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  1. #1
    Senior Member B200Pilot's Avatar
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    Packing your (S&S) bike... best way

    Good day everyone,

    Once again (for the 3rd time) I'm in the process of getting a new bike. My old touring bike (while I like it and used it quite a bit) turned out to be a difficult thing to bring on airplanes, hence I never did. This year, I decided to dig deep in my pockets and get myself a fantastic touring bike, which I have always wanted, but never had the money for (Custom built Surly LHT Deluxe). As most of you know, this bike frame has the S&S couplers will break down and can fit in "standard airline check in luggage" as to avoid fees.

    http://surlybikes.com/bikes/trucker_deluxe

    Well, I have an issue with that statement. Let's take Air Canada for example, my carrier of choice (helps to work in the airline industry). Air Canada's baggage policy states that the overal dimension of a checked-in luggage must not exceed 62 inches in total. Most check in luggage has a rectagular shape. The ID of my luggage is 30" x 18" x 14". While this is within regulations, it will not fit my 26' wheels that I will have on the touring bike. Of course, I can take the tires off (or deflate them) which will bring them to about 21' in diameter. I need more of a "square" suitcase.

    What I looking into is how to pack this bike. My first choice would be a hard case, preferably 24 x 24 x 14 (inches), but I haven't found any that are unde $300. Another option is to pack it on a soft case, then pack it again in cardboard. I've seen a few guys do that, including Daren Alf (bicycletouringpro.com) who packed his Co-Motion Pangea in a custom made cardboard box and shipped it as regular check in bag. This doesn't seem very secure. I would hate to damage my new $2200 bike (It's custom built so it's a bit better than the standard Surly LHT).

    A case would be ideal for me, because:

    1. I fly a lot. I work for an airline and I can find myself in odd countries / places at least 4 - 6 times per year touring
    2. My tours will be about 7 days max
    3. I will start / end at the same airport so I can leave my case there (for a small fee)
    4. I DO NOT WANT TO DAMAGE MY BIKE...

    Here's my best option I have found so far, but I can't even find a place to buy it from..

    http://www.sandsmachine.com/ac_hard.htm


    Thank you so much

    Vio.

  2. #2
    Bike touring webrarian
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    I have an S&S coupled bike, though it isn't a Surly. I also have the hard case you link to. I've used this case many times and, in fact, it is now getting to the point where I will soon have to buy a new hard case as the first one is getting pretty beat up by the airline gorillas.

    It takes time to take the bike apart and into its case. I have done it enough that I have a method that takes about 90 minutes to 2 hours. But, I do it slowly, clean and lube the bike while I am at it.

    Here is a link to a thread here where I showed how it was done: http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...-in-a-suitcase

    There is a link near the bottom of the thread that shows the 6 photo method I currently use.

    I have to take the tires off my rims and tilt the rims to get them into the box. Be aware that the paint job on your bike will be dinged up pretty good as you pack and unpack it. Don't get invested in how good the bike looks!

    Also, once I pack the bike in the box, I chain together several zip-ties and put them around the packed bike. This way, if the TSA opens the box, then can put it all back the way I packed it instead of cramming it in any way they feel like.

    I recently wrote an article summarizing my 10 years of experience with an S&S coupled bike.

    Welcome to the club!
    Visit the on-line Bike Touring Archive at www.biketouringtips.com

  3. #3
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    I used the S&S soft case for my LHT Deluxe to get from Phoenix, AZ to Bangkok, Thailand. I didn't have a single problem and it honestly seems like it would take quite a heavy load on top of it to break the compression members inside. Bonus: if you ever leave from a different city you can mail the suitcase pretty easily. Hard case will provide a better guarantee though. Whatever you decide have fun touring!

    LHT packed up in soft case: http://imgur.com/a/umk9F

  4. #4
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    +1 on the S&S soft "Backpack Case." I live in Mexico and have used it successfully a few times to fly with my custom S&S touring bike. It fits the 26" wheels (w/ deflated tires) perfectly. It's also smartly designed with outside pockets where you can put in clothes for extra cushioning. Works great!

