Sunday, April 12, 2009

What We Learned About Traveling With Our Bikes

When we decided to take our Solvang, California vacation, we discussed whether we ought to rent bikes in Solvang, or take our own bikes with us. Really, it was a no-brainer. Because of my size, finding a bike to fit me is a challenge (I’m only 5’1”). My road bike (a Seven Alta) is a custom built bike, designed specifically for me.

And you know all about Phil’s new bike . . . the Wife Beater. He wasn’t going on a week-long riding vacation without that!

So I did a lot of research and determined that the best bike case for us would be a Trico Sports Iron Case.
This ultra-light case combines three layers of plush foam, heavy duty straps, and Triconium shells to make this the easiest to pack, most secure case for travel. The Iron Case is UPS ready. With its wheels, small strap, and light weight, it is very easy to maneuver through an airport. Hand grips are molded into the case for maneuverability in more constricted areas.

Iron Case® FEATURES:

• Highest possible strength/weight ratio and fully lockable
• A pull strap and wheels have been incorporated for increased mobility
• Minimal disassembly of bicycle required
• Three layers of foam cocoon your bicycle for maximum protection
• Accommodates all bikes up to 68 cm in size.

The next issue was: do we take our bikes on the airplane with us, or do we ship the bikes to our destination ahead of time? Again, it ended up being a fairly easy decision.
Airline baggage regulations for bicycles are a moving target and the airlines can be very inconsistent (i.e. different charges in different directions, and applying amounts that don't seem to be reflected anywhere in their public, written policies.) Plus, we didn’t want to be wrestling our bike cases through the airport at the same time we were wrangling our very large, very heavy and completely overpacked Eagle Creek wheeled bags.
Having decided to ship the bikes in advance (we ended up using UPS) the next issue was – do we break the bikes down and pack them for shipment ourselves, or do we ask our friendly bike shop to do that for us (for a fee, of course)?
Phil and I are merely competent bike mechanics – meaning, we can change flat tires and grease chains and usually make the brake pads stop rubbing, but anything else is over our heads.

So, again, easy decision – we worked with the Golden Bike Shop. They broke down, packed and shipped the bikes to a shop out in Solvang. Dr J’s, the shop in Solvang, rebuilt and lightly tuned the bikes, so they were ready and waiting when we arrived. At the end of trip, we simply reversed the procedure.

Upside – the bikes were professionally handled at both ends of the trip and we had no mechanical problems related to boxing and shipping.

Downside – expense. We spent a couple hundred bucks that we really didn’t need to spend.

What we learned for next time: We’ll get our friendly mechanic, Matt Helton at The Neighborhood Wrench, to teach us how to break down the bikes. That saves us the expense of a bike shop both coming and going. We’ll still ship to a shop and have the shop re-build the bikes, at least for our next trip.
We’ll work on learning the rebuild process after we get comfortable with the break down part of the equation.

A few tips for packing the bikes in the Trico cases:
When packing up the bike, you do have to squish everything down to close it up. Don’t be afraid – you will not squash anything important on the bike.
1) Road bikes fit well if you turn the fork sideways (90 degrees to the right) and then loosen/flip the bars so the drop slide underneath the top tube. Once flipped under, tighten the bars down again. This prevents them from wiggling in the stem, causing gouge marks.
2) To protect the derailleur, do 2 things: (a) put the bike into the highest gear, which pushes the derailleur in as far as possible, and (2) use a bungee cord to hook the bottom of the derailleur cage to somewhere on the crankset (this will stretch the derailleur cage all the way against the chainstay, where it is best protected)
3) Put the rear wheel on the second layer of foam first, cassette side down. Make sure that the cassette is lined up with a "hole" somewhere in your first layer (frame/fork). This allows the wheel to sink as far into the foam as possible without risk of crushing something.

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