Take an electric bike on a plane: Dealing with the battery!


Wouldn’t it be great to take your electric bike on a plane while you travel? Depending on where you plan to go, you can tour further and faster around your holiday destination, climb those steep hills to a great view point, pack in some longer day trips, and even avoid some of the car travel and see the countryside in a whole new way.

The main limitation in taking your electric bike on a plane is taking the battery.  Airports and air carriers have strict limitations on the size and capacity of batteries taken on board a plane – whether through carry on or checked baggage.  Battery capacity, or Watt-hour (Wh) rating, is generally limited to less than 100Wh to be allowed on board.  Batteries may also be allowed on board with watt-hour (Wh) capacity of between 100-160 Wh with prior air carrier approval.  However, most electric bike batteries are larger than this, in the range of 300Wh to 600Wh+ and will most likely not be allowed on a plane.  There are however a few options that you have when planning to fly with an ebike, and still have power at your destination. 

This article will go over the following strategies and tips to take your electric bike with you while flying internationally.

  • Traveling with batteries on a plane – the basics and a few more resources
  • How big is your current Battery – calculating the watt-hour (Wh) rating
  • My Battery is too big to fly with, now what?
    • Bring a few smaller batteries with you
    • Shipping your battery to your destination
    • Renting a Battery at your destination
  • Preparing the rest of your electric bike for air travel

Traveling with Batteries on a plane

There are numerous rules and regulations related to air travel with batteries.  Most batteries that travelers take with them are safe and allowed for air travel.  These batteries generally fall under 100Wh rating and would include mobile phone, cameras, and original laptop computer batteries.  The next rating size for batteries in regulations is 100-160Wh ratting, which would include extended life batteries for laptops and AV equipment.  Batteries in this range have some restrictions and generally require air carrier approval before being allowed on board.  Batteries greater than 160Wh require air carrier approval.

The following table gives an overview of these general restrictions. 

Spare battery or in device   Watt-hour (Wh) rating  Carry-on  Checked 
In device <100Wh Yes Yes
Spare <100Wh Yes Permitted only with air carrier approval
In device 100-160 Wh Yes Permitted only with air carrier approval
Spare 100-160 Wh Maximum of 2 individually protected spares per person with air carrier approval Permitted only with air carrier approval
In device >160Wh No Permitted only with air carrier approval
Spare >160Wh No Permitted only with air carrier approval

Table courtesy of CATS-ACSTA

Further battery information available from TSA and FAA:

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – Lithium batteries with more than 100 watt hours

Federal Aviation Autority (FAA) regulations on batteries.

How to calculate the watt-hour (Wh) rating of a battery

You’ll need to find out the watt-hour rating of your ebike battery to determine what your limitations are for bringing it on a plane.  Calculating the watt-hour of a battery is fairly straight forward.  You’ll need two pieces of information, the Voltage (V) of your battery and the Amp Hours (Ah).  The general equation for Wh is the following:

Watt-hours (Wh) = Volts (V) x Amp hour (Ah)

Here are a few of examples with electric bike batteries of different watt-hour capacity:

Example 1: Large Flat Pack (48V 14Ah) Watt-Hour (Wh) = 48V x 14Ah = 672Wh  
Example 2: Hailong (36V 14Ah) Watt-Hour (Wh) = 36V x 14Ah = 504Wh  
Example 3: Mighty Mini Cube Samsung Ebike Battery Pack (52V 6Ah) Watt-hour (Wh) = 52V x 6Ah = 312Wh  

My ebike battery is too big to take on a plane, now what?

Here are three options for getting around the restrictions of large capacity lithium batteries on passenger aircraft. 

1. Bring a few smaller batteries, to make a bigger battery once you land at your destination

Keeping in mind the 100Wh battery capacity restriction for air travel, one company has designed a battery that is under this limit (36V x 2.7Ah = 98Wh to be exact).  The LiGo battery module is able to be re-assembled easily into a larger, usable capacity ebike battery once landed at your destination.  These batteries can be stacked in parallel to provide a higher capacity battery and maintain the same voltage (36V), or in series to create a 72V battery, depending on the specs and requirements of the ebike and controller.  One module (98Wh) has about 5-6 miles (8-10km) range.  The company recommends bringing along no more than 4-5 modules per person on a flight in order to avoid extra scrutiny through security.

This video gives a good introduction and basic usage tutorial of this innovative battery.

This would be my personal preference for bringing an ebike battery with me.  It might have a higher cost upfront than the other two options below, but you can re-use these batteries at home or on other trips, and they will always be with you on your journey.  This 36V/72V battery may not be compatible with every ebike however, and if there are other modular battery options available out there I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

2. Rent a battery at your destination

This might not always be possible but if there is a local outfit that rents electric bikes, chances are they might rent just batteries as well.  This might take quite a bit of legwork to track down a local source if you’re headed to a place that’s not too familiar, but it could pay off and is arguably the simplest solution if you can make it work.  Since renting an ebike can be quite expensive, especially if planning to use an ebike for many days or weeks while away, renting just the battery and brining your own ebike can be a much more cost effective solution.  You also get the benefit of riding your own bike, with all its familiarity and comfort.

