It’s been a great weekend. My cycling team just got back from a race in sunny Noosa. Getting there and back entailed packing our bikes properly for air travel. There were 5 of us and we each packed our bikes in a different way. Of course, everyone thought their way was the best. Here’s my perspective on the various methods:
Cardboard Bike Box: This is the way I packed my bike. I went to the local bikeshop where they are always happy to give me a free bike box. I took off my pedals, handlebars, both wheels and derailleur to store the bike safely and securely. You should always put your wheels in wheelbags to make sure they are protected and don’t scratch the frame. The pros: the cardboard box method is cheap, disposable and lightweight (some airlines can charge up to $15/kg of extra baggage weight). There’s also heaps of room to put extra gear in the pockets of space. The cons: the box can get quite beat up in transit and sometimes even emerge with holes in it. I was once on a flight where it was raining heavily upon arrival and the box got drenched while sitting outside on the tarmac. My gear was delivered on the luggage carrosel piece by piece since the box had been reduced to mush while sitting out in the rain.
Hardshell Case: The pros: this method is definitely the most protective way to pack your bike. However, my fear is that the better the box, the more wreckless the luggage handlers will treat it. Most of these cases also have wheels and handles that make it easy to manuver around the airport. The cons: the hardshell case can be very expensive to purchase ($500-$1200) and are usually extremely heavy, making your excess baggage fees more costly than your airline ticket itself. They also usually require quite a bit of disassembly of your bike, and there’s not much room left over for the rest of your gear (helmet, shoes, pump, etc).
Softshell Case: A couple of the guys had softshell cases that worked quite well. The good softshell cases hold their structure through the thickness of the padding so that they can stand upright by themselves. Pros: They often have a set of wheels on them so you can lift up one side with a handle and easily drag them through the airport. There was very little disassembly of the bike to fit them into these cases. Just put your wheels in some padded wheelbags, put the bike into the bag, and you’re ready to go. The softshell case is also very light so you can easliy meet your weight restrictions. Cons: Again, the fear that some blantantly wreckless handling of the bikes could lead to serious damage. I’ve seen how baggage handlers chuck pieces of luggage around and I’m not so sure I’d trust all my carbon bits to that type of abuse. I think the derailleur and chainrings should be removed or very well padded if using one of these cases. However, asking for a Fragile sticker at check-in along with the appearance of a softshell case looking much more delicate may curb the desire for the baggage handlers to treat it too badly. Wishful thinking perhaps…
Softshell Case with Cage: One of the guys on our team had a great softshell bag with 4 wheels. Inside the case was a metal frame to attache the front and rear dropouts (when the wheels were removed). The Pros: The case is very light-weight, has lots of padding and protection, and holds the bike easily with next to no disassembly. This particular case also had a comforable shoulder strap. You can get these bags for less than $300. The Cons: The fact that the walls of the case are basically a softshell, there’s still the possibility that the bike could get damaged if the baggage handler is having a bad day.
Verdict: In my opinion the Softshell Case with Cage wins the best travelling bike case award. It’s relatively cheap, carries the bike with minimal diassembly, is reasonaly well protected with the cage inside, is easy to roll around, and light weight. I know quite a few people who have used these types of cases for years without a single problem.