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Hard case? Soft case? What worked and what didn't?

Old 08-12-13, 08:11 PM
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Hard case? Soft case? What worked and what didn't?

I got a new bike last month, and now I want to take it with me everywhere I go. It's a 56cm-ish cyclocross bike with 700c tires, to give you an idea for the size. I'm just about ready to take to get S&S couplers, but the voice of caution (otherwise known as Phil, my husband) suggests trying taking it along as-is before doing anything irrevocable.

So now I'm looking at cases for full size, non-couplered bikes -- anything from a soft case with extra padding like the Pika to a heavy-duty hardshell like the Scicon Aerotech.

I know many folks on the forum swear by couplers -- but I know that there have to be some who have used cases, or even cardboard, to bring a bike along on an airplane.

Intended travel is mostly in the US, with rare trips to Canada; someday, I might get to Europe, but I can't see making that the deciding factor.

What cases have you tried? What worked? What didn't? And thanks for letting me pick your brains.
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Old 08-12-13, 08:46 PM
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Touring , I used Cardboard Boxes .. abandoned It at the Arrival area of the airport .

got another one for the return trip ..


Often I just used half the RT ticket , got another one when I returned.. OW have a cost penalty, as it is.

If you use an Airport hotel and they will store your hard case for you
and you will be going back from the same airport, your situation is different.

Last edited by fietsbob; 08-12-13 at 08:50 PM.
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Old 08-12-13, 08:56 PM
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Originally Posted by jeneralist
I got a new bike last month, and now I want to take it with me everywhere I go. It's a 56cm-ish cyclocross bike with 700c tires, to give you an idea for the size. I'm just about ready to take to get S&S couplers, but the voice of caution (otherwise known as Phil, my husband) suggests trying taking it along as-is before doing anything irrevocable.

So now I'm looking at cases for full size, non-couplered bikes -- anything from a soft case with extra padding like the Pika to a heavy-duty hardshell like the Scicon Aerotech.

I know many folks on the forum swear by couplers -- but I know that there have to be some who have used cases, or even cardboard, to bring a bike along on an airplane.

Intended travel is mostly in the US, with rare trips to Canada; someday, I might get to Europe, but I can't see making that the deciding factor.

What cases have you tried? What worked? What didn't? And thanks for letting me pick your brains.
If you are traveling in Canada and the US with a bike use the train. On Amtrak it will cost you $15 for the box and $10 baggage. It's easy and Amtrak are set up to be bike friendly.

I've had good success on international flights using the Groundeffect Tardis bag and have yet to be charged anything extra. It just went on as regular baggage. It might be a different story for US domestic flights. But the Tardis is easy to carry and fits on public transport ok and it folds up easily for storage or posting at your destination

https://www.groundeffect.co.nz/produc...il-TAR-BAG.htm
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Old 08-12-13, 08:59 PM
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I have used hardshell cases when I know I've got a place at the other end of the flight where I can store the case. And in those rare instances, I've rented the case from my local bicycle shop. A lot less expensive than buying one!!

But mostly, I use cardboard boxes.
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Old 08-12-13, 09:04 PM
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Originally Posted by nun
I've had good success on international flights using the Groundeffect Tardis bag and have yet to be charged anything extra. It just went on as regular baggage. It might be a different story for US domestic flights. But the Tardis is easy to carry and fits on public transport ok and it folds up easily for storage or posting at your destination

https://www.groundeffect.co.nz/produc...il-TAR-BAG.htm
That Tardis bag looks very... unstructured. Did it protect your bike as-is, or did you need to stuff the bag with cardboard/plastic/something else?
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Old 08-12-13, 09:20 PM
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I really do like my coupled bikes (and S&S-coupled 29er hardtail MTB and a Ritchey Break-Away CX), but one of the things that has kept me from doing open-jaw flights/trips (i.e. arriving in Paris, departing from Amsterdam) has been the hard case and storing it/transporting it where I need it.

S&S does sell a 26x26x10" cardboard box, which is ideal if you are trying to avoid airline fees, but not a lot of help if you don't have the typical coupled bike. But the cardboard box idea is good, especially when paired with their S&S "compression members" (https://www.sandsmachine.com/ac_comp.htm -- they disassemble to next to nothing, so you can carry them with you after disposing of the box) to provide internal support to the box, and I've considered just taking my chances that I could buy a roll of tape and scrounge cardboard for the return (worst case you end up buying cardboard).
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Old 08-12-13, 09:27 PM
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Originally Posted by jeneralist
That Tardis bag looks very... unstructured. Did it protect your bike as-is, or did you need to stuff the bag with cardboard/plastic/something else?
The Tardis has no structure, just some padding at the center of the wheels, but it's Cordura material is very tough. I usually use my gear as extra padding. It's best to remove the rear derailleur and chain ring. It comes with spacers for the drop outs and once the bag is tightened up it's a sturdy package.
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Old 08-13-13, 02:10 AM
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After travelling here, there, and everywhere ... and most recently travelling for 8 months around the world ... going forward, we are planning to go with folding bikes so we can use normal-sized suitcases.
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Old 08-13-13, 05:20 AM
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As I mentioned in another thread, CrateWork's plastic box is a good compromise between size, rigidity and price. Keep one thing in mind: That new bike of yours was likely made in China and shipped half way around the world by truck, train and boat in the same type of cardboard box your LBS throws away every day.

