Brompton by Air update

Originally posted on 14 October but updated with photos on 27 October after my trip to Seoul.

Phil Moore from Canada recently asked me about taking his Brompton on planes so I thought I’d do an update on the information in my earlier post from 2003.

complete ensemble 1000px

Fresh off a 14 hour trip with two transfers this lot looked in better shape than I felt

First there has been a lot said about this topic on the Bromptontalk forum on Yahoo Groups so it’s worth reading the diverse opinions there. Unfortunately the forum does not have very good search.

Second I have a summary of my approach on my original post after my trip to Japan in 2003

Although this is quite old now the approach has not changed much. I now have a Carradice bag.

In that article I talked about packing the bike up by the check-in desks at Heathrow, recently a member of Bromptontalk had problems with the check-in clerk on a Southwest Airlines flight in the USA. The clerk saw him packing the Brompton and wanted to charge him the very punitive extra charge applied to full-sized bikes, luckily he managed to get out the regulations and prove that the charge was not justified but, especially in the USA, it’s probably simplest to pack the bike away from the checkin desks, I usually do it on the train going to the airport if it’s a direct service and the journey not too short.

I’ve tended to reduce the amount of work I do on protecting the bike although I still attach some small lengths of pipe insulation at strategic places, on the trip out to Seoul for the first time I didn’t pad the bike at all and there was some definite damage to the carradice bike bag where the hinges had chafed it so on the way back I went back to using some foam as shown in these photos. I’m careful to remove and carefully pack/protect sticky-out bits that could get damaged or lost like the frame clamps, saddle, mirrors etc.

padded bike 1000px

foam padding taped on at the points where the bike might chafe the bag

Saddle and mudguard packing 1000px

My Brooks saddle is taped between the wheels where it will not receive any impacts (I had a saddle twisted once when I packed the bike with the saddle in place). Note at bottom right a piece of foam jammed between mudguard and tyre, prevents the mudguard and stays being pushed out of shape. Without that you usually have to spend a bit of time straightening stays before you can ride away.

The Carradice bag weighs about a kilo and folds flat enough to be packed or strapped to your bike luggage, the main thing I’ve found is the need to put two stout luggage straps round the bike bag so it’s easily handled and stable, give the baggage handlers something to grab hold of.

all packed 1000px

Same thing applies to the touring pannier, I put a strap round it so there’s something to grab, handlers don’t notice the frame handle and tend to grab the rolled top which then starts to unroll…

Touring bag strapped 1000px

that neat strap with the handle came from Muji

At the moment, for bigger trips, I tend to take

  • Carradice bag for Brompton and bits (taped in the middle of the frame) – hold luggage
  • Touring Pannier – hold luggage
  • C-bag – cabin luggage, I’ve used an S-bag for this in the past but sold it when I got the C-bag

I’ve posted elsewhere information about how to attach both bags to the bike at once. That was based on the S-Bag but on this trip I used the C-Bag to good effect. Here’s the bike at Sheffield Station all loaded up

twobags 1000px

The only problem with the C-bag or S-bag as a saddlebag is that the bottom of the bag clashes with your heels, I solved this problem by using the rolled up Carradice bag as a spacer, solving the problem of how to transport it as well.

Bag spacer 1000px

It’s not too easy to see what’s going on with everything being black but the nylon strap that holds the bottom of the C-bag to the seatpost also goes round the rolled up bike bag which rests on top of the suspension block, I have a separate strap round the bike bag to keep it rolled up, it’s a black one here but now I use one of the coloured luggage straps that goes round the bag when checked in.

As an alternative to a completely soft bike bag, the padded Brompton B-bag is used by some people, it’s easier to handle with wheels and a rigid base and better protected but weighs a lot more and not easy to transport on the bike.

For the ultimate cheap solution some people use the Ikea Dimpa storage case/bag which is the right size/shape and made from cheap reinforced plastic fabric. It’s reported to last one trip and a good strategy might be to buy three and layer them, they are light and flatpack well.

