Traveling with a bike

Over that last few years I have traveled with my bike to several destinations by plane.  Unfortunately, the airlines have decided to increase the cost to a point where it is always a coin toss whether or not to rent.  For instance, this winter I’m heading to Maui, on the way there I will have to pay $50 for a second bag plus $75 for an oversized bag (West Jet).  On the way home, Im flying American Airlines, which has a flat rate of $150 dollars per bike on a flight anywhere in Canada and the United States.  So…to take my bike on vacation, it will cost me $250 (plus a bit more as the Canadian dollar basically fallen through the floor right now).

Depending on where you rent, typically the longer the rental period, they cheaper the deal.  In Maui there are a few bikes shops to rent from; both offer mid level bikes with Ultegra setups, either mechanical or electric.  I priced it out for my wife and I and to ride mid level bikes for the time we were traveling it was going to cost $300 more then taking our own.

There are several benefits to renting a bike.  First off, you don’t have to worry about packing your bike and lugging it around the airport.  Secondly, you avoid the stress associated with your bike getting lost and or damaged.  On the flip side, there are extreme downsides to renting a bike.  For instance, if you damage it, break it or crash it, you will be on the hook for the price tag.  

My wife and I love travelling with our bikes.  If you are thinking about picking up a bike bag  there are several solutions out there to choose from.  Like with everything I do, I spend hours researching things like this so I make a smart purchase. Here is a short list of options to choose from.

On a budget…

Pay a visit to your LBS (local bike shop) and ask for an old bike box.  When a bike shop builds a new bike, they arrive in a perfect sized “bike box”.  I have heard of people doing this, however, I have never tried it myself.  You may have to completely tear your bike down, wrap it in foam, but a cardboard box is light and its pseudo hard shell offers some protection.  

Another option if you are travelling on a budget, use a hockey goalie bag.  I have several mountain bike friends that have used this method.  Tear the bike down, put in lots of padding and hope the baggage handlers treat it with some respect.  The good news is I’ve heard that many airlines don’t charge for hockey equipment?  I wouldn’t do this, but I know people that do.

Soft shell bags…

These seem to be the most popular bag right now.  I looked into three companies in my research.  Biknd, EVOC and Scicon.  Depending on your traveling habits and your mechanical ability, each company offers something different.  

Scicon offers the Aero Comfort 2.0 bag which only requires you to remove the wheelset, leaving the rest of your bike how it is, including the rear derailleur, handle bars and pedals.  This is definitely a bag for anyone with limited mechanical abilities.  If you plan to fly somewhere and stuff a few bikes in a car, you don’t want this bag.  Apparently these are the choice of the pros, problem is they are a bit bulky because the handle bars remain in place.

The EVOC Bike Travel bag is interesting because you can access it from either side. I took a close look at this bike and it finished a very close second to the Biknd.  They claim to be very light and provide a bit of padding protection in their walls. The thing that steered me away from them was their wheel system.  This bag only has 2 large skate wheels at the front, which means that you need to bend over to pick it up and set it down every time you move it in the airport.  I know this sounds a bit meaningless, but when you are dragging along another piece of luggage with you, its nice to have a bike bag with 4 casters on it.

Biknd offers their signature bag called the Helium.  The name comes from the two inflatable bags that protect your bike from either side.  This is the bag I own, so I can tell you everything you want to know about it.  For instance, it does a few things very very well.  For starters, there is no doubt it protects your bike very well.  The combination of air bladders and the strong tear resistant outer material provides a bullet proof exterior.  Another benefit is that it is quit small and can easily be packed in any car.  For instance, I can pack 2 of these babies into the back seat of my Mini Countryman or Jetta (yes, I said back seat, not trunk). This bag is also very easy to wheel around the airport due to its size and the fact that it has four wheels (the two front swivel).   For this bag to be the size it is, there are a few trade offs. For starters, you have to practically take the entire bike apart (wheelset, handlebars, seat & seat post, pedals, rear derailleur).  If you ride a bike with Di2 the battery has to be removed as well, which could prove to be challenging if it is located in the seat post.  I have also had problems with a caster breaking, the pump breaking, an airbag getting a puncture and a broken handle.  On the positive note, the Biknd warrantee took care of everything without charge.  I attribute all the issues of this bag to its first generation design.  I purchased a second bag for my wife, its the new version and they seem to have fixed all the problems associated with the previous generation.

Hard shell bags…

I originally wanted a hard shell bag thinking that it would provide the best protection for my bikes.  After doing my research, there were a few things that turned me away of them.  

  1. You can’t “squish” it into a back seat of a car, there is no give to a hard shell case.
  2. Each part of your bike has a separate place where it gets strapped into a hard case shell.  If the bag gets opened by TSSA and they remove the items, its virtually impossible for them to get it packed back up properly. We met a cyclist when travelling that had his hard case opened and his bike showed up damaged because they couldn’t close it properly.

Everyone travels differently.  I made the best selection of bike bag for the type of traveling I do.  I needed a bag small enough that can be stuffed in the back seat of a car, but solid enough that it provides my $$ bike with great protection.  Despite the problems I had with my original Biknd Helium, I would still buy another one today.