We cyclists who travel have never had it better. With airlines reducing their fees for large sporting equipment like bikes and multiple companies offering various methods of shipping them, cyclists have myriad options for transporting their gear around the globe.
Until recently I had never shipped a bike, for the honest reason that I am usually either driving somewhere with it, or, my travel plans have been so last minute that I need the immediacy of bringing it with me on a flight. Recently, I had the perfect opportunity to use BikeFlights, a company that has been shipping bikes since 2009 and just hit one million served this fall.
During the process, I learned the advantages and disadvantages of using BikeFlights and experienced first-hand what sets it apart from shipping directly through a carrier like FedEx or UPS – customer service.
In late November, I traveled to Hawaii for two weeks with a unique itinerary. I wanted to ride around the Big Island, a place I knew intimately but had never circled by bike (including detours to its extreme northern and southern tips). I was also determined not to rent a car, so the bike would be my mode of transportation after my three-day circle island tour. Then, I’d take an interisland flight to Kauai to spend a week with my dad who does not ride bikes — at least not beyond the beach cruiser on the bike path. I didn’t want to burden him, his rental car, and our accommodations with my bike stuff. Plus, beaches.
So, I decided that the best option was to fly to the Big Island with my bike and then ship it back to Colorado from Kona before hopping over to Kauai.
When I explained my plan to Sue George, the vice president of BikeFlights, she said my plan was sound. BikeFlights ships to 60 countries — as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico — and George said that Hawaii is not an uncommon destination for shipping and receiving. My decision to send the bike home would also likely cost less than had I shipped it to the island.
“The good thing is — shipping from Hawaii is cheaper than shipping to,” she said. “Because Hawaii is an island and everything has to get imported, planes are full going in but leaving empty.”
While BikeFlights uses UPS as its partner carrier, because it ships so many bikes it can negotiate rates with the carrier and pass those discounts on to customers. Exactly how much you save depends on several factors like the size and weight of the bike shipment and where it’s going to and from.
As anyone who’s shipped things knows, the true cost of shipping is not just about the rate. Time is money, right? And the less hassle and worry when shipping a bike, the better. That’s what I wanted in Hawaii — to ship it and forget it. Or, at least ship it and know there were gentle email updates about its progress in my inbox.
George said saving customers time and money is BikeFlights’ number one priority.
“For example, knowing how shipping rates work, we can often suggest the right size box to optimize rates and save you even more,” she said. “We make it easy for you to get support if you have a question or run into an issue or problem before, during, or after shipping. When you ship with us, we include a minimum amount of protection of $200, which is twice as much as is standard with carriers, and you can purchase up to $20,000 for peace of mind when shipping even the most high-end bikes. We monitor all shipments from pickup to delivery, and we have an excellent track record of on-time delivery. Should something happen such as damage or loss, we have a simple and fast claims process to get you back to riding as soon as possible.”
Boxes and bags, both are options
One hitch in my plan was that I didn’t leave time to box up my bike before I left, which meant I’d be using my EVOC Bike Travel Bag Pro case. I did a cursory scan of the BikeFlights website, looking for the keyword ‘bike bag,’ and when I saw that shipping in your own case was an option, I breathed a sigh of relief and got packing. I did not, however, delve deeper to make sure that my bike bag was on BikeFlights list of approved cases.
One of the standout features of using BikeFlights is its incredibly intuitive and user-friendly online platform. It’s very easy to plug in the details of your bike shipment — to and from, dimensions, contents, market value, and insurance — and get an estimate of cost before committing to anything.
Dimensions are key, George told me, since BikeFlights cannot ship any bikes or boxes longer than 160cm.
“In the shipping system there’s something called small parcel shipping and something called freight shipping,” she said. “It has to do with size. Things move differently through the system depending on how big they are. For example, if you were a manufacturer and had a pallet full of 12 bikes, you wouldn’t work with us to ship them.”
When populating the dimensions section of the ‘Ship your bike’ page, there is a drop down menu that includes over 60 bike cases. When George and I were setting up my shipment, I noticed that the two EVOC bags listed were not the one I had. Panic.
George kept me on the line as she messaged with her operations team to make sure my bag was within the allotted dimensions. She was not giving me VIP treatment; the customer service folks at BikeFlights are one of the company’s most valuable assets and what gives it an edge over simply using UPS, which is the carrier that BikeFlight contracts with. Throughout the entire process of shipping my bike — from setup to dropoff to tracking — BikeFlights makes itself available for any troubleshooting or support.
