Ask any participant in an outstation race (cycling or triathlon) about their worst nightmare... More likely than not, it will be about arriving at the destination after months of training and preparation, only to unwrap the wreck of what used to be a bike! However, a little bit of planning and investment will ensure your bucket list event won’t start with a bucketful of tears.
With many of us flying to races, often overseas, the biggest “headache” we face is how to pack and take the bike. Not to mention airline fees and restrictions! This post tries to evaluate some options for packing and transporting your bike. Airline rules are covered in separate posts for Domestic and International airlines.
Option 1: Jugaad
For my first Tri, the Goa Olympic Tri, I used a bike carton. What a disaster! I had to practically take the entire bike apart – the wheels, the seat, handle bars, brakes, pedals and then bubble wrap everything. When the time came to check in the box, my heart was racing like it was the last 2km of my 10km run! Aarathi Swaminathan, (a veteran of Colombo and Thonnur 70.3) shares her thoughts, “As of now I pack my cycle in a carton box for outstation events. So far I have had no issues, but I’m looking at investing in a decent cycle bag when I upgrade my bike in the future.”
Transporting a bike in a carton is slightly more difficult as it takes longer to pack properly and it doesn't come with wheels, like bike bags, making it harder to carry.
Option 2: Bike Case:
Hard case bike boxes offer the ultimate protection, but they’re expensive to buy and their weight is expensive to fly (they are heavier than soft bags). A well-designed bike case is also easier to pack your bike in, with slots and compartments for each component.
Nigel Smith(Cyclist and coach) says, “The harder the better! You’ve all seen baggage handlers at airports. Why expect them to handle a bike bag any differently? If you’ve spent your savings on a beautiful new bike, don’t scrimp on protecting it on flights!”
However, just because a case is made of hard plastic, doesn't mean it is unbreakable and secure. There are many cases of low-quality, cheap hard cases that are brittle and break very easily on impact. So be very mindful before settling for the cheapest.
Option 3: Bike Bag
For my IM 70.3 Dubai, I used a bike bag. The main advantage of a dedicated bike bag is that it is designed specifically to hold the bike and has padding in all the appropriate locations. Being purpose built, it has compartments, straps and all the necessary measures to secure the bike and accessories.
Semi-rigid bags (such as Scicon and Evoc which weigh 7/8kgs) are a good compromise of convenience, protection and price over hard bike cases (such as Bike Box Alan which weighs 12kgs). I was using an Evoc which is very well padded, but I still had to take off the pedals, seat and handlebar and bubble wrap them. There was a lot of extra space in the bike bag so it carried lots of other things as well, such as towels, water bottles, pump etc. It is important that there are no loose items in the bag and everything should be tied onto the bike or bag. The Scicon Aerocomfort 2.0 and 3.0, are even more structured. The bike frame sits on a “stand” inside the bag, along with the seat, pedals and handle bars and you only need to remove the wheels.
What are experienced triathletes using?
Champion triathlete, Akshay Samel tells us, “I used to carry my bike in a cardboard box for the longest time, but it was a little inconvenient, especially when some bikes had complicated dismantling procedures. Also a major disadvantage was that it has no wheels! For last 3 years, I have been using SCICON AEROCOMFORT TRIATHLON, it’s very convenient and I generally have a good experience.
Pratik Desai, multiple Ironman, reiterates, “A bike bag is the best option for my bike to travel with. I use a Scicon Triathlon bag”.
Says Viv Menon (Triathlete and Coach), "A bike bag or box is a good investment if you travel with your bike frequently. A hard case protects your bike but adds to the check in weight. A soft bag with adequate protection also helps. "
5 things to remember when packing your bike:
1. Pack a multitool with Allen keys.
2. Deflate your tyres when packing them. And don’t forget to pack a pump.
3. CO2 cans are not permitted by airlines.
4. Helmets are hand luggage: It's tempting to put your helmet into the bike bag as well, but helmets are delicate and can easily crack, especially if trapped between the bike and other luggage in the hold.
5. Sometimes baggage goes missing, which can be super stressful, especially before a race! With this in mind, pack your helmet, shoes and all your race essentials in your hand luggage. If your bike or main luggage does get lost, at least you’ll have the basics with you, meaning you could hire a bike while you wait for your bag to arrive, or worst case, race with!