If you have owned a bike for any number of years then you likely realize just how much care actually goes into it. Whether you are shopping for new add-ons, replacing broken pieces of equipment, or just upgrading items that have degraded due to wear and tear — the job is enough to keep you busy. What most folks don’t take into account, even when knowing about bicycle upkeep, is that they need a solid plan should travel necessitate bringing along a bicycle.
Tour cyclists know just how important a solid bike travel case or bag can be and now you will get the chance to as well. We are going to break down the different styles of cases, why you should use one over the other, before digging into a few of our favorite models currently on the market.
What is the goal of effective bike storage?
Unless you purchased an inexpensive beginners road bike, you probably put significant money into the acquisition. Why throw that money into something that you won’t really take care of? The truth is that you are far more likely to damage your bike while transporting it than you ever would actually riding on the road with it. There are all sorts of bumps and bruises that can mess up your bike, your wallet, and your day all at once. With that being said, every type of transportation lends itself to a host of different issues and benefits. We’ll break down the most popular forms of transport so you can get a clearer picture of what you’ll be looking for.
When would I need a traveling case?
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the different styles of bags we should outline whether you’ll actually even need one. There are going to be situations where a travel case is a necessity and there are going to be situations where they just complicate things.
Traveling by Car.
If you are going to take a trip by car or truck then you know that having a hard shell case or soft-sided bike bag isn’t that important. Typically you can just take your wheels off and compress the bike down as much as possible. From there you can either throw the bicycle in the back seat or you can attach it to your vehicle with the various bike rack mounts to choose from, such as hitch mount bike racks and suction cup bike racks. Not an issue you need a box or bag for.
Traveling by Plane.
Ah, so now we dip into the realm of traveling bike carriers. You can’t wheel your bicycle onto the airplane with you and you sure as heck don’t want to ship the thing on a private plane. So, in this case, you’ll have to choose to trust your airline with handling the bicycle.
A solid quality bag or case can make shipping your bike and protecting it, a breeze. A hard shell will stop all manner of bumps and bruises while it sits in the bay of the plane. A soft sided bag will compact everything down for ease of travel, too. If you plan on flying around with your bicycle then you’ll need a case sooner than later.
Traveling by Public Transport.
Public transport can be a pain in the rear when you are trying to get around. In some cities, at least those with developed train lines, you can bring your bicycle around with you. If you plan on taking a bus and your bike is to be stowed in the cargo hold, you should start making a play for a traveling case.
What do you look for in a bicycle travel case?
Alright, so you’ve taken some time to look over the different transportation options above and now you’ve realized that, hey, you DO need a traveling case for your bicycle. Now comes the hard part.
We’re going to break down the different elements of a bicycle traveling case/bag so that you know what you are looking at and what you are looking for when it comes time to do some shopping. We’ll sort each category by an integral part of the product.
So, right off the bat we are going to get the central question out-of-the-way: Do you want a hard shell travel case or do you want a soft sided bag? There are positives and negatives for each style and only you can know which one will work better for you. Let’s dip into the pros and cons of each style for a moment.
- Hard Cases
With hard cases you are getting a container that will withstand just about any bumps and bruises that can be sent your way. Imagine your bicycle at the bottom of a towering pile of luggage. Do you want it in a soft bag? Probably not. on the flip side, however, your hard cases are a pain to travel with once you are out of the terminal and you, of course, have to do something with them when you are riding. They are heavy and a problem to stow away in smaller vehicles.
- Soft Cases
With soft cases your goal is to get something lightweight, easy to store, and strong enough to protect your bicycle from the occasional scratch and bruise. They are cheaper than the hard case boxes and most of them come with an aluminum frame on the inside in order to keep the frame of the case out and protective. Yet, like above let’s look at our towering luggage scenario. Do you want your soft cased bicycle at the bottom of a heavy pile? We’re not so sure.
Alright, when you start shopping for your case you need to make sure that it comes with a heavy-duty set of wheels. There is no way you want to be carrying your bike around by hand and you certainly don’t want to be beholden to borrowing a dolly carrier everywhere you go. If you have the choice always opt for bags that have recessed options for the wheels. You will want to be able to tuck them away when they aren’t in use in order to prevent damage while in transit.
You obviously are going to want to look for a bicycle traveling case that will fit your bike but you also want to consider that less is actually more. When traveling, particularly on planes, you are going to need to conserve as much space as possible so as to avoid excess checking fees. Look for a bag or box that will be roomy enough to house your bicycle while still being relatively compact. Being compact also makes the case more prone to withstanding punishment over a long period of time.
There is one sort of twist on your hunt for size. If you have a small road bike you realistically don’t need a decked out traveling case. However, if you have a larger mountain bicycle or any other large variety then you may want to give yourself more wiggle room. You don’t want to be standing on top of your case in order to get it shut and the extra room inside will come in handy for miscellaneous supplies that you need to travel with.
Another important aspect of your bicycle travel case or bag is the interior padding. Now, of course, it is important to have a strong exterior in order to deflect all sorts of interference but you also want the interior to be padded as well. It wouldn’t help anyone if you saved your bike from being squished only to have it broken apart on the inside because of the pieces juggling against one another.
Look for storage bags that have interior attachments for lashing your parts down. You can also look for bags or cases that are heavily padded on the interior so that your bike doesn’t bang against the hard plastic and collect bumps, scratches, and scrapes. If you don’t mind spending the extra money then you can go ahead and buy filler padding and bring it with you. Bubble wrap, foam inserts, old clothing — whatever you need to keep the bike safe until you get to your destination.
