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Flying with Your Bike
By Tom Demerly


Learning to fly with your bike literally opens up a new world of travel adventure.


Long layovers and international flights can be tough. Planning and preparation can make your trip easier.


Know your itinerary and what types of aircraft you are using will be.


Security varies from country to country. Some countries are very strict while others are more relaxed.

We surveyed readers about their primary concern surrounding flying with a bike. With worry over rising fuel costs, airline bankruptcies, increased security and even terrorism the answer surprised us: Anxiety surrounding packing and reassembling their bike at the race site was their primary concern.

Many people don’t know about how to pack their bike, what happens once they get to the airport, where their bike actually goes and how it gets to their destination. Once they arrive, they worry about being able to reassemble their bike and get it ready to race. If people had a step-by-step tutorial and a little practical experience we’re convinced they could spread their wings and fly anywhere in the world with their bike safely in tow.

For our step by step instructions on packing your bike in a flight case go here.

For a list of tools to pack your bike in a flight case go here.

Experience and planning goes a long way with bike travel. Packing your bike and taking the flight case to the airport, then reassembling it at your destination becomes less intimidating once you see it done and practice it yourself. If you practice it once, you’ll see it is not an obstacle but a skill worth learning so you can race in exotic locations anywhere in the world.

In 2004 I achieved a life long goal of racing on all seven continents. Traveling around the world roughly three times while competing in triathlons, ultra-distance running races, adventure races and high altitude climbing expeditions I learned to pack fast and travel light. I learned a lot about packing bicycles from the best guys in the business: The top pro cycling teams, professional and Olympic triathletes. They have packing their bikes for airline travel down to a science. Their process is fast, simple and repeatable. I watched nine-time Tour de France veteran Frankie Andreu disassemble and pack his bike in under ten minutes, then reassemble it on the other end of the trip in the same time with minimal tools. Ten minutes after that he was clipped in and riding.

 


Your first step to getting your bike on the aircraft is planning and practice.

If you learn a little about the process of practice packing and unpacking your bike you’ll have the power and freedom to extend your racing range around the globe. This opens up a world of new events and adventures and empowers you to be independant and self reliant at races. Most larger races also have excellent technical resources on site to help you with flight case travel. You can also travel with a triathlon specific tour company and leave all the work to them. For races in North America Tri Bike Transport is an excellent alternative to airline flight case travel.

 

 


Make sure you have access to a vehicle that can carry your flight case to and from the airport.


At check in move quickly. "Don't Ask, Don't tell" when it comes to the contents of the gray box and you may save some money.


Plan your luggage so you can move it yourself quickly and easily through crowded airports, shuttles and elevators.

The step by step flow of getting your bike to your destination starts with getting to the airport. You need a vehicle large enough to haul your flight case and also arrangements for transport of your case during transfers, at your destination and on the way home from the airport. Most taxi services around the world have vans that will easily accommodate a flight case.

An advantage of a triathlon specific travel agency such as Deepak Patel’s Premium Plus Sports (www.premiumplus-sports.com) and Ken Glah’s Endurance Sports Travel (www.endurancesportstravel.com) is that they make these arrangements, and usually for a lot less than you would pay individually. With these companies you usually check your bike at the baggage counter and don’t worry about it until you get to your hotel.

Planning is the key to traveling easily. Keep your bags to a maneuverable minimum for one person. You should be able to do any triathlon or bike tour with a bike flight case, a large duffel bag and a carry-on backpack. If you are not using a travel company look carefully at your travel itinerary: Are you transferring to small commuter aircraft? Do you need to move from one end of the airport to another for a flight connection? All this information is available either on line, on the phone or in guide books before you go. Be sure to do your research and make a plan. I was once caught off guard in Bangkok International Airport, Thailand when I discovered some of the elevators are too small and crowded to get into with my flight case. On my return trip from Bangkok I learned an airport shuttle would have taken me from the international to domestic terminal.

Once you arrive at the airport I find that checking your bags at the counter is the quickest and best way to be certain they are tagged correctly and checked through to your final destination. I recommend skipping the automated check-in and the curb side check-in when travelling with a flight case. Transportation Security Administration personnel may ask you to open your flight case for inspection. Be certain you are in compliance with airline safety and weight regulations. These rules vary from airline to airline and from country to country. What may be allowable weight in the United States on an international flight may go down by 15 pounds from Hong Kong to Seoul, Korea. Your best bet is to not load your flight case too heavily. There is a temptation to put everything including the kitchen sink in there, but you are best served keeping the weight under 50 pounds, 45 pounds is better. If your case is overweight you may be charged an excess baggage fee based on weight. An empty flight case weighs about 30 pounds. This gives you room for your bike, some lightweight tools and your helmet. Always carry your shoes and pedals on the aircraft or at least in your separate checked baggage. Again, don’t overload your flight case. It makes the baggage loaders’ job more difficult, increases the chances of you having to pay for your bike to fly and even makes damage more likely.

