Introduction: "Fold" a Non-Folding Bike and Avoid Airline Fees

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…

"Fold" any bike and hide it in a bag in a few minutes. Avoid airline and train rules and bicycle fees.
It takes about five minutes once you learn how. Really. It goes quick.
Here's Mirko Silvestrini and his bike, ready to ride Amtrak.

Need a big bag to stow your bike? Sew a Duluth Pack!

When checking my bicycle bag at the airport, sometimes they ask me what's in the bag.
I say "wheelchair" or "bicycle parts" or "folding bicycle" or "wheelchair parts". They've never charged me a bicycle fee, which could be $75, or even $75 per leg if it's a bad itinerary on bad carriers.
If you tell Amtrak and some other carriers you have a bike, they'll ask you to remove the pedals from your bike and put it in a bike box. Don't fall for that. For many bicycles, removing the pedals is more difficult than the process shown here, or even impossible.

Most airlines have the "62 inch sum-of-dimensions" rule for checked bags. That rule states that length plus width plus depth of a checked bag should add up to 62 inches or less. Most bikes will pack small enough to be less than that. Irregular packages are hard to measure. Usually the check-in workers will let you bend the rules a bit., in case you want to try this with a tallbike :).

Your bike will probably be different than this one. To see everything about how to disassemble, reassemble, and tune any kind of bicycle, check
Sheldon Brown
and Park Tool.

Thanks to Mirko and Lorraine for the opportunity to document this!

Step 1: Remove Rear Rack

This frame is a bit long for my bag, so we'll take the rear luggage rack off to make it fit.
If your frame is shorter or your bag is bigger you can leave it on.
This one is held on with four allen (hex) socket bolts.
Set aside the allen wrenches you use for this, you'll bring them with you on your trip.

Step 2: Remove the Stem and Handlebars

This bike has the old "threaded" style headset.
Here are Sheldon Brown's details about how those work. Check that site to see how to disassemble other styles of headset.

For this one, first step is to loosen the "Quill bolt" that goes down into the stem.
This one was concealed under a rubber plug that we had to pull off.
This bolt uses a big allen wrench. Give it a few turns til it's loose and then read the next step.

Step 3: Tap the Quill Bolt With a Hammer

You'll only need to do this the first time. The wedge at the bottom of the stem gets pretty tight when it's been there a long time.

Tapping the bolt with a hammer (rock, wrench) pushes the wedge away from the stem and loosens the whole assembly in the fork tube.
Pull off the handlebars.
Set aside the allen wrench you just used, you'll bring it with you on your trip.

Step 4: Remove the Handlebars

They should pull off pretty easily.
If not, loosen the quill bolt a little more.
Leave all the cables connected.

Step 5: Cover the Greasy Bits

Optional step. If you want to be sure grease doesn't get on stuff, wrap the greasy bits with a rag.

There's an innertube famine going on, so we taped the rag on instead of tying it with a piece of innertube.

Step 6: Loosen the Cross-Threaded Nuts

A flat spanner that fits your nuts is lighter to transport than a big crescent wrench.
But this is what we have and so that's what we'll use.
Loosen the nuts at the top of the fork tube.

Set aside the wrench you just used, you'll bring it with you on your trip.

Step 7: Lay Them Straight

As you take the parts off the fork tube, lay them out in order.
As soon as you remove the fork you'll put them back on so you don't lose them.

Step 8: Remove the Wheel

Easily done, this wheel has quick-release axles.
Usually you need to fully relax the brakes to spread the brake pads far apart to fit the tire between them. Every type of brake does this differently.

Step 9: Remove the Fork

After removing the nuts and washer at the top, the fork will just fall out of the headset tube.

Step 10: Don't Lose Your Bearings

If you're lucky your headset ball bearings will be retained in a carrier like this.
The bottom one usually comes off with the fork. Pull the top one off and put it on the fork tube so you don't lose it.

Step 11: Store the Nuts in Proper Order

Take the nuts and washer you laid out on the table and put them on the fork tube.

The fork tube and bearings are greasy.
Put a sock or a rag over them if you care about that.

Step 12: Remove the Rear Wheel

Relax the rear brake and remove the rear wheel

Step 13: Protect the Rear Dropouts

When the rear wheel is removed it's possible to bend the dropouts together by say, jumping up and down on the bag, throwing it off a platform, or overturning a luggage trolley onto it. Since we aren't in Japan, those are all possibilities.
To prevent frame damage, we'll wedge a block of wood between the rear dropouts and tape it in place.

My old Bridgestone came with a spanner with notches to fit the dropouts. You'd loop the chain over it, and the chain tension would hold it in place.

Step 14: Remove the Rear Derailer*

The derailer sticks out and can get damaged if you leave it on.
If you're able to keep the bag with you or otherwise protect it you don't have to take it off.

This bag will be in the hands of Amtrak employees, so we'll be careful.

*Sheldon Brown says to spell it that way.

Step 15: Stash It

Big emotional payoff!
It's time to stow it in the bag!

Usually I stow the frame and handlebars first, then a wheel on each side, then the other stuff in between.
Notice the "Please Return" information written inside the bag. No one will ever see that. They'll only be looking for something that looks like a luggage tag.

Step 16: We've Got It All in the Bag

For you non English speakers, that's an idiom which means "now we're cooking with GAS!".

What bike? All I've got here is a legal checkable bag full of wheelchair parts for my orphaned relatives : )