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S&S couplers of dubious value to bike tourists?

Old 03-18-11, 11:51 AM
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S&S couplers of dubious value to bike tourists?

At about a $1000 premium, is the S&S coupler option really a decent value for touring bikes?

It's easier for me to see the value of an S&S coupled lightweight road bike. I might be tempted to take a sporty road bike on vacation or another trip to ride while I'm away. The lightweight bike breaks down (with the couplers) to pieces small enough to fit into the special case that meets the airline requirements for "just another standard piece of luggage." While I'm away, I store the special case in my hotel and happily ride around on my bike. When it's time to come home, I pack it back into it's special case and head to the airport.

Bike touring adds a whole new set of problems to that scenario. Can a real touring bike with, say, Tubus racks, taller headset stack, and bigger tires still fit into the special airline sized case? Unless you're touring in a loop, beginning and ending at the same location, you have to get the case back home or to your destination. It's not disposable like a box. Maybe people break the bike down and get it into a disposable box the right size for being "just another standard piece of luggage."

Does anyone here have an S&S coupled touring bike they've actually flown with to the beginning of their tour? How did it go?

Last edited by xyzzy834; 03-18-11 at 11:56 AM.
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Old 03-18-11, 12:11 PM
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I am really glad I had S&S couplers added to my bike when I bought it in 2004. I've flown with it virtually every year since to either the start, end or both of a one or more tours. Now that the airlines are grasping for every dollar they can, the couplers are saving me $100 every time I take it on a plane. By now, I am making money on the couplers!

Frankly, I think your ideas are complete backwards. Light bikes are easy to rent most anywhere. Why pay an extra $1000 for a bike you can rent for $20? Touring bikes, on the other hand, are hard to rent and require a good fit to make riding a tour physically possible.

While it takes some time (~1.5 hours) and effort to get my bike into the airline-sized case (photos of how it works), it feels good knowing the bike is protected by the plastic case and not cardboard.

The case is heavy and awkward and I need a separate, large suitcase to carry all the touring gear I need. I've taken the bike to England, France, Switzerland, and the East Coast of the US (I live in San Francisco) on airplanes and am glad that I didn't have to bother with getting a bike box, packing it, or airport hassle. Taking all this into account, I would suggest that packing the S&S coupled bike is no more bother than the cardboard box method.

In 2009, I drove up to Portland (with the uncoupled bike in the trunk of a rented car), rode to Jackson, WY, put the bike in the box (flown out by my wife), spent 10 days in the Tetons and Yellowstone, flew (with the bike) to England and then onto Vienna (bike still in box), took the train to Switzerland, unpacked the bike, did a 2-week tour, boxed the bike and flew home. I can't imagine doing all this with a standard touring bike and cardboard boxes.

In 2010, I flew with the bike to Charleston, SC, then sent the empty box to New Jersey (~$30). When it was time to come home, I packed the bike in the box and flew home with it.

Ray
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Old 03-18-11, 12:25 PM
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[compare with just paying the extra fees, 1 trip and the fee may be cheaper,
save time at the arrival luggage carousel, on the re assembly ]

another kit is Ritchey's Break away, scheme.

which uses the seatpost and clamps onto it with 2 pinch bolts
1 for each part.. and the downtube has a connector a set of flanges
clamped with a collar that reminds me of Irrigation Piping, or the hose connectors
I used to run hoses around in the Winery at fall crush and filtering times,

any how Dahon licensed Tom's design, so you can get a whole bike for less.

+ there is QBP/Surly imported S&S frames made in TW
such as 'travelers check', a cross check variation. ..

Doesn't have to be a K$ add on..

I'm Picking up a Bike Friday Pocket Llama to resolve any future travel problems ,
famous for their pack in a suitcase stealth airfare transportation.

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Old 03-18-11, 12:33 PM
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Judging by demand (we build S&S equipped bikes) they are very popular among tourists who like to travel to their riding destinations and have their bike sent as cargo... we have even built an S&S coupled touring tandem that fits into a reasonably sized case after being reduced to three sections.

These are some older pics and this is a long tail touring model with removable racks... for non seperable frames we often integrate the racks in the rear.