I always make sure I have Gaffer tape

Some people use bubble wrap to pack the bike, rather than a bag. This could be OK if you can lay your hands on some at the departure point, not so difficult in these internet days, for example if you can Google a branch of Staples near your return airport. A while ago I was camping in France and needed gaz cartridges because they shouldn’t fly. Google found me a Camping Gaz dealer in Toulouse (backstreet ironmongers) on my cycling route from the airport to the rail station. Ain’t the internet wonderful?

Finally, I’ve always thought that it would be quite good to take the bike to the airport and put it into one of those shrink wrapping machines they have for damaged luggage etc. Trouble is it’s not easy to find out in advance whether an airport has one of those readily available for passengers and you need to be certain that there is one at the airport for your return flight.

Update July 2012 – I have recently tried a Brompton B-bag as a method of carrying everything with a single piece of hold luggage. Full report here, it’s not ideal but it works. Also I saw one of those wrapping machines in operation at Milano Malpensa airport, including wrapping a road bike. The people operating the machine were not competent and I didn’t think they improved the bike’s chance of survival, quite the contrary as they managed to wrap it with the front wheel turned at 30deg so much more vulnerable than a completely flat package.

25 Responses to “Brompton by Air update”

  1. Iago Mosqueira Says:

    I’ve used the B bag in the past, with decent results, but on my last trip the bike took quite a serious beating, with a broken folding wheel, smashed pedal and some other minor damage. So I have now gone the route of the hard case. It’s OK if, as it happens to me, you cannot ride out of the airport.

  2. chrisrust Says:

    Thanks Iago, I’ve not heard of anybody having such bad damage before and I know Brompton use the B-bag to transport bikes all over the world with no problems so let’s hope yours was an exceptional incident. I’ve had some small damage – the roller on the rear mudguard bent, mudguard stays bent but no real damage to the bike itself, it must have been bad to break a pedal.

    I have had a problem with add-ons so I’m very careful about packing my mirrycle mirror in the middle of my clothes and securing the saddle where it will not suffer stress.

    Also I think it’s OK for people in the USA to use a hard case because they have much bigger baggage allowances, the 20kg we get in Europe means that you have to watch every possible extra gramme of weight, hence I won’t even use the B-bag. Mind you I think we have a more competitive airline business in Europe these days and the budget airlines have a much fairer way of dealing with baggage weight than the traditional companies. I get the impression that some US airlines are still learning about how to provide a low-cost service.

  3. davecochrane Says:

    Interesting post – I’d really like to take my Brompton away with me next summer, and had wondered what the risks would be. I see there’s a Brompton “Pod” hardcase coming out in the January 2010 luggage range update though, I think that’ll be my choice. I’d be terrified to put it in a soft bag. Glad yours came through ok though :-)

  4. chrisrust Says:

    If you can afford the weight of the hard case Dave, then that’s a good option. On a 20kg allowance I’m not sure it works.

    I’ve made 18 flights with the setup I describe here and only have minor damage – mudguard stays bent and a saddle twisted, both could be fixed with a judicious squeeze. I think I’ve now protected myself against both problems with the packing methods described above.

    I also enjoy it when I can ride away from the airport or wherever the transfer leaves me. That’s really flying, leaving those earthbound mortals waiting for a grungy transfer bus or taxi.

  5. Paul Says:

    I recently was in the search mode for a travel case for my Brompton. It would appear, with the investment of the bike, to protect it the best you can.
    There is no “best option ” as of now. According to a recent inquiry I made to Brompton, regarding their Pod Case, It will not be available until June 2010?
    The B Bag is not “safe” enough for air travel and check in. Also, the bag and size may cause questions from check in ” is this a bike”…which of course is going to cost $50 extra. The key is non descript, lightweight hard case. The B and W which is the hard case Brompton offers, is good, but it weights 23 pounds empty and cost $ 350! My MR6 with back rack, weighs in at 27 pounds, so I would be cutting it close, with clothes, etc. On another forum, I saw a posting of another hard case, 30″ that will accomadate a Brompton. It is a Delsey Axiom, which you can get from Eastside Luggage online for $ 130. It weighs 11 pounds. I had to take off the seat, and both clamps screws for it to fit. But it works. I will be traveling with it for the first time in a few weeks. I will report back on its performance, but it looks like the best choice in my serach for air travel of a Brompton…with protection, weight, non descript to avoid ?bike question and price as my key concerns.