Also — within days of my call with George — my bike bag had been added to the drop-down list of accepted travel cases.
Another advantage of using BikeFlights is that customers can easily make changes to their pickup or dropoff details. I of course needed to utilize this feature. Originally I intended to have the bike picked up at a friend’s house (pick-up is a $5 charge), but I decided to drop it off at the UPS Customer Center in Kona instead.
I used BikeFlights’ live chat feature to ask how to go about making the change. I had already made the payment and printed the labels. The agent was helpful in explaining that I did not need to order or print new labels since the bike was going to the same location; it was just the dropoff location that I had changed.
What not to do
As with life, there are no guarantees when shipping a bike. I’m sure you know someone who has a horror story of receiving a bike, either from the manufacturer or a freight carrier, with a broken shifter or cracked frame, or worse of all, not receiving the bike at all.
George said that BikeFlights tries to emphasize the importance of a few key factors so that customers’ bikes arrive in one piece, or, if they don’t, that it’s easy to file an insurance claim to cover any damages.
First, insure the bike for what it’s actually worth.
Again, on the drop-down menu on the “Ship your Bike” page, options to protect your shipment range from $200 (free) of protection to $20,000 (at a cost of $316.80). George said that, if the protection purchased is less than the damage, BikeFlights is hamstrung in helping.
“Say you get home and your shifter is broken,” she said. “First off, no matter what you do when you ship, the current minimum protection is $200, you can’t select less. That’s twice as much as the default of most carriers. If you chose not to buy protection beyond that, we can’t help beyond $200. If you shipped your bike with no protection and your new carbon frame snapped in half, we can only cover you up to the amount you purchased.”
The base rate for my shipment from Kona, Hawaii to Boulder, Colorado was $204. I added protection for up to $8,000, which brought the total to around $325.
Along the lines of insuring your bike properly is documenting that you packed it well.
“Always take photos of the inside to show you packed everything well,” George said. “Take photos of the outside so that if anything does happen in the claims process you’ll be asked to show how you packed. If it’s a bare carbon frame resting against a carbon axel….that’s not good packing.”
If you are unsure of your packing skills, George recommends having your local bike shop (or a shop in the location you’re shipping from — BikeFlights also has a list of these in the Bike Shop Finder tab on its homepage) pack the bike for you. Call first to ask about rates.
My own concern in shipping my bike in my personal case was where to put the label. Obviously, it’s easier to tape a shipping label to a cardboard box. Again, BikeFlights is familiar with the quandary and has a handy video on its YouTube channel for troubleshooting.
“The second most common problem people have is the label comes off,” George said. “On cardboard boxes, we almost never have an issue. People make the mistake of taping a label to the case. It falls off, the bike gets lost, then it has to go through the process of getting found and reunited and you’ve missed your event. That’s why we’ve made these videos.”
In this very easy to follow video, pro ‘cross racer Kerry Werner walked me through the process of making my own luggage tag (which I wanted to do because I could not assume anything in Hawaii, especially something like the UPS customer center, of having luggage tags) and then affixing it to the bike bag.
Proud of my work, when I got to the UPS center in Kona, the agent looked through every drawer to see if she had a luggage tag. Any guesses on if she had one? She did not.
Home, safe and sound
On the receiving end, using BikeFlights is like mailing a parcel using UPS — but with your own personal assistant. As soon as the bike left the Kona UPS Customer Center, I began to get emails from BikeFlights updating me on its status — your bike has left the island! I could use the tracking number to monitor the shipment, but BikeFlights also checked in with me via email regarding the progress of the bike.
Incredibly, after the bike left Hawaii on December 2, I received an email on December 4 informing me that the bike was scheduled for delivery in Boulder: “Good morning! Good news, it looks like this package is out for delivery today 12/4! We will continue to monitor until it’s delivered to you successfully, please let us know if you need anything else in the meantime!”
The bike arrived so quickly that I was still in Hawaii and didn’t have anyone to sign for it! Furthermore, I had chosen “ground” as my shipping option (tee hee), which was $100 less than the faster “air” option. On the 6th I received another email from BikeFlights reminding me that I “was not available for delivery” and that they would continue to monitor for the second delivery attempt that day.
As I was still on the island, I had a friend on the lookout for the shipment, and she was able to sign for it. When I got home, my bike was there, and my DIY luggage tag was still securely fastened, and the contents were intact and untouched. The bike bag, despite looking a little dusty, had not been compromised.
Coming home to a damaged bike would have really harshed my aloha. Instead, I now have a new and proven option for traveling the world with my bike — one of my most favorite things to do.