bike flightsby Andrew Yee

With the 2012 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships and the 2012 UCI Masters Cyclocross World Championships approaching, many racers have resigned themselves to steep airline bike fees or paying full retail shipping rates to get their cyclocross bike or bikes to Madison, Wisconsin, or Louisville, Kentucky.  There is another way as we’ve come to learn, and today we’re reviewing such a service from a company called Bike Flights that can still get your bike to Madison (for later races) or to Louisville in time, while potentially saving you a bunch of money.

With many airline fees over $200 each way, taking a chance to experience Madison or Louisville or contest for a stars and stripes or rainbow jersey can certainly get expensive unless you were lucky to find a Frontier airlines flight and take advantage of their policy of classifying a bicycle as standard luggage (or convincingly try the “trade show materials” trick). 

How can you avoid such an expense? A quick web search turned up Bike Flights, a company that has secured discounted rates with FedEx to affordably ship bikes to your desired destination and back. I priced their service to Madison and found their rates to be about $40 to $100 cheaper each way than rates I could get on my own by shipping online via UPS or FedEx Ground. From Norcal to Madison, it was $64 each way through Bike Flights, versus $100+ for UPS and $160+ for FedEx. It was also quite a bit cheaper than what my airline would charge me, and I wouldn’t have to worry about squeezing my bike or box into a tiny rental car. It was an easy decision.

My bike was already boxed, and I was ready to buy and ship it, and of course there wasn’t much time to waste. After plunking down my credit card, I was ready to print my label and head to FedEx. Besides the cost savings, another big benefit of the service is the convenience of Bike Flight’s simple order form, with pre-defined bike box dimensions that make getting a quick quote extremely easy, an easy sign up form and a plethora of payment options (Visa, Master Card, Discover, American Express). It’s a lot easier than creating an account on UPS or FedEx and navigating all their shipping options.

It took just a few minutes to order the labels, but then came the one surprise — after making my purchase, only then did I realize that the order would need to be processed and my label would later arrive via email, typically in a few hours. It happened to be just a few hours before the day’s final pick up at my local FedEx office, and that meant I’d be shipping it the next day. There still was enough time for the bike to arrive in Madison in time if I shipped it the next day, but the child seat was already out of the car, the bike box was in, and it was all premature. Five hours later, the label arrived via email, and the next day I dropped it off without problem. It’s also worth noting that scheduling a FedEx pick up is also an option.  So the lesson learned is that a bit of planning ahead will help you avoid any anxiety of waiting for that email (there still should be sufficient time for Louisville).

Another surprise was that I only received my “departure” label, even though I bought a round trip.  Worrying about printing your return label while on the road isn’t ideal, but my return label ended up arriving just a few days later. Why send it later, in a separate email? I thought it was a confusing experience and worried I mistakenly ordered just a one-way service, but confirmed I did order a round trip. But in the end, nothing was amiss and was informed it’s standard practice to email the label separately and often later. There’s several reasons for this, according to Bike Flight’s William Alcorn.  “Customers often change their plans on a bike trip, so sending separately give us time to offer free changes,” says Alcorn. The extra time also gives Bike Flights customers a chance to get full refunds if they cancel.  Alcorn is also limited to FedEx’s rules, he explains, “FedEx works on a 10 day window so we can only issue labels with a ship date 10 days from now … if your return would have been within that 10 window we would have processed it at the same time.”  The benefit of sending two separate emails is that customers in a hurry don’t mislabel their box with the wrong label.

If you’re lucky to work at or have access to a company that has great corporate FedEx shipping rates, Bike Flights’ rates may not save you money, but compared to just showing up at FedEx or a UPS store, the rates are definitely cheaper for this Norcal-to-Madison trip. Will Bike Flights and FedEx deliver by bike both ways without incident? Stay tuned for Part 2 of our review for final thoughts on Bike Flight’s service after our Nationals trip.

For more info: