There are a lot of ways to get a bike from point A to point B these days. It used to be that airlines often lost bikes for a week or more, which made UPS a good option for folks who could ship ahead, but now UPS is so expensive and the airlines don’t seem to lose bikes the way they used to. Bike Flights is now the more affordable option for anyone who doesn’t want to fly with their bike.
The thing about shipping ahead is that you don’t have to deal with the bike in the airport or with a rental car or cab or whatever. Bike Flights isn’t cheap, though. Round trip from Santa Rosa to Memphis for a 48 lb. bike in a cardboard box with $3000 insurance is about $250. That begins to pencil out if you’re flying with an airline that charges $100 per way.
But what about flying with? My first rule of flying with a bike is no hard cases. I once counted up all the different cases I’d reviewed over the years. At this point, it’s more than 10, not including cardboard boxes.
With one exception, all of the cases that were ever damaged enough to need repairs, or were outright destroyed, were hard cases. I have some mixed feelings about the S&S hard case, as I’ve seen one destroyed, but I’ve never seen a bike in one damaged.
What I learned from a guy I rode with who is a baggage handler is that baggage handlers look for hard stuff to stack other things on. Soft-sided bike cases are very difficult to stack things on, so they generally set them aside and lay them on top of other suitcases. I’ve seen hard cases destroyed in ways that only seemed possible if the case fell out of the plane while in flight. I used to have a BikePro double-wide case—that is, one that held two bikes side by side, and I never once had a bike damaged while using it. Same goes for my soft-sided S&S case.
More recently I’ve been using a Thule RoundTrip soft-sided case and have had terrific luck with it. Honestly, with the Thule, I first traveled with it carrying a bike that wasn’t mine because I was concerned about its ability to keep the bike safe. It has done incredibly well and on the one occasion when a bike was damaged, that happened when I’d loaned the case and the person I’d loaned it to didn’t remotely load the bike correctly, so I don’t really fault the airline in that instance.
Thule, BTW, has redesigned the RoundTrip and it looks like an even better product now than it was then, and I’m hoping to review it in the not-too-distant future.
So, soft carriers good. Also good: foam pipe insulation, old T-shirts and velcro straps. My habit is to cut foam pipe insulation to length, then wrap it with a T-shirt and then wrap Velcro straps around the T-shirts to hold them in place. I’ve seen bikes be shipped and while there was no damage to the frame or components, I’ve seen paint jobs come out looking like a scratch ticket. And if you’re worried about weight, don’t be; all that stuff won’t add up to 2 lbs. I know; I’ve weighed it.
Another little tidbit for flying with a bike: as you pack your bike, set each of the tools you needed to the side and once the bike is packed, pack all of those tools in a plastic bag and then wrap it up. You don’t want individual tools bouncing around inside the case. See my previous comments about scratch tickets. You absolutely don’t want tools in your carry-on. I no longer travel with a mini-tool in my backpack. Last: either make sure you’ve adequately marked your seatpost or bring a tape measure and measure your saddle height before pulling the seatpost out if you’re not a nerd like me who has his seatpost height memorized.
If you’re traveling by bike, we also recommend arranging to have a Shimano neutral service vehicle follow behind you at all times. You don’t want your trip to suffer from an untimely mechanical.