When searching for a battery rental, be sure to specify the capacity (Ah) and voltage (V) you’ll need and any details on specific connecting adapter to connect to your ebike kit.

To give you an idea of costs, a bit of searching resulted in these battery rental rates from an outfit in Spain:

Watt-hour Daily Rent
300Wh 7,00 €
400Wh 8,00 €
500Wh 10,00 €

The minimum rental period for this place is 6 days.

Other outfits in North America seem to charge about $20/day for a spare battery however, some rental shops won’t be open to renting just a battery to you and are looking to rent the whole ebike and battery.

3. Shipping your lithium battery to your destination

Shipping an ebike lithium battery will result in dealing with shipping a package classed as Dangerous Goods (Class 9 UN3480) to be handled and labeled properly.  Additional dangerous good shipping charges for a lithium ebike battery will be $80-100 + the regular shipping charges that would apply to any goods shipped from your home to destination.  Your battery will also need to be a fairly common product (not DIY) and have general manufacturing and performance testing records available for that type of battery (the UN DOT 38.3 test if you’re interested). 

From the very helpful FedEx Lithium Battery Shipping Guide, shipping a lithium battery greater than 100Wh will result in the following requirements.  Check with your local shipping company for a better idea of costs, packaging and specific certification requirements.

Packaging

  • Each battery and cell must be protected against a short circuit and placed in an inner packaging that completely encloses the battery or cell, then placed in a strong outer packaging
  • Maximum net quantity per package is 35 kg for Cargo Aircraft only (CAO)
  • For stand-alone batteries, the State of Charge (SOC) should not exceed 30% of rated capacity
  • UN Specification Packaging required
  • Fully Regulated

Documentation

  • Shipper’s Declaration for Dangerous Goods
  • Waybill should have the statement “Dangerous Goods as per attached DGD,” and if applicable,
  • “CAO” or “Cargo Aircraft Only”

Required labeling

When taking an electric bike on a plane, you may need to ship your battery by cargo aircraft.
Cargo Aircraft Only
When taking your electric bike on a plane, your high capacity lithium battery will have to travel separately, as dangerous goods.
Dangerous Goods

Keep in mind that if you’re planning to ship your battery to your destination, you’ll also need to arrange to ship it home with a shipper at your destination.  This could be more complicated, especially if another language is involved.

If you ship your whole bike AND battery, shipping would be classed as Dangerous goods (Class 9), but under UN3481 which is Lithium-ion batteries contained in equipment or Lithium-ion batteries packed with equipment (including lithium-ion polymer batteries).  This would probably be a more expensive option than flying with your bike (without battery), since you would be paying for shipping of the bike AND battery.

Preparing the rest of your electric bike for air travel

So you’ve got this far and you still need to pack and prepare your ebike for air travel.  If you’ve never flown with a bike before, here are a few tips to keep this process as pain free and easy as possible.  Most airlines require that a bike is in one of following packages:

Cardboard Box

Advantages: cheap / free, don’t need to store it when you arrive, additional gear can be put in box

Disadvantages: more likely to be stacked which could cause damage, front chain ring and derailleur need to be protected if left on bike to prevent being bent, need to get another box for return trip

CTC (clear) plastic bag

Advantages: cheap, can carry bag with you while traveling, more likely to be handled with care (not stacked); can keep most of bike in one piece

Disadvantages: high risk of damage if dropped, least amount of protection for bike

Soft bike bag

Several options through Amazon.

Disadvantages: more likely to be handled with less care, front chainring and derailleur need to be protected if left on bike to prevent being bent, need to store it somewhere during your trip

Hard Bike case

Several options through Amazon.

Advantages: highest protection for your bike, additional gear can be kept in case

Disadvantages: need to store case while on trip, high cost of case, adds to the overall weight of the package, may require more of bike to be taken apart to fit in the case.

Preparing your bike to be placed in your package of choice you’ll need to take it apart.  This generally includes removing pedals, wheels, disc rotors, bottle cages, handlebars, seat post, and derailleur.  It’s a good idea to put some bolts/spacers between the drop-outs of the frame and forks to prevent them from getting bent when your wheels are off the ebike.  Remember to bring along the tools (Allen and Torx wrenches) used to take your bike apart, so you can put it back together and go through a practice run before your trip to make sure you’ve got the take-down and assembly sorted.

Are we there yet?

The logistics of taking a bike, let alone an electric bike on an international trip by air travel can be intimidating, but taking on one step at a time and preparing well in advance will keep you going in the right direction.  And before you know it you’ll be cruising along the open road on your electric bike, halfway around the world!

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