Friday, February 27, 2015

This is How We Roll

Special thanks to Joleen White for this guest post, chock-full of great tips on traveling with your bike!

Living in Alaska and being a triathlete or a cyclist means one must travel with their bike. Anyone who travels with their bike has faced the uncertainty of packing it and worrying what will happen to your well thought out & organized pack job once TSA gets their hands on it! Praying that the ticket agent gets your bike to the baggage handlers and your bike gets loaded on your flight - plus the connecting flights you might take. And finally, watching out the plane window as the baggage handlers drop your box on the ground and then throw it with all their might onto the loading belt. And it all starts again once you arrive to your destination - hopefully you thought about the rental car or shuttle you will be loading your bike into!

hey! take it easy!

My first experience traveling with my bike didn’t go that bad. I was traveling to Washington for Lake Stevens 70.3. I borrowed a Thule clamshell type bike box. This was a great box because it had a ton of cushion that you put your bike inside. The biggest problem I found with this box was that it was difficult to travel with once you got to your destination, i.e. rental car…. the second problem was that TSA opened the box to check it and somehow put the lid on completely opposite of its recommended alignment, which meant the bike was not secure and parts could have been lost. I did not have any troubles breaking down my bike; it was the basic handle bar removal, pedals, seat post, and wheels. It is important to use bubble wrap or whatever cushioning you prefer between the bike parts to prevent any scratching or damage. There really is not a lot of extra room in this box, but it is definitely a durable case.

a sample bike case offering from Thule
The second trip I went on with my bike was to Arizona where I competed in a sprint triathlon in Flagstaff. After my first trip with a bike, I decided to buy a stand up box with wheels. This box comes in a single or double option. I decided to go with the double because I figured the bigger the box, the more I could cushion the bike, which means less damage. This box is great, but you definitely have to plan ahead with the type of rental car you are getting. A full size car is great, even better if the seats drop down in the back. I have found that the Dodge Charger is a great car to travel with because my bike fits in the back, and my husband enjoys driving the car! 

Inside of the single & double boxes there are skewers to hold the front fork in place. There are also Velcro straps that you can loop into the bottom of the box in order to secure the entire bike frame. Basic break down of your bike includes removing the wheels, pedals, handle bars, and seat post. The double will carry one bike and two sets of wheels + extra room (helmet, tire pump, tools, nutrition, etc.), or 2 bikes with both sets of wheels (and not much else).

traveling with my double bike box
A couple of issues with this box are that the wheels on the bottom of the case definitely take a beating, although my bike has been on at least 6 trips out of Alaska as well as thousands of road miles (LA to Calgary and every state in between) and the wheels are doing great. Another problem is the locking mechanism located on the outside of the box, 2 on each side. These get beaten up pretty well when moved around, and eventually bend. Jamie Stull, owner of Chain Reaction in Anchorage, told me that on one trip with his bike he was not able to open the case to get the box to fit in the rental car due to the locks getting so beat up… and of course his tools were inside the box!

When traveling with this box I have found that putting the bottom half of the box into the top half helps it fit into the back seat of the car better. Unfortunately I have found the wheels to be tricky. I have had to take the wheels out to get clearance for the box to fit in the back, but this has been a manageable situation so far. This box is also great because if you shop when you travel you can fit a lot into it! Just be prepared when you check in at the airlines because you will have to pay if you exceed their weight restrictions. As Alaskan local triathlete Shannon Donley stated, “I can stop at IKEA and fill that baby up! Last time I traveled with my bike/bike case, my bike came home with two kids' comforters, two lamps, a bunch of misc. kitchen stuff and a groovy mirror. I love that hard case!” You can see how the extra space in a double bike box can help Alaskans out - shipping prices to AK are ridiculous!

I decided to write this post when I saw on Facebook that Anchorage’s local bike shop, Chain Reaction, had just posted the arrival of the Evoc travel case, so I had to check it out! This case is awesome! I love it because it fits my needs. First, you don’t have to do a ton of break down on the bike. After dropping the seat post, the handlebars, pedals, and wheels are really all that need to be removed. The bag has pockets inside for various tools, etc. On each side of the bag is a zipped compartment to place your wheels.

Chain Reaction owner Jamie Stull w/the Evoc
Evoc added PVC to help keep the wheels protected. There are also fiberglass struts integrated in the case for extra protection. There are small wheels on the back of the case and handles everywhere to help with moving the case. You can purchase the Evoc road bike aluminum stand, which provides a stable platform for your bike inside of the case by attaching the fork and rear triangle. The stand easily slides into the case for easy set up and take down. 

On the down side, plan on only packing one bike and one set of wheels in this case. One last highlight of this case is that it rolls up to about the size of a golf bag! This is great because not only does it take up less space than the first two cases I mentioned, but you will have more space in your hotel room! I forgot to mention - this case can carry a road bike, TT bike, Mountain bike, OR a Fat tire bike!! And I am pretty sure there is still room for your shopping purchases!

This is a very diverse bag, but not the only option from Evoc. They also have a pro travel bag, which I am definitely going to check out.

lots of room in that case!  easy and accessible

The final bike case company I researched for this post is Ruster, the brainchild of pro triathlete and former engineer TJ Tollakson. Ruster’s claim is that you can “travel the world at no additional charge.” I checked out their website to look at the products: Armored Hen House, Hen House, Coop, and Wheels Express case. I think the Ruster Hen House is a great option if you are traveling internationally or taking multiple flights and want to save on travel costs. There is also a step-by-step packing video for the Hen House case.

Seat post, pedals, front wheel, front brake from fork, stem face plate, headset cap, stem, fork, rear wheel, and rear derailleur all come off. I have not seen this case personally, but when the bike is completely broken down it definitely takes up less space than the two previous cases I discussed. I think the Ruster is a great option for bike travel, but would be hesitant for beginners who might not be comfortable with additional bike break down. On a positive note, the video to fully break down your bike appears fairly easy to follow.

I have heard many people say that the large plastic bike boxes take more of a beating because the baggage handlers use less caution due to their size/durability. Many people have mentioned to me that using the soft cases means the baggage handlers are more likely to handle your bike with care. Editor's note: once again, to our thousands of baggage handler readers out there... take it easy with our bikes!

Local Alaskan triathlete Shannon Titzel owns both the Ruster case and the double bike box. Overall she has been very happy with both. Shannon did mention the break down process with the Ruster, but in turn has saved money when traveling with her bike, especially when Alaskan Airlines is not an option. Shannon also said “American Airlines is the worst when traveling with your bike, with costs as much as $175 each way!” Choosing your airline seems to be the most important consideration when taking your bike with you. Alaskan Airlines seems to be the least expensive, with typical costs from $75-100 each way.

Traveling with your bike is definitely nerve racking, but each of these cases offers something unique to the traveler’s needs. So far my trips have only been with Alaskan Airlines, and typically one to two legs maximum. Each trip the only issues I had were TSA moving things around in my box. I realize readers of the blog and my Triple Threat teammates may be flying with other airlines that will have differing restrictions and rates, so I sought out some advice from other local triathletes. I thought the following tips from Jason Lamoreaux were especially helpful. Jason said “1) Minimize the number of legs for a flight. Fewer legs, fewer times the bike is handled and thus fewer chances for something to happen (damage, lost, etc...). 2) If you have multiple legs, especially if they are spread over multiple airlines, make sure to check the bike all the way through to the final destination. 3) Airline fees are usually charged based on the airline operating the plane you start the trip on, not necessarily the airline you booked with. Some airlines charge a lot more than others. If possible, set up trips so the first flight on any direction is with the airline that charges less.”

I realize that there are also companies who will ship your bike for you. I don’t know much about them, but am certain they would be the safest method of traveling with your bike if you are willing to pay for it. One last consideration to make if you have your sights on racing in the Kona World Championships - remember you will probably have to hop from one island to the next, so you better confirm those fees and weight restrictions! Good luck in your bike travels… I hope this post has helped! Roll on!

Thanks to: Shannon Donley, Jason Lamoreaux, Jamie Stull, and Shannon Titzel for helping me with this post. And of course my husband, Jason White, for letting me pack my bike wherever we travel to!

worth the trouble!

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