A seasoned professional cyclist or triathlete will pull their bike in and out of a bike bag in no time with few incidents. There is a skill in doing this to minimise any damage to your investment and the following advice will help see you arrive at your race or holiday with your bike in one piece.
The first piece of advice is to ensure that your bike is insured and you are fully aware that your insurance covers you for the destination of your choice, let’s face it the airline aren’t going to hand over $15k for your carbon steed are they! Travel insurance claim to cover your luggage and as we all know when we travel we place all our clothes etc in our bike bag and the airline class this as luggage and is acceptable as checked baggage providing the weight & bag size is appropriate, but be cautious and read the fine print of the travel insurance policy. Most policies cover luggage to the value of $15,000 great my bike is covered, but when you read the fine print there is a limit of $500 per item so your bike, wheels and contents are now worth $500 bucks, whoopsie!
Ok, so your in the garage and the wife is yelling out the taxi will be here in 40 minutes and you have a battle field of gear spread out over the garage floor and driveway, first mistake, always pack the day or night before, you would be surprised of the classic stories I’ve heard where the taxi is out the front and Joe Cool is trying to crush his back wheel into place, crazy!
One of the main areas of concern are wheels getting damaged and sure you can buy or replace a wheel anywhere in the world but who needs the extra expense when travelling, most bike boxes and bags have compartments for wheels and will keep them relatively protected, where a soft bag is used I like to cut up some plastic called corflute ( the product most real estate signs are made from) and cut the shape of a wheel and place one or two pieces on each side of the wheel, you will be surprised how strong this makes the whole area and this material can be bought at any major hardware in Australia or NZ for about $10 for a full sheet. Also avoid having your wheel re-built or re-tensioned with out riding first as the pressure from altitude or other reasons can break another spoke.
Another area of concern is the chain and derailleur area of the bike, if you are reasonably skilled you can remove the derailleur all together and this is not that hard and the preferred method, you can either take the chain off or leave wrapped up and sitting next to the rear stays (the preferred method). There is a special brace that can be purchased and this slots into your wheel drop outs where the wheel skewer sits and has a sliding wheel for the chain to sit in, this will replicate the chain in its normal position and will allow two things, if someone stands on your rear stays they will not collapse together and your chain will not rub on your precious paint job or worse, rub through the carbon. If this item is hard to find go to your local bike store and ask for the plastic pieces that come with a bike when delivered to the store for the same reason and use these in both the front and back wheel drop outs.
The next area of attention is the steering mechanism on your bike, in most cases this will need to pulled apart, sometimes the easiest way is to undo the bolts on the front of the bars, usually four and tilt the whole handle bar to the direction you need to fit in the bag, once again a piece of corflute around this area will protect the assembly, If you need to remove the head stem ask for advice from your bike mechanic on how to do this and look for a piece of cardboard or plastic cylinder the same size so you can place over the top of the stem and do the top bolt up so your fork and bearings don’t fall out when you pull the bike out of the bag. Once the bars are in the right position screw the plate back onto the head stem with all the screws, this piece has been known to be left in the garage!!
The frame can be simply protected by going to a plumbing supply store and buying the round black rubber tube generally used for air conditioning pipes, cut this down the middle and slip over your frame and forks with a little insulation tape. The next bit of info is crucial, before you take your seat off make sure that you mark the height with insulation tape or an appropriate pen, I prefer to write the actual distance from the center of crank to top of seat on the inside of my bag so I always have it on hand as well as a back up, someone will always have a measuring device.
For general plane and bus etc hard cases work well but my preference is a soft bag as they seem to fit into cars easier and have a little give, there is nothing worse than having a hard case 1 centimetre too high to fit into a car, it’s not going to fit, but with a soft bag you can manipulate it a little.
I always like to take a little plain grease for bolts and carbon grease for my seat tube in a zip lunch bag, small bottle of chain lube in a zip bag, and always clean my chain prior to packing and lube when setting my bike up this will keep every thing else in your bag clean. Throw in a few Allen keys, spare steering bolts and be careful if you have carbon bars or seat posts as you will need to have a torque setting wrench with you and these are not expensive. Another very handy tool is a bag scale from your travel shop as this will easily give you the weight of your bag prior to arriving at the airport, I take mine with me for the return trip in case of any additional purchases or changes in luggage with family or friends etc.
If you have wheels on your bike bag check these every trip as I have seen many a cyclist drag his bike bag the whole way from the car to the check in desk because of a broken wheel and no trolley’s were available, that gets a little messy! Don’t forget to leave your tyres deflated and leave your co2 canisters at home, another little tip, if you are struggling to have all your gear fit in one bike bag, post it to a friend before flying as this may save you hundreds in extra weight fees at the airport and always notify your bus, taxi etc that you will have a bike bag as occasionally they turn up unprepared or the wrong vehicle and the bike won’t fit and finally take a tool of good quality gaff tape in case your bursts, this way you can wrap the tape right around the bag in an emergency.
Hope this helps!
Travel light and safe