    A few extras you might want to consider buying to make things work smoothly: (1.) Tube covers -- The least thing you want is to badly scratch the nice paint job of your new bike after the very first trip (2.) Get two "compression members" -- I use one, but I think two work best. These things are key in protecting your frame, fork and wheels. (3.) Get the Security Net in case Airport Security or Customs needs to open your case to see what you've got at the bottom of the case. Without it, they can easily mess up the specific order you've put things in the case.

    I also considered originally getting the S&S "hard shell case." The issue with it is that it easily puts you over your weight limit with many regional airlines overseas where 20 Kg (or 44 lb.) is the max without incurring extra charges. The backpack case has worked incredibly well for me.
    Last edited by Chris Pringle; 03-07-13 at 12:28 PM.

  5. #5
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    you buy the cases from ANY bike shop with a QBP account, both hard and soft shell.

    no problemo.

    I'm a few years into a S&S coupling and also try to take one trip a year at least with it.

    here it is in San Francisco goldengatetravelerscheck.jpg and Hawaii surly HI bay pic.jpg



    I take the tires off just to make it easier for TSA to pack/unpack the bike from the case.



    compression and net and zip ties and padding and i like little bags to keep components in and slide over things like the seatpost, chainrings (specially shaped bag) etc, to minimize dings and scratches.

    Although my bikes not that dinged up, yet, you have to be able to accept a higher level of dings, gouges, metal to metal rubbing and the like, so a S&S bike owner has to be allright with a beaten up bicycle.


    packing it gets easier, Ray's advice it great!

    I probably got it from Ray to TAKE PICTURES of a good way of packing the bike, each step, once you've figured it out, and bring them as a how-to.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  6. #6
    Senior Member B200Pilot's Avatar
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    Thank you so very much for all the informative and extremely relevant answers. I'm still torn bettween a hard case or soft case. I was always under the impression that soft cases are no good, unless you're personally handling your bike (ex, car, ferry or flying your personal plane from A to B)... Quick question on the soft "Backpack Case". Can one compress it enough to fit it in a rear pannier, say Ortlieb Back Classic (or even front for that matter)?

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  8. #8
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    I went through the thought experiment about whether to get a coupled bike.

    I have a friend with a coupled bike and we flew to an event together. It is easier to cart the bike around the airport, and you avoid the fee. But it took her about 3x as long to assemble/disasssemble her bike as it took me. You can't put anything else in the case with the bike, whereas with the regular tour bike in cardboard, the racks, fenders, a pannier, bottles, tools, and more can fit in there.

    The box fits in a regular car trunk, that is probably it's most useful feature, apart from avoiding baggage fees, which you might just pay somewhere else b/c you may need an extra bag for your racks & panniers.

    It would take a LOT of trips with the bike to financially repay the amount you will spend on the coupled bike and case.

    Just sayin'
    ...

  9. #9
    Senior Member B200Pilot's Avatar
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    Thank you valygrl. Great link.

    Your point is very valid, however my case (no pun intended) is a bit different. Since I fly for a living, I have a lot of perks to travel internationally for free with a few airlines from Canada and abroad. Whenever I travel, I am on "standby" which does not allow me to bring a huge bulky case. For example, I want to fly to Germany, I will head over to Toronto Airport and hop on the first available flight, say to Frankfurt or Munich. Should I not be able to get on a flight, I have to be able to quickly change that and having a huge bicycle box is not ideal. From what I heard, they don't even allow that. Another issue is that the bags (bike in this case) is also tagged stand-by on a "room available basis". If I fly on a small CRJ (regional jet), there's a good chance I won't get my bike put on...

