When you’re packing for your next bike trip, it’s important to make sure your carry-on is TSA-friendly. Not only can smart packing save you time in security lines and help you avoid getting your bag unpacked and searched, but it could also save you money in the long run: Replacing items that TSA tosses can get expensive! Here’s how to pack your carry-on like a cyclist in the know.
Do Not Pack:
CO2 cartridges: It’s a bummer, but cyclists can’t stow CO2 cartridges in bike bags or their carry-on luggage, for fear that they’ll explode mid-flight with changes in pressure. Plenty of people have flown with CO2s strapped on their bikes in bike bags without any issues, but it’s not worth the risk—or the hassle of security agents looking at the X-ray machine, spotting them, and pawing through your bag.
Aerosol sunscreen: Sunscreen is classified as a liquid, and as such is a TSA red flag—especially those sunscreens of the aerosol variety. Aerosols are also not allowed in carry-ons, so this is a double whammy. Pack sunscreen in your bike bag or other checked luggage, or plan to buy some after you land. (You could also buy some from our store and have the bottle pre-mailed to your destination.)
Chamois cream: Containers of chamois cream get similar treatment to sunscreens at the airport: Given their uber-thick consistency, they barely count as a liquid or gel, but most security guards will still pull them out and toss them. If you travel with chamois cream, make sure to use containers that comply with TSA size standards of 3.4oz or 100ml. You can decant it into smaller containers, or just stick it in your bike bag and save yourself the trouble. If you do put it in your bike bag, though, make sure to store it in a plastic bag so if it leaks, you don’t end up with cream all over your gear.
Flammable cleaners: Any liquid cleaner over the allowable liquid size (3.4oz) is going to get you into trouble. However, keep in mind that a lot of degreasing products have pretty tough chemicals in them, so any amount of them might get you in trouble. Kerosene and mineral spirits are often used as chain cleaners, and flying with them is a definite no-no and might even land you on a no-fly list. So if you use alcohol-based cleansers (or any cleanser with chemicals you can’t pronounce), you’re better off packing them in your checked luggage to avoid explaining their use to annoyed agents. One last note: Quite a few bike cleaners have pretty serious ‘do not inhale’ warnings, so even if you do manage to bring a small container in your carry-on, make sure it’s extremely well sealed in-flight.
Box cutters (or any multi-tool with blades): It’s a sad day when you lose a favorite multi-tool because it has a blade attachment, deemed dangerous by a TSA agent. You might get away with a normal multi-tool, but if you’re dead-set on packing it in your carry-on, be prepared to defend that choice to TSA, have it confiscated, or be sent out of line to go check your bag instead.
Gel flasks: Bringing gels in individual packets is fine (just make sure you put them in the quart-sized plastic bag that your liquids go in). But if you use big containers of gel and decant it into a flask, you’ll want to put that oversized liquid into your bike bag or other checked luggage, or fill up a few flasks that are under 3.4 ounces.
Scissors: You might think scissors are a good idea as you pack up your bike, but unless they’re tiny nail scissors, you’ll have to make sure they make it into your checked luggage and not your carry-on. (Sorry, but you’re going to have to rip off that tape some other way when you start unpacking your bike box.)
Bike tools over seven inches in length: Tools don’t just mean hammers and saws. This rule includes a lot of your favorite Park Tools—pedal wrenches, chain whips, and pretty much any scary-looking tool runs a risk of getting jettisoned in screening. And you really don’t want that titanium hammer with your initials on it from Abbey Tools to end up in the trash.
Allen-key sets: You might get away with Allen keys, but a lot of cyclists we’ve heard from have lost at least one set to TSA agents. Because most sets have a big wrench (usually an 8mm or 10mm) that comes close to seven inches, the whole set can look suspicious. Really, why risk it?
What You Should Pack in Your Carry-On:
Helmet: Helmets are notorious for cracking under pressure (to keep your head from doing the same), and the worst spot for a helmet in-flight is in your bike bag. Make sure you stick this piece of gear in your carry-on.
A full kit plus shoes and pedals: If you make it to your destination but your luggage doesn’t, make sure you can still ride by bringing your cycling essentials with you. One big tip: Put pedals somewhere easy to access in your bag, as they often present a confusing image on the X-ray screen. They’re fine to fly with, but TSA agents may want you to pull them out and explain their use.