Have also developed our own couplers and will probably use these in some future builds.
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Old 03-18-11, 12:47 PM
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An S & S bike of dubious value? Au contraire. Just one trip, just one single trip with a bike as a piece of normal checked luggage and that bike becomes invaluable.

Combine that bike, whatever it is, to a typical vacation destination, and your fun level can rise dramatically. The bike is now priceless for the experience it might bring.


That's a stock S&S coupled Surly. Cost was very agreeable. There it is in a video on Maui, the picture below a photo from a trip to San Francisco, with an overnight trip into GGNRA and the Marin headlands in Marin County. Stellar bike camping trip there too.

For a two year tour across the globe, perhaps the ease of a solid frame makes more sense, for average american vacations an S&S bike is great. Point to point tours with a bike box might require advance planning to send the box to a bike shop, hotel or end point in your destination city.

If I need to pack racks, i've got a folding rear Racktime rack and a minifront rack that folds and i fit into the case. pic on right. Leaving a piece of luggage at a hotel, airport, bus station or travelers hostel, etc is usually pretty straightforward, if of a varied nature.
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Old 03-18-11, 12:48 PM
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Originally Posted by raybo
I am really glad I had S&S couplers added to my bike when I bought it in 2004.

In 2010, I flew with the bike to Charleston, SC, then sent the empty box to New Jersey (~$30). When it was time to come home, I packed the bike in the box and flew home with it.

Ray
Thanks for the info, Ray. Does your bike have normal sized touring racks and still fit into the box?

Tell me more about how you got the bike box from Charleston to NJ for $30. UPS ground? Airline?

Thanks
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Old 03-18-11, 12:51 PM
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S&S Machine makes a soft-sided case which breaks down into a flat package measuring 10" x 26" x 1" (maybe 2"). I've used it to travel with my bike. I just put some soft items (clothing) into the case to help pad it and it worked fine.

@fletsbob: The Ritchey Breakaway case actually exceeds the airlines' limits for non-oversize checked luggage by several inches. You can probably get by if your check-in agent isn't being persnickety, but otherwise it's going to cost as much as showing up with a conventional bike case.

People have done fully-loaded touring with Bike Fridays. You do have to be more careful about potential blowouts on long/steep descents as the small-diameter wheels will heat up faster under braking than full-sized wheels.

A newer system is Ravello Bikes. Personally, I think the S&S couplers are more robust than either the Ritchey or Ravello systems.
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Old 03-18-11, 12:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Bekologist
If I need to pack racks, i've got a folding rear Racktime rack and a minifront rack that folds and i fit into the case. pic on right. Leaving a piece of luggage at a hotel, airport, bus station or travelers hostel, etc is usually pretty straightforward, if of a varied nature.
I can see how it works for you with small folding racks or no racks at all. I'm committed to my Tubus Cargo and Tara racks, so I might have a problem. I doubt I can get those racks into the case. It looks like everything must fit well together in there.
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Old 03-18-11, 01:15 PM
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Originally Posted by xyzzy834
Thanks for the info, Ray. Does your bike have normal sized touring racks and still fit into the box?

Tell me more about how you got the bike box from Charleston to NJ for $30. UPS ground? Airline?

Thanks
The only thing that fits into the bike box is the bike (minus bolts and pedals). I use another full-size case to carry the racks, panniers, and all the other gear. I have taken camping gear (tent, bag, pad, etc) with me but that involves using my two back panniers as carry-ons and stuffed full.

I shipped the empty box using either UPS or FedEx ground, I can't remember which. Since my full-sized case doesn't fit into my bike box (will check on that the next time!), I got a cheap ($10) nylon bag, lined it with cardboard, and put my gear in there and then put the bag in the box and shipped it up to New Jersey, as well.

Since the bag wasn't as big as the large case, I also sent some gear UPS before I arrived. I shipped it to the hotel in Charleston, which was happy to hold it for me.

Ray
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Old 03-18-11, 02:24 PM
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Think about it this way.

Let's say you fly Continental with a normal bicycle, in a bike box, and one more checked bag. This will cost you roughly $150 each flight (i.e. $300 for a round-trip).