  6. chrisrust Says:

    Thanks for this comment Paul. I don’t believe there could ever be a “best” option since you always have to trade-off between weight, convenience, impact or crush protection, portability and cost. For me weight, portability and cost are the most important thing and my experience shows that my bike can survive in a soft case with a little care. If your Delsey case works well for you that’s good news and it certainly sounds like a good compromise at 11lbs / 5.5kg, I expect that there will be people out there grateful to hear about your experience.

  7. Milo Hurley Says:

    Hi Chris!

    I’m tremendously impressed by the thoroughness of your research and experimentation when preparing for your global travels with your Brompton.
    I’m beginning to wonder if the invention of the Brompton bicycle can be seen as almost prophetic? After all, it allows inventive and persistent folks to come up with their own solutions in a world of mass travel and, I fear, mass organization and conformity…. which may only be able to go on for how long, in these uncertain times? I’m hugely impressed that you would cycle from home to the airport, from the airport to the hotel, or any place in-between that appeals to you on your travels. The N.Y. Times once described cycling as ‘Anarchy – autonomy without malice’ an astute description, surely?

    Now I’m wondering about the latest photos in your blog. That Brompton in the photos in clear-lacquer finish, does it replace your red Brommie or, can clear-lacquer be applied retro-actively, to an existing frame?
    I bought my Brompton on e bay, a 2004 T3. The dealer in California brought it up to almost new specs, with titanium bits, penta-clip, a change of gearing – 44t x 13 +15 sprockets, q/r seat clamp, new hinge clamps, Eazywheels and better handlebar grips. At his suggestion we dropped the rear rack and the bottle dynamo to reduce weight, though getting rid of the rack might have been a mistake: my Brommie blew over once in a strong wind-gust; the stability offered by four spread-out wheels is an improvement over the standard three. Finally a handlebar crossbrace was fitted, the previous owner confessing to being 6ft 2in.

    In its earlier incarnation as an all steel Brommie, I took it aboard a bus in Denver, Colorado, whereupon the driver stared and stared, then stood up and bowed silently. We drove south to Colorado Springs. I got out, pointed the Brompton toward Denver, 80 miles north, then bombed home, assisted by an astonishing tailwind. Now I have Brompton’s touring pannier. Capacious for sure. Finally I put the lot into a B and W hardcase and cleared off to Australia, from where I write this.

    I just want to assure you how much I appreciate your sharing of your own travel experiences. I’m impressed the way you’ve fitted everything together, a Brompton emerging from a Carradice bag which becomes a spacer to press the C-bag out of the way; everything needed fitting into panniers front and rear. Neat! Independence indeed.


  8. chrisrust Says:

    Thanks for that Milo and I hope you and your Brompton are enjoying Oz.
    The clear lacquer bike is a new one, my old red bike was getting a bit rattly after 6 years of hard use and in need of TLC. My employer participates in the UK government’s excellent cycle to work scheme where you can buy a new bike tax free on easy interest-free installments so I decided a new bike was in order. The red one is waiting restoration, my eventual plan is to have one set up as a touring bike with the mountain drive and the other as a commuter with the Brompton Wide Range gears that came with the new bike. I might swap the frames so the tourer has the new longer wheelbase frame.
    I chose clear lacquer because I hate the new matt colours, lacquer is also matt but not as nasty. I’m just wondering what colour to paint the old one, probably won’t get round to that for a year or two as we are enjoying the Hase Pino a lot so I’m not sure how much long-distance solo riding I will do.
    very best, Chris

  9. Karin Andreassen Says:

    I thank you a lot for very useful information and tips on paddings +++ when transporting the bike. I am from Tromso, northern Norway and stay now for halv a year in Barcelona, where I enjoy my first Bromton Bike every day. It is going to be my travel bike, because back home I need a bike that will be good in the snow as well, and the Bromton has too small tyres for sow-biking I think, and I have not seem that it comes with studded tyres. I am returning back home with this bike at the end of January 2010, and have started wonder how to transport it, safe and without too much additional weight. The padded Bromton B bag seems like a good option, so I will order that one and hope for the best.