    So, with a normal suitcase, it's easier to navigate through the "stad-by" maze and actually make my flight and ensure my stand-by bags get there. I also travel quite a lot throughout the year, with at least 4 - 5 overseas trips. It helps to have a 2 week on 2 week off schedule, so my tours are never longer than 10 days.

    Thanks again for the link

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by B200Pilot View Post
    Thank you so very much for all the informative and extremely relevant answers. I'm still torn bettween a hard case or soft case. I was always under the impression that soft cases are no good, unless you're personally handling your bike (ex, car, ferry or flying your personal plane from A to B)... Quick question on the soft "Backpack Case". Can one compress it enough to fit it in a rear pannier, say Ortlieb Back Classic (or even front for that matter)?
    I haven't tried it, but I saw these reviews at treefortbikes.com:

    This pack is durable and well built, but the plastic/resin panels are way too heavy and bulky to ever carry along on a tour. I simply replaced them with cardboard cut to a similar size (wheel boxes work well) and I plan to discard the cardboard panels after the flight over (4 month unsupported tour of Europe). I plan to use the pack without panels for those times when I will be carry my own luggage...such as trains and taxis. Still haven't worked out the return air leg, although I'll probably beg, borrow or steal another wheel box to sacrifice!
    Packing a bike for traveling is never fun. Indeed, it is often a real pain. This case makes my life simpler when it comes to packing my S&S coupled touring bike. Like a previous reviewer, I do not use the plastic panels. Instead, I cut out cardboard to give the case some rigidity when I am traveling. The cardboard is tossed when I arrive; and, new cardboard is procured when I am ready to leave. With a knife, some cardboard, and a roll of duct tape I can pack the frame, wheels, racks, and fenders all into the case. Soft items and scraps of cardboard protect the bike parts from one another. On a related note, you will be much happier if you remove the chain and store it separately from everything else. Also, find a cheap plastic bowl to tape over the cassette.
    Seems like if you are willing to ditch the plastic panels that line the edge of the bag and use cardboard or future-board (something you are willing to toss), then the bag itself will fit into a pannier just fine.

    Update: I emptied my bag and shoved it into my Ortlieb front roller classic bag. http://imgur.com/a/S6EZ6 . You can see the panels on the left, way too big to take anywhere.

    I think another thing to consider is the fact that a hard case will probably last many more trips than the soft case.
    Last edited by stevo9er; 03-08-13 at 09:50 AM.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    B200PILOT:

    I was also facing this same dilemma a year ago -- whether to go with the soft backpack case or the hardshell case. Obviously, the main concern was whether the backpack case will endure international flights and protect my custom S&S bike. I decided to buy it after several users here highly recommended it. Now after using it firsthand, I am very pleased with the overall design when packed properly... using the compression members, filling the outside pockets with cardboard or clothing, using the padded tube covers around the frame, etc.

    Possible scenarios that could cause damages:

    1. Airport Security opens your bag, goes through your stuff and is then unable to put everything back properly. In the rush they may press too hard to close the bag (they don't care!) You will most likely get a few broken spokes, bent brake hoods/levers, etc. The hardshell case seems like it might be less forgiving should this scenario happen given its rigidity. In the big spectrum of things, however, a few broken spokes and some bent component is an acceptable risk when we fly with our bikes (ANY bike!) What we want to avoid is catastrophic damages.

    2. Your bag fell on the tarmac and gets hit by another service truck. The hard shell case might do a much better job. I wouldn't even want to open my backpack case. But really, what are the chances of this happening?

    I don't believe gorilla bag handlers can easily damage either of these S&S cases (or its content) whether you go with the backpack case or the hard shell, if that's the main concern. Overtime I'm sure the nylon in the backpack case will wear out just like with any fabric suitcase in the market making it more susceptible to rupture or failure, but you'll know when it's time to replace. Both hard and soft cases will need replacement eventually.

