Good Question – My Travel Case

So I got a question in the email yesterday that I thought the answer would be worth sharing.

Don Maneth wrote:

“…I know you travel with your bike a ton. Which travel case do you use?  Do the airlines accept it as recreational equipment for an additional charge?  Typical fee?”

Well Don,   I have traveled quite a bit with my bike and I would be glad to pass on some of my observations.

The Luggage:

The travel case I have is a Trico Sports Ironcase.  I have been quite happy with the one I have have since 2005.   It was first called into action for a trip to Copper Canyon in Mexico but it has been used for trips to the East Coast, Japan and the Pacific Northwest.   When I first bought mine, I got it as part of group buy deal that run me $200.  These days it retails for around $329.    I will say this about the case.   I have yet to have one of the airline baggage gorillas damage this case or the contents.  

Packing these things are pretty particular and the TSA nearly always want to take a look in the book.  I have gathered this from the numerous times of getting the “We looked in Bag” note from the TSA.  I typically mention  at the counter that the arrangment of the stuff in box is pretty particular and I would like to be prsent for the TSA looksee.   It typically depends on the airport you are at wither they will accomidate the request or not, but I pack the box with the thought of this happening in mind.

Notice that my lightweight short-travel XC bike will fit with the fork still in the headset.     With my longer-legged and slacker geometry bikes (6″ and 7″ travel forks) I have had to remove the fork from the headset.   If you have to do this I highly recommend that you take a piece of string and runn it through the head tube and tie all the bearing/headset bits together.  Also place any spacers back on the steerer tub and screw the headset cap back on to make sure the bits don’t go off an unplanned adventure.

 The Airlines and Luggage Fees:

The only consistent thing about the airlines (particularly United with whom I do most of my flights through) is that they are inconsistent.   You  should however plan on paying the worst case scenerio costs which are steep.  The Ironcase box along weighs 31lbs so unless you have a road bike (and since you are my site, I’m assuming we are mountain bikes) you are going to be over 50lbs.    Being over 50lbs makes your luggage overweight.  Being over 70 lbs puts you in the excess weight catergory.    My Intens Uzzi (7.5 ” travel go do stupid stuff rig) weight in at 34lbs toss in a helmet, shoes, and multi-tool to put thing back together and you break the 70lb threshold.   Here is an old story about getting my Tricocase packed under 50lbs

United currently can  hit you for a Special Item Fee (currently $100) as well as overweight fee ($100 if between 51 and 70lbs, $200 if over 70lbs)  This is for each direction!   So that plush downhill couch could cost you $600 bucks for the trip.  I have only gotten smacked for the special and the over 70lb fee once.   I moved enough stuff around after that to get the box under 70lbs.   I have sometimes gotten as lucky as to have the box  just checked as regular luggage for no special fees whatsoever.    More commonly I have often only got charged the Special Item Fee.   It all depends on the airport, and the person at the counter.  Being nice and cordial, calling them by there name on thier badge, and generally doing the social engineering/Dale Carnigie thing may help to keep you from getting both of you ass checks slapped while the airline has thier way with your wallet.

Alternative  Shipping:

USPS:  Big thing here is you have to get the weight under 70lbs and you can not let the width go beyond 10.5″ (This is part you sandwich down with straps)   $107 each way for a shipment for San Diego to North Carolina and will typically take 8 days.   For you folks that have access to military bases, USPS ships to all the military bases and you can ship through them parcel post on the cheap.   It cost me just $68 to ship my bike to Japan once.  Once, I missed the fine print when it said it could take up to five weeks to get there.  They meant it!.   

UPS:  For this type of box, you will be paying for billable weight (96 lbs) versus the actual wieght. $170 each way for a shipment from San Diego to North Carolina and will typically take four for days.  This is a fairly good way to ship, but you should call ahead to the local UPS store you are going to go through first as some stores and less educated on thier polices than others and may balk at the case. 

Don’t use bike luggage:   A carboard box and bubble wrap weighs a lot less than 31lbs.   This could get your package down under 50lbs to reduce your airline luggage fees but it could also make your bike more likely to get damaged enroute.  Particurly if bike gets handling by this gal or this luggage chimp.   If you are going to go the cardboard box route, I would suggest talking to your local bike shop and have them set aside one of thier boxes after thier next incoming shipment.  

 The Renting Equation:

Sometimes bringing your own bike is the obvious choice, for a whole slew of reasons.   However often times I have to weigh my options when it come to the cost.   Some of the things I think about when it come to renting are: How long am I going to be at my destination; How often do I expect to ride;  What kind of riding am I looking to do (what kind of bike do I think I’m going to need); what are the cost of the rental offering at my destination. 

Rental Costs:   In most places you are going to be paying a premium for a a full-suspension bike that is not of the department store genre.    $50-90 a day is not uncommon.    Hardtails are cheaper but you are most likely looking at  $25-30 bucks a day. Now for you folks who have access/priviledges on military bases the Outdoor Recreation Centers typically have hardtails for rent at the best rates you will find anywhere.    You also need to factor in the time required to go get the bike and return it.   So if you want to grab and afterwork ride, you really need to rent it the day before and you may not be able to get back to shop prior to closing.  You may have to rent a bike for two days just to get in a full day of riding particularly if you want to go someplace that takes a bit of driving.    

Riding Style/Required Bike:   A lot of my travel biking is work related these days.   When I am on “The Man’s Dime” I typically ride more more within my abilities.   I would feel pretty bad if I jacked myself up out on the trail that impacted by ability to do my job.  So with that it mind maybe a hardtail is all I need and then maybe I will just rent a full-suspension bike for just a day or two if I want to go do some more aggressive type riding.

Here are a few of examples:   

#1.  A couple of years ago I was going to be in the Seattle area during the summer for six weeks.   With the long days I expected to be able to get in at least one ride during the week after work and one a ride on Sundays.  I was also contemplating a run up to Whistler for a couple of days should the job go well and were ahead of schedule near the end.   So at least 12 outing and maybe some downhill fun bonus days.     $50/day rental x 12 days = $600 bucks.   Okay I’m taking the bike. 

#2  I had a four week trip to Japan coming up.    I was mostly going to be riding the local trails on the Muria Pennisula where the Yokosuka naval base where I was going to be working.    Once again I was planning on two bike rides a week, but know that it was nearing the raing season that might not happen.   Additionally, there was some talk with some folks I know there of a potential trip to the Fujimi Panaorama Downhill MTB Park.   I could rent a hardtail on the base for $130 for a month (killer deal) and it runs about $100 to rent a full blown downhill bike and the protective gear for the day Fujimi.   $230 was a no-brainer I left my bike at home.


Just get on a bike when you are somplace out of your normal haunt.  It is good times for sure.  Airfare luggage fees and short length trips make it really tough to justify the cost.   Then again luggage is typically a reimbursable buisness expesnse 😉

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