Travel Special: Cardboard Bike Box, Soft-Case Or Hard-Shell?
Long-distance travel with bikes - it’s always a topic of major concern. The anticipation of a looming interstate event or dream cycling holiday is often overtaken by the worry and angst of your beloved bike arriving in two or more pieces.
Whether you ride road, cross or MTB, are travelling domestically or overseas, going racing or planning dream cycling adventure, you want to make sure that when land your bike will arrive exactly how you packed it.
To help simplify the bike-packing options and assist in clearing any confusion, the good people at Scicon have helped us summarise the key factors we all need to consider when planning to travel with a bike.
The Portability Factor
Unless you have the luxury of just putting your bike box or bike bag into your car and offloading it at your destination, there will be some degree of carrying or pulling involved in your travels. So it’s important to know that firstly you can lift or carry your luggage on varied terrain, and that its weight is manageable without the assistance of others.
Handles and Straps
The degree of manoeuvrability depends primarily on the handles your luggage has. A cardboard box at best has small hand holes on its sides, which can make it awkward to move. Hard-shell boxes have an external strap that helps with lifting, as well as a specific handle on the top designed to fit your hand.
A good quality soft-shell bike bag has the most straps, allowing different ways of moving your bike. For example the Scicon AeroComfort 3.0 has two fixed external handles to lift the bag, as well as a longer removable front strap and and shoulder belt to save your life when confronted by a flight of stairs.
The ease of carrying your luggage depends on whether or not it has wheels. This is where the soft-shell bag and hard-shell case again are favoured over the simpler cardboard bike box solution. When choosing a long-lasting hard case or bike bag look for a model with four sturdy 360° rotating wheels.
Click The Graphic Below To Compare The Three Transport Methods
Weight is a serious consideration. The weight of your luggage doesn’t only affect the manoeuvrability, but also the added expense of excess and oversized baggage fees.
Most airline companies impose weight restrictions on travellers with 23 to 30kg being common benchmarks. A having a lightweight case of say 10-12kg will generally allow you to avoid additional fees. If a customs inspection is also sprung upon you, you’re assured that a good bike bag or box carries a TSA lock approved by the United States security authorities.
The room taken up by your luggage when stored may be an important factor if you’re limited for space at home or at your destination.
If you’re a bikepacking cyclist, a cardboard box may be your only option as you may discard it on arrival before finding another when returning – you don’t want to carry a box or bag on your bike too.
The soft-shell bag is the most user-friendly in this instance, as it can be folded and easily stored, under your bed or in a closet for example. The hard-shell case will need a dedicated space.
Is Disassembly Required?
Finally, an important consideration is the time it will take to pack and unpack your bike and the degree of disassembly required. Then you also need to take into account your mechanical skills in this too – if you can’t reassemble your bike on your own, you can’t ride it without the help a mechanic.
The Scicon AeroComfort 3.0 TSA bike travel bags for example take around 5 minutes to pack, while the AeroTech Evolution 3.0 TSA hard shell bike box takes around 10 minutes to pack.
How To Pack Your Bike
The first vital step is removing your wheels, for any of the three luggage options. From here the level of disassembly depends on the box or bag.
A good soft-shell bag only requires you to remove the wheels with a road or triathlon / TT bike. With a mountain bike you usually also need to loosen and turn the handlebars to the side. All other parts – pedals, bars (road), aerobars (triathlon), rear derailleur, quick releases and saddle – remain in place. A soft-shell bag can be designed around the geometry of a bike, paired with an internal structure to hold the bike in place.
A hard-shell bike box requires you to remove only one pedal and turn the bars to the side. In most cases you will also need to remove the saddle, but depending on the size of the bike an integrated seatpost can also be compatible.
Needless to say, packing your bike into a cardboard box requires a lot more disassembly of parts and components, together with further padding and packing of these to avoid damage from moving parts.
The size of your bike will dictate whether you need to remove the seatpost or not. So, in this case some mechanical skills are required, as well as the tools to do this – allen keys, pedal spanner, tape and bubble wrap, and further padding. We recommend packing pedals and quick releases in your personal luggage.
The Bottom Line
The price of a cardboard box is minimal, maybe free from your local bike shop. There are specially designed ones available but generally their life-span is limited. The cost increases with a bike bag or bike box. For a good quality soft-shell bag, made with a tough outer material, comes at a premium, with a hard-shell case at an additional cost.
Click The Graphic For The Transport Method Summary
Cardboard Box – Good if you travel once a year on a long bike trip, and you’re on a budget with the time and ability to disassemble and reassemble your bike either end. If you didn’t spend a lot for your bike and are aware that you have the least secure bike luggage option when it comes to potential damage.
Soft-Shell Bike Bag – Good if you’re a frequent flyer and have limited time or ability for disassembling your bike. The best option for a lightweight bag that’s easy to pack and to carry when travelling by plane, train or car. Good for those after a high level of protection who are willing to pay for this protection.
Hard-Shell Bike Box – Suitable for frequent flyers who want the safest option for flying with your bike, for those who have room to store a bike box, and who are willing to spend a higher price for a box that provides added protection and avoids additional airline fees.