    Where you win big using the soft backpack case is in flexibility and mobility. You can fold it (by removing the rigid plastic) making it is easier to ship should you do a point-to-point bike tour (departing from another city/airport), or even shove it in a pannier on your bike. The latter takes valuable space and will most likely fill an entire pannier. But if you have to, it's a viable option. It might be better, IMO, to tie it on top of a rear rack if you're just credit card touring (i.e., no sleeping bag.)

    If you get the hard shell case, it will not doubt be a constant hassle about what to do with it before starting your bike tour. I think you will be limiting yourself to departing from the same city you arrived, or incurring expensive charges shipping it to another city, etc.

    If weight restrictions are not a problem (total weight: 55-65 lb.), giving up on mobility by gaining in ultimate protection against catastrophic damages, then the hard shell case might be the best choice for you.
    Last edited by Chris Pringle; 03-08-13 at 04:06 PM.

  12. #12
    Bike touring webrarian
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    I agree with everything Chris says except this:

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Pringle View Post
    If you get the hard shell case, it will not doubt be a constant hassle about what to do with it before starting your bike tour. I think you will be limiting yourself to departing from the same city you arrived, or incurring expensive charges shipping it to another city, etc.
    I have shipped my hard case from my starting to my ending point twice. Both times via UPS for about $30. Actually, the hard case is a very good shipping container and is lightweight (given its size). It allowed me to bring and ship extra clothes for the plane ride out and back that I simply shipped along with the bike box.

    Most of the time, my wife travels with me to the starting location and uses the bike box as her main luggage for her return trip. She then flies to my ending place with the box and additional luggage (packed in the box) for the trip back home.

    In truth, traveling with either the soft or hard case will be some hassle should the bike tour start and end at different places. For me, that the soft case "could" be taken along on my bike is a slight factor in its favor, though if I had one, I'd probably just ship it like I do the hard case, if the need arose.
    Visit the on-line Bike Touring Archive at www.biketouringtips.com

  13. #13
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    Hi Raybo,

    * Shipping rates in the U.S. via ground transportation are known to be reasonable. These rates rise quickly in places like Europe or Japan. Obviously, most of us will just include those charges as part of our vacation budget, but it's always a sticker shock when you're used to American rates. Since the soft case can be collapsed, it can be mailed by post saving you time and money in many places. I wouldn't be surprised if many post offices around the world decline to mail the hard shell case in spite of its 18 lb. weight given its dimensions. Maybe someone can report on this.

    * It becomes a moot point, IMO, if you have someone in your party who's not riding bikes with you -- The options suddenly open wide no matter which bike case you carry. In your personal case (given the way you travel with your wife most of the time), I concur that the soft backpack case offers very few advantages when it comes to mobility.

  14. #14
    Senior Member B200Pilot's Avatar
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    All great points... really...

    @stevo9er . I agree, the soft case is easier to handle / transport while it's empty from point A to B while you're on a bike. You don't have to worry too much about leaving it at the airport. Thanks for your pictures. They are awesome.



    @Chris Pringle.
    Very valid points with security. I'm not sure if CATSA (I guess that the equivalent of TSA in Canada) will really open up the bags as often as TSA does. It does help that I have an airline ID and uniform on, not to say they pick people based on how they look or where they work. I'm sure they are very professional. As far as limiting myself to ending my tour at the same airport as I started, may not be 100% the case. As raybo said, you can easily ship your case to your destination, for very little cost. Still, you're right, it's not as convenient. Lucky for me, I have a select number of cities that I can fly with (economically) and I chose to tour there before I go elsewhere. I can't complain basically flying for free across the Ocean.

    @raybo,

    Like I said above, you're right, I can always ship my case to my destination if I want to. Another problem for me is that I need to travel with my uniform on so I don't want to carry it with me in my panniers. I'd rather bring it all as a flight bag carry on and leave it at the airport with the bike case, come back to the airport and fly right back home...