Most airlines charge extra fees for bikes regardless of case size. So even if you have S&S and get the bike into a case that is not oversized, you will get charged the fee if the airline discovers there is a bike inside. So you have that expense on top of the cost of S&S. You also need to be somewhat mechanically inclined to assemble and reassemble a bike with S&S.

Ever see what many airlines are charging these days? It's crazy. When I go out west I ship UPS unless I am flying Southwest.
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Old 08-13-13, 07:17 AM
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There's a significant qualitative difference between transporting a bike with couplers and one without: Any case for a non-coupled conventional bike will be oversize by airline baggage rules, so you will be subject to oversize baggage charges, which can be considerable with some airlines. In contrast, S&S cases measure 26"x26"x10", which is exactly at the limit of what the airlines consider to be "regular" checked baggage.

As long as your bike isn't aluminum or carbon-with-shaped-top-and-down-tubes (i.e., not round in cross section), many frame builders will be able to retrofit S&S couplers to it. They will essentially cut the frame, install the couplers and repaint.

As for choosing between hard-sided and soft-sided S&S cases, the soft case is easier to store and transport when not in use, as it collapses to 1"x26"x10". It has a set of panels that stiffen it in the depth-wise dimension when in use, and with the contents padded out with clothing and whatnot, the frame and wheels are pretty well protected. Its principal shortcoming is it's unwieldy to lug around as it has no wheels.
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Old 08-13-13, 07:19 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz
Most airlines charge extra fees for bikes regardless of case size. So even if you have S&S and get the bike into a case that is not oversized, you will get charged the fee if the airline discovers there is a bike inside. So you have that expense on top of the cost of S&S.
Don't tell them it's a bike. If asked, say "exercise equipment" or "workout equipment".

Originally Posted by indyfabz
You also need to be somewhat mechanically inclined to assemble and reassemble a bike with S&S.
The most challenging part about packing a couplered bike is fitting the pieces into the case.

Taking the frame apart is a matter of using the special wrench to turn the couplers until loose enough to hand-turn them until completely disconnected. The rest of disassembly is removing the wheels, maybe loosening the stem to turn the handlebars, and undoing the shift cables and rear brake cable (or disconnecting the quick-disconnects if you have them on your cables).

Assembly consists of reconnecting the couplers (you do have to be careful when reconnecting the couplers, as they are stainless steel and can be damaged easily if not lubricated or if cross-threaded), reattaching the cables (and adjusting cable tension if you don't have quick-disconnects), and putting the wheels back on (and maybe retightening the stem).

Even with some conventional bike cases, you still have to remove wheels, pedals and turn the stem and handlebars.

Originally Posted by indyfabz
Ever see what many airlines are charging these days? It's crazy. When I go out west I ship UPS unless I am flying Southwest.
A conventional bike case is still an oversized item for UPS, Fedex, etc.

Last edited by dorkypants; 08-13-13 at 07:31 AM. Reason: additional comment
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Old 08-13-13, 08:05 AM
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Originally Posted by dorkypants
Don't tell them it's a bike. If asked, say "exercise equipment" or "workout equipment".
When was the last time you used that bit of advice?
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Old 08-13-13, 08:18 AM
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I've flown internationally with my bike and gear in the Tardis bag and it went on as regular luggage on both Virgin Atlantic and IcelandAir, there was no charge at all. However, that was a couple of years ago and things have probably changed particularly for US domestic flights. Still I's still use the tardis for airline travel and after my recent trip from Buffalo to Boston, I would recommend Amtrak if you are traveling in the US with a bike. Having the clerk not freak out when you roll up to the window on you bike and say you want a bike box is priceless. They just go to the back room and come out with an enormous box and usually give you some tape and a pen. Packing is easy as the box is so big, just take the pedals off and turn the bars 90 degs and roll the bike in. The clerk then takes it away. Also trains are cool!

