Fresh Thinking on the Travel Case

Fresh Thinking on the Travel Case

I’m going to level with you: I don’t like taking carbon fiber bikes on trips. It terrifies me. Over the years I’ve seen too many bikes destroyed by airlines to trust them. They’ve managed to destroy stuff that I didn’t think could be destroyed, such as the hard case for my S&S coupled bike. I’m still trying to settle with American Airlines on that.

And while I’ve never personally lost a bike to an airline, I’ve lost many a carrier, one on its very first use. There came a point where the loss of carriers weighed against the rising cost of flying with a bike told me it was time to invest in a bike with S&S couplers. The culmination of that decision was the Seven Cycles Airheart. But not everyone is going to want or need to fly with a bike several times per year. Maybe you only take a bike on vacation once a year or once every other year. What is the smart response to that, then?

Well, I’ve finally found an answer I like.

Thule introduced a new bike carrier last year, called the RoundTrip Pro XT. It’s one of three different cases they offer. The RoundTrip Pro XT is a soft-sided case that has the unusual feature of incorporating the frame onto which the bike is secured in a stand for assembly and disassembly.

I’ll say that again because it’s so unlikely. The travel case includes a stand making assembly and disassembly easier.

You’re wondering how they do that without simultaneously creating a case noticeably larger than other travel cases. I was too.

The key to the RoundTrip Pro XT is that the frame onto which the bike is secured can be removed from the base of the case. A second piece which fixes onto the bottom of that frame serves as the tripod mounting point for the three legs of the stand. The legs of the stand slip into elastic straps sewn into the sides of the case, acting as stiffeners for the case to better protect the bike. 

The operation goes like so: To begin disassembling a bike for travel, you remove the frame from the base of the case. You slip the three legs into the tripod mount and then slip the frame into the tripod. From there, you take the front and rear wheels off the bike and mount it to the frame. The fork mount has several different adapters for different axle types, though they don’t yet have one for 110x12mm axles. I’m told that’s coming.

After securing the bottom bracket to the BB mount via a strap, you remove the handlebar. Depending on the size of the bike, I recommend either leaving the stem in place, turning it around or removing it. In my case, I left it facing forward to protect against strikes; I do that to make reassembly faster and to result in one less item bouncing around in the case. Next, remove the pedals and the seatpost. In some cases, removing the seatpost may not be necessary.

Once the bike is disassembled, you pop the frame out of the tripod base and then snap it into the case. It locks in place thanks to a spring-loaded slider. The tripod base then attaches upside down between the fork and BB and the legs slip into their elastic loops. The wheels slip into included wheel bags.

The sides of the case feature folding, plastic stiffeners that slip into zippered pockets. When you arrive at your destination, just zip open the pockets, remove the stiffeners and fold them up and then the whole case takes up less space than a coat rack.

I need to add that on every previous case I’ve ever owned or used for an extended period of time, the caster wheels have at some point been damaged. The correlation is a perfect one-to-one. The wheels on the RoundTrip Pro XT give me confidence that you may never need to replace these. They are large, well-hidden and durable as a cast iron skillet.

The case does lack a few items that I think are important. First, I went to the hardware store and purchased foam pipe insulation to cover each tube of the bike. Second, I purchased some Velcro straps to secure the handlebar to the frame. Finally, I grabbed an old shoe bag to store the pedals and the handful of tools I needed for assembly, and while I didn’t need a pump on that trip, it would be smart to pack a pump and tire gauge.

The RoundTrip Pro XT goes for $599.95, putting it right in line with other premium travel cases. The term budget travel case is an oxymoron. Trust me. 

You may still be wondering why I’m recommending a soft-sided case when Thule also offers a hard case, the RoundTrip Transition, for the same money. I’ve traveled through enough unusual airports to see how bike cases are loaded onto planes. The basic rule is that any hard-shell case winds up at the bottom of the heap. All other bags wind up on top of it. Soft-sided cases are difficult to stack things on, so they wind up on top of everything. That comes with its own issues, but in general, I’ve seen much less bike damage with soft cases, so long as there is sufficient padding inside.

The RoundTrip Pro XT includes six different straps to make pulling and maneuvering easy, and often, managing a bike case is half the battle.

Final thought: The smartest upgrade to a bike case I’ve seen since the invention of the bike case.

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1 comment

  1. Dave King

    Nice review. I’ve been using an old Saturn Team Bike Bag circa 1996. It’s padded but has no wheels or real hard structure. It’s a bit floppy but very storable. It’s almost like a big sock for my road bike. I guess I have been lucky that my bikes have never suffered any damage (aside from a mildly bent derailleur hanger once). Or maybe I’m not lucky: I obsessively cover the frame in pipe insulation foam and lash the wheels, saddle/seatpost and handlebars/stem to the frame with toe straps so that everything is contained and immobilized. I’ll even throw in my back pack full of cycling clothes. So far, it’s worked great even with numerous flights.

    Recently, however, I’ve become more concerned about damage to my bike from shipping and flying. (I’ve been horrified to see how baggage handlers manage bags and I’m not faithful enough to believe that they will never put a soft case bag at the bottom of a big pile of luggage. I suspect their motivation and goals are speed and efficiency – damage to a bicycle be damned). Also, it takes a good hour to pack my bike with all the insulation tubing and toe straps. I recently used a Bike Alan Box (hard case) and and it was incredibly fast and easy and seemed to really protect and immobilize the bike. Unfortunately, the Bike Alan Box doesn’t accommodate 29er wheels very wheel. But the Bike Box Velo Vault does and is a similar construction and design to the Bike Alan Box. It costs more but it also seems to have a little better construction and has addressed some of the Bike Alan Boxes issues (finicky clasps, need for perfect alignment of center pole support, only fitting 700 road wheels). I just ordered so I’ll have to see how it goes.

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