If you are considering bringing your bike along on a flight, the following links to the shipping pages of a few major airlines may be of use.
Given the possible expense and risk of damage of bikes on flights, ground shipping is becoming ever more appealing.
FedEx gives UPS a run for its money these days. It’s fast, frugal, and they’ll also insure your case, a serious bonus when you’ve invested an arm and a leg to protect those titanium spoke nipples. Take note: Shipping companies eat bikes in flimsy cardboard boxes for breakfast, lunch, and late-night snacks.
The old standby UPS costs a little more and is a bit slower than FedEX but is reliable. UPS does not insure your case. See “Take note” above.
Bikeflights offers bike shipping, cheap flights, travel insurance and a 10% discount on bike cases for Adventure Cycling members.
If you're a leave-everything-to-the-last-possible-minute kind-of-person, or just need to get your bike somewhere in a hurry, look at Sports Express. They're expensive, but they will ship your bicycle, via FedEx Express, in one, two, or three days, pick up and deliver to home or business, guarantee on-time arrival, and meticulously track your bike in transport to insure its safety.
With Shipbikes.com you can ship your bike in a bike box, hard shell case, or you can purchase an Aircaddy, a sturdy wedge-shaped cardboard case with an internal fork mounting plate. The Aircaddy requires the least disassembly (remove front wheel and lower the seat) of any case available and folds for storage. It is, however, oversized so your shipping cost will be higher. Shipbikes offers steep discounts on FedEx Ground (domestic) and UPS Worldwide Expedited (international) for single or multiple bike shipping. For example, a bike box currently ships coast-to-coast for only $60; for an AirCaddy it is $97. If minimal disassembly is your goal, going with their Aircaddy option could be a good solution.
Amtrak also has a service that takes bikes. While a bit erratic, it may be worth looking into if you live along one of their routes.
If you're willing to send your bike away, alone on a bus, you can check out Greyhound’s Package Express. Though you may have more luck duct taping your bike to the roof of a passing car and hoping it arrives magically at your destination.
When it comes to the all important case, a cardboard bike box from the neighborhood bike shop can work, especially if it's packed well (see Boxing Your Bike article), but it's risky. Your bike is minimally protected and it takes a lot of time and dis-assembly to do it right. It's worth considering if you're (a) broke, (b) arriving and departing from different airports and need to ditch your case, or (c) know you'll never need a bike case again as long as you live. If you do go cardboard, remember, double box it.
A much better option is to invest in a bike travel case. Yes, they're expensive, but they're cheaper than cracked top tubes and when you arrive in Namibia that's all that matters.
The Ironcase by Trico Sports (800-473-7705) is the most well known case on the market and for a good reason. Constructed of an exceptionally durable plastic (cleverly named Triconium), the Ironcase has been designed to maximize UPS size requirements and survive the toughest abuse the boys in brown, or anybody else that will be handling your bike, can dish out. Inside the hard-shell are three sheets of foam that separate the wheels from the frame and protect the bike from outside impact. Thick cinch-straps tighten the whole thing down on the outside and their adjustability allows for a large amount of extra gear, shoes, helmet, tools, toaster ovens, etc., to be stuffed inside. Typically, pedals, seatpost, and handlebars must be removed to fit, but all cables stay connected. The locking mechanism can be a bit flimsy, but it does lock, albeit with itty bitty locks. Wheels and a web handle (which some find uncomfortable) allow for relatively easy dragging through airports. This ease and protection, as in all hard-shell cases, doesn't come lightly - 31 pounds to be precise. Be prepared to pay (literally) for that weight when you check your bags.
A worthy alternative to the Ironcase is Serfas' Bike Armor Transport Case (800-424-0047), which for brevity's sake, we'll call the BAT Case. The BAT Case is the exact same size and shape as the Ironcase, so it's shippable, equally tough, and has similar foam inserts, wheels, and a web pull-handle. The key difference is the BAT Case sacrifices expandability for increased security. In place of the Ironcase's cinching straps and buckles, the BAT Case uses four seemingly bulletproof steel locking latches. The word "flimsy" wouldn't even be allowed in the same airspace with this locking system - it's the most secure on the market. The security theme continues on the interior of the Serfas with a collection of straps and metal tie-down loops that hold bikes solidly in place. It can't accommodate everything you own, as the Ironcase can, but it takes peace of mind to a new level.
Offering a very different philosophy of encasement is BikePro's Race Case (800-338-7581). Bucking the hard-shell trend, the amply-padded, soft-shell Race Case features a unique steel mounting frame that securely clamps the bike down with a quick-release fork mount. A flexing, bottom-bracket mount also absorbs the shocks of any passing gorillas or baggage handlers and a steel derailleur guard shields your transmission. Two wheel bags and a gear bag nestle inside for safe storage of helmets, shoes, and up to two sets of wheels. Disassembly is the same as the Trico and Serfas' wheels, pedals, seatpost.
No, it's not a hard-shell, but that can have distinct advantages. It's lighter, less bulky, and can be easier to lug around, stuff in cabs, trains, etc. It also rolls up for more compact storage. BikePro claims the three inches of multi-density foam padding in the Race Case offers better protection than a hard case by absorbing the shock rather than transmitting it. Physics theory aside, the protection is outstanding, aided by impact-resistant side panels, and many travelers and racers swear by this case. Its biggest downside is that, because of its size, it's not shippable. But for air travel, the Race Case is tough to beat. BikePro also offers cases for two bikes at once and tandems. All are made in the U.S.A. and carry an unrivaled lifetime warranty.
The Tri All 3 Sports Velo Safe (800-733-7231), like the BikePro, utilizes a quick-release fork mount but combines it with an ABS plastic, hard-shell exterior, providing one last option in the money-is-no-object category. A block of dense foam supports the bike's bottom bracket and the wheels lash to the case walls. The seat and pedals stay attached and there's plenty of extra room for even the most committed over-packer. Unfortunately, this capacious capacity comes at the expense of ship-ability, though a more compact UPS version is available. The Velo Safe comes with two adequate, if not bombproof, locking latches, four sturdy casters, and a weight of 30 pounds.
Those seeking an economy case should look at Crate Works' Pro 1 (800-934-5214) and Pro XLC. Essentially glorified cardboard boxes, these cases are nonetheless a huge step up over bike shop handouts in terms of protection and durability. Besides construction material (Pro 1 is stout double-walled cardboard while the Pro XLC is waterproof, double-walled corrugated plastic) the cases are identical. An ingenious plastic frame plate offers Velcro tie- downs for frame, seatpost, handlebars and even a helmet. The wheels are separated from the frame by a cardboard sheet and held fast by cinch-able straps and hub-protecting foam blocks. The Pro 1 weighs 19 pounds and should last for several trips, while the Pro XLC weighs 22 pounds and should last a dozen or more. These cases are compact, easily shipped, completely collapsible, and every component of the system is replaceable. Crate Works gets high marks for value and ease-of-use. Oh, and they make tandem and recumbent cases too.
A final option is the Rome Bicycle Travel Bag (888-766-3245). A large, simple bag that has a shoulder strap and two interior pockets for wheels, it's good for light-duty use and bicycle storage. It offers only light protection, but the padding is easily beefed up by the user.