Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How To - Packing The Bike, Soft Case

So, once more, I'll be going to SoCal for some riding. Based on the weather forecasts it'll be a bit chillier than usual, but much better compared to the 20s and 30s here at home.

Of course I'll be riding, ergo I need a bike. I could rent one out there, ship one, even buy one (like a cheap road bike for $300), or, in what makes the most sense for me, I can fly with one of my bikes. And since I want the bike to show up in one piece, I have to pack it well.

I've flown with my bike numerous times, slowly building up courage to include nicer and nicer parts. I would leave behind my "good" bike, my "good wheels, but when I brought even the nicest clinchers and tubulars I have, things were fine.

The kicker is that I use a soft case, not a hard one.

Here are some of my packing tips:

Anchor bike in bag. Wrap contact points with padding.

My travel bag includes a BB holder and a fork holder. The fork is easy, just clamp with a quick release lever. I use an old fashioned toe-strap to hold the BB down, not the T-bar and nut designed for it. The T-bar (the "T" sits on top of the chainstays, the nut pulls it down) will inevitably dent the chainstays because I'll inevitably tighten it too much, so I never used it. Toe straps are nice, they slip a bit if you really pressure them, and they are quicker to secure than a nut and bolt.

Remove rear derailleur from dropout.

I unscrew the rear derailleur from the dropout. This way I eliminate the weakest point of the bike. I leave the cable and chain attached - no adjustments necessary on the other end of the trip.

Rear dropout spacer, with rear derailleur tucked between the stays.

I also use a rear axle, with axle nuts in place, as a dropout spacer. Although a severe impact will bend everything, the spacer will tie together the rear triangle, making it more resistant to lateral impacts. I used to use a trashed hub as a spacer, but the axle is just a bit more tidy.

Seat, bag, and blinkie all in its own wrapping. Note my collection of toe straps (for packing the bike).

Again, wrap everything that contacts other things. I remove the post (after marking its position) as a unit, with the seat bag and blinkie in place. I wrap the unit up and set it aside for now.

Front brake.

I always forget to loosen/remove the front brake before I put the frame on the travel case holder (i.e. the fork and BB mount). The problem is that I have to unscrew a long brake nut and the downtube is in the way. It's much easier if you can turn the fork to one side before unscrewing the brake nut.

Also note that the grey packing material says "Front Brake" on it. After recreating all the various packing "units" for each part of the bike for every trip, I had the brilliant idea of labeling them all and reusing them. At first I used silver Sharpies on black duct tape covered in clear packing tape. This system lasted a few trips, but as the various layers of tape peeled off, I resorted to the primitive black Sharpie directly on the packing foam.

Front brake wrapped.

Front brake has a cable and sharp bolt sticking out of it - I wrap it well.

Wrench, headset spacers, fork cap, and the stem...

Although not required, I remove my stem. I figure it's a pretty big lever and if some luggage handling gorilla leans on it too hard, he could snap the carbon steerer. To avoid this risk (and all this is about reducing risk), I remove the stem.

The problem with removing the stem is that the headset no longer holds itself in place. With the ubiquitous "new" threadless stem systems, you need a stem (or stem-like thing) so you can tighten down the fork top cap.

Hence the spacers. I lost my whole set of carbon spacers when my stem "packing unit" broke open during the move. Now, honestly, I thought that was kinda cool - carbon spacers for packing the bike - but it's unnecessary. So I recruited the SystemSix spacers (huge ones) to sub in.

Voila. Secure fork and headset.

No fork bouncing around inside the head tube when I get there. And, yes, that happened to me on a different bike. I was not a happy camper. Note: use only gentle pressure on the cap - the point is to hold the fork in place, not to preload the whole front end.

Now what to do with the stem?

I also remove the stem from the bar. I have an aluminum bar so it's not that I'm worried about breaking said bar, but it makes packing the bike easier. I put it in a packing foam unit labeled "stem". When I'm not traveling I leave the spacers in the "stem" thing.

Bar secured. I know, I have to wrap my bars.

I toe-strap the bars in place so that they cradle the fork and top tube. This makes the whole area a bit stronger from pushing-type forces.

I put the wheels in wheel bags. Wrap the various frame tubes. Stick the seat/post unit upside down in the rear stays (tape in place, easier than toe straps). Make sure you put the pedals, stem, and various accessories in the bike bag. I carry my shoes with me, but I put two helmets in the bike bag (bulky but light items are good for bike bags).

Hey now. Ready to fly.

I've flown with two wheelsets (the bag is designed for that, apparently), boxes of Powerbars taped to the bag frame, lots and lots of bike clothing, tires, etc.

Other things you want to pack:
1. Tape gun. Like for packing tape.
2. Good, thick packing tape. The kind that sells for $7.99 a roll. Don't get the cheap stuff. It's your bike, not just a random box of papers.
3. Tubes and tires. I leave a few in the bag, "just in case". I've used more than I like, and I've loaned out a bunch too.
4. Allen wrenches, especially an 8 mm. This in case you need to assemble the bike for whatever reason (like I forgot the key to the place when I arrived). You need the 8mm for pedals, usually.
5. Your name and number, in case you get lost and the bag can't find you. I have a card in there.

Don't pack:
1. Your cycling shoes. The shoes are like a combination of Houdini and the Green Goblin, they will escape anything you put them in and then proceed to kill your bike. Cleats are vicious, dangerous weapons to your frame. Put your shoes in your carry on.
2. Your cyclocomputer. I've lost mine from the bag a few times (a slightly opened zipper and zoom, stuff flies out of there). Ditto MP3 players and such.

Now to catch my flight!


Anonymous said...

This is a fabulous resource - thanks for posting!

randal hollis said...

i love this stuff..have fun in socal. are you staying for palomar on the 22nd?

enjoi07 from BF

Aki said...

Thanks both. I'll be here until the 25th and plan on watching the Palomar stage in two spots - once near the climb and at the finish. Since the roads will be closed 9A-5P we can't go up the climb too far, else we'll get stuck.

Anonymous said...

What kind of case are you using? And, what do you tell the airlines you have in the bag? I have heard people say they are carrying "art".

Aki said...

It's a bit embarrassing but it's a bike nashbar bag. It's a copy of a BikePro bag, a brand I used, rented, and sold. I borrowed my bag from a (then-pro) friend who then asked me to keep it as he'd accumulated 3 or 4 more bags by then and his garage was getting full. I only discovered the brand a few years later when I looked for it to see which model BikePro it was.

I can't tell a lie regarding the contents of the bag. I announce I have a bike. Plus I figure I have a case if they lose it or something. If they lose my "convention materials" or whatnot, it's hard to claim I had a bike in there that would cost, what, like $5000-8000 to replace. If it's a bike, I can claim it on my homeowner's insurance.

Ultimately I'd like to get a S&S coupling bike that would fit in a suitcase, but that's in some fantasy future. For now I'll deal with lugging that bag around.