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Travelling with your Bike

There are few things more exciting than a destination race. Racing our bikes is always fun but travelling to some exotic location for a race just raises the level a notch or two. We get to pretend we are pros for a bit but unfortunately, where things differ between us and a professional cyclist, is that we are not only the athlete but also the mechanic, manager and support staff. Travelling with a bicycle can be a massive pain in the butt, even more than actually sitting in the saddle. Here are some pro tips to make things a little bit easier.

Choosing the right bike bag/box – Choosing a bike box or bag is a balancing act between protection and weight. Indestructible boxes weigh more than the airline baggage allowance, before we actually put a bicycle in them. The lighter they are, the less force they can withstand. If we are going to be regular bike carrying travellers, investing in the best strength-to-weight ratioed bag will be a good use of funds. If we are only going to be doing one or two trips a year, a simple cardboard box from the bike shop will actually do a great job. These are relatively light and are obviously designed to transport bicycles unharmed. If we are a regular at our local bike shop we can realistically expect them to hand over one of these at no charge and it will last quite a few flights before it is destined for the recycle bin. Storing them between trips is easy as well as they can be folded flat.

Making the bike baggage-handler proof – Now we are not saying that all baggage-handlers are out to break our equipment but they do tend to throw bags around with a gay abandon back there. The problem with bike bags is that they are generally the biggest pieces of luggage in the hold and will therefore be placed at the bottom of the pile. So, our first point of concern is that our box does not get squashed. Placing supports or items that will maintain the integrity of the box where it is at its weakest, like the middle, will prevent pressure on our expensive carbon frame. Wedging in a pump with the handle diagonally across the box works well. Putting the ‘this way up’ stickers on the box is worth a try, so that they are not layed flat, making it harder to pile anything else on top of them. Are we really confident that anyone back there pays attention to these stickers though? Worth a try though I suppose.

The bike normally requires some disassembly to fit in the bag or box. Removing the handlebars at the stem and taking out the seatpost are most often a requirement but, even if it is not required for the bike to fit in the box, removing the rear derailleur is definitely a good thing to do. This will not change any gear settings and the bike will change sprockets as it did before once the derailleur is refitted. Without the wheel in, the rear derailleur protrudes from the rest of the frame and is connected to that frame by the fragile rear dropout hanger. These are very easily bent with only the lightest pressure, at best affecting the bike’s gear changing and potentially causing the rear derailleur to go into the spokes when we engage our lowest gear in the race, and at worst, completely breaking off the dropout, which will not be repairable in the time we will have from unboxing to race start, if at all.

Making the bike safe from itself – Assuming we have a good bag or box that will protect our precious machine from the wanton destruction of the airlines, there is one more thing to consider when packing the bike, making sure that there is nothing loose in the box that can damage the frame. This will mostly be cosmetic damage to paintjobs but that still counts. Having packed the frame without the rear wheel in and removing the rear derailleur from its hanger, leaves the chain loose, with a lot of slack, and this can rattle around in the bag and smash against the tubes of the frame. Wrapping the chain in an old race T-shirt and electrical taping that to the chain stay of the frame, will prevent the bike from self-harm.

The handlebars will have been removed, more than likely at the stem, but will still be connected via brake and gear cables / wires. We don’t want these banging around in the box as the baggage handlers toss it around from carousel to hold and vice versa. So using electrical tape again, fastening the handlebars to the forks or frame with another old race t-shirt wrapped between them will again, prevent any unnecessary clattering around and potential unseemly scratches or dings to the frame.

Travelling to far flung destinations to race our bikes is never going to be an inexpensive thing to do, with a little bit of effort we can prevent adding to that cost with expensive repairs to our bike. Happy travels.

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