Next, you need to look at how heavy the bicycle case is going to be with your bike inside of it. If you plan on flying then you’ll need to cater to airline pound limits. Make sure you cover your bases by checking out the weight allowances for various airlines you might end up using. You don’t want to end up incurring extra charges at every twist and turn if you can avoid it. Also, we want to make sure that you understand: size and weight are unrelated. A cloth bag can be larger than a hard case but the hard case will be heavier.
Finally, you want to look at the convenience factor of the case you are choosing to buy. Some cases will be large enough that you don’t have to disassemble every piece of your bicycle. Other bags will be tight enough in shape that you have to break it down pretty far. Do you mind completely re-assembling your bicycle on the other end of your ride? Do you want to be more able to open the bag and get riding? Well, no matter where you’ll fall on this topic you need to pay some attention.
Now that you’ve gotten an understanding for just what you want to look for out of a bag we can go ahead and highlight some high-quality options for you. We’ve broken down the different options by category: Hard Cases, Soft Side Cases, and Traveling Bags. Each category has a VALUE option and a HIGH-END option.
Hard Shell Bike Travel Cases
Trico Iron Case – Value Pick
Value is going to be a frame of mind when it comes to hard-shelled cases. Hard shelled cases are by necessity going to be more expensive, but you should still opt for value. The Trico Iron Case is an eye-catching carrying case that has a 47″ length. The interior of the case is rigged up with pulley straps and it even comes with three separate layers of foam to maximize your interior protection. This is without a doubt the strongest, sturdiest, case on offer. It is heavy, clocking in at 31 pounds.
Thule Round Trip Transition Bike Case – High End Pick
You’ll see quite a bit of Thule in these carrying options and for good reason. Thule is back at it with an ABS/aluminum blend constructed case with a specialized click rail to keep your bike in one piece while being slugged around trains, buses, or planes. Thanks to the wide interior you don’t have to disassemble every bit of your bike which makes this a convenient option. You have size enough to fit any sized bike with a 46″ wheelbase. You also have a heavy-duty handle and integrated wheels for transport.
Soft Sided Bike Travel Cases
Bike PRO Peleton Case – Value Pick
Soft sided cases blend the lightweight aspects of traveling bags with the sturdiness of actual cases. The Peleton Bicycle Case is a no frills carrying case that weighs 17 pounds with a dimension set of 31.5″ x 52″ x 10 inches. This is a lightweight case that is perfect for short-term travel.
BIKND Jetpack – High End Pick
The BIKND Jetpack is a sleekly designed piece of merchandise. Made with heavy-duty nylon and adapted with a full seam zipper, the BIKND Jetpack is as efficient as it is attractive. The dimensions of this case sit at 31.5″ x 51.2″ x 10.25″ and it only weighs 15 pounds. With a sturdy set of wheels and a multitude of handle options, you’ll never have issues lugging your bicycle around in this guy.
Bike Traveling Bags
Nashbar Bike Transport Bag – Value Pick
If you are looking to match high quality with low prices then you can’t do much better than this Nashbar bag. Made of heavy-duty canvas and priced under $60, the Nashbar Bike Transport Bag is 47 inches by 30 inches with a depth of 7 inches. This is a deceptively large bag and you should be able to compress just about any bike down enough to fit in here. You’ll still have to remove your handlebars but you can leave your tires, wheels, forks, and pedals all attached.
Thule Round Trip Traveler – High End Pick
There is more to life than purely function as you’ll sometimes want to get stylish as well. The Thule Round Trip Traveler is a high-end transport bag with flexible yet sturdy exterior padding. The interior of the bag is loaded with foam padding to create the extra cushion your bicycle needs. Size is more of a concern with this bag as the largest wheelbase you’ll want to pack is 46 inches in size. You can fit up to 64-inch bikes in this bag, as well. There are tons of pockets, easy to access handles, and the bag will take a ton of damage before letting your bike come to harm.
Common Traveling Issues
As you travel abroad with your bicycle the likelihood of your bike incurring damage is dependent on a whole host of factors. If you take all of the precautions listed above then you’ll likely end up with a bike bag or box that is safe and durable for the long run. Still, some things may happen that are out of your control. Here are a few of the most common traveling issues that people run into:
- Conveyor Belts
We’ve all done the awkward sit-and-stare as we waited for our bags to reach us at the terminal. What we don’t see on this side of things is the heavy-duty track of conveyor that our luggage has to traverse. Hard shell bike cases have trouble with conveyor belts, especially in moist weather, due to how slick they can become. Sliding around and banging against walls and other luggage is commonplace.
- Bus Underbelly
Letting the bus driver one arm throw your bicycle case underneath his vehicle probably doesn’t feel too great but you should be glad that you don’t have to see what goes on underneath the vehicle while you’re driving. Every bump in the road is going to be felt by your bag and if it is on the wrong side of the pile things will get even worse. For road travel we highly suggest compact, hard cased, travel carriers.
- Airline Security
If you decide to use a lock on your case, and you leave it locked in transit, then airline security has every right to bust it open if they feel the need to look inside. Before you throw your bag onto the conveyor belt make sure to leave it unlocked in case security needs to get into it. Keep it clasped, throw a zip tie down over the latches if it makes you comfortable, but keep your heavy-duty lock in your luggage.