The Ultimate Guide to Triathlon Bike Shipping

The Ultimate Guide to Triathlon Bike Shipping

Soon enough you’ll need a plan for shipping your bike to the race. There are three ways to get it done including box-and-ship, fully-assembled transport and checked baggage.

But which is the best method?

To answer this question you’ll need to take stock of your priorities. For example, some bike shipping services focus on convenience while others concentrate on delivery speed. One service may promote the lowest price while another underscores reliability. So start thinking in terms of convenience, delivery speed, price and risk because choosing a service provider to ship your bike is all about trade-offs, and don’t believe anybody who tells you otherwise.

The purpose of this article is to give every triathlete a clear, objective review of prices, highlights and trade-offs between Overnight Bikes, TriBike Transport, BikeFlights and the airlines.

This article is about you and your need to successfully ship your bike. Our goal is to equip you with the facts you need to make an informed decision.

To compare the four services, we selected Ironman races in three different regions of the U.S., including Hawaii, for the simple reason that many triathletes plan their travel schedule around Ironman events.

Ready, set, let’s dive in…

Overnight Bikes

Overnight Bikes ships exclusively with FedEx Express to offer priority overnight delivery to any destination in the U.S., including Hawaii,⁠ for $99 flat rate. Drop-off at FedEx Office by 4:30pm and your bike will be delivered next-business-day by 10:30am.

Highlights

Next-business-day shipping for $99 flat rate helps triathletes overcome several challenges. First, one-day shipping maximizes your time-to-train during the week or two leading up to an event. Also, the convenience of traveling light through the airport is a big plus. Another highlight that’s unique to Overnight Bikes is the peace of mind that comes with one-day shipping. The less time your bike spends in transit the less likely it is to be damaged, delayed or lost.

Finally, $99 flat rate shipping to Hawaii is a game changer. The benefits of increased time-to-train, traveling light, and reduced risk are all magnified for anyone headed to KONA.

Highlight Summary:

    • Next-business-day delivery = more time-to-train
    • $99 flat rate shipping in the U.S., including Hawaii
    • Hassle-free travel
    • Decreased risk of damage, delay or loss

Trade-Offs

If you’re uncomfortable packing your own bike, both FedEx Office and your local bike shop have the knowledge and experience to securely pack it for you.

If you’ve never shipped a bike before you need to be mindful of the overall package size. While most airlines apply an overweight surcharge on packages exceeding 50 pounds, FedEx applies an oversize surcharge for packages exceeding 130-inches length plus girth (i.e., greater than 44 x 11 x 32 inches).

In case you’re wondering, the Trico® Iron Case, Thule® RoundTrip Sport, SBT Serfas® Bike Transport Case, and SBC Serfas® Bike Case are all travel cases measuring 130-inches or less. If your bike box or travel case is oversize, Overnight Bikes offers members a discount of about 50% off what you might expect to pay at retail for next-business-day delivery.

On the other end of packing and shipping is onsite assembly. If you’d like to leave your tools at home, book an appointment with a mobile bike shop, like Velofix, to have a pro assemble and tune up your bike for the race.

Regardless of transportation method, we recommend getting insurance. Overnight Bikes doesn’t offer insurance through the carrier because when you’ve invested in an expensive triathlon bike the best way to protect your investment is through a dedicated bicycle insurance policy. Some cyclists opt for a stand-alone policy through Velosurance to insure against theft, loss, damage, and liability. Others add coverage through their homeowners policy.

Trade-Off Summary:

    • Premium priced service ($250 membership fee)
    • Requires self-service or full-service packing
    • Requires on-location assembly
    • Insurance coverage n/a
    • Scheduled pickups n/a
    • International shipping n/a

Cost

Overnight Bikes is a membership service that costs $250 per year. Membership includes $99 flat rate shipping and next-business-day delivery within the U.S., including Hawaii.

Let’s look at three shipping examples. For consistency, each shipment will originate from the same location (Spokane, WA) and will travel to Ironman race locations in Florida, Hawaii and California.

Shipping Example A

From Spokane, WA
To Panama City Beach, FL (IRONMAN 70.3 Gulf Coast)
Dimensions 43 x 11 x 32 inches (129-inches length + girth)
Weight 55 pounds
Service Type FedEx Priority Overnight
Delivery Speed 1 business day
Cost $198 round trip ($99 each way)

Shipping Example B

From Spokane, WA
To Hawaii (IRONMAN 70.3 Hawaii)
Dimensions 43 x 11 x 32 inches (129-inches length + girth)
Weight 55 pounds
Service Type FedEx Priority Overnight
Delivery Speed 1 business day
Cost $198 round trip ($99 each way)

Shipping Example C

From Spokane, WA
To Oceanside, CA (IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside)
Dimensions 43 x 11 x 32 inches (129-inches length + girth)
Weight 55 pounds
Service Type FedEx Priority Overnight
Delivery Speed 1 business day
Cost $198 round trip ($99 each way)

Bottom Line

The $250 membership model is particularly appealing to serial triathletes. The more often you use the membership the more economical the service becomes. A prototypical Overnight Bikes member is an athlete who travels to 2-4 races per year, places a high value on time-to-train (i.e., fast delivery speed), and is looking for a balance between cost, risk and convenience.

