17 juin 2004

Packing a Bike

Dear Jim : I'm going to Europe with my sensuous and smooth Trek 5900. I don't normally fly with it or I'd spring for the best travel case I could find. But for this one trip, can I just do a super job of packing it in a cardboard bike? After all, a zillion bikes are shipped all over the world in cardboard boxes, right ?
-- Tim R.

Jim Langley Replies : I'd go with the cardboard box, Tim, if you aren't planning to travel a lot.

Otherwise, the Trico Iron Case is a good choice because it's easy to use and always ready to go. No need to head to the bike shop for a new box each time. In fact, you could rent the case to friends to help pay for it. That's what I did before selling it on eBay for nearly what it cost new.

If you decide to use a cardboard bike box, you must take several important steps to safeguard your bike. But there are still no guarantees. Baggage handlers manage to damage bikes no matter how carefully they're protected. And this includes bikes in plastic cases. (I've had better luck with hard cases than soft ones.)

So, it's always a gamble. But you can improve the odds by taking these measures :

---Use 2 boxes. One should be just the right size for your bike. The other should be slightly larger so the first box can fit inside. Reinforce them by putting carpenter's glue under each flap at the bottom. When the glue dries, the box will be stronger. Also tape the bottom and edges -- every seam. This is important because box bottoms often get banged up. Don't assume old staples or tape are sufficient.

---Shift to low gear. You want the chain on the largest cassette cog so the derailleur is as far inboard as possible. Alternatively, unscrew it from the hanger and enclose it in bubble wrap. Be very careful reinstalling it so you don't strip or damage the hanger threads.

---Install a fork block. This is a piece of plastic (available from bike shops) that fits between the fork dropouts to reinforce the blades.

---Wrap with foam pipe insulation. Visit the hardware store and buy enough to cover each frame tube and stay as well as the fork blades. Tape or tie each section in place.

---Bag small parts. Place the small items you remove (pedals, front hub quick-release, computer, etc.) in a bag or box. Seal it and pad it well, then lay it in the bottom of the box between the fork and frame.

---Tie everything together. You don't want parts that rest against the frame (front wheel, handlebar/stem, seatpost/seat) to bang or rub it or the components and damage them.

Obviously, it takes a while to box a bike like this, but it'll give your Trek the best chance of arriving undamaged. And that will let you relax on the flight rather than worry about what's happening to it till you get it back.


Former pro mechanic Jim Langley works full-time for a provider of online content in the cycling industry.

24 juin 2004

Last week, RBR tech dude Jim Langley gave you his tips on packing a bike for airline travel.

One thing not mentioned was tire inflation. You may have heard that it's necessary to release some air so that pressure changes in the cargo hold won't cause tubes to expand and blow out.

In fact, RBR subscriber Brad W. said his bike arrived with blown tubes after a flight to France.

But Jim doesn't see this as in issue. For your information, here's his reply to Brad :

Thanks for sharing your experience, but I intentionally did not mention deflating tires because it goes against my experience and what the experts say.

I've flown many times with many bikes and never deflated my tires. I like the fact that they're fully pumped to protect the rims. I also like not having to spend time/energy reinflating my tires when I get where I'm going -- not easy when traveling with an under-powered mini-pump !

For a more scientific answer, I poked around and found this statement from Sheldon Brown and Andy Muzzi, two knowledgeable bike guys: The maximum pressure gain between sea level and outer space is only 1 bar (14.7 psi).

Assuming this is true, even if your tires were at 125 psi, another 15 psi wouldn't cause failure. Tires are made to withstand twice the recommended max pressure.

Of course, things change if tires are not seated correctly on the rims. If they aren't, even normal pressure could blow them off.

I can't explain what happened to your tires. But I suspect improper installation based on my experiences flying with fully inflated tires.

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