If you need to transport your motorcycle longer distances, you may not want to ride it, you may not have the ability to ride it, or you may have to transport other vehicles yourself. In these situations, many riders wonder if you can move a motorcycle by plane, and what the best way to do so is.
5 transport tips for shipping a motorcycle via plane are:
- Work with a specialist if possible
- Calculate all costs up front
- Drain the fluids and disconnect the battery
- Make your bike as small as possible
- Abide by any necessary rules
These tips are a good start, but there’s a bit more to it, as you might imagine. Read on, as I’ll go through all of these tips in more depth, as well as cover some other questions people often have about shipping their motorcycles.
You can take your motorcycle on a plane. It’s often preferable to other shipping methods. Many people have successfully shipped bikes to and from almost everywhere in the world. How difficult and expensive this is will vary depending on which company you use and where you’re shipping to.
Many airline shipping companies offer options to ship a motorcycle on a plane. However, the rules and regulations will vary from company to company and from country to country. For example, some air freight companies in the U.S. consider motorcycles “dangerous cargo,” which makes it harder to ship them.
Other countries do not always classify them as the same though, so many U.S. riders choose to go through Canada, for example. Air Canada supposedly has quite a bit of experience in shipping motorcycles and is easier to deal with than a lot of U.S. carriers. Some say that you can even deal with shipping your bike on the day of your personal flight, although I wouldn’t recommend it.
It will probably cost a minimum of $200-400 to ship a motorcycle by plane. Air freight prices will depend on quite a lot of factors, so it could be much more than that. The first of these varying factors is the company itself, then there is the size and weight of your bike, and distance.
Different companies simply price things differently. The same motorcycle in the same crate may incur a wide range of charges from various transport companies. Companies base price on a lot of different things, so shopping around for the best deal is worthwhile to try and do.
Some smaller companies also specialize in motorcycle shipping. These companies will often deal with a lot of the hassles of shipping your bike, so you won’t have to. They have more expertise in making sure everything flows smoothly. This is a great option if you’re willing to take a bit of a higher cost but want less hassle.
It’s worth it to get quotes from multiple different companies. Compare the prices you get with the average review of people who’ve worked with that company (bonus points if you know someone personally who has worked with them). The cheapest option isn’t usually the best, but it might not be the worst either.
The next of these variables is the size and weight of the package itself. Many freight companies base the majority of the pricing on the amount of space a crate consumes, although weight is definitely also a factor.
Usually, companies will have a set equation for the amount that a certain weight or certain size will cost. Often this may be something you can look up ahead of time to try and get a sense of what the cost will be like, but I do recommend getting a specific quote anyway.
See if you can figure out what formula each company uses to determine price. Some companies may place more importance on size, for some it may be weight. Usually, size is the foremost concern and price determinant, but it can vary.
The last of these variables is related to the distance the package needs to travel. Obviously, if you have to move your motorcycle further, it’s bound to be more expensive. Usually that pricing is linear, but sometimes it’s not, so consider a few destinations if possible. It may be cheaper to ship your bike somewhere you wouldn’t expect.
The other part of this variable is dealing with import regulations. Especially if you’re moving your bike to a new country, there will likely be some fees involved with getting it through border security agencies. The nature and amount of these fees will absolutely vary between countries, so do your research.
My first recommendation is that you work with a shipping agent. The process of shipping a motorcycle can be difficult and tedious. There are a lot of rules and regulations to deal with, and especially internationally, a tremendous amount of bureaucracy.
A good shipping agent is experienced in shipping motorcycles around the world, or at least for a specific region. Your agent can help you understand all of the obstacles you might encounter between putting your bike in a box and riding it around in your intended destination.
Most agents also may be able to deal with some of the work involved in getting your motorcycle ready to ship. Some motorcycle shipping specialists have ready-to-go crates and strategies for motorcycle shipping, so you can save a lot of time and hassle by using them.
A good shipping agent can be hard to find, but worth it to look for. If you know anyone personally who has shipped their motorcycle recently, ask them if they had a good experience and if so, consider using their agent. You can also look on motorcycle forums or websites but remember to consider the source of what you read online.
Many forums may have useful results, but you don’t really know the people on the other end, so keep that in mind. There are also many websites that have articles about this topic, but some of them may be paid by or even written by companies that ship motorcycles themselves.
In general, the more research you do, the better off you’ll be. Internet searches can yield a lot of incredibly useful results. If you’re able to filter through all of the ignorance and advertisements, you can find some good information.
My next tip for motorcycle shipping is to figure out what everything is going to cost before paying anything. Shipping a motorcycle will incur costs from the act of shipping itself, but usually also can incur costs upon arrival.
Make sure the shipping company you’re working with is giving you a clear sense of what everything will cost in total. If you don’t get a clear sense of cost, or the company seems sketchy, it’s probably best to trust your gut and find a different company.
In some cases, you may have to deal with international agents as well if you’re going to be shipping your bike to a different country. Even if an agent you want to work with is not based in a particular country, it’s very possible they may have other agents in that country that they can recommend.
The next tip I have for shipping a motorcycle is to drain as many fluids as makes sense. Many shipping companies may require this anyway. Some shipping companies will only ship a motorcycle if the fuel tank is empty (or mostly empty). The other fluids may not be worth worrying about and can be more of a pain to refill.
The other benefit of draining your fuel before shipping is that it lowers the overall weight of the bike. While this won’t be much of a change on some bikes, it could be on others, depending on the size of your fuel tank. Gasoline is heavy, and it certainly can’t hurt to have less weight, even if it’s not a substantial amount of difference.
