Bike Cases – Softshell or Hardshell?

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Over the years I’ve owned a few bike cases and have come across many more.  I did a post some time ago on some various ways of packing your bike that you can find here.  I’ve been in the market for a new bike case for a while now and did my due diligence by looking at every possible option.  In the end, I ended up buying a softshell bike case called the “Pika Packworks EEP”.  It just arrived in the mail and I’m looking forward to my first trip with it (just booked a 2 week cycling trip to the mountains and beaches of Vietnam with a few of my best mates!)

Why did I end up buying this case?  It basically came down to a decision on Hardshell or Softshell.   The rest of the factors that I looked at are basically a subset of this.

  • Weight of the case itself- with excess luggage charges these days and the fact that the hardshell cases can weigh
  • Protection/durability
  • Price
  • Chances of slipping through the check-in agent without him/her noticing it’s a bike

At the end of the day, I figured that the Pika Packworks softshell was the best case for me and my needs.  I decided on softshell over hardshell for a few reasons.  Firstly, softshell weighs only a fraction of the weight of any other case.  This case I bought weighs less than a couple kgs. A hardshell case can run you up to 10kgs and could cost a fair amount of cash at check-in.

The softshell case can also fold or roll up and make it convenient to store when you’re on your trip.  Whether it be a vehicle, a storage locker, a hotel room…there’s limited options when storing your bike case when on vacation and this will need to be dealt with.  A hardshell case can sometimes be a pain in the ass to find enough room to store.

Many bike cases or bags have their logo written all over the outside (i.e. “BIKE PRO“).  This immediately attracts attention to the check-in agent and they’ll most likely charge you extra for a bike (unlike golfers).   The Pika Packworks says nothing about bikes on the outside.  It doesn’t look like a problem, so check-in agents don’t treat it like a problem.  This was one of the factors that the design of the bag was based around – to dodge the excess bike charges.   Apparently saying that “camping gear” or “bike parts” is inside the bag does the trick if they ask.

The price of softshell bags is usually less than the hardshells.  This Pika Packworks bag cost me $400 USD  (I ordered the one that accommodates the integrated seatpost which was a bit more).  You can now get hardshell cases for as little as $200 AUD, but I haven’t had experience with them.

It’s obvious that the hardshell cases definitely give more protection to the bike.  I’ve seen some heavily damaged hardshell cases before and if it had been a softshell the bike could have been minced meat.   As with anything, there’s a trade-off and it all comes down to how you prioritize the pros and cons.   In my opinion, with how many pros I’ve spoken to who have never had a bad experience with a softshell case, I think the risk is minimal that the airline will damage your bike if it’s packed properly and there’s a decent amount of padding inside the bag.

A bit about the Pika Packworks case:

This is one of the best kept secrets in the bike case industry.   They have made cases for many pro teams and pro cyclists if you want credentials (BMC, USPS, Saturn, Coltiva, etc).  The gentleman who makes these cases is basically a one-man show.   He used to be a pro mountain biker and originally designed the case because he had enough with those excess bike charges. He said, “There must be a better way.”

In terms of protection, in the bag itself there’s a padded, strapping device that allows you to secure the handlebar to the top tube and protect the finish. There’s a 6+ inch padded riser at the base of the case to rest the bike’s bottom bracket on. There’s clearance for chainrings and a derailleur pouch. The wheels fit into side pockets with leather reinforcement at the axle area.   I can’t see any way this bag will fall apart – ever.

Here’s some pics of the bag.  I didn’t completely disassemble the bike to take these photos, but you get the idea.  The only thing that needs to be done is removal of the handlebars and pedals.

BTW, I didn’t get this bike case for free or at a discount and this is not a paid product endorsement!

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