Bike Case

Should I pack or Rent a Bike?

Every time I head down to Peru (or for that matter anywhere) I ask myself the same two questions: Should I pack it? or should I rent it? The answer usually depends on a couple of factors:

  1. How long is the trip for?
  2. How much will it cost to rent vs to pack?

If I’m traveling for more than a week to ten days and I know I’m going to ride at least half that time, then it’s a no brainer. I pack it. If the trip is only a short one, and the riding time is limited, then, again, it’s a no brainer. I rent it. There are exceptions though…

Generally, if the trip is specifically to ride I always pack my bike, especially if I know the final destination doesn’t have quality bike shops with good rental fleets. But, if the destination is a cycling mecca (i.e. Sedona, AZ or Fruita, CO) then I may opt to rent.

Case and point: I recently traveled to Sedona, Arizona to spend a week with some friends. Taking my bike was going to cost approximately $300 round trip – give or take. My friends arranged a pretty good deal for our group, and because of our involvement with IMBA and my local IMBA Chapter, MORE, they got me (us) a deal and hooked us up with various high end bikes. I ended up riding a  top of the line 650b Pivot for 5 days for roughly half that cost. This gave me the opportunity to ride a top of the line frame on some kick ass trails. It took me a day to get used to the bike, but once I got it dialed in, it was great – not perfect like my regular bike, but pretty darn good…

Now – even on that trip, on a top of the line frame, I often wished for my bike. There simply is no substitute for riding your steed, the mount you are more accustomed to, in a new destination. There is simply nothing worse (I’ve been there) than riding unfamiliar trails on a less than suitable bike. Not having to worry about the bike while you experience a new ribbon of single track is simply priceless.

With that said, however, you must think of other factors that may affect your decision:

  1. Do you have a Bike Box? If no, then chances are you can get one from various sources. You can rent one from your local bike shop or cycling club. My club, MORE, has two bike boxes on hand that are loaned out to members on a first come first serve basis. If you have a generous friend who would’t mind lending you one you could be set. I do recommend that if you travel often that you invest in a quality case. I’ve used several over the years (burrowed and rented) and when it was time to buy one I went with the standard by which others are measured: Trico. If this is a one time trip then figure out how much it will cost for the box, air travel, etc. and determine if it is indeed worth packing it…
  2. Do you crash a lot? Seriously. If you do, bring your own bike. When you rent a bike you will be asked to sign a waiver. Both to release the renter from any liability should you get hurt, and to take responsibility (i.e. pay for the bike) should something happen to it. Are you willing, or ready to buy that $5,000 carbon frame you rented? If not, then bring your own. Repairs to your bike may ultimately end up costing much less than having to buy that sweet frame you just damaged on the porcupine rim trail…
  3. Is the trip for something else other than biking? If yes, then you may opt to rent. I recently went to Italy on vacation and stayed in the Tuscan hills around Lucca. I would have loved to have my road bike with me – it would have been perfect. But, the trip was not a cycling outing, and even though I could have ridden out the door every day out of the 12 I was there it simply would have not been practical for me to have my bike, or even logistically feasible. I, instead, found a local shop in Lucca and rented a bike for a few days for a reasonable fee.

Now that you have decided, here is a quick primer on how to pack your bike. As with anything else, this is not the only way; This is how I’ve done it the past few times I’ve traveled with no issues.

Here’s what I use and my process:

Baggies and zip ties...
Baggies and zip ties – always handy. Grab a few before you start. Remember to bring some extra for the return leg…
Bike on a stand
Put the bike on a stand if you have one, it will help tremendously as you prep it. However, not entirely necessary.
The Box.
Get your box ready – place it somewhere accessible near your work area.
Take the wheels off the bike and let the air out of the tires.
Take the wheels off the bike and let the air out of the tires (not fully). It is not fully necessary to deflate your tires, but some airlines will require it. And, when they ask you if you did, you can say yes knowing you’re telling the truth and nothing but the truth…
The chain
Take the chain off and put it in a baggie. I always pack at least one extra quick link.
Put your QRs in a separate baggie.
Open Case.
Open up the box and get ready to drop the frame in. My case has three layers of foam.
Frame in the box
Put the frame in the box. Notice that the bars have been removed from the stem and tucked next to the frame, The saddle has also been removed and loose parts have been carefully “zip tied” to the frame. The bars have also been “zip tied” in place.
Pedals off and cranks secured to the chain stay with a zip tie.
Rear mech removed from dropout and zip tied to frame. Be careful NOT to crimp your cables. you MUST put a shipping block in the dropout to make sure the frame is not bent. You can get a cycling specific block or go on the cheap like I did with a piece of wood. Do bear in mind that the wood will add weight to the packed bike and airlines will charge you for every ounce.
Saddle in the stays
The saddle zip tied to the seat stays. Notice the shipping block in the brake calipers. This is another must in case your brake levers get accidentally pulled. Depending on what kind of brakes you have you may have to adjust the pressure in the hoses before and after you get it on the plane. Pressure differences can sometimes affect your brakes.
Small Parts
Some small parts zip tied to the frame. I should have put a small piece of tube between the bag and frame to protect it. Thankfully nothing happened on this trip.
Bars on frame
The bars attached to the frame. You can’t clearly see it in this picture, but there is a small piece of foam padding between the bars and the frame to protect each one from the other. Some people will wrap all tubes with pipe insulation, I think it’s overkill.
Brake levers
I keep my old tubes and then use them for scrap, in this case I put a small piece of tube around the brake handles to protect them and the frame from them.
Once the frame is in place I put a piece of foam over it and then place the wheels as shown; Remember, tires have some of the air removed from them to accommodate changing air pressures.
Ready to fly!
Finally I add the last piece of foam, a piece of paper with all of my contact info (locally and abroad) and seal the box. Bike is ready to fly!

The above process took me about half and hour to complete; Once you get the hang of it you can knock it out and be on your way to better things. Below is a short time-lapse that give you an idea of how the process took place.

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