While preparing for a cycling trip to Europe, I became mired in the mental debate—once again—of packing my bike. On the one hand, you must bring your own bicycle if you hope to have fun riding any appreciable distance. On the other, the eye-watering costs, plus the risk of damage and even loss, makes packing a bicycle quite the hassle. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of strong, safe solutions for transport. Check out these three useful bike cases. (And after you pack, but before you head for the airport, don't forget to check your airline's tariffs and size requirements to avoid any baggage-fee bewilderment.)
Thule 699 Round Trip Bike Travel Case
Thanks to its fully rigid, polyethylene construction and two foam divider sheets within, the Thule 699 travel case ($430) is arguably the safest way to transport your bike. The bike frame lies on one foam sheet, and a couple of tie-down straps of webbing hold it in place. The second foam sheet then sandwiches the bike, and its wheels and spare-parts bag are placed on top. It’s a relatively easy fit with any road bike. Mountain bikes, especially large 29ers, can be trickier, but we did manage to pack mediums after some finagling. The largest issue was the case weight, a hefty 33 pounds alone, which leaves little room to meet the standard 50-pound maximum on most domestic airlines. The wheels on the wide side of the case also make for awkward pulling, although Thule has recently updated the design with sleeker (and more expensive) designs.
Bottom Line: Although it can be a bear to handle—especially because the wide-rolling profile tends to get stuck in doors and knock over other travelers—the Round Trip travel case is still the best choice for rough-handling overseas travel or packing a delicate carbon frame.
Aerus Biospeed Bike Travel Case
Its soft-case design is lightweight, but this Aerus travel case ($320) nonetheless does a decent job swaddling a bike. Once the wheels are removed, and the stem and bars are secured to the frame, you wrap the length of the frame in foam, with extra padding for the bottom bracket and a cutout for the chain ring. There are a dozen padded packing sheets (with a slick, rubberized, topcoat for wiping away grease) that affix to the tubing. The wheels fit in side pouches so they're out of the way. Unfortunately, 29er wheels with wide tires (2.4 inches or more) are a bit too large for the pockets and sometimes require partial deflating—which gets messy if you use sealant. And remember to pack the rotors on the inside of the bag, lest you end up with a bent or broken rotor upon arrival (a lesson I learned the hard way). Skewer blanks, which fit almost every standard spacing, slip into the frame and protect the fork and rear triangle, while a heavy-duty canvas bag fits all the spare parts, including pedals and wrenches. This case fits even large frames, although zipping it up can be a bit of a jigsaw puzzle.
Bottom Line: Because it’s the lightest option, the Biospeed is ideal for international travel or other trips where weight is at a premium. The lack of wheels, however, makes long transfers a pain.
Evoc Bike Travel Bag
This hybrid bag ($475) is a great compromise between the protection of a hard case and the lightweight of a soft bag. It’s much easier to pack than envelope-style bags because of the rigid substructure. The ratcheting strap system on the inside is quick and easy, and the wheel pouches on the exterior fit the largest-diameter mountain tires we tried. Best of all, it’s really easy to move around. There are dual side handles for hefting it onto luggage scales, and the wheels, set on the short side (unlike the Thule design), make it easy to negotiate tight airport spaces. One caution: Although I love the design—with its big, colorful stripes—I found that the all-black option is best for keeping a low profile and avoiding extra baggage fees.
Bottom Line: It’s easy to pack, easy to move, and holds up brilliantly to careless baggage handling. And although it’s costly, it’s well worth the money to ensure your bike arrives in one piece.