When we started planning the a bike ride across America, we first faced the decision of where to start and where to end the trip. We lived in North Carolina, and we decided that we would start on the Pacific Coast (Astoria, Oregon) and bike east to Topsail Beach, North Carolina. Our reasoning was that we would be motivated to bike towards home each day and we might have a greater frequency of tailwinds (though I think this proved not to be true as I felt we peddled into the wind almost every day).
Once we decided that we would start in Oregon, we needed to ship our bikes a few thousand miles across country. Here are few lessons learned based on mishaps or inconveniences we had when shipping the bikes.
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1. We don’t recommend boxing or packaging the bike yourself – We were novice cyclists when we started. We still are even after a cross country trip. However, we decided to save a few bucks to pack our own bikes. We went to the bike shop for boxes. They had a big stack behind the shop and were willing to give us each one so they could avoid the hassle of disposing them.
We carried the boxes home and started the slow and painful process of disassembling our bicycles, removing tires, handlebars, peddles, etc. We didn’t know much about our bikes, so we were learning the pieces and parts as we went, figuring out which threads were regular and reverse threaded along the way. We then arranged all the pieces in the narrow boxes and added padding where we could, but neither of us had an arrangement of bike parts and foam padding that allowed the box to naturally close. A lot of tape and padding later, we had bulging boxes ready to ship.
This DIY approach to packing our bicycles turned out to be a poor choice. My riding partner’s bike was slightly damaged during transit where bike parts eventually busted through the bulging cardboard. The bike wasn’t unrideable when we go to Oregon, but it did have scrapes on the exposed parts which probably would have been avoided if the bike was neatly packaged.
If you know what you’re doing, then go for it. But for anyone else, our recommendation is to spend a little money to have a professional at a bike shop package the bike for you. These services typically cost about $75 in our area, and in hindsight the money would have been well spent to avoid the hassle of packing and the damage to the bikes.
2. Ship Your Bike via Parcel Carrier – My riding partner and I shipped our bikes in two different ways. I shipped my bicycle via a parcel carrier (FedEx), and he shipped his under the airplane as a checked piece of unusual luggage.
When I was determining who would carry my box across country, I considered UPS and FedEx. I compared the two mostly on price, and FedEx turned out to be cheaper. FedEx offered some insurance options, but I didn’t qualify for any of them because my bike was in a bulging box that clearly made it vulnerable to damage in transit. Despite no insurance, my bike made it safely to Oregon. UPS would probably do a fine job also, but FedEx was cheaper.
My riding partner carried his bike with him as luggage under the plane. This turned out to be a poor choice in our singular experience of shipping a bike. He managed to avoid the risk of his bike being lost in transit when we had a layover in Chicago, but when his bike box rolled onto the conveyer at the Portland airport, the damage was clear from across the room. The box with the bike in it had been treated roughly by handlers or machinery. A crank arm and neck were sticking out of the box, and the parts had severe abrasion on them.
3. Know Exactly Where to Pick Up Your Bike – Here is one I definitely did not expect when I shipped my bike to Oregon via FedEx. When I was at the FedEx counter in Raleigh, North Carolina, I told the lady there that I wanted my bike shipped to the closest FedEx to the Portland, Oregon airport and held there until my arrival. She informed that there was a FedEx at the airport. Perfect! No so.
When I arrived at the airport, while my riding partner was assembling his bike at baggage claim, I walked around the perimeter of the airport to the FedEx building. I walked up to the desk to get my bike, and it wasn’t there. As it turns out, that airport facility did not have package pickup. It was only a distribution office. My bike was waiting for me downtown at the Portland FedEx hub.
We had originally planned to bike from the airport to downtown Portland to grab the bus that would take us the final leg of the way to the coast. However, without a bike, I had to grab a cab to retrieve my bike downtown. It was a stressful start to the trip as I thought we’d miss the bus downtown, but I arrived at the bus station with my bike about the same time my partner did. We barely made the bus to the coast.
4. Here’s a bonus tip – Don’t leave your good tools at home – When we left home, we decided that we would leave some of our good, larger tools at the house and take lesser quality or smaller tools with us. For example, we left the crescent wrench in favor of a pair of pliers and left screwdrivers in favor of a multi-tool. This choice made bike reassembly a little more tedious, when we could have easily carried and stowed our better tools. We could have used these tools in other instances on the adventure as well, for bike and non-bike related repairs.
If you’re headed across country or around the world. Best of luck on the journey. I hope these tips about shipping your bike help you get to the starting point with fewer headaches that I had on by bike ride across America.