A bike tour can be overwhelming with training, gathering bike gear and financial preparations. When I was getting ready for Tour Aotearoa (that 3000km 30 day self supported bike tour of NZ I did this spring or fall if you are a kiwi). I did the best I could with the experience I had but I really went in blindly to it all, including traveling internationally with a bike. I did know a little but here are some things that I learned that may (or may not) help when you decide to take on the TA yourself!
#1. Bag Research
A bunch of my bike buddies have those AWESOME hard cover bike cases for travel. I thought the tour would be a GREAT time to invest in one myself but one problem, where would I put it while on the tour?!?! I was flying into Auckland (start was in Cape Reinga in the North Island) and over a month later I would be flying out of Christchurch, heading back to the states. Problem two, I wanted to mail my bag to the AirBNB I was going to stay at after the tour. It would be amazing if the bag could fold up to fit into my carry-on bag, which I could then mail to the AirBNB!
Another downside of the hard-sided case was that, even thought it would keep my bike nice and safe, I would have to pay $150 per airline (totaling $600 roundtrip) since it’s considered an oversized item. UGGGGH! What to do!? This trip is getting so expensive! I took to the computer to do some research on bags. I found that a lot of people used a soft sided bag to fly international, the Weanas bike bag on amazon. Here’s the Good, The Bad and The Ugly I found on this bag.
- Cheap: $50 bucks!
- No Fee: The reviews stated that since the bag is soft sided most airlines won’t charge an oversize fee as long as you stay under 50 lbs.
- Folds: The bag will fold up to a small and compact size!!!!
- Cheap: The reviews stated that the bag was cheap, ripped at the seams but would last at least a few flights.
- Break Down: To fit the bike into the bag I would have to completely break down my bike taking off the handle bars, fork, both wheels (of course) and peddles. PAIN IN THE BUTT!!!!
- Bike Damage: The bike has more of a chance of getting damaged with a soft sided bag which means I would have to pack my bike really well!
- No Casters: Hard sided cases usually have casters at the base for easier transport. I was traveling alone and would have to carry this beast all on my own putting the two straps over my shoulder.
- Rainbow Strap: The bag says that it comes with rainbow Mork and Mindy looking suspender straps. Heck yeah, that's awesome!
I decided to purchase the Weanas bag. My thought, worst case scenario it would just make it to New Zealand and I’d figure out the rest if/when I came to it. (BTW, my bag did NOT come with the rainbow straps, insert super duper sad face here.)
#2. Weigh & Measure
Each airline has a weight and measurement requirement for baggage, usually 50 lbs and 62 linear inches. Going past these requirement may lead to some steep fees. The best way to find the airline info is to go to their website or even better CALL them.
Since I was spending a few days in LA to speak at the Adventurer’s Club before heading to New Zealand I booked two separate trips which happened to be on two different airlines.
Trip One: Omaha to LAX Round trip on American Airlines
Trip Two: LAX to Auckland, Christchurch to LAX on Fiji Airways
I checked the baggage requirements on both sites and worked to fit my bike within these. For some unknown reason I mainly focused on the weight of the bag and ended up miscalculating the measurements. Both airlines had a limit of 62 (linear) inches, which I found that linear is a TOTAL of all the sides and depth. I thought I had 62 inches on each side of the bag. Dumb, I know but I learned the hard with American Airlines.
At the Omaha airport, my bag weighed in at exactly 49.5 lbs. Then came the measuring tape! Since I had miscalculated, my bag measured WAY beyond 62 linear inches. With all our might we tried to fit and rearrange my bike to make the measurements but we failed. I was charged my first $150 fee for an oversized bag. I also found that American Airlines will NOT budge on their baggage requirements, even if you are 1 lb or 1 inch over.
*Note to self, do not fly AA if traveling with checked baggage!
Check in at LAX was very different. I was nervous I would be charged $150 for my bag!!! With figures crossed I put my bag on the scale and all was okay, no measuring tape, no questions. My bag was ticketed as oversized (again I was NOT charged a fee!) and I brought my bag to the oversized drop off then caught my flight. On the way back I had no problems, once again, with Fiji Airways taking my bag but they actually lost it. More on that later.
Weighing in at home and then the airport!
#3. Clean Bike & Gear
Tourism is the #1 source of revenue for New Zealand which includes all sorts of outdoor enthusiast. Foreign bugs or animals can cause damage to this magical land. I had read somewhere that I needed to clean my bike and shoes before I backed them up, so I did. They weren’t spotless but not dirty.
When arriving in New Zealand all outdoor gear is inspected before you are allowed to enter the country. Don't freak bout this, it's all good. I know when you are put in a 'special line' when entering a country it isn't always good, but this one is.
When I stood in this line I saw people with bongos, hammocks, and all sorts of gear get inspected. When it was my turn I opened up my bike bag and carry-on. Since my tent and sleep bag were new they didn’t need inspected but my shoes and bike did. Took bout 5 minutes and I was on my way. Quick and easy!
#4. TAPE!! CARDBOARD!! TAPE!! BUBBLEWRAP!! TAPE!!
With a soft-sided bag I knew I had to make sure my bike was well wrapped. The upside of some hard cases is that they already have padding in the boxes but sometimes they are just an empty hard shell which means it’s a really good idea to wrap it up!
