Airlines — U.S. domestic airlines, in particular — are notorious for charging outrageous fees for flying with your bike. Cyclists who want to bring their bike on a United flight, for example, will have to cough up an extra US$300 round-trip. Dedicated travel bikes with collapsible frames can skirt those fees by breaking down into size- and weight-compliant cases, but not everyone is willing (and able) to spend that kind of money for something that may not be used very regularly.
Alternatively, the OruCase Airport Ninja soft travel case fits a standard, full-sized road bike inside while still meeting most weight and size guidelines for standard luggage, albeit with some caveats (and a not-so-small helping of mechanical aptitude). Flyers will need to remove the wheels, seatpost, pedals, and handlebar as usual, but to meet such stringent space requirements, the fork has to be removed, too.
Squeezing a full-sized road bike into the Airport Ninja is no trivial task but it can save you heaps of money at the check-in counter.
OruCase rates its smallest bag to fit road frames up to 54cm in size. A midsized model goes up to 61cm, and an even bigger version is now offered to fit 29er mountain bikes. Keep in mind that the two larger sizes will technically be considered oversized by most airlines, though, and there will likely be more disassembly required. Otherwise, OruCase will build custom cases as needed, too.
Either way, the Airport Ninja is intentionally discreet in appearance with no visible logos whatsoever and almost no indication to the casual observer as to what’s packed away inside. There are no wheels built into the case but the Airport Ninja is unusually lightweight and easy to toss on your back thanks to the handy shoulder straps. Actual weight for a standard-sized case is just 5.43kg (11.97lb).
OruCase provides no documentation whatsoever for exactly how you’re supposed to fit your bike into such a tiny space so there’s definitely some trial-and-error required at first. I spent about an hour figuring out the most space-efficient method for my small-sized 2011 Giant TCR Advanced, but after that initial learning curve, setup and teardown took just 20 minutes on either end using a portable multi-tool and preset torque wrench — much quicker than the Ritchey Breakaway I had previously been using when traveling.
Thick, high-density foam padding is used on all sides of the OruCase Airport Ninja.
Helping matters along was the external cable routing and slotted housing stops on the Giant (which provided more wiggle room for the detached cockpit) but similarly sized bikes with internal routing took only a bit more creativity to fit everything inside.
OruCase also doesn’t provide any supplemental packing materials with the Airport Ninja aside from its thick, high-density foam-lined exterior. But in fairness, I found that there’s little needed with dedicated pockets to keep the wheels, fork, and pedals from banging into each other.
I added plastic axle caps for the wheels, a foam sleeve for the exposed seatpost, and a bit of padding in between the cockpit and frame (which I tied together with toe straps) but otherwise relied entirely on the case’s clever design for protection. To date, bikes have arrived wholly unscathed.
There’s plenty of room inside for accessories, too.
Despite the compact form factor and impressively low weight, there’s ample room inside for accessories. I crammed a pair of shoes, a helmet, two water bottles, a tire pump, and a small bag of parts and tools into the case with room (and weight) to spare. Even with all of that gear packed in, the total weight was still only 18.6kg (41lb).
Just as OruCase says, the Airport Ninja drew little attention from airline gate agents. Not one asked what was inside the inconspicuous black case and on only one occasion did I pay a supplemental fee (for additional luggage, not a bike) — offsetting the purchase price of the case by more than threefold after just four round-trip journeys.
The OruCase Airport Ninja doesn’t have wheels but it’s surprisingly lightweight and easy to carry with the included backpack straps.
The Airport Ninja is well built, too. Those four round-trip flights (including one transcontinental one) have resulted in just a slight bit of wear on the sewn-on axle pads and some minor stretching on one of the compression straps.
As good as the Airport Ninja is, though, there’s still a substantial list of caveats. The limited size range is the most restrictive as many cyclists ride bikes bigger than a 54cm, and given that the fork has to be removed, the case isn’t nearly as easy to pack if disc brakes are involved. OruCase doesn’t guarantee that its cases will let you fly fee-free, either.
Four round-trip journeys (including two trans-Atlantic flights) have resulted in only minimal wear.
Luggage guidelines vary by airlines, and while the Airport Ninja satisfies most American carriers, it’s still too big for many European ones (such as Lufthansa). There’s also some uncertainty about who is liable in the event the bike arrived damaged — especially since the whole point of the Airport Ninja is that you can get your bike on board without the airline knowing.
“This isn’t a legal issue so much as one that requires reading the fine print for the specific airline a cyclist is flying,” said Colorado lawyer Megan Hottman, who specializes in cycling-related issues. “[For United], if you pack a bike in a regular suitcase and don’t specifically declare it as a bike, you are going to face their cap of US$3,500 if something happens to it, and may actually face a total denial of your claim if they deem it a ‘high-value/fragile’ item, for which they deny/disclaim any liability.”
The burly YKK zipper is covered by a flap for extra protection.
In other words, it’s easy to make a strong financial argument for the Airport Ninja if you fly frequently with your bike (or want to), but doing so doesn’t come without certain risks.
Price: US$399 / AU$TBC / €TBC / £TBC