How To Ship Your Bike

Shipping your own bike is essential if you’re going RTW and very often it is cost effective if you’re just visiting one other continent. In this ‘How To’ Roddy Warriner of motorcycle shipping specialists Motofreight outlines the various options and what paperwork is necessary.

Whether by sea, air or road, all modes of transport are affected by other, seasonal cargo, so always allow plenty of time and book in advance. For example autumn in many countries can mean that airlines are carrying fresh produce. Airlines will usually not fly a bike on the same aircraft as fresh produce as it’s considered a contaminant. Perishable goods will always take priority.

Similarly, regardless of mode, all carriers have limited liability so if something gets lost or damaged do not expect to be fully compensated by them. Specialist freight forwarders usually offer transit insurance, so be sure to enquire about this if you would like your bike to be fully covered.

RO-RO – Roll-on Roll-off is like a ferry service and one of the cheaper options. The good news is that you ride to the port and simply hand over your keys. The disadvantages are that some lines will not accept bikes, as bits can go missing and they consequently suffer claims. Because RO-RO bread and butter contracts are with car manufacturers, you could also find that at the last moment a regular customer increases their order, meaning individual bookings are cancelled or postponed.

Containerised Sea Freight – Freight rates are often very cheap but be careful of the handling charges on arrival, they often exceed the shipping charges themselves. If you are travelling as a group then a dedicated container can be very cost effective. You can save money by lashing and chocking bikes directly into the container. Shipping bikes in a shared container with other cargo means the bikes must be fully crated for protection, which can add considerable cost.

Transit times vary between routes so always check in advance and never assume a transit time.

The biggest pitfall of sea freight is that delays are at least a week at a time. In a shared container it is possible that the unit can be snagged by customs to inspect someone else’s cargo which delays the whole container still further.

Airfreight – Although expensive on the face of it, airfreight often becomes cheaper in the long run. For example, the landside handling charges are lower than sea-freight. Delays are usually no more than a day at a time so when a delay occurs it erodes less of your travelling time and reduces accommodation expenses while you wait. As the overall transit time is quicker there is less risk of damage and just how much is all your time worth?

Road – Usually not recommended but sometimes it’s the only mode of transport available. Unless the carrier is a bike transporter and using a specialised vehicle, the bike must be crated for protection. Always build contingency into the transit time as your pride and joy might be transhipped at a number of different hubs en route, running the risk of more delays and damage.

Preparation – For sea-freight you may be asked to disconnect the battery and sign a form to state that the engine has been run until stalled to remove all fuel. This doesn’t happen with RO-RO. For air-freight it isn’t always a requirement either, but many airlines still ask for this to be done.

Customs have the right to inspect all cargo so ensure that your luggage is left unlocked. If customs can’t open the luggage then they may force it. Don’t leave any valuable or pilferable items with the bike. Personal items are not covered by the insurance or the carrier’s liability and they won’t be on your Bill of Lading.

If you decide to crate the bike yourself then there are a number of things to consider: The person authorised to sign the Dangerous Goods documents needs to be able to inspect the bike to confirm that it meets the requirements.

The wood content must be treated to ISPM15 standard and bear the Forestry Commission stamp confirming that it has been suitably ‘fumigated’. See for more information. The consequences can be extreme if cargo arrives at destination and the wood doesn’t bear the stamp. The local authorities might only require the crate to be destroyed, but they could insist that the bike must be returned to origin intact and at your expense. Worst case they may destroy the crate with the bike in it.

Documentation – All countries have different documentation requirements but all will want to see your passport and registration (V5) documents and want to keep copies. Some countries will want to see proof of title or ownership as modern V5s now unhelpfully boldly state they are not proof of ownership.

A Bill of Lading traditionally showed proof of ownership of shipped goods, so it could act as a receipt that the shipper had your goods and a way of claiming them at destination. Waybills are slowly replacing them and act only as a shipping document for goods and not bestowing title to those goods.

A carnet isn’t always essential, but check with the RAC or your destination country’s Consular website to establish which documents you will need.

The USA require an exemption letter from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) which is relatively easy to get, but needs to be applied for in advance. (This is not necessary if you cross by land from Canada.)

When researching documentation requirements on good Forums like Horizons Unlimited, do make a note of the date of the post as it’s in the nature of bureaucracy to change.