Now, let's say you drop $1100 for the couplers and a case. This reduces your fees to $75 each flight.

In this scenario, you will need to take approximately 15 flights with the bike just to break even.

Different airlines will have different fees. But due to the airlines generally getting all fee-happy, it takes a lot more trips than it used to for S&S to make economic sense, regardless of what type of bike or usage you're considering.
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Old 03-18-11, 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Bacciagalupe
Think about it this way.

Let's say you fly Continental with a normal bicycle, in a bike box, and one more checked bag. This will cost you roughly $150 each flight (i.e. $300 for a round-trip).

Now, let's say you drop $1100 for the couplers and a case. This reduces your fees to $75 each flight.

In this scenario, you will need to take approximately 15 flights with the bike just to break even.

Different airlines will have different fees. But due to the airlines generally getting all fee-happy, it takes a lot more trips than it used to for S&S to make economic sense, regardless of what type of bike or usage you're considering.
Did you mean "less" instead of "more" flights? I can't see airline fees going down!

Note, also, that on international flights, cattle-class gets 1 free bag. On my upcoming flight to England, I get my bike free if it fits into the standard luggage dimensions (Virgin Airline sport equipment policy).

Also, it is easy to focus on the savings in airline costs as the only benefit of the couplers. But, that misses their most common use, which is carrying the uncoupled bike in a car without need of a rack. I do this all the time when I drive the bike somewhere, especially if in someone else's car.

Frankly, I think there is more to it than just money--ease of carrying, no need for cardboard boxes, more travel flexibility, etc. But, for others, money may be the only thing. Either way, I believe you'd come out ahead if you plan to many years of touring in areas away from your home base.

Ray

Last edited by raybo; 03-18-11 at 02:44 PM.
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Old 03-18-11, 03:01 PM
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Originally Posted by raybo
Also, it is easy to focus on the savings in airline costs as the only benefit of the couplers. But, that misses their most common use, which is carrying the uncoupled bike in a car without need of a rack. I do this all the time when I drive the bike somewhere, especially if in someone else's car.

Ray
That's a benefit I hadn't fully considered. I'm really not much of a world traveler with my touring bike, but I do drive myself to some touring starting/ending locations for loop tours (like around one of the smaller Great Lakes). I could dispense with the rack on the back of my car if the bike would fit in the trunk. Or I could make it easier for someone to give me a ride to my starting point.
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Old 03-18-11, 03:43 PM
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I had an S&S coupled touring bike and a Bike Friday folding travel bike. After a year I sold the S&S bike and kept the Bike Friday. The easy tool free fold of the Bike Friday is something I use regularly and is very handy for traveling by vehicle without the hassle of a rack. The Bike Friday is very similar to tour on compared to my Surly LHT.

I've also flown with boxed bikes and only been charged 50% of the time. So I'm not overly fussed about flying with a full size bike.



I just got a Bike Friday tandem so my GF and I can tour together at a decent speed and both have fun.

I can't see myself getting another S&S bike.

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Old 03-18-11, 04:21 PM
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Originally Posted by raybo
But, that misses their most common use, which is carrying the uncoupled bike in a car without need of a rack. I do this all the time when I drive the bike somewhere, especially if in someone else's car.
Do you really have a problem doing this with a regular bike? I have a pretty small car ('87 Corolla sedan) and a pretty big bike (60cm Cannondale) and the bike fits very easily in the trunk (and the rear seat in the car doesn't fold down). I do remove the wheels, but that only takes a few seconds - way easier than undoing the S&S couplers and cable connections. This is normally the way I carry my bikes anywhere by car when only taking a single bike - even to club rides that start 10 miles away.

For air travel I use my Bike Friday. That way it's just another suitcase like all the others being checked. It fits in the car trunk as well but not quite as quickly as the Cannondale.
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Old 03-18-11, 05:22 PM
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Originally Posted by prathmann
Do you really have a problem doing this with a regular bike?
I only have one bike. I've gotten rides from people over bad stretches in cars that didn't have the trunk space to fit my bags and bike into it. Uncoupling the bike allowed this to work. It is possible that taking the wheels off would have worked, as well. I didn't do that so I don't know.

