For long-haul destinations and trips of more than two or three weeks, taking your own bike is much more cost effective than renting. It also means you’ll be on a familiar machine, modified to suit you, properly prepared for the journey, and ready to be turned into your own personal souvenir: displaying every scratch, sticker and adornment it picks up along the way. Although it seems daunting, shipping your bike somewhere isn’t that difficult.
Anything you need to know about freighting your bike is here!
Most people who ship their bike will do so through a freight agent. Many airlines and shipping companies will only deal with you through an agent, so that they know they will get all the correct paperwork. Cutting out the middleman may seem like a good idea, but you may not save a penny and you miss out on the advice that a good agent can give you. We use Motofreight as our lead freight agent.
In order to freight your motorcycle, you will need your motorcycle’s registration document (in the UK, the V5 or logbook) and / or your motorcycle title (USA). It must be in your own personal name to make it as smooth as possible. The other documents you must have with you are your passport and your driving licence (often an international driving permit too). Some countries also require a “Carnet de Passage” – a special temporary import and export document for your bike.
Air vs Sea
Air freight is the quickest and nearly always the most reliable. Generally, it’s more expensive than sea freight, but transit times are in days, not weeks or months. Any delays are also much shorter, so the timing of arrival is more guaranteed. At the other end, normally, it is easier to clear your motorcycle through Customs, and there are less destination charges.
Sea freighting takes longer and can be more unpredictable, unreliable and often has hidden charges – ports are more unionised and bureaucratic. Sea options are:
If there’s a group of you, container freighting is very cost effective in your own dedicated container. A standard 20-foot container can normally take at least six bikes. You can load it how you want (subject to the conditions of any in transit insurance); just line the bikes up and strap to the bottom of the container. Full crating is not necessary.
If you’re on your own, your bike will need to be put in a crate, because it will be packed into a shared container with other people’s belongings. Shared containers can be very unpredictable for timing, because they will only leave when full.
Another possibility is to use the ‘roll-on roll-off’ ferries that carry new cars between the main hubs of Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia. The advantage of this is that no preparation is needed on your bike and there is no crating: just ride it to the UK port and drop it off, your bike is wheeled on and off for you. Consider Wallenius Willhelmson.
Another variant is going by freighter cruise ship. If you have a bit of extra time on your hands, this is a very cost effective way of travelling. You get your own inside cabin and take your bike as accompanied luggage. Consider Grimaldi.
How to prepare a bike for air freight:
- No more than two litres of fuel should be left in the tank. Some airlines insist it all has to come out, and they will check.
- The battery must be disconnected. We also recommend covering the connections with insulation tape.
- Remove the screen and mirrors to prevent them from being damaged and reduce the height of the bike. Cover the screen in bubble wrap and strap to the seat.
- Side panniers can normally be kept on the bike; a top box should be removed and placed on the floor of the crate (if you have one).
- Deflate the tyres to around 26psi and slacken off the suspension, ready for the bike to be strapped down to the crate or pallet.
- To get your bike as small as possible, consider removing the front wheel. It may not seem much but can save hundreds of pounds in freight charges.
- Ensure the bike is clean and free from leaks, as so it doesn’t fall foul of a rigorous quarantine inspection (especially if you are sending your bike to Australia or New Zealand).
- Remove any pressurised containers or liquids from your toolkit, and anything that contains lubricants and flammables (eg: WD40).
Kevin & Julia Sanders