"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 www.zcorp.com, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

"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!

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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 : )

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    27 Discussions


    5 years ago on Step 3

    Well step 3 saved my weekend. My kids dropped his bike lock keys into the sewer. My only option was to remove the handle bar to free the bike from the ulock. The handle bar where stock and I was about to give up. Then I landed on this page.

    Thanks a lot !!

    Yard Sale Dale

    6 years ago on Step 16

    That's awesome. The transportation companies charge horrible rates for bicycles, and often destroy them! It is so bad that many people just buy a cheap bike at their destination, and re-sell it or donate it when their trip is through, or ship their personal bike ahead of time to a bike shop.

    Yard Sale Dale

    6 years ago on Step 14

    "Derailer" suits me fine. I think some people call them "mech" though. There should be a contest for a new name for derailleurs.

    Cool. Niagara Cycle has folding pedals (They work like normal BMX or sneaker pedals, but fold up against the cranks when you are done riding).


    7 years ago on Step 16

    Great instructible with excellent photographs. I would quickly get tired of disassembling and re-assembling my bike twice a day 4 days a week though.
    I would happily do this for the occasional trip however.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    With terrific respect to Sheldon, who apparently speaks fluent French compared with my whatever-school-level-we-are-when-we-are-thirteen French (what we in NZ used to call Third Form before we got Americanised [hey, some of my best relatives are USAian]) and knows a whole BUNCH about bikes, gasp for breath, "derailleur" would be pronounced "day-rye-leuh" surely, rather than "day-rye-euh"? The consonant "L" would only not be pronounced when not followed by a vowel, oui??? eg S'il vous plait. He said humbly.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 14

    With perhaps less respect for your schoolboy French, you are incorrect. The double L in this instance is pronounced as a Y, so I'd say Sheldon's phonetic spelling is perfectly good. A couple of basic google searches would have enlightened you. Here you can listen to it: http://www.forvo.com/word/derailleur. And here you can read the rules: http://french.about.com/od/pronunciation/a/ll.htm.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 14

    Yeah, I don't have much respect for my schoolboy French either. It would appear that the French pronounce it your way and, according to Sheldon - who ought to know! - and a lot of the sites that Google first gives for "derailleur pronunciation", English pronounces it with the "ll"'s. I s'pose it depends on which language one speaks. As Sheldon says: "This is actually a French word, but it is commonly pronounced in an anglicized manner, as "de-RAIL-er" or "de-RAIL-yur." The actual French pronunciation is more like "day-RYE-EUH" but nobody says that when speaking English."
    So yeah, you're right about the French version. I'd imagine, though, that if I went into an English-speaking bike shop and asked for a "day-rye-eur", they'd look at me blankly: most of them wouldn't be as erudite as you and I!
    Besides, my bike has Shimano Nexus 8-speed hub gears, so I don't need "day-rye-eurs" anyway :]
    Thanks for the reply, jeremybull: the truth is good to know.

    Gen R

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Hola, Tim Anderson Sorry about my english but I'm a "For you non English speakers, that's an idiom which means "now we're cooking with GAS!". ( el mesaje no es claro por cierto) any way your instructable is a good idea, some bike carriers are really expensive, let me suggest to use some plastic tubes to cover the frame, & u can use some plastic or foam to keep frame covered from scratches made with the wheels and other parts, as the crank set or the cassettes. as same you use a wood piece to protect the rear dropouts I use some to protect the fork, for some other bike models you can use a little box to put inside all pieces n stuff like Quick Releases and Skewers, don't let them be jumping all around your precious bike hitting everything and getting lost, We r triathlon & bike fans and find your idea really great to travel cheaper. Saludos amigo. Pd. Like your bike looks real cool classic !!!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I would pad the rear hanger..... once that misalligns... you are up for a miserable ride.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    at the risk of sounding too extreme, you could cut the frame up. http://www.sandsmachine.com/ use bike couplers. Once you break/cut the frame, it packs smaller and has a far less chance of being mauled by the airport handlers. and... you dont have to disassemble the racks and the bars...etc.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I don't want to spoil this with science but referring to the photos:-
    1.  the wheelbase of the bike is about 1100mm (standard) and the longest dimension of the frame will be min 1100mm rear dropout to headstem.
    2.  the bloke in the photo has my proportions and my hanging clenched hand is 750mm from the floor.

    I am skeptical that the frame is in the bag in the photo or will fit in the bag!

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Your number are right! And I'm sure the frame fits in the bag. Don't forget the lenght of the frame fits into the full diagonal lenght of the bag. Let's be more mathematically precise : remember that ol'fellow named Pythagora? Let's assume that the diamond shaped frame roughly is a right angled triangle. A squared + B squared = C squared (750mm*750mm) + (750mm*750mm) equals what ? 1,125,000 of which square root is .... ta da!!! 1060mm QED


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Tim! When I flew into SF last summer, I brought my bike on the plane too! It needed a fair bit of disassembly, but it fit in a bike box and I was able to bring it with me on the plane - but I had to pay an over sized luggage fee :( Bilal and I are actually about to travel all over the US - this seems like a totally good alternative to finding folders :) Did the bike survive the baggage handlers?

    4 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    great to hear you're doing that hackerspace quest! I'm looking forward to seeing your videos! Baggage handlers used to be a lot more brutal with baggage before homeland security goons were watching their every move. They bent my derailleur once, so I started taking it off the frame after that.

    Wade TarziaTimAnderson

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Yup. During my first bike camping trip in Ireland, the luggage handlers managed to bend my tire pump clamped on the frame *while* the bike was disassembled in a bike box! When I went to luggage to get my stuff at Shannon, I heard gorilla-like crashes in the handling area behind that slitted splastic curtain meant to stop photo journalists from documenting luggage handling. rashes, rattled, and luggage was being hurled through the access door so that the bags were missing the conveyor belt.

    I wish folding bikes came with big wheels. I am going to Ireland again for a month this October I hope, and was looking for a design-to-fold bike. But Irish country roads are rough, and I need bigger wheels.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I am truly amazed this takes only 5 minutes. Bravo.

    The nifty thing about threadless headsets is that you can do all these steps with a single, very portable 5mm allen wrench, and avoid using the hammer and headset wrenches.

    Would the bike not fit in there with the stem removed but fork still on?

    I could be wrong, but I think the threaded holes that the rack bolts into might suffer with frequent torquing and detorquing.

    Also, something cushy covering the deerayloour hanger would be a good idea: I know firsthand what a headache it is trying to straighten those things.

    And TSA are still overpaid gorrillas!