Re-Thinking Travel With Bike, Part I

My Seven Cycles Axiom, retrofitted with S&S Couplers by Bilenky Cycle Works

Even before I knew I’d be joining Erickson Cycle Tours for the Route des Grandes Alpes I began researching a new solution to traveling with a bicycle. For more than 10 years I’ve been using a double BikePro case, which was perfect as long as I was traveling with another cyclist. These days, however, I’ve usually been traveling with only one bike and the way oversize baggage charges have taken off with all the thrust of a Saturn V booster rocket, I’ve been thinking that I need a simpler, less expensive way to travel with a bike.

I investigated each of the airlines to see if anyone going to my destination was still inexpensive, as well as alternative shipping options, dedicated travel bikes such as the Ritchey BreakAway and Bike Friday, having an S&S-coupled bike built for me by Hampsten Cycles or having an existing frame retrofitted with S&S couplers.

I quickly ruled out continued use of my trusty BikePro case as financial suicide. My next choice would have been to have a new frame built by Hampsten, especially after seeing some drawings Steve did. With a slightly shorter, sloping top tube combined with a slightly longer stem, the frame would have packed in the S&S case easily, a fact I’ve come to appreciate more in the last two weeks. However, timeline and expense conspired against us, so I went with Plan B.

My beloved Seven Cycles Axiom has been hanging on the wall of my garage for at least two years, unused. I’m a sentimental fool and couldn’t part with it even though  my Felt Z frame weighs two-thirds what the Seven does.

After speaking with Steve at S&S, he encouraged me to talk to Steve Bilenky at Bilenky Cycle Works about retrofitting my Seven. I wasn’t too sure initially; the folks at Seven had noted a number of technical challenges to retrofitting my frame and suggested I consider a new frame instead. However, Bilenky walked me through the procedure, telling me how they take blank titanium couplers and machine them to size. Combined with the fact that their turnaround is quick, I was sold.

At Bilenky a titanium frame retrofit is $850, while steel is only $495. However, when you consider that a steel frame will need a paint touch-up if not re-do, a steel retrofit could be as much if not more than the ti retrofit. The hard case is another $395. Accessories such as tube covers, compression members and cable quick connects can add on another $100 or so.

Considering that some airlines are charging upwards of $200 per flight to transport a bicycle in a normal bike carrier, a retrofit with case and accessories can pay for itself in as few as three trips, all because the case comes in under the magic 62-linear-inch number. While the dollar savings is great, the quality of life increase in being able to take a bike with me anywhere for just $25 per flight means that I can now consider taking a bike along on trips I where would previously have had to go without. It’s hard to put a price on that.

Assembly isn’t as fast as with one of my other bikes in the BikePro case, but I gain added confidence knowing that I’m traveling with a difficult to damage titanium bike, rather than one of my more fragile carbon fiber bikes. All things considered, I’ll take the inconvenience.

Because my Seven frame features a 59cm seat tube (c-c) and a ground-parallel 58.5cm top tube (c-c), I must remove the crankset in order to place the rear half of the frame in the case. The longish lengths of both seat tube and top tube mean that I have to be both careful and deliberate when placing the frame halves in the case; think heirlooms in a moving van.

Fortunately, the folks at Bilenky cut and labeled a set of frame tube protectors made from Cordura, foam rubber and Velcro. The amount of thought I had to put into protecting the frame was nil. All I had to do was follow the directions from Bilenky for the packing order of the parts. To say they have it down to a science is an understatement; it’s a procedure, much like assembling a toy model. There’s a sequence for packing and a precise location for each part; follow it and you won’t have to sit on the case to get it closed.

So that covers the frame and the travel element. However, for a trip with so much climbing over so many days, I was going to need some low gears. The folks at SRAM had suggested I try riding a Red-equipped bike with the rear derailleur and cassette replaced with those from their new Apex group. The combination would give me all the functionality and low-weight advantage of Red with the low gears you can only achieve with the long-cage rear derailleur and dinner-plate cassette from Apex. Game on!

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  1. Malcolm

    I had a titanium frame with S&S made for me here in China for a song. Although travelling in Asia is simple even with a full-size bike case, I still wanted something easier to take to Europe. I just have trouble remembering which way the damn couplers turn to loosen.

  2. mark

    I was wondering about the need for “dinner plate” cassette when running a compact crank until I saw the stats for your ride. Now I completely understand. Sounds like you’ve got the bike travel thing pretty dialed.

    1. Author

      Robot: S&S-equipped tandems are amazing. I saw a beautiful one from Erickson some years back. Just amazing.

      Malcolm: You’re not the only person to struggle with that issue. They are right-hand threads, but remembering which end is threaded isn’t easy, huh?

      Souleur: Yeah, I was meaning to add that photo, but just felt like I needed to get the post up.

      Mark: If circumstances had been just a bit different, a 34×28 would have been low enough, but fatigue made that gear more than welcome.

  3. Chris

    I recently got a Co-motion Co-pilot and will never look back. The ease of travel is huge and the bike has such great riding characteristics. Ti is fine, but it’s nice to get off carbon and fancy carbon onto a fancy steel bike. Climbed Bonny Doon and descended Smith Grade last week with nothing but a smile.

    1. Author

      Chris: One of the thoughts I recently had was how a travel bike allows you to side-step the carbon fiber weight race. I reviewed a Co-Motion years ago and LOVED that bike. They do a fine job. Now if I could just afford one of their tandems.

  4. Hans

    I too just returned from the Alps, riding a lot of the same roads at Padraig on my steel Ritchey Breakaway. This has been my primary summer bike for a few years now, and I’m mostly satisfied.

    The bike looks normal enough all the time it’s not in a bag, which aids in the all-important social aspect of cycling. You can show up uninvited to club rides and not immediately look like a tourist. Riding with locals is important! You makes friends and learn all the good roads this way. And when in Rome, do as the Romans: don’t stick out too much. Admittedly, a steel bike on the continent is a little passe, but compared to other small-getting bike options, the Ritchey is a looker.

    The best part of the concept is the smallish-bag of course. And this has all kinds of advantages beyond air travel. Public transportation options are usually always on totally different pages when it comes to bikes, so if you’ll be traveling by train or bus, a compact-packable bike makes this easier. Ditto taxis and rental cars. For the latter you can save by getting a class smaller than you’d have to to accommodate the full bike box. But there are advantages even for those traveling by car. For our most recent trip I had the bike in its bag in the trunk of our compact station wagon with our other luggage, keeping it safe during brief stops, and saving significantly on gas over having it on the roof. Plus shoes, lube, pump, tools, etc all get packed with the bike, minimizing clutter.

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