By Air

The most beautiful motorcycle regions do not always lie at your doorstep, sometimes not even on the native continent. But there are options to rent a motorbike. Or ship one. Even by air transport. So let’s scrutinise the options of aerial transportation.

Text Dirk Schäfer, Photos: Lufthansa Cargo, Joe Pichler, Dirk Schäfer

Australia, South Africa, USA, South America, Mongolia, Canada: There is no shortage of fantastic motorcycle destinations. The dilemma: Renting motorbikes locally is not always possible, and often it’s expensive. Anyway, it would be much cooler to travel the legendary routes of this planet on your own wheels. Therefore, the bike needs to be shipped. Depending on the destination, this may last an eternity, and it isn’t cheap either. Is there no alternative?

The magic word is air cargo, or – in other words – dispatch by air. But that’s not all! Especially when it comes to the time required to ship the own motorcycle from one continent to another, the cargo planes play their trump card. With maritime freight, it can take months to transport the bike back and forth. Precious time in which the own vehicle is not available at home. With air cargo, it’s much faster. But there must be a hitch somewhere? And it’s probably expensive, isn’t it?
With myaircargo into the States.

We obtained offers from three renowned providers, and it turned out that there weren’t major differences in price, but in terms of service that they offer. Let’s begin with one of the biggest names in worldwide air traffic: Lufthansa Cargo. With, the airline with the crane addresses the special requirements of motorcycle travellers. From 1,900 Euros up, they ship from Frankfurt, Germany to three destinations in the USA: Los Angeles, Orlando and Chicago. Myaircargo’s special feature: they pick up the motorcycle at home and also bring it back. It’s all inclusive, same goes for the cargo insurance, harzardous goods declaration as well as shipping and securing on air cargo pallets. There’s no annoying assembly of transport crates.
Unfortunately, myaircargo offers are currently limited to the USA only.

n the Way Worldwide: DHL
Those who want to travel to South America, Africa or the Far East need to look for other offers and might make a find at, for example, DHL. The advantage with DHL: They’re heading for almost every international airport. European airports are an exception as the costs would explode that way. DHL has no own portal for motorcycle travellers, but support by telephone will be helpful, same goes for a visit of the business clients section on their website. So, what about the costs of the “Big Yellow”’s services?

For purposes of comparison, we chose a route into the USA for DHL, too. Since volume and weight of the motorbike has influence on the price calculation, we chose a standard R1200GS. The price for the one-way route is 2,300 Euros. Smaller and lighter bikes are correspondingly cheaper. Prices start from 1,700 Euros. Unfortunately, neither packaging nor the pick-up of the motorcycle is included. The latter can be done by DHL against extra charge. Instead, important aspects such as customs clearance and handling at the airport are included. This saves you further costs, time, and – most of all – nerves. For everyone who has once experienced the paperwork and possible further costs for a brief, temporary storage after reaching your destination will appreciate this service.

InTime – the Bike Specialists
Among long-distance travellers, the forwarding company InTime in Hamburg, Germany, is an institution. Olaf Kleinknecht and his team are specialised in the shipping of motorcycles. Even though the majority of the motorbikes are transported by ship, air cargo is an integral part of InTime’s service. Alaska, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand – no problem! The estimate costs for a return flight for a standard travel enduro bike are about 4,500 Euros. The detailed prices are based on the specifics of the corresponding bike. Basically, smaller and lighter bikes are cheaper. It depends on the country of destination whether the motorcycle needs to be fully packed for transportation, or whether it’s enough to be tied to an air cargo pallet. What’s nice: Also InTime does a part of the paperwork for you. However, the import procedure is always the customer’s duty.

No matter which offer you choose, the differences in price are tolerable. It’s more the range of services that makes the difference. If you don’t have to pack the motorcycle yourself and rent a van to carry it to a possibly faraway airport, but it will be picked up at your doorstep instead, this won’t just save you some money, but also at least one day of your holidays. Same goes for the return transport of your bike.

The Alternative: Rent Locally?
Okay, but between you and me … Wouldn’t it be much cheaper for an average holiday timeframe to just rent a motorcycle? We checked one of the biggest rental companies in the USA: At EagleRider, you would have to pay 3,619 Euros for three weeks on a BMW R 1200 GS. A Harley Electra-Glide would be a little cheaper. But with 2,938 Euros for three weeks, it’s still no bargain. And a nice off-road trip into the Death Valley? Forget it!  Insurances and extras such as GPS are additional costs.

This is how it works
Okay, back to air cargo. If you have decided to give your motorcycle wings, you should start with the formalities four weeks at the latest before the departure of the bike. This includes not only the personal documents, but also a valid German vehicle registration, customs documents respectively a Carnet de Passage (to be obtained from the ADAC) as well as an international vehicle registration certificate. You will get the latter at the road traffic department respectively the vehicle registration office of the responsible administrative district office. Often, the authorities will confuse the international vehicle registration certificate with the international driving license or they claim such a thing wouldn’t exist, so be patient and insist on your registration certificate.

For the country of destination, it is recommended to check your vehicle insurance coverage or to take out an additional insurance, if required. This also goes for the cargo insurance if this is not offered by the cargo service provider.

And how to prepare the motorcycle? Maximally, only one quarter of the filling capacity can remain in the tank. Oils and other liquids must not be discharged. With some providers, you have to disconnect the battery and to isolate the poles. For transportation on pallets, usually the mirrors or high fairing panels need to be dismantled (maximum height 1.58 m). The motorbike should be clean at any rate to avoid trouble on arrival (disease control) and to get aware of possible transport damage. Hazardous goods (petrol stove, chain spray etc.) must not be transported with the motorbike.

For transportation in a crate, a small pack size is recommended to reduce the costs, for example by removing the front wheel. If you don’t want to build your own transport box, you may be able to get a discarded crate from your motorcycle dealer. This crate may already have preparations for the wheels and the lashing of the motorcycle.

At the place of destination, you can often pick up your motorbike right after your arrival. Get on your seat, and off you go! But it won’t do any harm to think about the return journey, too. If possible, store the transport box somewhere. And after many dusty kilometres in the country of your dreams, the bike needs to be clean again for the trip back home. In most cases, your motorcycle returns one or two weeks after you, as the providers need to wait for a plane with corresponding capacities to give your bike a ride.


• Lufthansa Cargo, Fon 00800-55442244
• DHL, Fon (0049) 069-13018339
• InTime, Fon (0049) 040-59359240

Category: Adventure | Travel