Precious Cargo: traveling with your bike

In sport, business, and life, we often talk about and work on controlling what we can control. In ITU racing in particular, I find I am constantly operating in situations where there are factors outside of my control that can have defining impacts on my race finishes. I am therefore constantly problem-solving to determine what I can do to either be prepared to react to the situation or – ideally – adjust my approach in order to take control of the situation.

A prime example of this is traveling with my bike. While this is something that might have never crossed many travelers' minds, it is as common as flying with a carry-on item for professional triathletes. As an example, starting with Hamilton Continental Cup 10 days ago, I will be traveling with my bike domestically and internationally every other week (7 times) through late June/early July. That’s a lot of travel for me and my precious little bike!

Obviously, it is critical to get your bike from your home to the race with minimum risk of damage. To do this, every athlete has his or her trusted bike bag/box, and there are many to chose from! Hard cases are very secure with their thick plastic sides but also very heavy and hard to handle (which, I theorize, leads to more instances of mishandling by cargo crews). Soft cases are typically lighter and easier to handle but can be less protective since they lack the plastic armor of boxes. What to do?! It can be a conundrum for even the most experienced of athletes. I've had many people ask my opinion/experiences in this area, so I thought I would take a second to share it here!

I have personally only ever had soft bike cases. My most recent case – the Helium Biknd case – was awesome because I barely had to take apart my bike, the sides had inflatable panels that provided good bike protection, and it averaged 45 pounds with bike, wheels, pump, and even some clothes tossed in! I had an older edition that didn't have all the awesome handles and the tapered design that they offer now, so while I lucked out ~20% of the time, I had to pay a bike fee 80% of the time. That said, I like the changes they have made to their bags! That said, I only ever felt 90% confident that my bike would arrive to my destination untarnished. At the level at which I’m seeking to perform, I would never consider 90% execution of my training, nutrition, or recovery. It’s 100% or bust. So why should my bike case be any different?

For this reason, I recently switched to the Ruster Sports Henhouse case. Folks, I’m in heaven! I didn’t realize how much my bike’s safety weighed on me until I tried out this bag for my trip to Cuba in February when I had to borrow my coach’s. While this bag requires you to dismantle your bike a few steps beyond some other bags, everything is packed so tightly, and the bags are so well constructed and light that I feel 100% confident my bike will arrive with me in equally good shape as I left it. I actually also love that I’ve gotten to know my bike better in the process of taking it apart and putting it back together – I’m much more confident troubleshooting issues, and that is important at races where mechanics aren’t accessible! Plus that peace of mind while I travel is absolutely worth the investment. While we’re talking money, in my experience, the bag has qualified as regular luggage. In only a few flights, the bag has pay for itself.

The pictures below show my bike-packing process with the case (1hr to pack my first time, down to 45 the second, and I think I can get it down to 30 for my trip this weekend now that I have the routine down!). Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the case, the packing process or packing for races!

My case fresh out of its box last month!

My case fresh out of its box last month!

Only 2 tools required for (dis)assembly! (I'm upgrading to a torque wrench... should have long ago eek!)

Only 2 tools required for (dis)assembly! (I'm upgrading to a torque wrench... should have long ago eek!)

Bike disassembled, ready for padding + packing

Bike disassembled, ready for padding + packing

The foam tubes, velcro straps, and plastic discs for wheels are KEY in the packing process!

The foam tubes, velcro straps, and plastic discs for wheels are KEY in the packing process!

Bike parts ready to be locked 'n loaded

Bike parts ready to be locked 'n loaded

Ready to Rock!

Ready to Rock!