How to Ship a Bike to the U.S.

Are you planning a cycling trip to the States? Do you need to ship your bike there? Recently I cycled the Oregon Coast with three friends, and this was our experience.

We booked our flight from Toronto to Portland with Air Canada. When we received our tickets we noticed that the Vancouver to Portland leg of the trip was operated by Air B.C. This set off warning bells. We checked with the airline, and the Air B.C. flight was on a Dash-8.

We were concerned that our bikes might not fit on the plane, so we called Air Canada. We discovered that no one there knows what's going on. Every time you call you get a different answer. The first person we spoke to said if we didn't hear from the airline two weeks before the trip, then we were okay. We were dubious.

Finally we got hold of someone at the airline who seemed to be knowledgeable. We were informed that we could get one bike on with no problem. Two bikes was possible to probable. Three was doubtful. And four was right out.

So the first rule of shipping a bike to the States is to make sure you book a flight on a big plane.

Since we hadn't done that, we had to find an alternate shipping method. The obvious solution was UPS, since it's recommended by cycling publications in the States. But they don't have to deal with getting the bikes through U.S. Customs.

We wanted to know what we needed to do to clear Customs. The problem is, nobody knows. If you call U.S. Customs you'll spend several hours with busy signals and on hold. When you finally do get through, the person won't know. Everyone you talk to will give you a different answer. It seems that in all the pages and pages of rules and regulations, there's nothing that covers this situation.

If you call UPS, you'll get through faster, but again you'll get a different answer from everyone you talk to.

We finally spoke to a woman at UPS who seemed to know what was going on. She told us to make up a form, in triplicate, stating our name, address, address being shipped to, contents of the box, value of the item, where it was manufactured, and the reason for shipping it.

If you're shipping by UPS, you need someone at the other end to accept the shipment. We were shipping our bikes to Personalized Tours and Travel, who we had hired to pick us up at the airport in Portland and drive us the 90 miles to the coast. Otherwise, you can probably find a bike shop in your destination city that will accept delivery.

We had been told by UPS that it would take five to seven working days for our bikes to reach Portland. We were taking one bike on the plane, so we decided to ship the three remaining bikes three weeks before our trip. We'd heard stories of bikes being held up in Customs for several days, and we wanted to make sure ours had plenty of time to get through.

We drafted the paperwork, and shipped the bikes out. The next day we got a call from UPS, saying that U.S. Customs wouldn't allow our bikes through. They claimed that Customs doesn't allow you to ship stuff ahead. So we got UPS to ship the bikes back to us. To their credit, UPS didn't charge us.

At this point we decided that the thing to do would be to clear customs ourselves. We would drive to Buffalo and ship them from there. However, having jobs, we couldn't drive down during the day. After calling around we discovered that the Amtrak station was open 24 hours, and would ship our bikes for $39 each. Again it would be five to seven working days.

We wanted to get them shipped out as soon as possible. We also figured that it would be best for there to be the same number of people as bikes in the car for clearing Customs. Mary had a previous commitment after work that day. So at 10:00 that night we squeezed into Petra's station wagon, and arrived at the border at midnight.

"What are your citizenships?"

"Canadian."

"What's in the boxes?"

"Bikes."

"What's the purpose of your visit?"

"We're going cycling."

"Why the boxes?"

"We're taking them to the train station in Depew and shipping them to Portland. We're following them."

"You're following the train?"

"No, we're flying. We're not flying until next week, but we have to ship them ahead so they'll get there."

"Do you have tickets?"

Fortunately, Petra and Mary had thought to bring our plane tickets with us. We all dug them out. He took Petra's and looked at it. "Are they all the same as this?"

"Yes."

"Okay, you can go."

I think he was just so confused that he didn't know what else to do.

So the second rule of shipping bikes to the States is to clear Customs yourself. Since 80% of the population of Canada lives within a hundred miles of the U.S. border, this shouldn't be a problem for most people.

Once across the border we drove to the Amtrak station in the Buffalo suburb of Depew. The guy at the Amtrak counter was finally someone who knew what was going on. We shipped the bikes for $39 each, plus 50 cents for each $100 of insurance. They would store our bikes for free for 48 hours in Portland, and after that it would be $1.50 a day.

He told us it would take two days to get to Portland. Three if there were delays. If we'd known that we could have waited a few days, and come at a reasonable hour.

A week and a half later we flew out to Portland. We had no problem getting the one bike on the plane. Watching them load the Dash-8, we figured we might have gotten two on it, but no more.

When we arrived in Portland, Kimberly from Personalized Tours and Travel was there to meet us with our bikes, which she had picked up for us at the train station. She drove us to Astoria, where we set out on our tour of the Oregon Coast.


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Pictures and Text Copyright 1997, 1999 Paul Stockton. All rights reserved.

Last updated: November 2, 1999