America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride around Lake Tahoe wasn’t my first century, but it was my inaugural long-haul trip with a bike box. So I learned a couple of lessons, some the hard way. Sure it’s a schlep, but once you reach your destination, it’s all about the joy of the ride.
Shipping by air: Shipping options abound, but I chose commercial air — both because the bike shipping services I investigated required long lead times and because it was cheaper. American Airlines charged me $100 each way. Read about their baggage allowances here. Bike box charges and availability of cargo space vary, so check with your airline.
Bike containers: I shipped my bike in a Serfas hard case. Since I didn’t feel ready to commit to an expensive purchase, I rented the box for $10/day from a local bike shop. If you prefer to use a carton, most bike shops will give you a free cardboard box and discarded packing materials from shipments of new bikes entering inventory.
Packing: While I pride myself on self-sufficiency, I think I made the wrong call in disassembling the bike and packing it myself. Prime takeaway: Pay a bike shop to pack the bike first time out. Watch and learn how an experienced mechanic does it. The quotes I received from bike shops were in the $50 range for this service.
The box came with instructions, and I studied plenty of resources on the web (links below), but I will always wonder whether or not my first-time packing job contributed to the cracked top tube that we discovered just before the event. Did I hear, “Duh”?
Airport checkin: Give yourself extra time when departing for the airport. American advised me that oversize baggage may be accepted on a first-come-first-served basis.
TSA: On both legs of my round trip, a card placed inside my bike box notified me that it had been opened for inspection by the Transportation Security Administration. I used zip ties (which were removed), but here’s a list of TSA-recognized baggage locks.
Note: Remember to let the air out of your tires and to remove the CO2 cartridges from your saddle bag.
Baggage claim: In San Francisco at mid-day, my bike box was available for pickup at the airline’s luggage office. On late arrival in NYC, I was paged to an attendant near the baggage carousel.
Ground transport: Stick a wad of dollar bills in your pocket before departure. Job One, especially if you are traveling alone, will be to grab a luggage cart from a dispenser in the baggage claim area or to hail a porter.
Pushing the box around is a bulky proposition; allow extra time to find elevators. For example, at San Francisco International, several elevators were required to transport my cart to the tram for the rental car center.
Car rental: If you’re traveling as a group, arrange in advance for an SUV. Since I was meeting up with friends in Tahoe, I chose the cheapest premium car rate, shoved the bike box in the back seat and stowed my luggage in the trunk.
Pre-event assembly and tuning: Contact a reliable bike shop near your lodging — in advance of your trip — to make an appointment for bike re-assembly and light tuning. You can count on something being a little out of whack from time served in the travel case. The quotes that I received for this service ranged from $50 to $65. (Parts extra.) Most bike shops also want advance notice to break down and pack the bike for your trip home.
Hang onto all your packing materials; secure a plastic bag containing zip ties, packing tape, electrical tape and some wet-wipes inside the bike box. (I save the little packets from take-out deliveries for this purpose.)
Edification and entertainment:
Have you got bike packing tips, adventures or misadventures to share. Please comment!