so i took my first trip with a coupled bike and wanted to offer thoughts, suggestions, and a general idea of what it’s like to do so.
the bottom line? HEAVEN. there’s nothing like checking a bike into the belly of a plane and not being charged any more for it than you would be for any item that you check. some airlines still allow you to check your first bag for free. most do not. i paid $25 on virgin america to check it, each way. but the upside, and the whole point of coupling a bike in the first place, is that whether or not your particular airline charges you for checking bags, they ALWAYS charge you for checking a bike in a bike-sized box. most airlines have a specific charge for bikes, and many will hit you with an oversized/overweight fee first, then tack on their bike fee. in the end, if you travel with a bike-sized box, you’re in for at LEAST $125 each way, and in many instances, nearly $200.
fuck a whole lotta that.
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first of all, packing the bike…
THOUGHTS / it’s a little nerve wracking to know that you’re about to smash your bike into a box and trust it to the airline baggage handlers. those people are fucking savages and you know it’s gonna get thrown around like rip torn tossing wrenches at the "dodgeball" crew. but you gotta get over that. it is what it is and you’re gonna have a bike with you, so get ready.
SUGGESTIONS / in order to pad the setup so nothing scratched anything else, i went ghetto — i layered soft duffel bags between all the pieces. (the above picture is not the actual padded load photo, it’s just there as an example of what you’re gonna be doing.) this is suboptimal for several reasons. one, it adds a lot of weight. two, it saddles you with three extra (empty) bags to deal with on the other side of your flight. and if you’re going to be unpacking and riding from the airport to your destination, this is not going to work. i was not doing that for a few reasons, which is why i had this freedom. on the other hand, it gives you extra places to secure your tools and lock and the errant loose parts of the bike that are floating around in there. so you choose for yourself, but here are my thoughts on future applications of packing…
/ get some pipe padding at the hardware stoe and custom cut it yourself to wrap the tubes of your frame/fork. ALL the tubes.
/ put all the loose bits into their own bags, or a bag of their own. these parts are : pedals, handlebar, seatpost/seat, pedals, chain.
/ pack all your tools and your lock and your pump in the bag with the bike. i did this and it was great because it kept everything together in one place, and it also kept the shit out of my carry-on, which would have inevitably raised suspicions.
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THOUGHTS / ok, the bag is heavy. there’s no way around it. you’ve got a whole bike in there, as well as a pump, a sack of tools, a u-lock, and any other number of heavy elements that you may have thrown in. so get ready. virgin even put a "heavy" tag on the bag (though they didn’t charge me for an overweight piece of luggage, which was awesome.) and that’s where the first difficulty of the bag comes into play. i’m six feet tall and i had to carry it with my arm bent, holding it up off the ground. and that’s not easy on the shoulders. the alternate method is to use the backpack straps (which my particular bag has), but i only suggest that if you really love the feel of an axle digging into your spine.
SUGGESTIONS / i suggest finding some way to ease your load when you’re carrying this, no matter what. i certainly will be doing this. some thoughts for methodology…
/ figure out a way to get wheels onto the bottom of the bag (mod a skateboard or a caster dolly)
/ figure out a way to extraPad the surface that would go against your back while using the backpack straps.
/ fashion some sort of shoulder/handstrap combo. so the end result would be that there’s a strap crossing over from your alternate shoulder and then a handle midway down the outside face that allows you to hold and take some pressure off the shoulder that’s bearing the weight.
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storage at your destination…
THOUGHTS / there’s something really, REALLY awesome about waking up in the morning in a hotel and seeing a bike in your room. i mean it’s fucking thrilling. it’s also an instant conversation starter in the hotel elevator and lobby. however, while i find it hard to believe that a hotel would deny you the liberty of keeping it in your room, it might happen. in that instance, i have to imagine they’d let you keep it in the hotel garage. one thing i do know, from WR, is that some hotels will make you take the service elevator if you have a bike. my hotel did not, which was great.
SUGGESTIONS / this is the one thing that is gonna cause you the most frustration if the hotel has special rules or whatever, so my only suggestion is…
/ call first. just tell your hotel that you’ll have a bicycle with you and ask. do they require that you take the service elevator? do they require that you keep it in the hotel garage? is there security in that garage? does it cost money to park a bike in their garage? do they have bike racks out front that a doorman has an eye on? just tell them your deal and figure it out with them. you’re the customer and the hospitality industry is notoriously willing to make your stay with them as easy as possible, so i really don’t anticipate much pushback on the whole thing, you’ll just need to figure it out together.
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in the end, i HIGHLY recommend getting yourself a coupled bike and taking it with you wherever you go. it’s almost prohibitively expensive, but if you can swing the cost to do it, you’ll make that cost back up in just a few round trips. and it’s absolutely delightful to view a city that’s not your own from the cockpit of YOUR sled. rentals are fine, but let’s be honest — they’re not. they’re always big and heavy, laden down with map holders and handlebar bags, and you’re branded with "BLAZING SADDLES" or whatever. sub-optimal. your own bike is your own bike. you’ve built it to your specs, you’ve made it look the way you want it to, it’s just … better.