  10. chrisrust Says:

    Hi Karin,

    The only problem with the B-Bag on a European Flight is that it is quite heavy and might take you over the luggage allowance, although some of the low cost airlines now have more flexible ways of charging for luggage so that might help.

    You can find information on how to make your own snow tyres here but they will not be very durable, OK for occasional use. As there are so many Bromptons being used all year round including in cold countries maybe Schwalbe will start making studded tyres.

  11. Iago Says:

    Ready for another round of trips with my Brompton, I have been revisiting this post and the comments. I think I am going down the route of the hard case again, given the previous experience. I agree the Carradice bag option is very tempting, and I see now the B-bag as the worst of both worlds: not as protective as a hard case, not lightweight enough for cycling with it.

    I have had so far no problems with the weight, maybe beacuse I do not check in any other luggage.

  12. Damian Hargreaves Says:

    Has anyone tried this hard carry case:

    The quoted 8.5kg weight would in theory bring you in spot on the 20kg luggage limit if you were using a current M3L model. I’ve been toying with buying this for longer trips abroad.

  13. chrisrust Says:

    I guess that’s good if you can carry all your clothes etc in your cabin bag. I know people who do that but I like having a collection of comforts, books and things to wear, plus I often carry stuff for my work.

    I suspect the new Brompton hard case will be lighter when it comes out

  14. Evan Says:

    I thought I’d mention that a buddy and I just got back from a flight between LA & Portland, and we just carried our Bromptons on. They were small planes, so at the door they had to green tag them and take them below, but they were handled carefully the whole way. No padding, no wrapping, no bags (which you now have to carry for your entire trip), just an 18 Liter backpack and a bicycle. It was a United Airlines flight, but I’m not sure how much it matters, because it isn’t the airline that gets you through security anyway. The guys at the security gate thought it was pretty nifty, and I think their excitement smoothed over the process. One of the guys asked if it was for parachuting.

  15. Nigel Healy Says:

    I’ve found, like Chris has mentioned, the Brompton itself is a major cause of damage, my inclination is the Brompton will damage itself, and its bag less if the Brompton is as light as possible, so e.g. a M2L-X. I’m tempted to move the parts between my Bromptons to make one with maximum flexibility but more weight but I fear the added weight will increase the chance of damage. e.g. adding a rack will add something to be bent.

  16. chrisrust Says:

    Not sure that weight is a factor, more that sharp corners on the bike will chafe the bag. The weight of other luggage stacked on the bike is probably more significant.

  17. Elena Says:

    What a helpful post. I’m so glad I stumbled onto your blog, Chris.

    I recently flew from NY to SF and back using the Delsey Axiom, as Paul mentioned above. My Brompton is a 3-speed with a rack. I removed the seat and 2 wheels off the back rack. My helmet and other riding gear fit in the Delsey with the bike, and it weighed under 50 lbs, which was the limit. No one asked “what’s in there.” I shared another suitcase with my husband, and he checked that. So the luggage was free (this is JetBlue). When he gets his Brompton, we’re going to try a soft-sided suitcase we were given, and if it doesn’t survive the flight, we’ll pick up another Delsey Axiom.

    We fly to the west coast a lot, where we have family, so storing the big suitcases isn’t an issue. But if I were riding to the airport and thence to hotel, I’d love to try your solution, Chris! Ingenious. I might have to try padding it a bit so it doesn’t look so lumpy, though. The carriers in the US are notorious at sniffing out bikes these days. I’ll grudgingly pay extra to check a bag, if I have to, but I deeply resent paying even more for checking that bag because of it’s contents, which is nobody’s business. I accept the risk, and it’s within weight and dimension restrictions.