When I take my bike on my own car, I use a bike rack if the drive is local and put the bike inside the car (uncoupled) if it is far enough that I don't want to leave the bike on the rack if the car is unattended.

For air travel I use my Bike Friday. That way it's just another suitcase like all the others being checked. It fits in the car trunk as well but not quite as quickly as the Cannondale.
What does a Bike Friday cost?

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Old 03-18-11, 05:27 PM
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Forget the special case. I pack a 62cm Americano Co-Pilot (S&S coupled) bike and all touring gear in a 26x26x10 box and a 28x28x6 box. Each weighs 50 lbs so is under both the weight and dimensional limits for the airlines. In baggage claim the kit is assembled, the cardboard is discarded, and I ride away from the airport. (N.B. 700c wheels are larger than 26x26, the special case cheats).
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Old 03-18-11, 09:50 PM
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love my couplers.

I used to fly to UK 2X a year, used cardboard boxes cut to size. Easy to source either side of the pond.

My first SS frame cost 600 used, my more recent frame was 800, but its a rivendell...


Never really got comfortable on a bike friday, ymmv.
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Old 03-18-11, 10:50 PM
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Originally Posted by raybo
What does a Bike Friday cost?
Mine was about $1200 including the optional trailer frame, suitcase, and soft bag. The trailer frame lets me tow the suitcase behind the assembled bike and has been handy on some one-way bike tours. At the end of the tour I pedal to the airport, take my carryon-size tour luggage out of the suitcase, put the disassembled bike and trailer parts into the suitcase and check in. Total of one carryon bag and one checked bag.

But on a loop tour I use panniers instead of the suitcase/trailer to save on weight and have better maneuverability.
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Old 03-19-11, 03:46 PM
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Originally Posted by raybo
What does a Bike Friday cost?

Ray


The lowest cost touring rig Bike Friday makes is a Pocket Companion @ $995 - close to the cost of a S&S retrofit with paint.

https://community.bikefriday.com/pocketcompanion

I helped my friend Amy get a similar Bike Friday [just with drops] her first real bike and her first touring rig. She jumped on it with zero training and rode over the Canadian Rockies from Banff to Vancouver....went down to SF. Then to Hawaii with it [on a plane!] and now it's her go to bike out on Canada's east coast.

She sends me regular updates and is still in love with her Friday.

I took measurements from my Surly LHT when I got my Bike Friday New World Tourist. It fit like a glove right out of the box. If I close my eyes as I am rolling down the highway on tour I can't tell which bike I am on as the fit identically.
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Old 03-19-11, 06:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Cyclesafe
Forget the special case. I pack a 62cm Americano Co-Pilot (S&S coupled) bike and all touring gear in a 26x26x10 box and a 28x28x6 box. Each weighs 50 lbs so is under both the weight and dimensional limits for the airlines. In baggage claim the kit is assembled, the cardboard is discarded, and I ride away from the airport. (N.B. 700c wheels are larger than 26x26, the special case cheats).
That is interesting. For me the special case is a non starter. I seldom start and end a tour in the same city so a case would have to be shipped home or to the end of the tour. The boxes sound better for that.

My question is how do you manage to have the exact right sized box at the end of the tour? Are they readily available, do you ship one to the city at the end of the tour, or do you make one from a larger box?

Do the airlines give you any grief about the cardboard boxes? The one time I had gear in cardboard boxes Continental told us they would not be responsible for damage to stuff in boxes (they did say they would cover loss though). They made us sign something to that effect before they would take the boxes and then put stickers to that effect all over our boxes. We called them "kick me" signs. Interestingly they were fine with the bike in a box, it was their box though (this was in 2007 when they still sold bike boxes).

I probably don't fly often enough to justify the couplers any way though. So, for US travel lately I have used Southwest or Frontier and total baggage charge was $50 including the bike in a big-ish box. Or if using another airline, I have shipped the bike home via UPS or FedEX from a bike shop (around $100 including having the bike shop box it and handle the shipping).
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Old 03-19-11, 08:31 PM
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Originally Posted by staehpj1
That is interesting. For me the special case is a non starter. I seldom start and end a tour in the same city so a case would have to be shipped home or to the end of the tour. The boxes sound better for that.

