Travel tips: How to transport your BMX on the plane?
Wherever you go, you want to take your bike. It's hard to drive to the USA from Europe so flying is the only option. With those discount airlines selling ridiculously cheap European flights, it might be an option to take the plane to the next contest. What was only for the big time sponsored riders in the past, might be the thing to do for you too. To give you an example, last year I did book a flight from our local airport (Eindhoven) to London which cost me only 56 Euros and that is including tax. The ticket was actually 2 pounds for the flight to London and 3 pounds for the return.
Now how does it work when you want to bring your bike?
1) There's a couple of options on transporting the bike.
a) The traditional bike box.
b) A bike bag
c) A gear bag
d) Just roll it on!
Ad a) When you decide to put your bike in a box you need to get one first. The local bike shop will be happy to help you out with an old empty bike box. Get a slightly bigger box so you don't have to take off too many parts and you have some space to throw your helmet and pads in. What it takes to put the BMX in the box is to take off the front wheel, bars, pegs, pedals and seatpost. Tape those parts to the frame or make sure they're solid so they don't rattle of slide out of the carrying holes of the box.
Ad b) Different versions of bike bags are available. Bike Pro makes a nice one for BMX and Eastpak recently came out with their version. Scicon makes a padded bag that doesn't work too great. Bike bags are expensive and you're stuck with them once you arrive. It will save your bike from getting damaged though.
Ad c) It's incredible how small you can make your bike by taking off the forks and rear wheel too. It does fit in a big gear bag. Peter Geys, Stefan Geisler and Benni Kopp swear by this option. At check-in you won't get questioned what is in the bag because nobody thinks there's a bike inside.
Ad d) The easiest way is to just roll on the bike. Let a bit of air out. Although most Hi-pressure tires take a lot of pressure and I have never heard of one tire explode on the plane, the general rules are to let some air out of the tires. Don't let out too much because the personnel usually wants to check out your bike and you don't want the fat guy to dent your rims or get a snake bite in your tube.
2) When you get to the Check-in counter:
-Step one: put a smile on your face and be polite. This goes a long way.
-If you're flying in the USA (domestic flights) you have to pay for a bike, even if it's packed up and the size of the bag is smaller than a long-board. Try to get away with it by saying it's "trade show equipment" or "camping gear". This works if you have a bag that does not give away what's inside. When you roll up with a box that says HARO BIKES on each side, it will be harder to convince the person behind the check-in counter.
-Some flights don't take bikes on the plane at all or limit to 5 bikes per plane. Make sure you check on that with the airline before you leave. If they don't let bikes on the plane, option C (the gearbag) is still there.
- On European flights the weight limit is usually 20 kilos. When you've got your bike, some tools and some clothes, the scale will be in the red zone quick. This is where the smile comes in. An other trick get away with paying for overweight is to lean over the bike box and let it rest against the side of the counter while it is sitting on the scale. Not all weight is on the scale this way which should save you a few Newton. You can also try to lift up the box with you foot while it's on the scale but it's hard to keep it steady. Trans Atlantic flights have a 65 kilo limit which gives more room.
- Avoid paying for overweight. It's ridiculously expensive. You usually get away with a few kilos (keep smiling and be polite!!) but if you're unlucky and have to deal with a bastard/bitch, you can be in trouble. Here's a trick, tell them you're going to put some of your gear in a locker. Instead, take all the heavy parts and tools out of your bike box and put it in your hand luggage. You might be carrying around a lot of weight, but at least you've kept the money in your pocket. If you're dealing with a real bastard/bitch, they'll weigh your hand luggage as well (5 kilos max) and you're still fucked.
- While you're at the check-in counter, ask for an Exit seat. It's got more leg room. Also ask for a window seat and wear your hoodie. Put it on, lean against the wall and pretend you're sleeping so you don't have to talk to your neighbor if you don't feel like it.
3) When you arrive at your destiny:
- Once you arrive, your bike might not be on the belt. Don't worry, there's a special section for oversized luggage. Most likely your bike is sitting there.
- Make a name tag and put it on your bike/bag. Don't show the address publicly as they might be robbing your house while you're on your trip (yes there are jerks out there). Save your baggage claim tickets on a safe place. It wouldn't be the first time that your bike does not show up. That's when you need those.
- When you don't put your bike in a box or a bag and your bike does not show up, look behind the flaps of the belt. Most likely you can see that your bike is stuck with the handlebars. The belt is still running and your grips will be ruined but it feels so good to see the bike that you couldn't care less about the grips. Expect the bike to get banged up if you don't box it up.
- Bring the tools you need to put your bike together. That includes a pump. Some small hand pumps are actually quite good and will get you at least to the next gas station or to the contest.
- Here's another tip: When you hate to be questioned by customs, put some dirty underwear, socks and stinky pads on top of your bike so when they open the bag they will send you off......(this has worked for me in the past).
Hope this helps you on your next trip.