Shipping the bike
This section contains:
For each shipment, the details include Shipping Date, Cost, Shipper Contact details and a Description of the experience, in many cases very detailed and extremely useful information about the requirements for crating or the paperwork involved at the destination location.
This information has been gleaned from various sources, and not all details are available for every route. If you are aware of any more up-to-date information, or you know of any shipping details for locations which aren't listed in the database, please advise us. Thanks to all who have entered shipment details, and please keep it coming!
MC Air Shipping, (uncrated) USA / Canada / Europe and other areas. Be sure to say "Horizons Unlimited" to get your $25 discount on Shipping!
Insurance - see: For foreigners traveling in US and Canada and for Americans and Canadians traveling in other countries, then mail it to MC Services and get your HU $15 discount!
After shipping our own bike many times, and watching and hearing about hundreds more shipments, we have come to the conclusion that overall, the best method to send your bike is via air.
Sea shipping sounds cheaper, but the port fees are much higher, often off-setting any savings, or worse, as we heard recently, costing a traveller more than the entire original shipping fees! And by the time you factor in being without the bike for weeks or even months, it's usually not worth any savings you may get in the end. An important thing to watch for is that sea shipments are extraordinarily unreliable for time. The shipper will often quote for instance 6-8 weeks to ship from Vancouver to Europe by sea. Experience has shown that this is at best an optimistic guess, at worst a flat lie. Yes it can be done in six weeks, but not if the boat is rerouted to Nigeria! Twelve weeks is not unheard of, and then there's the dock strikes...
We know of one traveller who arranged shipping for her bike from England to Ecuador 12 weeks in advance of her planned vacation in South America. On arrival in Ecuador, she went to the shipping company's office looking for her bike. They knew nothing about it. It was still in the UK, awaiting a boat. She didn't enjoy the bus for the next two months. At least with an airplane they can always put it on another flight and it will only be a matter of days before it arrives.
Unfortunately US airlines are getting paranoid about shipping bikes - they class them as "dangerous goods" - and often refuse to carry them at all. All you can do is call all the airlines freight departments and find out if they will do it. Not the head office etc. - their automatic reaction is NO. If you find one make sure you talk to the guys in the freight department that actually handle it - what they will tell you is often very different from the official story from head office and passenger people. Do a search using the search bar above on "dangerous goods" to find much more about solutions and ways to deal with the problem. MOST shipments aren't done out of the USA anymore, most travellers use Canada instead due to this problem. Air Canada is very familiar with shipping bikes, and it can generally be done by dealing direct with the FREIGHT guys at the airport - not the check-in desk! :)
Lufthansa and other European airlines, as well as South American and Asian airlines will generally take a bike. You may have to work through an agent, but it is usually not too expensive for their services, and they will take care of all the paperwork for you.
"Receiving a bike at the airport in Buenos Aires is much cheaper than at the seaport. ($60 vs $400). I've heard that Uruguay is a bit more expensive.
A friend shipped his bike to Valpariso (near Santiago), Chile, and paid US$7 -- yes, only SEVEN Dollars to reclaim his bike. I was with him, and the whole process was done in one day. The customs offices are walking distance from where the containers get unpacked."
Also, there are numerous more posts on the HUBB on this topic, in the Trip Transport forum.
- You may get told you can't ship the battery with the bike - that is not generally true - you MUST however completely disconnect the battery and tape the terminals securely. Also usually you must drain MOST of the fuel out of the tank, a litre or pint or so left is usually fine, just enough to get you to a fuel station on arrival.
- We usually leave the front wheel on when shipping as we're lazy - it can be an advantage to be able to just wheel the bike out of the crate and drive away, particularly in places like Nairobi. All I usually do is take off the mirrors and windshield, but it does cost a little more. Sometimes the local warehouse where you pick up the bike will not allow you to dismantle the crate there, insisting you take the crate away on a truck. We've always been able to get around this, but it has taken some persuading in the USA. (and waiting for everyone to go on coffee break)
- Crates can often be obtained from a dealer. Wood crates are the easiest
to deal with but many crates are now metal with a cardboard wrapper.
They will work, but are harder to custom size. They are lighter, which
can be good, but usually the problem with a bike is not the weight but
the volume. Shipping costs are calculated on a weight per volume basis.
If the weight is over x / cubic foot then you pay the weight, if under
you pay based on volume. Bikes are bulky, and you have to work hard to
get the volume down in order to pay the weight price. You will have to
really squeeze hard to get down to the weight price.
"Size counts"formula in common use:
Length x Width x Height in cm. divided by 6 = weight in KG.
e.g. 225 x 100 x 115 = 2587.5 cm3 divided by 6 = 431kg*
Therefore regardless of the REAL weight of the bike and crate, you will be charged AS IF it weighed 431 KG.
- DON'T fully compress the forks. The bike should be tied down on its suspension, about half-way down.
- It should NOT be resting on centre-stand or side-stand, only on its wheels, and vertical. This will not harm the springs (unless you leave it for a couple of years). If it's on the stand, it will pound up and down in transport, and cause a lot of damage to the stand, the crate, etc.
- Use good straps (I like 6) and don't skimp on the crate. You can usually get them for nothing from bike dealers, since they usually throw them away anyway. Good straps are often available for free from BMW dealers - they are what BMW uses to ship their bikes, and dealers end up with plenty. They are popular though!
- IF you really want to squeeze the volume down, take the front wheel off, rest the bike on the skidplate or forks (with axle installed and clamps tightened), and tie securely.
- Book a container and put several bikes in it, and the cost per bike will usually drop significantly.
Strapping boxes on top, getting as much as possible in and as small as possible.
To reduce your shipping costs - from Istvan Szlany:
- Dismount front tire with fender, handle bar with mirrors, and side+tail bags/boxes to reduce height, length and width and you'll pay the minimum possible by volume.
- if you can, crate the bike, because then they can put other things on the top of the motorcycle crate. Ask around for scrap wood, nails and hammer - I'm sure they have. In this case you will pay most likely for the weight of the motorcycle (Make sure that you will pay only for the weight of the motorcycle and not for the crate, too.)
For a good description of the crating process, see Chris and Erin Ratay's website.
Also, there are numerous posts on the HUBB on this topic, in the Trip Transport forum.
Other issues to think about
- Import regulations
- Carnet de passage or temporary import permit (esp. OZ)
- Insurance (transport, bike, health insurance etc.)
- Quarantine: Be aware of very strict regulations for OZ and NZ.
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