Having said that I'm going to do the same as Macka and try a folding bike. You can take them on Amtrak as regular luggage.

https://wheelsofchance.wordpress.com/...ra-day-eleven/
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Old 08-13-13, 11:03 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz
Most airlines charge extra fees for bikes regardless of case size. So even if you have S&S and get the bike into a case that is not oversized, you will get charged the fee if the airline discovers there is a bike inside. So you have that expense on top of the cost of S&S. You also need to be somewhat mechanically inclined to assemble and reassemble a bike with S&S.
Not always true. US Airways, for example, specifically says that as long as a bike fits inside the 62" baggage rule, there is no additional charge. And US Air is usually the least accommodating of the major airlines. Here's the wording as found at https://www.usairways.com/en-US/trave...cialitems.html

"Bicycles will be accepted as checked baggage for a charge of $200 per direction, if over 62 in/157 cm in total dimensions (total dimensions are length + width + height). If the bicycle is under 62 in/157 cm in total dimensions, it will count as a first or second checked bag. One item of bicycle equipment is defined as 1 non-motorized touring or racing bicycle with a single seat."

And here's United's policy (https://www.united.com/web/en-us/Cont...ge/sports.aspx)

"United accepts non-motorized bicycles with single or double seats (including tandem) or up to two non-motorized bicycles packed in one case as checked baggage. If the bicycle(s) are packed in a container that is over 50 pounds (23kg) and/or 62 (158 cm) total linear inches (L + W + H), a $100 service charge applies each way for travel between the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and a $200 service charge applies each way for all other travel. If the bicycle(s) are packed in a container that is less than 50 pounds (23kg) and 62 (158 cm) total linear inches (L + W + H), there is no bicycle service charge, but, if applicable, the first or second checked baggage service charge applies."

In real-world practice, with literally dozens of legs flown with bikes in S&S cases (single, tandem and triple bikes), I have never been charged additional, even when they knew it was a bike.

IMO, there is no downside to S&S couplers, except for cost, if you plan to travel with your bike. It's not just saving the additional baggage costs, it's the convenience afforded by having a bike in a more compact package. Of course, smaller-wheel folding bikes are also a very viable option.

Since you are in Philly, you have access to perhaps the most experience S&S retrofitter in the USA, Bilenky Cycles. [Oops, I see you have a Bilenky Ti Tourlite already. Sweet! You didn't get couplers on it to start with, though?]
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Old 08-13-13, 11:56 AM
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For non RT trips I buy a suitcase at a local charity shop and cut down a box to airplane legal. All packing supplies are left at the airport. Wheels go in the box tubes into the suitcase.

For RT trips I use a hard case which I bought at the time of bike purchase and a suitcase. Wheels and some tubes go in the hard case.

Note: Allegiant air (Ryan air of the USA) has a slightly odd ball policy when it comes to baggage size.

Checked bags must be under 40 pounds (18 kilos) and under 80 linear inches (203 centimeters) in height + width + depth

I wonder if a small non coupled bike would fit under these rules?

In all my air travels I've picked up many many TSA stickers, damaged one spoke and damaged one rear dérailleur (my fault for forgetting to take it off)

If asked, "Is there is a bike in the case? " Response, "There is half a bike in the case. Open it if you want."

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Old 08-13-13, 02:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Machka
When was the last time you used that bit of advice?
Last time I flew with bike + wife, she "helpfully" told Delta agent there was a bike in that box. Agent was ready to hit me with a bike surcharge, even though it fit within the 62" limit, until I told her it was bike parts. It was fun watching the agent deflate.
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Old 08-13-13, 06:14 PM
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I got a Pika Packworks bag in 2009 and have used it quite a bit, both in Europe and in the US. I've used it to transport aluminum, steel, and carbon bikes without any problems. There's enough space in the bag for some other equipment (helmet, shoes, etc...). However, it does not break down small enough for you to haul it with you while touring. Many have criticized me for using a soft case with a carbon frame, but it's what I have, and if something were to happen to the frame, it would be an excuse to buy another!

As for fees, I'm usually charged, sometimes not. I always plan on the fee and then count it a blessing if I don't have to pay it.
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Old 08-13-13, 08:19 PM
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Originally Posted by briwasson
Since you are in Philly, you have access to perhaps the most experience S&S retrofitter in the USA, Bilenky Cycles. [Oops, I see you have a Bilenky Ti Tourlite already. Sweet! You didn't get couplers on it to start with, though?]
Oh, it's a custom Bilenky; it just wasn't built custom for me. The original owner sold it when he realized that with new improved family responsibilities, he didn't have the time to ride he had planned on. So I found it on Craigslist. After double-checking to make sure it hadn't been stolen (always an issue on Craigslist), I got a lovely new-to-me bike that just flies compared to my daily commuter Cannondale Adventure 400.

This is what it looked like when I brought it back "home" to Bilenky to get checked out:

I've since given the drop bars, the brifters, the narrow saddle, and the carbon seatpost to my husband for his bike; I've got a Brooks saddle and riser bars with bar ends on it now.

