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Boxing a Bicycle For Public Transit

by Harvey Botzman

    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 on the web or by any other electronic or mechanical 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, 2002, 2007.  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:
    [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,
Erie Canal Bicyclist & Hiker Tour Guide, Finger Lakes Bicyclist's Tour Guide,

Public Transit to Your Starting Point
     A very efficient and enjoyable way to start your cyclotour is to go to your starting point is via train, airline or bus. Of course if you live near by just ride to the start point.
    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 carrier - airlines, buses and railroads - have specific rules regarding the transport of bicycles. All carriers specify that bicycles must be boxed and shipped as baggage. Tandem, long wheel base recumbent and other large 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 the terminal. Phone the train and airline company at least 2 days in advance of your departure to make certain there are bike boxes at the 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. Disassembly of the bicycle is necessary to fit a bike into these canvas bags. These bags are available from a number of pannier manufacturers, notably Arkel, and from your local bicycle shop.

    A few bus companies in Canada allow you to plastic bag your bicycle. This is a very large plastic bag which wraps entirely around your bike. It folds down to a 6x6x3" (15.25x15.25x7.6 cm.) package and makes 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 for you to simply turn the handlebars and remove the pedals to fit a bicycle into the box. Very simple! Scroll down for detailed directions.
      Using the carrier’s bike box assures that the carrier can not claim that your box was too weak for holding a bicycle.

Bike Box Charges (As of December 20, 2007)
Carrier Bike Box Charge Excess Bag Chg. Tandems etc. Notes
Amtrak US $15.00 US $5.00 checked bike baggage fee Tandems, yes; true folding bikes qualify as carry-on baggage Only on trains w/ baggage cars.
VIARail Free CN $20.00; tandems,  $40.00 Yes; folding bikes only as checked baggage

A few long distance trains have facilities for carriage of unboxed bicycles.

Commuter Trains Free or ~$5.00 for
a lifetime permit
No Sometimes Usually a lifetime permit is needed
Airlines Domestic US $15.00+ US $25.00+ Sometimes No bikes on US or Canadian
commuter flights. Make certain
that bike boxes are available
Airlines: Overseas US $15.00+ Free Excess bag chg. may apply
Bus,  US, Intercity Your own, box Sometimes Must fit in baggage hold Travels w/ passenger
Bus, Canada, Intercity CN $10.00, if available CN $30.00 + GST
Bus: Local Free Free Bike must fit on rack Some local US & Canadian local transit buses have bike racks.

Other Notes:
    On domestic US flights you will also have to pay an over limit (excess) baggage charge which can be as much as an additional US $80.00. An excess baggage charge may apply to international flights.
    Generally, smaller commuter airplanes do not have facilities for the transport of bicycle boxes on their planes. Your bike may be shipped on a different flight; possibly to a different airport than your destination.
    Unless you have a folding bicycle or use a a bicycle bag Amtrak & VIARail only carry bicycles in baggage cars. This is significant!  Not all Amtrak stations have baggage facilities!  Make certain that both your originating and terminating stations have baggage facilities for the train which will be transporting both you and your bike. Otherwise your bike will be at one station and you at another.

    In 2007, The League of American Bicyclists and Amtrak have refined Amtrak's folding bicycle carriage policy. Now any 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. 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 this 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:; go to the menu item, Traveling with Amtrak; and then to Bring Your Bicycle Onboard. Or go to our web page
    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. Ask them to provide sufficient funds for all Amtrak trains to be equipped with passenger cars capable of carrying bicycles (on a reserved basis) in the passenger compartments and 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 is 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. Many Greyhound-Canada and
Ontario-Northland bus stations in Canada now (2005) stock bike bags. 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:
Greyhound US: 
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 45-60 minutes to pack the box. It now takes me 15 minutes or less to pack a bike 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).
        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:
            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 or cord 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.
    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.
    4. Tires
        a. If you are travelling by plane, deflate your tires to 20 psi. Airplane baggage compartments are not pressurized. You might   find a burst tube at your destination!
    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 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
    Note the Styrofoam protection for the derailleur.

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

How To Box A Bicycle, Text and Photographs
Harvey Botzman, 1993, 2002.
From Cyclotour Guide Books web site: 
From Long Distance Bicycle Touring & other Cyclotour Guide Books.

[ 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 ]

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Last modified: June 04, 2009