  

Another reason to keep your bike case light is that loose items inside your flight case can get lost during an inspection. If your shoes or pedals are inside your case and T.S.A. personnel must conduct a search they may have to remove them from the case- they may not always remember to get them back in the case. It is always best to put your shoes and pedals in your checked baggage duffel bag or even in your carry on.


Don’t pack dangerous or potentially restricted items in your flight case. The most common ones are pressurized CO2 inflation cartridges and flammable aerosol lubricants. Rags or shop towels with lubricant residue can cause sensitive security equipment that searches for explosives to flag your flight case, causing another inspection and possible delay. Avoid this by obtaining these items at your destination or by carrying a small pump and liquid squeeze bottle, wax based lubricant if you must. Remember that simple assembly tools can be restricted for carry-on by the T.S.A. and Homeland Security. These tools go into your flight case or checked duffel bag. T.S.A. regulations require that your flight case is not locked at check in, so it can be opened for inspection by T.S.A. personnel if need be. Should the T.S.A. select your flight case for an inspection they will place a tag inside it noting the time and place of the inspection. T.S.A. inspectors are excellent at safely searching bags for restricted items and doing a good job of re-closing flight cases.

The other issue at baggage check is the airline regulations surrounding fees for flying bikes. I’ve adopted a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward the airline’s fees for bike travel, and haven’t paid to fly a bike since 1999. If a ticket agent asks about the contents of your flight case, you are obliged by federal law to tell them the contents and present it for inspection. Once they learn the contents are a bicycle they may charge you a fee from $65 to $88. International flights usually do not charge for a flight case. The fee depends on the airline, the agent, the proximity of a manger to the counter, the length of the line behind you, the time remaining to your flight and the degree to which that particular counter agent complies with or is familiar with written airline policies. Based on my experience, the majority of airline ticket agents are either disinterested in the contents of your flight case or do not know the policy on flying bikes. Phoning the airline in advance usually provides a different answer about the flight case policy than you would hear at the ticket counter. As a result, mine has usually gotten on the aircraft and to my destination with no charge for excess baggage. If you are courteous, present your frequent flyer numbers quickly; inquire about exit row seating, your departure gate, your departure time, and any available upgrades after telling the agent you are checking two bags (your duffel and your flight case) then you will likely be whisked through the check in process without being asked or charged. Take a tip from one of our great Presidents: Don’t ask, don’t tell (unless asked).

Once you get through the check in process you and your bike case take a different route to the same destination: Your aircraft. The primary benefit of flying with your bike is that the bike actually does accompany you the entire way directly to your destination, except in the airport itself. This is the way professional athletes travel with their bikes.

Your bike case will likely not go on the automated baggage conveyor due to its size. Some modern conveyor systems will handle a hardshell flight case with dimensions of about 47" x 31" x 11". Most of the time a baggage handler will be called to the ticket counter to hand load your flight case onto a baggage cart for transport to final security screening and then on to your departure gate for loading onto the aircraft. On medium sized aircraft such as the Boeing 757 and Airbus A319 your flight case will travel up a conveyor or lift directly into a pressurized cargo compartment. This compartment is pressurized to about 8000 feet, so your tires inflated to 90 psi are fine, but maximum pressure above 100 psi may contribute to a tire blow-out at altitude. On larger aircraft such as the Boeing 747-400 and the new Airbus A380 and long range A340’s serving much of Asia your flight case goes into a palletized, conformal cargo container. This loaded container is then hoisted into the cargo hold of the aircraft.

At the other end of your flight the case is off-loaded to the baggage tugs and then transported to the baggage claim. Again, the flight cases generally do not come out on the carousel. In some airports your flight case will come out on the baggage carousel, others it is brought out through an excess baggage door or through the baggage service office. These areas are clearly marked at baggage claim. Find your flight on the monitor and note the baggage carousel it is arriving at. If you don’t see the excess baggage claim area ask an airline attendant where it is.