    I guess in the end I think I'll opt for the hard case, BUT... I need to find a cheap one. I don't really want to pay more than $300 for it. I have to start looking online.
    Last edited by B200Pilot; 03-08-13 at 04:54 PM. Reason: sequence edit... (no wording has changed)

  15. #15
    Senior Member
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    FWIW I am in the process of building 2 cases for our tandem. I just could not see spending $700-800 for the cases. Granted as a woodworker I have the tools and skill but I think anyone could do it if they are willing to take their time.

  16. #16
    Senior Member B200Pilot's Avatar
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    Hi Tandem Tom,

    You know, I was actually thinking about building a custom wood frame / box that would better protect the bike, then put it in a cardboard box. I should design it in CAD and then go ahead and built it. The problem is it'll have to be fairly simple, since I haven't got the necessary tools (or place) in my condo to build this. I wonder how heavy it'll be.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by B200Pilot View Post
    ...cecked-in luggage must not exceed 62 inches in total. Most check in luggage has a rectagular shape. The ID of my luggage is 30" x 18" x 14". While this is within regulations, it will not fit my 26' wheels that I will have on the touring bike. Of course, I can take the tires off (or deflate them) which will bring them to about 21' in diameter. I need more of a "square" suitcase.
    How hard is it to deflate and reinflate the tires?
    Quote Originally Posted by B200Pilot View Post
    My first choice would be a hard case, preferably 24 x 24 x 14 (inches), but I haven't found any that are under $300.
    Presumably, the magic "$300" is meant to exclude the S&S case. If you can afford $300, it's not clear why you can't afford $425.

    http://waterfordbikes.com/now/pricel...newstype=sands

    Anyway, I have seen cases on ebay that are meant to be cheaper alternatives to the S&S case.
    Last edited by njkayaker; 03-09-13 at 12:50 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by valygrl View Post
    The box fits in a regular car trunk, that is probably it's most useful feature, apart from avoiding baggage
    That's a big benefit.

    Quote Originally Posted by valygrl View Post
    which you might just pay somewhere else b/c you may need an extra bag for your racks & panniers
    Unless the normal bike box allows you to just use carry-on for the rest of your stuff (which seems unlikely), you are paying for a bag anyway. You should be able to pack everything other than the bike (your racks, panniers, and other stuff) in one bag (which you are likely paying-for regardless of using a normal or S&S-coupled bike).

    Quote Originally Posted by valygrl View Post
    It would take a LOT of trips with the bike to financially repay the amount you will spend on the coupled bike and case.

    Just sayin'
    The Surly LHT Delux frame (with S&S couplers) can be gotten for about $1000 (about $400 more than the standard LHT frame). A box is about $500.

    Thus, the extra cost of a S&S LHT frame is about $1000. (That's actually about how much more it would cost to have S&S couplers on a custom steel frame. Add another $500 for Ti.)

    Some airlines charge $100 one-way to ship a normal bike (it can be more to go to Europe). Compared to about $25 one-way.

    Which means that one could recoup the cost in about six trips ($200+ round-trip cost per trip).
    Last edited by njkayaker; 03-09-13 at 12:45 PM.

  19. #19
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    I just painted my cases this afternoon. Next week I will start installing the extrusions and other hardware. Just waiting for my pneumatic rivet ***! When I planned these ases out I felt I could bring them in at 16-17 lbs. which is what the commercially made ones weigh. I believe I am still on track.

  20. #20
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    Not to be one of those Forum pedants who say "search the archives" all the time, but there are a lot of good threads out there dealing with this.

    I own both the S&S hard and soft cases, and the backpack case is just about always my go-to case. I have taken one with me on a tour once, when I rode the C&O Canal route from Maryland to DC. As someone else posted, I removed the hard plastic sides and folded up the bag, placing it in the bottom of one of my Ortlieb panniers. It's pretty heavy to lug around with you though. I used it on AMTRAK on the way home and hand-carried it on the train, so I wasn't worried about having the stiffeners or extra padding. You can see a photo of the packed bag from that trip at http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p...id=178345&v=38 It's the same bike and case as also pictured below, but without the bag stiffeners and frame padding.