    I’ve heard of some people checking their Bromptons in the overhead compartment, but that makes me very nervous. Have you tried that with your C-Bag, Chris? Looks like it might fit. If the crew chose, at the last minute, to check it into cargo at the gate, at least your rig has passed the test of sturdiness. That’s what would concern me using a softbag and the overhead bins.

    Thanks for all the details, photos, and the blog in general. Very nice.

  18. chrisrust Says:

    Hi Elena, thanks for this useful information.

    I agree, the idea of putting a Brompton in the overhead locker horrifies me. The likely consequences of dropping a heavy metal object with hard corners onto somebody’s head don’t bear thinking about. This has been discussed in the Bromptontalk Forum a few times and there seems to be a division of opinion between people who empathically get that problem and others who don’t get the difference between a heavy hard bicycle and a heavy soft case (even a hard plastic shell will “give” to absorb and spread impact).

    Quite a few people like Evan above have gate-checked their Brompton in the USA, along with the baby buggies, but I’m not sure I’ve come across that outside America. Despite 9-11 the habit of walk-up air travel seems so ingrained in the USA that they still allow practices that would be unthinkable in Europe. The x-ray security people at the transfer gate in Helsinki refused to let me take a simple light cable lock through even though it had been accepted at Manchester and Seoul. Interestingly, outward, coming from another EU country, they didn’t x-ray my cabin bag but inward from Asia they did.

    I really don’t understand the pathological resistance of US airlines to bikes. There seems to be no rational basis for it although cyclists do seem to be perceived as “transgressive” more in the USA than other countries (there’s a bit of that here in the UK too). As I’ve reported in the post, with a copy of the particular airline’s carriage rules handy, some have demonstrated that the check-in staff are mis-interpreting rules intended for oversized objects. Similarly one of the Bromptontalk members in the UK always has the national rail conditions of carriage handy on his laptop because he has often encountered various kinds of unreasonable obstruction from train crews who don’t know their own rules.

    Of course the ultimate answer is to use surface travel and that’s my aim as far as possible in Europe, but I don’t under-estimate the problems with the limited, slow rail networks in North America. I’m off to Ireland next month, the total trip by rail/ship route is just as fast as flying when you factor in the overnights and with continuing intermittent stoppages for volcanic ash clouds, especially in Ireland, it’s a more reliable route by far.

  19. Evan Says:

    I’ve flown with mine several times now – I initially bought mine in London and flew via Ryanair to Sweden and back, with the bike as checked luggage using the cardboard box it came in and padding it with a few pieces of clothing. As I posted last year above, I’ve now also flown Los Angeles to Portland, OR on United, and took it as a carry-on (April 2010), although it was unable to fit in the overhead and was tagged at the gate. In summer 2010 I was able to fit it in the overhead via Jet Blue, and early 2011 via Southwest. It seems to be (in the US at least) that security is rather ambivalent, as long as it fits through the x-ray and isn’t dangerous, and the airline employees at the gate and on the plane seem equally at a loss since your strange appearance at their gate with a folded contraption lends you credibility, as you’ve already passed the earlier tests at the ticket counter and security. I repeat without cessation many variants of the phrase “I’ve done this before without a problem.” I’ll be flying to London next month via Iberia and attempting to carry on.

    I’m still a little concerned about security because they still seem to have a lot of power over what gets through, and I do feel like a positive attitude helps a lot in the US when you’re trying to get your Brompton in and out of the x-ray and all the way to the overhead (should you so choose – I think gate-checking is equally acceptable). My Iberia flight is nonstop to London, and I’m not too concerned about getting through LAX security with the bike, and if the Iberia crew insists on gate-checking, I’m fine with that (although overhead is preferable). Mostly I’m curious to see the reception when I try to pass through security at Heathrow. I’m budgeting an extra hour or two at Heathrow so that if I can’t get through security, I can scramble for some cardboard, tape, and soft things to get it reasonably wrapped up for a checked flight. We shall see.