Another thing to do before shipping your bike is to disconnect the battery. Again, this may be required by some shipping companies, but even if it’s not, doing so is a good idea anyway. This does a couple of beneficial things.
First of all, it will prevent your battery from draining. Depending on the method of shipping and the company used, etc, your bike could be in transit for some time. Many bikes have small undiagnosed electrical drains, and just having everything hooked up will slowly draw power. Disconnecting your battery before shipping ensures that you won’t have a dead battery when you pick it up.
The other benefit, although minor, is that it lowers the chances of some sort of electrical fire. Again, there is an incredibly slim chance this would actually end up happening, but that chance is far diminished if the battery isn’t hooked up to any of the bike’s electrics.
The next step in preparing your bike for shipping is to make it as small as possible. As mentioned earlier, the cost of shipping anything is usually some equation based on a combination of things, size being among them. There are a few different levels of size reduction that you can do, depending on your budget and desire for easy unloading.
The first level of size reduction is doing simple things like removing the mirrors, or anything that pokes up significantly. This is an easy part to replace, so it won’t take long to install them again at the other end. Any other small things like luggage boxes will fall under this category.
This level of size reduction is good for someone who wants very little work to do at the other end. Shipping a bigger crate can cost more, but if you’re looking for an easy experience, it may be worth it to you to keep the bike more intact.
The next level of size reduction is removing the front wheel, and other such things. This is usually not that hard to do and does significantly reduce the bike’s size. The front wheel can be transported next to the bike, reducing the height of the package tremendously while not adding much width (if any).
This level of size reduction is good for someone who still wants a relatively easy unloading experience but is mechanically inclined enough to not mind putting a wheel back on. On most bikes, replacing the front wheel is really not all that difficult to do, so this is an option that many riders go for.
The final level of size reduction is to disassemble the bike as much as makes sense. While this may seem extreme to some riders, depending on what you want to spend and your bike-assembling abilities, it may be a great way to save money. Plus, if you’re the sort of person that likes building bikes, it’s almost like you have a new bike to unwrap and put together at the other end.
I’d only recommend this option if you’re very mechanically inclined and on a budget. Not only will you have to re-assemble your motorcycle, but you’ll have to do so in a potentially unfamiliar place, probably with not too many tools. If you’re mechanically skilled, though, this is a great way to keep shipping costs low.
You’ll have to decide which level of size reduction works best for you. Many motorcycle shipping agents may cover mild services such as removing the front wheel for you as well if you’re not mechanically inclined or are but don’t desire to do it.
The advantage of not doing a lot of size reduction is that the removal of the bike at the other end can be swifter and easier. More disassembly means more work, but it does also mean reduced shipping costs. Either can be good options depending on what your priorities are.
The last tip I have is to really study the rules of the country you’re trying to import a bike to. If you’re trying to transport a bike within your own country, that will likely be much easier, and require much less paperwork and hassle.
Different countries, however, have a lot of different rules. These rules will probably have some overlap, but some may vary, so it’s worth it to do your research. These rules range from the amount of fuel you’re allowed to bring your bike in with to not being able to bring in a dirty bike.
Literally, there are some countries that may not let you import your bike unless it’s been fully cleaned in every area. I won’t go into too many more specifics, as it will really vary from country to country, but it’s good to have a clear idea of the importing rules.
There really isn’t one specific method of transporting a motorcycle that’s going to be cheaper than another one. There are so many variables that go into this process that there isn’t one specific rule to follow with it. Different methods incur different fees which can greatly alter the total cost.
Theoretically, let’s say you’re shipping a motorcycle overseas, using boat freight will probably be cheaper than air freight. However, unloading and customs fees at seaports can far exceed unloading and customs fees at land ports. So, after all is said and done, it might have been cheaper to send the bike via air.
All this being said, depending on the distance required and over what terrain, the cheapest way to transport a motorcycle may be to ride it. Most motorcycles get pretty good mileage and so won’t cost too much to run long distances gas-wise.
Obviously in some cases this method isn’t possible, but if it is, I’d highly recommend considering it. Long motorcycle trips can certainly be grueling, but they can also be incredibly fun and memorable experiences. If you have the ability to ride your motorcycle to where you need to go, maybe it’s worth it to do so.
A motorcycle helmet generally does count as carry on. Most motorcycle helmets should easily fit within carry-on size requirements, so there should be no reason you couldn’t bring one. Moreover, the TSA has come out and said that helmets are fine to travel with.
With all of this said, the TSA is the TSA. It’s possible for them to change their mind and it’s possible for individual agents to stop you from bringing it. Will it happen? Probably not. Can it happen? Sure. Just know that there’s some small amount of risk in trying to take a helmet on a plane.
If you have the ability, maybe bring a trusted friend with you to the airport. In the event you can’t get your helmet past security, they could take it home for you and hold onto it until you could arrange to pick it up later. This is the safest method, as it allows a backup plan in case TSA doesn’t let it through.
Again, you should be fine, but flying can be annoying and overly bureaucratic and things don’t always go to plan, so just be prepared to deal with that. If you go in with a decent backup plan and an optimistic attitude, you’ll be fine.
Shipping your motorcycle can be a difficult and stressful process. It’s a lot to deal with, no matter where you’re trying to ship it. Using an agent specialized in motorcycle shipping can take away the stress but is more expensive. Doing as much research as possible will ensure a smooth experience.