    Regarding the backpack case durability, the only problem I've had is several broken plastic buckles (well, and maybe a few small tears here and there). The earlier versions of the bag used smaller buckles that were not up to the task. I have two older backpack cases and two newer ones with bigger buckles. The newer ones are fine. I'm going to get the older ones updated to bigger buckles at my local luggage repair shop.

    One suggestion: a small, cheap digital hand luggage scale is worth it's weight in gold when traveling with bikes, letting you get close to the 50# limit on most airlines nowadays. Last summer our tandem bags weighed in at 50.0 and 49.9 pounds. On another trip my single bag was 50.0#. Bear in mind I pack most all of my clothes and other supplies in the backpack case, too.

    Here's what I posted in this previous thread:

    I own four S&S backpack soft cases, and that's all I use anymore (I also have the hard case). I've posted elsewhere on the forums about packing strategies and whatnot, but I've found that as long as you use enough clothes as padding in the outside pockets you'll be fine. I've flown our tandem, triplet, and single bikes on multiple trans-atlantic flights with zero issues. All told, I probably have 40+ bag-segments flown with the backpack cases (when you consider two bags per tandem x each r/t flight = four bag-segments). In August we flew PHL-Munich-PHL with the triplet in two S&S cases, and last week I got back from 10 days in Germany with my Co-Motion single in one S&S case, flying in/out of FRA from PHL. So, in the past month alone I have six "segments" of use with the S&S backpack cases. I only mention that as a relevant data point. The only snafu was on the flight back last Sunday, where US Airways forgot to put my bike bag on the flight, and I didn't get it back until Tuesday morning. But it came through without any issues.

    The one and only time I've had a problem with shipping an S&S bike is when I used the hard case. Somehow the case must have gotten a really good whack, as the drum for my Arai drum brake (cast aluminum) got cracked and I got a small dent in the downtube on my Santana tandem. As an aside, when packing the tandem or triplet, I pull the axle, cassette, and Arai pad assembly to reduce the protrusions in the rear wheel (dang Santana 160mm spacing causes packing challenges, for sure).

    For my single bike, it took about 15 minutes to pack up for the return flight, and maybe 20 minutes to put together when I arrived (jet lag doesn't help). In addition to the wheels (obviously), I remove the wheel skewers, drive-side crank, handlebars, and rear derailleur. Padding is S&S Velcro and foam pipe insulation. The bike (Co-Motion OR 26" Co-Pilot) and all my clothes for 10 days went in the S&S case and I topped the scale at exactly 50 pounds. Extra stuff went in a carry-on bag.

    Photo 1 below: Co-Motion OR single bike (26" flat bar bike) packed in S&S backpack case. Also in main part of case was my helmet, Ortlieb handlebar bag, Blackburn rear rack, some tools. In outside pockets were almost all my clothes for 10 days (including a week of work meetings). Case weighed exactly 50.0 pounds.



    Photo 2: Our Santana Cabrio triplet and all our gear for 16 days in Europe this past August, including clothes for two adults and our seven-year-old son. The center section of the Cabrio is in the cardboard box on the bottom in a custom crate I created (see the thread on making the crate). Most clothes went in the S&S backpack cases' outside pockets. We had two carry-ons as shown in the photo. All checked bags flew for free and were within the size and weight limits. At arrival, I collapsed the crate, one S&S case, and the two carry-on bags and put them in the second S&S case, which we stored at a hotel we were staying at on the last night of our trip near the airport.

    Last edited by briwasson; 03-11-13 at 12:56 PM.

  21. #21
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
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    My Bikes
    1992 Serotta Colorado II,Co-Motion Speedster, Giant Escape Hybrid, 1977 Schwinn Super Le Tour
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    I have a question about the cases and ID. As I am in the process of making my own cases I was wondering about permanently attaching our names to the cases. If so what info would you included?
    Thanks!

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