Whether you’re a keen cyclist heading overseas for a vacation or a bike racer attending races away from home, you should know which is the best option for travelling with your bike. Ultimately, your decision will be determined by the level of convenience you desire.
Bike box from shop (free option)
You can pick this up from most bike shops for free provided they have some lying around. It’s lightweight but you need to remove your handlebars, pedals, and seat to fit the bike into the box.
The cardboard is tough, and provided your bike is well packed, you’re unlikely to suffer any bike damage. However, it’s a hassle to carry around the airport (it has no wheels, nor any straps) and it can be difficult to fit into small cars. I stopped this method of travelling with my bike a long time ago.
Bike bag with minimal padding ($50-$150)
This is another budget option but it can be risky and you’re at the mercy of the baggage handlers. I still use this option occasionally, especially if I want to travel as light as possible and not have an oversized bag to worry about at my destination once the bike is put back together.
Recently I used the Lotus Bag for my trip to Iran with Emirates flying from Shanghai. I had packed my bike into the bag with plenty of bubble-wrap for protection as well as using sheets of cardboard in strategic areas such as the chain ring and chain stay areas. I also used cardboard around the forks for extra protection.
Removing the rear derailleur is vital, and it should be taped to the frame. It’s also advisable to use a drivetrain protector, which you can buy from Bike Tires Direct or Sci-Con. A New Zealand company known as Ground Effect offers another good lightweight sturdy bag; I used to own one of their classic body bags and it requires minimal dismantling of your bike. All you need to do is whip the wheels and seat off and turn handlebars sideways, as it is quite a long bag. It’s still advisable to do use some bubble wrap and some cardboard pieces for additional protection.
Soft padded bags (mid to high priced)
My favorite bag that I use for most of my current travels is the Sci’Con AeroComfort Plus bag. While it’s expensive (retails for $600), I consider it the Rolls Royce of bike bags – it is a soft padded bag with hard case benefits.
It weighs only 7.7kgs and packing your bike inside is a breeze – it takes me less than five minutes to pack. I recommend putting some extra padding around the rear derailleur or removing it so the cabling does not get bent, as this has happened to me on a couple of occasions.
You only need to remove the wheels and mount the bike on the internal rack. Once packed and with some of your biking gear, it easily weighs less than 20kgs. The bag is super convenient to maneuver with its heavy duty wheels and it does not get thrown around as much since the handlers can pull it around. The only disadvantage is that it is oversize, can be difficult to fit into some cars, and will nearly always be noticed (and charged $$) by check-in agents. Flying on airlines in Asia is no problem, as most allow the bag through free as long as it is within the weight limit.
If you want a bag that is considered to be the ultimate for escaping check-in fees, consider the Pika PackWorks (about $400). To read more about this bag, check out Wade Wallace’s review over at CyclingTipsBlog.
If you are flying in the US extensively and want to avoid the exorbitant bike fees, it is worth the 15-20 minutes to disassemble and pack the bike using the Pika. But if it’s convenience that you want, the Sci’Con AeroComfort Plus is the best one in my opinion.
I haven’t had much experience with hard cases except for the one I got from Performance Bikes: the Team Bike Case, which currently retails for $249.95 in the US. I did not have any problems with it, but it was a hassle to dismantle the bike to make it fit into the case.
The one that’s considered the best in the market is the Aerotech Evolution by Sci’Con, but the price tag is pretty steep at $1299 on Amazon or on Wiggle for £632. Bike Radar wrote a glowing review of this hard case, and it’s the choice of many professional riders. Virtually indestructible.
What is your tried and true method of travelling with your bike? Share your tips in the comments below.