California Bound/Bike Bags

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I am getting on a plane in a couple hours and flying out to San Diego. I have a few things I need to do out in Southern California and there are a couple cyclo-x races this weekend in the San Diego area, so I thought I might as well go out there a couple days early.

I’ve packed a bicycle for flying 100’s, if not 1000’s of times. I don’t use a hard case. Hard cases are a hassle. Especially if more than one rider is being picked up or getting in the same rental car.

When I first started racing, there wasn’t such a thing as a hard case. Just thin, nylon bags. The bags got thicker and eventually came with wheels. The first time I went to Europe I was so surprised that the European riders just took off their pedals and turned their handlebars sideways and gave their bikes to the airlines to ship. I thought how easy it would be to always only have to do that. But, in those days, not many riders in Europe flew..

I use old Athalon bags I got when I rode for the Levi’s team. I’ve put new super heavy duty zippers into them and they are nearly bomb proof. Like I said above, I’ve flew tons and have only had my bike dinged maybe twice. A couple wheels out of true, but nothing too major. When you pack the wheels on the outside of the frame, they act as paddling and it seems to work pretty well. I’ve had as many a 3 complete bikes in one bag, still under the 50 lb limit if I stick some pedals and seats in my checked luggage. I commonly fly with two cross bikes, plus extra wheels in one bag. With bike charges going insane, it is mandatory.

Ned was the first guy I ran into that used a hard case. It was such a hassle. In Europe, we had to rent a utility van for Trudi, Moser (mechanic), Ned and I, plus Ned’s fiberglass bike case. It was like having another bike along. A nylon bag folds up and can be used as padding when you pack your bikes into a car. Ned’s case was beyond cumbersome.

So, one early season trip, we were staying outside Madrid, Spain, and Ned had put his hard case out on the balcony. We were staying pretty high in the hotel, probably over 10 stories. So, Moser and I are on the balcony talking about what a hassle Ned’s case is and somehow it is decided that we should just throw it off the balcony onto the pavement of the parking lot below, to help Ned get of the “professional program”. Ned is sitting in the hotel room in full view of us. So, I’m not sure who did it, but one of us picked up the case and tossed it over the railing. Ned was on the balcony looking down before it hit the ground. It didn’t quite explode, but was definitely hurt pretty badly. I don’t remember Ned’s response. I’m not sure I’ve even seen him get crazy upset. But Ned does go down and drag the case back up to the room.

After the race, we were staying a couple more days before heading to Italy or somewhere and we go out shopping. Ned comes back with this sheet of fiberglass and some resin and proceeds to patch his case back together. It was quite a production and super smelly. I was beyond amused watching the process. I bet he still has that case.

I use pipe tubing now just because they seem to throw stuff around a lot more than they used to.

I used to be able to sometimes get out of the bike charge by saying it was a Levi’s display.

8 thoughts on “California Bound/Bike Bags

  1. Seis_Pendejos

    I loved those Athalon bags too, and stuffed three bikes in them to go to races like the Open des Nations, but I think mine weighed over 100 lbs. 3 bikes under 50 lbs is a monumental achievement.

    At Junior Worlds in 1990, Jeff Evanshine was so obnoxious that one of the team mechanics stuffed him inside one of the bags, zipped it up and left him in there.

  2. Rad Renner

    One of our customers at the bike shop I worked at went on 1-2 bike tours a year, often overseas, and he always said that the best way to send your bike on an airline was to roll up to the counter with your bike and have them put it into a plastic bag. Apparently the baggage handlers knew that they had to treat this bundle with kid gloves and not lay anything on top of it, and amazingly they did. In over 20 airline trips he never had a problem. Oh yeah, and they never charged him extra for it either. Times have certainly changed.

  3. old and slow

    Touring in Mexico we used to just roll our bikes out onto the runway and place them into the baggage compartment ourselves. This was in the mid-1980s and they still had two “competing” airlines and no Interstate Highway system down there. So an Eight Dollar airfare got you from Mazatlan to Guadalajara or from Acapulco to Oaxaca which would have been two days on a bus or five or six days on a bike. It really opened up the old itinerary!

    I also had my bike ride in the baggage cart on two Mexican passenger trains without any kind of a hassle.

    They even didn’t charge any extra for a bike on a Denver-Matrid flight back then but in that case you did have to have a box.

    If you were taking the TGV in France they made you ship the bike ahead of you on the slow train, but not your panniers. You couldn’t let your panniers get out of sight due to terrorism. Again no extra charge but your mondo expensive touring bike would just be resting on a hook unguarded at the destination train station! Terrorism was already a big issue but bike theft was not.

  4. chad

    Last time I flew with a bike I put my pedals inside my shoes in my carrie on bag. I guess it looked like a shoe bomb because I got the total shake down.

  5. Roberto

    Steve, when racing in Europe, I never had to pack my bike, the team mechanics did that. Now when I go over to Italy, I absolutely use a hard case. But looking at your wrap job, I might try that here in the states, if I don’t take my carbon wheels along. Looks pretty safe. I did ride the Amtrak once this year, and they have an awesome bike storage area. Funny story about flying back from Nationals in Bend. The Homeland Security lady, looked at the xray of my carry on, and was about to open it, and one of her male co-workers stopped her, and said, don’t worry, he’s a cyclist, those are his shoes and pedals, and just waived me through.

  6. kansasboy


    Luv to see you visit the Occupy Wall Street encampment in San Diego an take some photos.

  7. Jim

    I was at Univest this year helping the Mountain Khakis team. One of the guys who flew in had his bike in a boogie board bag. The wheels were separate but the fact that he had the entire bike in the bike, and could carry it on, was simply amazing to me.
    Airport Ninja to the max!


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