Editor’s Note: This post is kindly sponsored by Clint and the team from Motorcycle Shippers. Motorcycle Shippers can ship your motorcycle door-to-door around the United States with minimal hassle. If you want to start a ride away from home or ride further without looping back, these folks can help. Perfect for long trails like the Trans American.
Worried how to prepare your motorcycle for shipping? You’re not alone. Bike shipping overseas is something most long-distance travelers have to face at some point, and it can feel a little overwhelming. First, you need to figure out whether to ship your bike via sea or air freight, then pick a reliable shipping agent, and finally, deal with the paperwork and crating.
Air vs sea freight are very individual choices. Air is faster, but usually significantly more expensive. Sea freight, on the other hand, can take weeks and even months, which means you’ll be bike-less for a little while.
Choosing a reliable shipper depends on your point of departure and destination. Shipping a bike within North America or between South America and Europe is fairly straightforward, whereas other continents may involve a little more hassle. New Zealand and Australia, as an example, have very strict rules about the bike being spotlessly clean and may quarantine your bike and charge a steep cleaning fee if they find so much as a speck of dirt on your motorcycle while Asian and East African ports can be somewhat chaotic. Wherever you choose to ship your bike to, just make sure the shipping agent is trustworthy and reliable. Ask around in the online overland communities and scour internet reviews to make the best choice.
When it comes to paperwork, most shipping agents will deal with it for you. You’ll simply need your bike registration, title, and insurance documents and the shipping agent will deal with the rest. Upon arrival, depending on your destination, you may need to get a temporary vehicle import permit or have a carnet de passage with you.
Finally, it’s time to prep your bike for shipping. Whether it’s air or sea freight, here’s what you should do before handing the bike over to the shippers:
Make sure your motorcycle is spotlessly clean before shipping, even if you aren’t going to Australia. If you’re shipping via ocean freight, spray a little WD40 on all metal parts to prevent rust, then wash the bike clean once you get it back. Take a photo of your bike right before shipping and make a note on any scratches and dents.
Most of the time, shippers do not require you to completely drain the tank and recommend leaving about a quarter of the tank full. Double-check with the shipping agency first just to make sure. Equally, check that your bike isn’t leaking any fluids including oil.
When you get the bike back, check the front fork seals for leaks if the bike had been clamped down for the journey. If leaking, it’s not a result of the clamping, it simply means that your fork seals may be near the end of their life. Good fork seals won’t leak.
If it’s a long sea freight journey, you may want to disconnect the battery so you can start your bike when you pick it up. Disconnect any alarm systems if you have them on the bike, too. Put some duct tape over any exposed electric connections like USD ports or heated gear connections to prevent oxidation.
Some shippers may allow you to leave your panniers, camping gear (except gas for cooking stoves), and riding gear on the bike, but always check with them prior to shipping. Remove your GPS unit and any other valuables. If you have a high windshield, you may need to remove that, too, so the bike can be crated. If you’re sending riding gear, luggage, or any other items with the bike, make sure they are safely secured and locked to your motorcycle.
Prior to shipping, go over your bike and make sure nothing is loose. Loose fasteners can come right off during the journey and you may lose them. If you are including tools with your bike, make sure they are tucked away safely and your toolbox won’t come undone.
Some shippers require to leave the bike keys with them in case they need to start it to get it up a ramp. When I shipped my bike from Chile to Poland, I was asked to leave the keys zip-tied to the handlebars. Sometimes, you keep the keys. If you are leaving the keys with the shipper, make a spare set and have that with you just in case.
Depending on your destination, book an extra day or two at your hotel or AirBnB just in case the bike doesn’t start after a long journey. You may need to revive the battery or do some maintenance to start the motorcycle after it’s spent six weeks in a container, so make sure you’re covered. If it’s sea freight, washing the bike is a must to prevent rust and oxidation. Clean and oil your chain, do an oil change if necessary, and check the air filter.
Have you shipped your bike overseas and have some useful tips? Let me know in the comments below!