Flying with Bicycles

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Packed and ready to check in for our flight.

We’ve been touring for almost four months now and we’ve gotten a lot more confident about route planning, navigation, and bicycle maintenance. We were ready for a new challenge – flying with our bicycles.

We had a lot to learn.

Sure, I’d been reading blogs and Facebook posts about flying with bicycles. There are two schools of thought on bicycle packing: use a bicycle box or wrap them in Saran wrap. I was voting for the wrap method because I wanted to see those suitcase wrappers spin my bicycle and wrap it tight like those cold hot dogs I used to pack in Eric’s lunch. But, alas, the airlines said we needed a box.

So about three days before our flight, while Eric was doing bicycle maintenance in the parking lot of our hotel and his idea of twenty minutes worth of work often morphs into 4 hours, I set out in search of a bicycle shop that had some empty boxes. As luck would have it, I actually stumbled across a row of bicycle shops a mere six blocks from home, I mean our hotel..

I walked in the first bicycle shop. It was empty except for the four (2 guys and 2 girls) salespeople. They huddleId together deep in conversation as soon as I walked in the door when they realized they might need to dust off their high school English.

Me: (Big smile on my face) Have your got any empty bicycle boxes?
Three clerks: (Blank stare)
One clerk: (Ran to the back to find the resident translator)
Me: (Making it easy for them, pulled out my pen and piece of paper and drew a box).
Four clerks: (Loud sigh of relief that they didn’t have to speak English motioned for me to follow them to the back.)
The mechanic in the back pulled out a stack of three boxes, a touring bike box and two mountain bike boxes. I chose the bigger (and much heavier but that didn’t seem important at the time) box thinking it would be easier to drop a bike with racks into.

I left the shop hefting this extra large box with my stronger right arm. I proudly said “No, thanks” to the taxis offering to give me a ride. “Gotta save those retirement dong (21,124 dong = $1)” I said to myself.

Continuing the walk, I  shifted the monstrosity to my left side. I was battling occasional gusts of wind and struggling to keep theT-Rex-sized box from blowing into motorcycles, pedestrians, or shiny diplomatic Mercedes roaring past me.

During one awkward step my  right shoe sunk into some thick gooey stuff that I was sure was dog poo until a shop owner yelled at me to pull my shoe out of his freshly poured 18 inch square of concrete.

Why did he even bother to pour this teeny tiny patch of concrete because the rest of the sidewalk for the entire city block was chipped, uneven or missing.

He glared.

And why didn’t he put some kind of caution tape around the soggy mess?

He glared again.

I scraped the wet concrete off my shoe by running my sandal across the gravel next to the teeny patch of concrete.  Then, I pulled up my chin, straightened my back, gripped the elephant-sized box with firm resolve and continued the walk to our hotel.

I repeated the  “box walk” the following day without stepping into wet concrete. Unfortunately, I was only able to find a much smaller and lighter  mountain bike box.

So here’s what we learned…

The larger, heavier touring box was easier to pack but ended up being 4 kg overweight. Cha Ching!

The smaller, lighter mountain bike box was harder to pack and too small thus requiring an additional box to hold the front wheel. Cha Ching!

We learned not to believe all those cyclists who say flying with bikes is easy. We also learned that it would have been cheaper to buy our bicycles a seat on the plane and let them enjoy a complimentary glass of white wine than to stuff them in the dank, dark cargo hold.

On a positive note, our bicycles received First Class baggage service, enjoyed their flight, and returned to us unscathed.