Once you arrive at your destination and claim your flight case it is time to get to your hotel. With a triathlon travel company this is included. If you are on your own it is simply a matter of getting to the ground transportation area and hailing the appropriate vehicle. I once hailed a station wagon cab in Nice, France only to have the driver tell me it would be 15 Euros extra for my flight case to drive me to my hotel. Once in the vehicle we began chatting and he discovered I was a triathlete. He happily waived the fee and carried my flight case into the hotel lobby for me. I gave him the fee as a tip instead. It was a tip well spent as the same driver got me on the helicopter from Nice to Monaco two days later- for another nice tip of course. It pays to make friends.

To see a step-by-step demonstration of fight case packing and reassembly of your bike click here. Remember that once you get to your destination and reassemble your bike you should carefully check it, then test ride it. At larger races the technical support/bike check crew can inspect your bike for safe reassembly. It is smart to have your assembly job double checked where possible.

If your travel is limited to events in North America so are your experiences. You’ll never toast the Riviera with Paris Hilton after the Monaco 70.3 race or dance the Samba at Ironman Brazil or ride an elephant after you finish the Laguna Phuket Triathlon, but you can still travel conveniently and easily to races across the United States with Mark Luzon’s company, Tri Bike Transport (www.tribiketransport.com). Mark has built an interesting and professional little courier service that treats your bike with loving care, transporting it fully assembled (you just remove your pedals) from a partner shop like ours to any of a number of growing destination races including all of the Ironman North America and some of the 70.3 Series races. Mark has the process down to a science, and has refined it with every trip. Bikes are stored fully upright with separation between them in his cargo vans. The large rental trucks used by Tri Bike Transport have a rack system built into them to keep the bikes stable and upright. The bikes are protected from theft and the weather during the entire trip.

The Tri Bike Transport system works when you visit their website. You make a reservation and pay the fee for round-trip transport of your bike, about $210 for a bike and $25 for an additional 25 pound bag such as a race wheel bag or your gear duffel. You then drop off your equipment at the partner shop, where you can also schedule a pre-race tune-up and inspection (the partner shop offers this service at an additional charge). Tri Bike Transport will visit the partner shop during the week prior to the event and load the bikes carefully on their truck. The bikes are then driven to the race site where competitors collect them at registration or the event expo in the days before the race. It is a seamless and efficient system with no worries and no hassles. This is exactly the way professional cycling teams like Discovery Channel transport their team’s bikes in Europe from event to event on the continent.

We’ve worked with Mark and Tri Bike Transport on a number of occasions. Each time our customers have been satisfied with the service and found it very convenient, completely eliminating the need to use a flight case and disassemble, reassemble your bike. A minor inconvenience is that your bike usually must be at the partner bike shop over a week prior to your event. I’ll argue this may be good, since it forces you to take time to perform necessary preventive maintenance and even taper before your race- at least on the bike.

If you’ve avoided traveling to races in exotic destinations because you are concerned about packing your bike you are missing out on one of the greatest aspects of our sport: The opportunity to travel and race around the world. A little practice, know-how and resourcefulness can get you packed on your way to races in Europe, Australia, Asia and more. Don’t let concern over bike packing keep you from having the race experience of a life time- make some travel plans, follow the steps and get ready for adventure!


Resources:

 


Flight cases sometimes go on the conveyor but usually are hand carried down to the luggage loading ramp.


The luggage tug takes loose luggage or loaded conformal cargo pallets to your aircraft.


As you board your flight your bike case is doing the same thing, following you along the way inside your aircraft.


A lift or conveyor moves your case up into the pressurized cargo hold.


On smaller aircraft the luggage is arranged inside the hold of the aircraft.


This is a look inside a conformal cargo container on a 747-400 filled with flight cases bound for Ironman New Zealand.


Your flight case may come out on the baggage carousel but more than likely will be at the excess baggage claim.


Most airports have clearly marked baggage service areas to claim oversize flight cases.


The oversize baggage claim is usually right across from or behind the main baggage carousel. If you don't see it, ask!


French triathletes assemble their bikes on a sidewalk near the French Riviera.


Once you've done it a couple times putting your bike together is a cinch.


Fifteen minutes and Voila! Ready for the Maritime Alps or a cruise along the Cote d' Azure.


Mark Luzon's Tri Bike Transport offers a viable service for bike shipment to events in North America.


Tri Bike Transport picks up bikes at partner shops.


Mark and his crew carefully load each bike, fully assembled, into his trucks.


The bikes are seperated from each other, ride upright and are out of the weather.


Tri Bike Transport drivers collect athlete's bikes from around the U.S. and converge on your race site.


Once you arrive at the race site Tri Bike Transport provides a pick-up venue for your bike, ready to race!

 

 

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
Site Designed and Maintained by: Intuitive Business Solutions.

 
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