TriBike Transport

TriBike Transport is best known for its fully-assembled service. If you live in a major metro area, TBT offers convenient drop-off at a partner bike shop and pick-up at or near Ironman Village one or two days before the race.

Highlights

Fully-assembled bike shipping is attractive because, as a triathlete preparing for Ironman, you already have a lot on your mind. TriBike Transport also offers race-day and after-the-race services for your wheel and gear bag, which is inline with their mission to ease the burden and logistical challenges surrounding event-driven bike shipping.

Highlight Summary:

    • Hassle-free travel
    • No packing necessary (fully-assembled shipping)
    • Delivery directly to the race
    • Easy handoff after the race
    • Optional insurance coverage ($8 per add’l $1,000 of value)
    • Optional gear-bag service ($40)

Trade-Offs

The company promotes the convenience of fully-assembled bike shipping, however, some disassembly is required prior to drop-off. For example, pedals, computers, seat post mounted carbon fiber hydration systems, and rear solid disc wheels all need to be removed before your bike can be checked-in at a partner shop.

Logistically, athletes who don’t live in a metropolitan area will need to travel to the nearest TBT partner shop to drop-off their bike before the race, as well as make a return trip about a week after the race to pick-up. Depending on your location this may be a prohibitive factor to using the service.

TBT’s 8-10 day pre-race drop-off requirement is another trade-off. If you value the time-to-train aspect of race preparation this will most likely put a wrinkle in your plans.

Lastly, transit-risk is always a consideration when shipping a bike. As with any service, the more time your bike is in transit the greater the risk of damage, delay or loss.

Trade-Off Summary:

    • Premium priced service
    • Service not available from east to west, and vice versa
    • Requires travel to a partner shop location for drop-off
    • Increased risk of damage or delay (due to more time-in-transit)
    • 8-10 day delivery = less time-to-train

Cost

TriBike Transport pricing includes round-trip shipping originating from and returning to one of their partner shops. Again, if you don’t live near a partner shop you’ll need to account for your time and travel expenses before and after the race.

TBT’s fully-assembled service ranges from $200 to $370 round-trip. Add $8 per additional $1,000 of value for insurance, $40 for a gear bag and $25 for a wheel bag. For Ironman Hawaii, the base cost ranges from $440 to $515 and TBT will either fly your bike or sail it in a shipping container across the Pacific Ocean.

Again, for pricing let’s look at three examples all originating from Spokane, Washington and traveling to Ironman races in Florida, Hawaii and California.

Shipping Example A

From Spokane, WA
To Panama City Beach, FL (IRONMAN 70.3 Gulf Coast)
Dimensions n/a
Weight n/a
Service Type Service not available
Delivery Speed Service not available
Cost Service not available

Shipping Example B

From Spokane, WA
To Hawaii (IRONMAN 70.3 Hawaii)
Dimensions n/a
Weight n/a
Service Type Fully-assembled shipping
Drop-Off Location 5 hour drive (from Spokane to Seattle, WA)
Delivery Speed 8-10 days
Cost $440 round-trip

Shipping Example C

From Spokane, WA
To Oceanside, CA (IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside)
Dimensions n/a
Weight n/a
Service Type Fully-assembled shipping
Drop-Off Location 5 hour drive (from Spokane to Seattle, WA)
Delivery Speed 8-10 days
Cost $360 round-trip

Bottom Line

If we account for travel expenses to a non-local partner shop, TriBike ranks as the most expensive and least convenient option for shipping your bike. Since 2005, TBT has earned a reputation for offering reliable end-to-end bike shipping. However, in 2020, the demand for fully-assembled shipping is declining due to the rise of more economical options. For instance, a hands-off experience can be coordinated for the same or lesser cost, but with more convenience and less risk. Local bike shops are available to securely pack your bike, FedEx or UPS will deliver to any destination at any speed, and mobile bike shops, like Velofix, are ready to assemble your bike at the race.

BikeFlights

BikeFlights offers economical box-and-ship service through UPS Ground.

Highlights

Economical UPS Ground shipping headlines the BikeFlights service. Other highlights echo the already mentioned convenience of traveling bike-less through the airport, which includes avoiding intrusive TSA inspections. As an added convenience, BikeFlights offers scheduled pickups for an additional $15 if you’d rather not drop-off at a UPS Store.