    As far as concerns with hoisting the bike into the overhead, I’m 6’5″ and an avid weight lifter, so I may have an advantage on that point. And the main reason all of this is important to me is that I like to travel with a 30-40 liter bag, so space is precious, and even a thin cloth slip for the Brompton becomes unnecessary weight and lost capacity for 95% of the trip. I also like to move around (for instance, on my 11-night trip next month I’ll actually sleep in a different place on 8 or 9 nights), so stashing any luggage anywhere isn’t feasible for me. For people that move between beds more slowly or not at all, stowing a hard or soft case for the trip may not be an issue.

  20. NYCE_PC Says:

    Love this thread like I love my Brompton. Thanks, all, for contributing.

  21. James Hinchcliffe Says:


    I am trying your method, albeit with a B Bag as I don’t need to cycle away at the other end. I am off to Austrlaia in 2 weeks for a month. I will update you on what happens!

  22. TBoulanger Says:

    Chris, enjoying your blog today…as for travelling with a Brompton on the West Coast of the USA, it can be quite easy if you pick the right carrier.

    Alaska Airlines (and its subcontractors/ code share partners – like Delta, etc) provides the service you experienced with the green tag – its called “ala Carte”. It makes a load of difference in easy of flying with a Brompton without having to go thru the “its a stroller” act. Just last week I was coming back from a transportation conference (ProBike) and the bike made it even easier, as I got to ride with my luggage thru 1/4 mile of concourse detours and construction outside. The pilots of my plane were so impressed they asked about where to get one, lucky for them, Martina of Clever Cycles (an excellent Brompton dealer) was also on the plane.

    Also, do not forget Amtrak’s regional rail services (Cascades – NW, Capitol – Bay Area, and Surfliner – SoCal) all have nice large luggage bins in the carriage and bike hooks ($5) that make for easy bike bringing. The Washington and California state governments have made large investments (for the USA) in their regional rail services that make it much nicer than the regular Amtrak services that can be late or require you to box a conventional bike. Assuming you have the choice of routes.

    And the recent arrival of the East Coast’s BoltBus to the West Coast provides a third option – often at much cheaper rates though with less convenience of routes, etc.

  23. TBoulanger Says:

    I have had the opportunity to travel on dozens of flights with my Bromptons since 2006…I have to agree with the general tips. It does generally work to avoid all the large packing and protections in the USA, so that the baggage handlers know what they are handling. I always try to gate check [a naked Brompton] if possible and I only use a toeclip strap to keep the handlebars from unlatching from the fork blade, as I found that the unlatched handlebar was the biggest confusion (and opportunity for damage) for baggage handlers when i first travelled.

    But having said this – i did have one bad incident with a naked Brompton gate checked at the Abu Dhabi airport on the way to AMS. Somehow the Brompton did not make it onto the flight and got lost for weeks…the Brooks saddle got crushed!, rear rack tweaked, and some paint damage…looked like it got run over by a luggage trolley. ;-( $300 (for a saddle and rack ) later it is still a daily rider.

    Gate checking a Brompton as a stroller does work for a solo flyer but can be tough when the travelling with a family of Bromptons. Or if the Airline does not see a child near by.

  24. chrisrust Says:

    >>Alaska Airlines (and its subcontractors/ code share partners – like Delta, etc) provides the service you experienced with the green tag – its called “ala Carte”<<

    Hi Todd, that's interesting although I'm not sure what you are referring to when you say "the service you experienced", maybe you are thinking of somebody who has commented here or somebody I've referred to.

    Anyway it would be very helpful if you would mention the Alaska Airways approach on the Bromptontalk Forum as there’s a big discussion going on there following a member being charged $200 excess for his Brompton by United Airlines. It appears that they imposed the charge even though it was packed inside a suitcase and met the normal size-weight limits. Being a bicycle was the crime!

  25. Dion Forster Says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your great post! I also travel with Brompton. You can read about my packing regime here

    I seldom ride from the airport or station, so the B-bag works for me. I did however buy a luggage trolley to make the b-bag more manageable to move around.

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