Bike Packing Tips (Not the Fun Kind)

Mar 16th, 2021

This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine. 

An occupational hazard of running a bike magazine is a lot of time — a lot of time — spent unpacking, assembling, disassembling, and repacking bikes. I’ve joked for years that my ticket to YouTube fame is a channel called “Bike Packing with Alex” that’s just me prepping bikes to ship.

Hey, if 12-year-olds can make millions unboxing things, why can’t a middle-aged man put things back in boxes and make at least tens of dollars?!

All those paper cuts and packing tape have resulted in a few tips that come in handy whether you’re packing your own bike for transit or prepping something for shipment to its new owner.

  • Get the right size box. A modern mountain bike is too long for a road bike box, a gravel bike will be swimming in a trail bike box, and a fat bike box is barely under the major carriers’ oversize freight charge. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when the warning pops up advising you that if your measurements are off by an inch you could be charged $850(!!!), you sit up and pay attention.
  • Secure anything even moderately “loose” in the box, including pedals or other accessories. Put them in a box (with packing material to keep them from rattling around) and tape that box to the inside of the bike box. Loose parts are projectiles.
  • Readily available packing materials like packing paper, bubble wrap, and even the dreaded packing peanuts can make a big difference, but you are going to need a few bike-specific items.

    • Put disc brake pad spacers in both calipers to prevent the pads from getting compressed if the levers get pulled
    • Use spacers in the front and rear axles to avoid the frame and fork being squeezed
    • If you leave the rotor on the front wheel, find a real rotor protector.
    • All of these items are included in any new (or hopefully used!) bike shipped to you, so squirrel a couple away for a rainy day.
  • Inflate tires … partway. Some air in the tires provides natural shock absorption and bumpers for your precious cargo, but if your box ends up on a plane (or a truck going over the Rockies), pressure changes could lead to burst tubes or a blown bead. Leave plenty of space between your PSI and the sidewall-indicated maximum.
  • I’ll be honest, I usually leave the rear derailer attached but shifted into a taller gear to move it inboard from the edge of the frame. But if you want to be extra careful, remove the derailer and zip-tie it safely out of the way to the chainstay so it doesn’t get smushed.

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