Highlight Summary:

    • Economical UPS Ground delivery
    • Hassle-free travel
    • Scheduled pickups ($15)
    • International shipping

Trade-Offs

As a bike shipping service, additional considerations such as oversize packages, bike packing and onsite assembly are identical in terms of trade-offs as those already addressed. The ground transportation offered by BikeFlights requires you to determine how high a value you place on your ability to train the week or two leading up to the race. Another trade-off of UPS Ground delivery is the increased risk of damage, delay or loss which is a byproduct of multiple days on a truck.

Trade-Off Summary:

    • 3-5 day delivery = less time-to-train
    • Increased risk of damage, delay or loss (due to more time-in-transit)
    • Requires self-service or full-service packing
    • Requires on-location assembly

Cost

Once more, let’s look at our shipping examples originating from Spokane, WA.

Shipping Example A

From Spokane, WA
To Panama City Beach, FL (IRONMAN 70.3 Gulf Coast)
Dimensions 43 x 11 x 32 inches (129-inches length + girth)
Weight 55 pounds
Service Type UPS Ground
Delivery Speed 5 business days
Cost $168 round trip ($84 each way)

Shipping Example B

From Spokane, WA
To Hawaii (IRONMAN 70.3 Hawaii)
Dimensions 43 x 11 x 32 inches (129-inches length + girth)
Weight 55 pounds
Service Type UPS Ground
Delivery Speed 4 business days
Cost $550 round trip ($225 each way)

Shipping Example C

From Spokane, WA
To Oceanside, CA (IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside)
Dimensions 43 x 11 x 32 inches (129-inches length + girth)
Weight 55 pounds
Service Type UPS Ground
Delivery Speed 3 business days
Cost $142 round trip ($71 each way)

Bottom Line

Of the four services, BikeFlights is the most economical option for shipments within the contiguous United States, but it’s among the slowest in terms of delivery speed. Shipping to Hawaii with BikeFlights also ranks as the most expensive option. Athletes who prefer BikeFlights tend to prioritize cost (excluding Hawaii) above other key considerations such as time-to-train (delivery speed) and risk (time-in-transit).

Airlines

Most airlines allow you to travel with your bike. However, depending on the carrier and destination, the fees and requirements can vary greatly.

Highlights

Flying with your bike maximizes time-to-train before the race. If you happen to live in a city where Alaska Airlines flies out of, and if your race is in a location where Alaska flies into, you stand to benefit from their bicycle-friendly size and weight requirements, and low checked bag fees.

Highlight Summary:

    • Same-day delivery = more time-to-train
    • Possible low checked bag fees (Alaska Airlines only)
    • International service

Trade-Offs

Bike travel cases are bulky and heavy which make it impossible to move quickly through busy airports. But a far greater concern is the probability of TSA inspection. Remember, a bike doesn’t go with you through security like a carry-on bag, which means TSA inspection occurs behind the scenes. TSA is concerned with the safety of everyone on board. They are not preoccupied with the secure packaging of a bicycle. So if you fly with your bike, you should expect that security personnel will open, unpack and examine your case without carefully repacking it. Unfortunately, the reality of flying with your bike is that there is no way to be confident of its condition until you arrive at your destination and open your case.

Trade-Off Summary:

    • Increased risk of damage (TSA inspections)
    • Hassle with airport loading/unloading
    • Often poor transparency with respect to baggage fees
    • Requires self-service or full-service packing
    • Requires on-location assembly

Cost

The cost of flying with your bike can be as little as $30 each way and as much as $300 each way depending on your carrier and destination. Due to the number of airlines, we will have to settle for the broad price range we’ve given and leave it up to you to consider the highlights and trade-offs.

Bottom Line

The airlines are an option for athletes who place a high value on time-to-train and happen to be flying on a carrier with economical checked bag fees. Depending on your priorities, the benefits may outweigh the risk and inconvenience of airline shipping.

Recap

Successfully shipping your bike to-and-from a triathlon boils down to how you rank cost, convenience, speed and risk. Our in-depth, objective analysis reveals that each service is designed to appeal to the needs of specific athletes within the triathlon community.

This is great news for you.

Just 20 years ago triathletes had one option: fly with your bike. Then in 2005, TriBike Transport came onto the scene with fully-assembled shipping. In 2009, BikeFlights entered the fray offering an economical box-and-ship option.

Last, but not least, Overnight Bikes balances fast next-business-day delivery speed with relative convenience, cost effectiveness and reliability.

In 2020, you have four options to choose from. Each service has clear highlights and trade-offs which means that you, the athlete, have an opportunity to choose your best match.

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