Packing a Mountain Bike for Shipping

Sean Hessby Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra

Packing a Mountain Bike for Shipping

Disclaimer: I don’t know if this is the most Emily Post way to pack a bike for shipping. But back in the day I was a sales manager for a major retailer, and if the guy assigned to build bikes didn’t show up, I was the guy that got to unpack and build the bikes. So I got an education on how bikes are packed.

Some riders call department store bikes “junk bikes.” Junk or not, they definitely weren’t built as hard or as strong as even an entry level mountain bike from one of the major bike manufacturers. The upshot is that if a junk bike, with its spotty welds and cheaper parts, can make it to the USA undamaged after being shipped across the Seven Seas, across the States jammed in a semi (and then thrown off the truck by a half-stoned stocker), I trust the same type of packing for my Stumpjumper.

I’m heading out to Utah and Idaho for US Mountain Bike Nationals this year, and it will be a lot cheaper and less stressful to ship my bike out than it will be to fly with it. I’m a little lucky because my inlaws live in Salt Lake City, so I have a known place to ship it to, instead of a hotel or bike shop I’m not familiar with.

The first thing I did was take off the pedals, and then I took off the front wheel and placed a pair of dimes as shims between the front brake pads…this way if you accidentally grab the front brakes you won’t have to re-tune the brakes when you build it up again at your destination. I also took a piece of plastic to put between the dropouts on the front fork so it wasn’t exposed…these come with the bikes when shipped and are commonly thrown away when the bikes are built…just go to your local bike shop or Wal Mart and they might have one lying around.

Then I took off the handlebars (at the handlebar clamp), turned the fork around, and used cable ties to strap the handlebar vertically to the fork. I strapped it loosely, and I wrapped everything in bubble wrap as I went along, starting with the front brake caliper.

Packing a mountain bike: handlebar with fork reversed.

Handlebar removed and strapped with fork reversed.

After this I went and put the bike in its shipping container to make sure it fit. Bikes ship with the rear wheel and tire installed. I had to deflate the rear tire…something I would do anyway at least partially…and the bike fit perfectly. The shipping container was a bike box from the local Wal Mart for a 26-inch beach bike, so it was a little wider than most bike boxes. You should be able to get a bike box from your local shop or a place that sells bikes like Wal Mart…they aren’t used for anything else and typically crushed for recycling after the bike is taken out.

I pulled the bike back out, put it on the stand, and then wrapped it in plastic bubble wrap. You can wrap the whole bike like I did in the photo, or you can wrap the individual parts…each crank, each tube, each part of the suspension, etc. The only thing I wrapped as individuals were the brake calipers and rear derailleur, which got extra attention. The seat is also removed and wrapped. Part of the reason you wrap everything in plastic is so it won’t get damaged, so it won’t get scratched, and so it won’t scratch anything else.

Packing a mountain bike for shipping: bike wrapped in plastic.

The bike wrapped in plastic.

Then I put the bike in the box.

Packing a mountain bike: the bike in the shipping box.

The bike bubble wrapped and in the box. I wrapped the seat post stem at the very end.

From there I staged all the things that were going to go into the box with the bike: a small box of tools for reassembling the bike along with two sets of pedals, extra cables, tubes, a floor pump, the front wheel packed in a bag, a backup front wheel loose (the backup rear wheel would not fit), extra tires, backup shoes, my helmet and glasses in their cases, camelbacks and some bottles. I was allowed 67 pounds, so I made good use of it, and it beat sending out this stuff seperately or having to pare it down to take with me on the plane.

The one thing I am taking on the plane are my shoes and a backup helmet and glasses. Racers who travel by plane all the time and routinely ship their bikes usually take their saddle and even pedals in their personal luggage, the rationale being that if the bike gets lost or is late arriving, they can borrow a bike and use their own saddle and pedals (as well as having their helment and shoes). But I’m a lot more worried about Delta losing my bags along with my seat post than the bike not arriving, or having a TSA officer look askance at my eggbeaters as I’m trying to get through airport security…so I decided to ship those out.

Taking the floor pump came from a lesson learned the hard way. Back in 2006 I flew out to race my first US Nationals in Sonoma, California, and I only took a little hand pump with me. Well, it was a long and hard effort getting those tires back up to pressure with a hand pump, so now the floor pump goes with me.

Packing the mountain bike to ship: staging the extras.

Staging the extras.

After things were staged I started putting them in. The floor pump first, wrapped in plastic, and forward towards the fork along with the seat and post. The small box of tools/pedals and the extra shoes underneath, the wheels, one on each side, boxes of new tubes on one side of the rear wheel with a small bag of used tubes on the other side, then on top, extra tires draped over the rear wheel, the helmet case over the center top tube, the camelbacks draped over the front stem, and the loose bottles in strategic locations to add extra padding. I also added an extra piece of corrugated cardboard between the race wheel (in its padded bag already) and the inside of the box at the hub.

The extra tires, helmet case and camelbacks were placed on top as extra padding in case the bike box is flipped upside down while shipping.

And last, I put the extra bubble wrap and an extra roll of shipping tape in the box so I won’t have to buy any when I ship it back.

Packing a mountain bike for shipping: just before sealing.

Ready to go. The tires, helmet case, and camelbacks provide padding on top in case the bike is flipped.

I hope this helps when you go traveling with your bike. Happy shipping!

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