I needed bubble wrap, packing tape and cardboard. Office depot had the bubble wrap. I borrowed packing tape from my mom and went to my local bike shop to see if they had any empty bike boxes. I lucked out. The shop had just received a few new bikes and were happy to unload the unwanted boxes onto me.
Once home with all my packing goods, I got to work. I took off all the extra water bottle cages I added for the tour then took my bike completely apart so it would fit into the bag. I removed the wheels, fork, handlebars, seat post and pedals then wrapped them all up with bubble wrap then cardboard.
* Extra Tip: Take photos of your bike before you take it apart, this gives a visual of how your bike should look like. Also photo your process to give yourself a road map. It’s helpful when we get to tip#6.
I went overboard with wrapping. I had to protect my baby!!! Here's a breakdown:
- Covered wheels in bubble wrap as well and let out some air, just to fit the wheels in the bag
- Rear and front derailleur
- Rear breaks
- Chain ring
- Front breaks
Handle Bars with shifters
I then lined the bag with cardboard and put all the riding gear I could into the bag until it weighed in at 50 lbs. I made sure to put the tools I needed to reassemble my bike in the bag as well.
#5. Oversized Pick up
My bag was in baggage claim but didn't arrive on the typical luggage carousel with the other normal checked luggage. Oversized bags have their own section and area. I was unaware of this. Okay, you might have already known this but I didn’t. I was wondering around a bit and got nervous when I “thought” my bike didn’t arrive. But it did, without even a slight tear in the bag. It had arrived safe and sound……to New Zealand.
#6. Some Assembly Required
On arrival to NZ I was exhausted. I was also eager to put my bike together but knew I should wait a day. I didn’t want to mess things up. After an amazing nights sleep I took the morning to put my bike back together. I did this on the sailboat I happened to be staying on. This proved to be a little tricky but actually worked out pretty good. I unwrapped my bike and should have kept the cardboard and bubblewrap to re-wrap the bike for my return home. But I didn’t. I was dumb. Learn from my mistake and keep it!!
I referenced my disassembly photos to make sure everything was put together properly on the bike. This may not be the “proper” way but it worked for me. There was a point that I was stuck and wanted to force a cable, but instead I took a breather. I was glad I did. I was about to break something. Advice: Don’t force things into place. Be patient! I totally LUCKED out and had no problems, besides one slight temper tantrum, very slight. Once put back together I took her for a ride up and down the dock. I ran through her gears, tested both breaks and checked the front suspension. All was good to go. Lastly, I added the water bottle cages and put on all my bike packing gear on, getting her ready for the tour.
*Extra Tip: After assembling my bike, I packed my carry-on bag with all my travel non-tour clothes, extra items that couldn’t fit on the bike, my folded bike bag and I should have put the bubble wrap/cardboard in too, damn it!! I took a ferry to the post office in Auckland to mail my bag to the AirBNB. My carry-on didn’t fit in any of the shipping boxes but thankfully the postman suggested I pop over to the grocery story next door, buy a large trash bag that my bag would fit in and come back to ship it. I did and it was GREAT ADVICE. I had already okayed sending my bag to the AirBNB hosts, who had my bag waiting in my room when I arrived after the tour.
I was grateful that nothing happened to my bike on the way to NZ but wasn’t so lucky on the return home, which would take 5 flights and over 18 hours of flying. My bike bag was checked in on Fiji Airways (with no added fee, yeah) to LAX. In LA, I would have to go through customs and recheck my bag into American Airlines and then battle them on the $150 oversize fee. 3 flights and 15 hours later we arrived in LA but my bike did not. After a lot of confusion from the Fiji baggage claim attendant I was told they didn’t know where my bag was. No one was really helpful with placing a claim and I didn't know what to do. Time was running out, we were going to miss our AA flight! Finally, I overheard a couple that was placing a claim for a missing stroller. I stood in their line, waited my turn and placed my claim. We then ran to catch our remaining two flights. Since I had no bag to check I was saved from the AA fee!
3 days later my bag arrived to my doorstep, I signed for it and began to inspect the damage. My bag was ripped to shreds, my derailleur was broken, seat post bent, two spokes broken and a painting, given to me and my new husband from a New Zealand artist as a wedding present, was torn.
I took photos of all my damaged goods and then took my bike to get fixed at the bike shop. I saved my receipt and found the receipt for my bag then placed a claim online with Fiji Airways.
*Extra Tip: keep receipts of EVERYTHING you purchase new for traveling. The airlines ask for these receipts for proof of purchase when placing a claim. So if you buy a new bike for a tour keep the receipt.
The online form was super easy to fill out. I heard from someone within a few days asking for picture, which I emailed right back. I’m still waiting to hear from the airlines, it's been two weeks. We shall see?
Overall, I gotta say things worked out pretty great. My bike made it to New Zealand, no problems! There was only a one time added fee, thanks to American Airlines. I hope these tips help. And remember, I had little help figuring this out and if I could do it so can you.
COTN Episode 12: NZ Bike Tour Prep which is Now LIVE on YouTUBE!!!
90 Mile Beach: 1st day of the tour I rode on a beach, ran out of water and found out that there is a hole in the OZONE layer over New Zealand......you won't wanna miss this post!!!!