You're right -- if the time comes that I want to put couplers on it, I'm in a great position to do so. But some folks who made the investment in couplers have already gotten burned when the airlines changed the definition of "overweight" from 70lbs to 50lbs. I'm half-expecting them to back away from 62 linear inches as "oversized" soon. So I think I'll track down a used case, try it -- and if I don't like it, I can invest in the conversion to couplers next year.
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Old 08-14-13, 07:05 AM
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Whatever you do, the best value for the dollar of all my travel gear is a cheap digital luggage scale. I got it on Ebay, shipped from China. Shipping takes couple weeks to a month, so if in a hurry you might be out of luck. I have seen a lot of stuff in airports that clearly was a few inches over size limits that the agents let thru, but airline agents are very good at checking weight. I frequently carry 48 pounds in a checked bag, the 2 pounds to spare is to account for scale inaccuracies.
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Old 08-14-13, 11:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN
Whatever you do, the best value for the dollar of all my travel gear is a cheap digital luggage scale. I got it on Ebay, shipped from China. Shipping takes couple weeks to a month, so if in a hurry you might be out of luck. I have seen a lot of stuff in airports that clearly was a few inches over size limits that the agents let thru, but airline agents are very good at checking weight. I frequently carry 48 pounds in a checked bag, the 2 pounds to spare is to account for scale inaccuracies.
When I was looking for a bike bag/case its weight was a big factor. Many of them were heavy and took up a large proportion of the luggage weight allowance. The Tardis weighs 3 lbs so you can use most of the allowance for your bike a gear.
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Old 08-14-13, 06:13 PM
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I just returned from round trip on British Air with: https://www.groundeffect.co.nz/produc...il-BOD-BAG.htm holding my Surly LHT. No excess bike charges, just charged as a piece of luggage. The bag is light and foldable enough to carry with, so I strapped it to the rear rack and used it on the return after carrying it across Europe. I stuffed cardboard in, wrapped foam around the tubes on the way out, on the way back I used 4 ortlieb panniers as padding. All up it weighed in just under the 50 lb limits. It's big, but all you do is remove your front wheel and rack, remove and turn handlebars, and remove pedals and it fits. No damage to bike at all. Bag looks good, so I think it was treated gently, as it IS recognizable as bike and BA agents asked and I told them it was a bike per their policy. All in all very satisfied. Cost $125 from NZ including postage to USA.
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Old 08-18-13, 08:22 PM
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I've used the "naked bike" approach on 5 transatlantic round trips with British airways since '04. No bag, no box, just pull off the pedals, turn the bars sideways, lower the saddle and roll the bike up to the check-in counter. Baggage handlers see that it's a bike and handle it accordingly, and I've had no problems yet. I did buy a clear plastic bag for one trip, but didn't have to use it.
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Old 08-19-13, 01:33 AM
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With a homemade 26x26x10 soft bag ( with cardboard padding/stiffeners ) I flew with a non folding bike by stripping the frame and putting all the content into that regulation sized bag.
The frame bag was so thin and light they did not bother to charge extra for it.
It was all 'sports equipment'.
The effort to get a Ritchey Breakaway into the 26x26x10 bag is almost identical to stripping a conventional frame of all parts.

Now I have a B&W hard case, a Brompton, a Ritchey Breakaway and hopefully soon a Bike Friday Llama ( i.e. still searching for the ideal travel bike )
The B&W case was damaged on it's first trip by poor TSA re-packing which left one of the latches open.
Probably when the case was thrown from the plane at the far end, the case frame twisted and remaining latch and has never closed properly since.
Next trip I'm going back to the homemade cordura bag.
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Old 08-19-13, 05:02 AM
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Originally Posted by nun
When I was looking for a bike bag/case its weight was a big factor. Many of them were heavy and took up a large proportion of the luggage weight allowance. The Tardis weighs 3 lbs so you can use most of the allowance for your bike a gear.
This. Before buying a hard case, take your bike to the shop and actually put it in the box, see how well it fits, and weight it.

I have a Performance hard case, which sounded like a good idea, but it weighs nearly half of the 22kg limit. My last trip, I had to stash several pieces in my other luggage just to "make weight" (racks, seat + seat post, cranks, chain).

Also, with hard cases, you want to put the derailer hanger facing the interior, not the exterior, or you risk having it bent. Soft case, too, I suppose.

Check the airline policies carefully. International carriers are much better than domestic airlines, in general. A bike goes free on VA. Just a piece of luggage on BA. UA charges something like $100, so tell them to go and stuff it.
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Old 08-19-13, 07:41 PM
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Bikes: DOST Kope CVT e-bike; Bilenky Ti Tourlite

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Pika ESS on order. Will post review after my first trip with it -- likely to Sacramento CA in October. On Southwest Air.
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