My question is how do you manage to have the exact right sized box at the end of the tour? Are they readily available, do you ship one to the city at the end of the tour, or do you make one from a larger box?

Do the airlines give you any grief about the cardboard boxes? The one time I had gear in cardboard boxes Continental told us they would not be responsible for damage to stuff in boxes (they did say they would cover loss though). They made us sign something to that effect before they would take the boxes and then put stickers to that effect all over our boxes. We called them "kick me" signs. Interestingly they were fine with the bike in a box, it was their box though (this was in 2007 when they still sold bike boxes).

I probably don't fly often enough to justify the couplers any way though. So, for US travel lately I have used Southwest or Frontier and total baggage charge was $50 including the bike in a big-ish box. Or if using another airline, I have shipped the bike home via UPS or FedEX from a bike shop (around $100 including having the bike shop box it and handle the shipping).
The end of the tour.

That's where I ride to a rent-a-car, break down my bike / kit, drive to a hardware store to get PE foam pipe insulation and other packing materials, then drive to a UPS Store or U-Haul facility to get boxes to cut down, pack the bike in whatever box I can make, then send the two or more self-packed boxes UPS or Fed Express home. I don't try to get them on the plane for the flight home. I think $100 for an LBS to pack and ship a bike is a wonderful deal that I would take advantage of if I had that opportunity.

Be careful to not let the UPS Store pack your stuff. They will be eager to do so and charge you a bundle for the "convenience". My partner on the GDMBR was gouged about $350 for packing ahd shipping his bike and kit from Tucson to Boston.
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Old 03-19-11, 11:46 PM
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I'm split on this. Since the only serious downside to couplers is the cost, why not have them? What is the max size frame you can put in the regulation box? I can't see that Arvon frame flying with the long stays.

If I was looking for a really easy to take around bike it would be a Friday, but I don't believe the ride is going to be the same with small wheels. Unless the road is immaculate.

I wouldn't personally worry about racks there is always a solution there, since they can be configured on a custom bike to do just about anything. There is also a huge range of really need it gear, and one could easily reduce the load if there was a serious reason to do so.
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Old 03-20-11, 01:47 AM
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My Arvon-built expedition grade touring bike has S&S couplers. My GTO Greenspeed recumbent has an S&S coupler. I am six-foot five so the Arvon-built is big, even though it has 48 spoke 26" wheels.

The simple answer to your question is Yes! The coupler makes taking the bikes to Australia from Canada (via USA) easy. Now if TSA would just be gentle with my gear instead of trashing it on "inspection". Those low paid morons have to understand that bicycles are NOT security issues.
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Old 03-20-11, 07:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Peterpan1
I'm split on this. Since the only serious downside to couplers is the cost, why not have them?
1) The price premium is rather steep.
2) Practically speaking, you can't install or retrofit them on aluminum bikes.
3) They will only work with round tubes; some ovalized tubes will work, most won't.

Otherwise, I do concur they are very robust and, as long as they were installed correctly, won't compromise the frame in any way.


Originally Posted by peterpan1
If I was looking for a really easy to take around bike it would be a Friday, but I don't believe the ride is going to be the same with small wheels. Unless the road is immaculate.
It definitely won't be the same. 20" wheels are highly responsive, and yes the ride will be a little bit rougher.

However, adding baggage mitigates some of these issues. The weight is lower, and with baggage a 20" bike tends to handle more like a large-wheeled bike. I also suspect that extra weight also soaks up some road buzz. For on-road touring, folding bikes are a viable option.

There is also a price premium. For example, a steel Pocket Rocket 18sp with Tiagra/Capreo will set you back $2150; meanwhile, a typical aluminum race bike with Tiagra is $1250 these days. Other folding bikes offer better pricing, but as a rule you're either paying extra or sacrificing something (usually gearing) in exchange for the fold.

It can be worth it if you travel frequently, like the responsive handling (it can be fun, once you're used to it) and/or need the added convenience.
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Old 03-20-11, 08:40 AM
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do THIS on a bike friday.....
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