble your bike. I hope you brought the hex wrenches and cone wrench!
    6. After assembling your bike, take a short ride in the terminal to make certain there is no non-visible damage to the gearing, frame, wheels, etc. If you determine that there is some damage, take a picture of the damage and immediately show it to the         baggage personnel. Ask for and complete the damage claim form.
        a.  If your bike was damaged: Find a local bicycle shop (look in the phone book.) Purchase the part, etc. Copy the receipt and make copies of your completed claim form. Send a copy of the receipt with the original claim form to the carrier. Mail home the original receipt and one copy of the claim form. It takes 2-6 weeks for most airlines, bus lines or Amtrak to begin to settle baggage damage claims so
        simply enjoy your cyclotour.
  7;  No damage! Hurrah! Yippee! Enjoy your cyclotour!

boxready.jpg (58907 bytes)

    Bicycle, small light panniers & sleeping bag ready to go into the bike box
    The small box contains pedals & is used to wedge the front tire to limit bike
movement.
    Note the extra special Styrofoam (from a box found at the airport) protection
for the derailleur.

Examples of Carrier rules for the carriage of bicycles
    All these examples were copy/pasted from the carrier's web site on December 9, 2006.
Continental Airlines:
    "Continental Airlines accepts a non-motorized bicycle with single seat or up to two non-motorized bicycles packed in one case as checked baggage. A bicycle is not included in a customer's free baggage allowance and is subject to a $95 service charge (each way).
    The following are bicycle restrictions:
        Handlebars must be fixed sideways and pedals removed or
        All loose items must be enclosed in plastic foam or similar protective material or
        Bicycle should be transported in a sealed box. If a box is needed, see the Courtesy Bags section of this site.
        The service charge is in addition to any excess baggage charges that may apply.
        Continental is not liable for damage to bicycles that do not have the handlebars fixed sideways and pedals removed, handlebars  and pedals encased in plastic foam or similar material or bicycles not contained in a cardboard containers or hard-sided cases.
        Note: Bicycles will not be accepted during an excess baggage embargo when no excess baggage is allowed."
        Courtesy Bags: Bicycle Box: 69"(L) x 8.5"(W) x 40"(H) $25.00

American Airlines
    "Allowance/Requirements: 1 non-motorized touring or racing bike. Handlebars must be fixed sideways and pedals removed. Or pedals and handlebars must be enclosed in plastic foam or similar material.
    Cost: $80.00 Exception: If bicycle and container are less than 62 dimensional inches and under 50 lbs., the bike is free in place of one 62 inch bag in the free allowance.
    Maximum size and weight:     70 lbs / 115 inches
    Additional Information: - Acceptance conditional on aircraft size and load conditions
    Exception: If a bike is less than 62 dimensional inches and 50 lbs., the above conditions do not apply
    If this item is in excess of the number of pieces allowed in the free baggage allowance, excess baggage charges apply in addition to the $80 special items fee."

British Airways
    "Bicycles Defined as: Single seat, non-motorised bicycles. (see preparation for travel notes below.)   
    Weight allowance: The weight of the bicycle is considered as part of your total allowance.
    Piece allowance: Bicycles will be counted as one piece of baggage.
    Preparing Bicycles for Travel
        Bike pedals must be removed (or fixed inwards).
        Handlebars must be fixed sideways.
        The bike must be contained in a protective box or bag.
        You may wish to deflate the tyres to reduce risk of damage."."

Air Canada
    "There is a fixed handling charge for the carriage of bicycles anywhere Air Canada flies: $50 CAD/USD plus applicable taxes for one-way travel.
    The bicycle must be prepared as follows, prior to arrival at the airport:
        Fix the handlebars sideways and remove the pedals.
        Place the bicycle in a rigid and/or hard shell container specifically designed for shipping
        If not packaged in a container, Air Canada will provide a plastic bicycle bag and will accept the item with a limited release form (to be signed at check-in), releasing Air Canada of liability.
        Bicycle suitcases containing collapsible bicycles are also accepted."

Amtrak
    "Many Options for Our Bike-Riding Passengers
        We offer several options for transporting your bicycle with you on your Amtrak journey. Options include:
            Bicycles stored onboard in bike racks.
            Bicycles checked as baggage in a box or other secure container.
            Bicycles checked as baggage secured by tie-down equipment, not in a box.
            Folding bicycles brought onboard as carry-on baggage. Click here to see the official Amtrak policy: amtrak.htm
            Bicycles on Auto Train
            Bicycles on Amtrak Express"
            N. B.: Each of the above options is fully described on the Amtrak web site.

VIARail
    "Oversized sports equipment
    Does your train carry checked baggage? To find out, visit the RESERVIA page.... Your choice of trains will ... be displayed. Click on the "Train Service Description" for your train for a detailed description of the services available, including checked baggage services.
    Already know your train number? Our Baggage Policy (PDF file) describes the services available on your train along with specific information about bringing your baggage.
    How much is the fee?
        Bicycles - Regardless of the number of connections:
            Bicycles and child-carriers:    $20
            Tandems:     $40
    Find out how to protect your bicycle on the trip.
    You can obtain the following boxes and bags in main stations:
    Box for a bicycle: free for passengers; $20 for non-passengers
    Bag for a bicycle: free for passengers; $5 for non-passengers
Protecting bicycles
    Bicycles require special protection. We recommend that you store your bicycle in a special protective box, which you can obtain free of charge at the station. You need to turn the handlebar and remove the pedals. Bring the tools you need to do this, because we cannot supply them.
    If you cannot remove the pedals from your bicycle, we can supply you with a protective bag instead of a box.
    However, if your bicycle is not boxed, VIA Rail accepts no liability in the event of damage. Follow this link for information on VIA's liability."

How To Box A Bicycle, Text and Photographs
Harvey Botzman, 1993, 2006.
From Cyclotour Guide Books web site: www.cyclotour.com 
E-mail: cyclotour@cyclotour.com
From Long Distance Bicycle Touring & other Cyclotour Guide Books.

Link for additional Information
George Farnsworth Travel with Bicycles: http://www.gfonline.org/BikeAccess/
Chicago O'Hare International Airport: http://www.ohare-airport.org/ORD/news.html  


[ Home ] [ Books & Maps ] [ Order Form ] [ Author ] [ Table of Contents ] [ Book Trade ] [ Bike Events ]
[ Great Lakes Bike Books ] [ Lake Ontario Bike Book ] [ Lake Erie Bike Book ] [ Lake Michigan Bike Book ] [ Lake Huron Bike Book ]
[ New York State Bike Books ] [ Erie Canal Bike Book ] [ Finger Lakes Bike Book
[ Other Maps & Books ] [ New Zealand Biking ] [ French Canal Biking & Barging ] [ Lot River Canoe Guide ] [ Stratford, Ontario ]
[ Bike Events ] [ Finger Lakes Biking Events ] [ Bicycling Statistics ] [ Links ] [ Comments ] [ Improved Rtes ] [ Featured Biking Areas ]
[ Newsletter Content Articles ] [ Boxing a Bike ] [ N. Am. Bike Touring Info ] [ Complete Streets ] [ Bike Advocacy Articles ]

Send mail to cyclotour@cyclotour.com  with questions or comments about this web site.
Last modified: June 12, 2009