Words and photos by Michael and Brenda Mucker
Anyone who has taken a cycling vacation is faced with the decision of whether to ship their own bike or to rent one at their destination. After taking many mountain bike vacations, we have come to the conclusion that is always better to ship your own bike for any vacation of five days or more. If you decide to ship your bike, the following is a list of bike packing and shipping tips to help assure that your bike will arrive safe and sound.
After checking out about five different brands of bike cases we found the Trico Ironcase to be the best. Compared to the other cases that we have had experience with, the Ironcase has thicker memory foam, a harder and sturdier case, a better closure and strapping system and a better system for wheeling it along.
Between the two of us, we have packed and shipped our bikes 35 times and have never had the precious contents of our Ironcase damaged, except when airline security did not re-assemble our cases properly. Make sure that your bike is clean and the drivetrain is de-greased. You do not want to contaminate the case’s foam with dirt and grease.
The following will need to be removed from your bike before you pack it: pedals, chain, wheels, seat post with seat attached, and rear derailleur. (The handlebars will also be removed after the frame is laid in the case–see below). Remove the quick release skewers from the wheels. The bike will fit into the case easier if you let the air out of the front fork and ball bungee the fork when compressed. Do not forget to put spacers between the brake pads on bikes with hydraulic disc brakes.
Depending on your brand of bike you may want to remove the derailleur dropout (“hanger”) with the derailleur still attached. Ball bungee the rear derailleur behind the drive side chain stay. There is no need to remove the cable. Lay your bike in the case on one of the three layers of the foam. You will need to position the bike in the case so that nothing on the bike contacts the plastic of the case. The handlebars can be removed by taking off the face plate of the stem by removing the 4 screws.
Lay a thick towel rag on your frame, rotate the handlebars 45 degrees counterclockwise and ball bungee the handlebars to the top and down tubes with the towel between. Your Ironcase will come with expanders to put in front and rear wheel dropouts. Put these in place and tighten the wing nuts by hand. Put your chain (preferably in the box it came in), pedals, stem plate and screws, quick releases in a double Ziploc bag. We also put 4, 5 and 6mm T-handle Allen wrenches and chain lube in this bag, too.
Once you bike is positioned in the case, you can place your seat post (with seat still attached), helmet, shoes, backpack, parts and tools strategically around the bike. We also put a small container of Cytomax, a few Cliff Bars, gel shots, and extra Stan’s in the box, too. Once you have everything carefully arranged in the case, put another layer of foam over the bike.
Then lay your wheels, brake rotor side down over that second layer of foam. The wheels will need to overlap enough so that they just fit inside the case. For 29” wheels with a 180mm rotor, you will need to put the front tire in the box with the rotor side up in order for the wheels to overlap enough to fit into the case.
For 29” wheels, you will need to let a significant amount of air out of the tires. If you have a tubeless conversion, be careful to let some air in so that you do not break the bead and end up with a “Stans-gasm” in your case. If you run a 29er with tubes you could remove the tires and tubes, fold them up and put them in the bike part of the case. Just be sure to pad the wheels where they overlap.
After the wheels are in the case, put the final layer of foam over them. Loosen all seven case straps on the lid. Line up the lid over the bottom half of the case and start to compress the entire bike “sandwich” down until all of the edges of the lid overlap the bottom half of the case. Starting at one end, start to attach all of the strap buckles. Do not pull them all tight until you have all of them buckled.
When all of the straps are buckled, tighten them with a smooth but firm pulling motion. Do not use a hard, jerking pull, or the plastic buckles could get damaged. Now stand, or have a friend stand on the case (think of the gorilla in the Samsonite luggage commercial, just do not jump up and down) and pull all of the straps tight. Go around and do this several times. Attach lock on both ends of the case.
Your bike is now ready to ship. As a courtesy, call or email the bike shop that is accepting shipment of your bike and let them know approximately when it will arrive and when you plan on picking it up.
When flying it is best to avoid checking your bikes with your luggage. Airline security may open your bike box when you are not present. Since they will not take the care to re-pack it as carefully as you would this can result in damage to your bike. This has happened to us. UPS has been a reliable and reasonably priced way to ship bikes. Friends of ours have successfully used Fed-Ex but we have had no personal experience using them as our shipper.
We always call bike shops that are located near our destination to find one that will accept shipment of the bike case. Most are happy to accept shipment of your bike. You need to ask the bike shop accepting the shipment if they charge for this service. While most do not charge, some shops require you to pay a fee for them to assemble the bike. If this is the case call another shop if you do not want your bike assembled.
We prefer to assemble our own bikes and unpack the case at the place where we are staying. In exchange for a bike shop accepting shipment of our bikes we try to do all of our bike-related shopping there. You can ship your bike from the UPS Store nearest you.