By Tom Demerly.
Flying your bike to a race is like a fourth event. Rough baggage handlers, miniature rental cars and phone booth sized hotel rooms combined with constantly changing baggage regulations make flying with a bike a logistical ultra-event. More than racing, shipping a bike with the airlines or freight handler is the riskiest thing you can do with your bike.
For most manufacturers bike travel cases are a sub category. TRI ALL 3 SPORTS, the company in all capital letters, are the only guys who are flight case specialists- it’s their only business. The cases are made by hand in the United States. They’ve enjoyed glowing reviews from professional triathletes, cyclists and cycling teams, touring and travel companies all over the world. US Olympic triathlon teams have used TRI ALL 3 SPORTS bike travel cases in Sydney, Athens and Beijing.
An American Company, a Long Relationship.
TRI ALL 3 SPORTS flight cases were one of the first products TriSports.com founder Seton Claggett added to his web store. Claggett and TRI ALL 3 SPORTS founder Bill Langford have had a long business and personal relationship. When talking with the two men the reasons are obvious. Claggett and Langford are overachievers, goal oriented “can do” men who look at the status quo and see an opportunity for improvement. Anyone can be a critic, what sets Langford and Claggett apart is the chutzpah to execute. As a result, their businesses fit well together. TRI ALL 3 SPORTS is the only flight case TriSports.com sells. “There isn’t a reason to sell any other case” says Claggett of TriSports.com’s relationship with TRI ALL 3 SPORTS.
In the 22 years Bill Langford and his 20 year right hand man, General Manager Eric Topham, have run TRI ALL 3 SPORTS they have “…never had a report of a bike destroyed in one of our cases” according to Langford. While remarkable, it’s little surprise when you learn about Langford’s background: Classified naval operations on nuclear submarines; ultra-distance motorcycle rally rider and instructor for BMW; Ironman triathlete incuding 2 World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, marathon runner. Langford’s dossier is packed with life experiences that are inherently unforgiving and live no room for error. A walk around inspection of his bike cases reveal that perspective interpreted in a bike case. Langford thinks in terms of “crush depths” and what to do if a driveshaft breaks in the middle of a South American desert. He plans for high stakes. He over builds; anticipates weak points. In short, when Langford builds his cases, he builds for the worst case scenario.
“This is the only case we sell. There isn’t a reason to sell any other case”
The Unique Technologies Designed into TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Flight Cases.
TRI ALL 3 SPORTS have more models of hard shell flight cases than any other manufacturer. Of their six different flight cases, five of them, the “Pro Series”, are built to support the bike vertically, attached to the bottom of the case using the fork dropouts, chain stays and bottom bracket. The bike does not touch the sides of the flight case. An extreme impact such as collision with a baggage tractor or ten foot fall from a conveyor belt could damage the case, but because the bike is suspended inside, independent of the walls, it has a better chance of surviving. Conventional foam-padded cases that sandwich the bike transmit more impact energy to the bike through the foam and the case, potentially bending a rear derailleur hanger, crushing a wheel or knocking a frame out of alignment.
Bill Langford also points out that the reason he builds more flight case types than anyone else is because “No one case works for every athlete, every bike”. An example is the TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight case built specifically for integrated seat mast bikes.
No Pressure against the Bike.
TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series cases do not press foam against the bike during packing. The bike isn’t “sandwiched” or compressed inside. Because the bike is “free floating” upright inside the “Pro Series” flight cases there is nothing to bend a derailleur hanger, force a frame out of alignment or bend a wheel. Impact energy is less likely to be transferred to the bike inside the case since it doesn’t touch the sides. When properly packed the bike is supported inside the case without touching the walls. “It never made sense to press a bike between foam” said TriSports.com Founder and CEO Seton Claggett. The addition of the “Gorilla Bar”, a PVC pipe that is easily installed inside the Pro Series cases while packing, further reinforces the walls of the case away from the bike and resists crushing of the case.
Top Half/Bottom Half Design is More Compact: Easier Shipping, Easier Storage when Empty.
Another feature of the TRI ALL 3 SPORTS vertical suspended top half/bottom half design is ease of storage with the case empty. Experienced travelers appreciate this. Five of the six different model TRI ALL 3 SPORTS cases can be shipped to you empty with the top half of the case over the bottom half, reducing the case’s size by roughly half. This reduces shipping costs when initially purchasing the case and makes empty case storage in your hotel room much easier. At an athlete’s final destination the bike could be removed from the case, the top half of the case stored in the bottom, luggage placed inside the case and the bike placed on a rack on top of a rental car. I did this travelling to the Nice Triathlon in Nice, France and packed all my luggage and bike into (and onto) a miniature taxi while other athletes with conventional cases waited in line for over an hour for larger taxis uncommon in some cities. It was as though you could make the empty flight case disappear.
Bike Held Upright: Ease of Assembly.
At your race destination the bottom half of a TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight case functions as a work stand to make assembling your bike easier. You simply remove your wheels from the case, or from one of TRI ALL 3 SPORTS hard shell wheel cases, keep the bike clamped to the bottom of the case, install your cockpit to torque specifications, remove the bike from the case, install the front and rear wheel and double check the bike to be sure the headset is adjusted and everything is tight. You don’t have to try to bend over an open flight case to try to retrieve your entire bike from an awkward position.
Modular Components for Long Life.
The components of the TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight cases are modular and replaceable. Langford mentions improvements made on the latches that close the cases (“They are three times larger than they were”) and changes in the way the wheels mount to the base of the flight case- they are bolted on now. The latches also use a Velcro cover to protect the hardware and prevent other luggage from snagging on it in transit.
While Langford designs for durability learned in nuclear sub ops, he is also pragmatic about his products. “Nothing is indestructible, so we build the cases to be repairable.” Seton Claggett recalls that if you’ve “got a pop rivet gun and 15 minutes, you can fix anything on the case.” TRI ALL 3 SPORTS’ Langford mentions that they keep a ready supply of replacement hardware to ship out to customers if disaster strikes.
New: Stronger Case Material.
A recent- and significant- upgrade to TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight cases is a change from ABS material for the cases to new High Molecular Weight Polyethylene. In short, this material has “15 times greater resistance to abrasion than carbon steel” according to Wikipedia. This long-chain polymer is denser and capable of greater load bearing. Compared to previous flight case materials the HMWP is noticeably more robust.
TRI ALL 3 SPORTS experimented with HMWP polymer using two prototype cases for three years. The cases were used in a setting where they travelled hundreds of thousands of miles over three years without a single failure to the casing.
Once the decision to use HMWP operationally in TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight cases was made the tooling for the cases had to be re-worked. The hotter forming temperatures and slower curing times for HMWP meant additional cooling mechanisms had to be added to existing molds. Molds had to be reworked. It was a costly re-engineering that speaks of TRI ALL 3 SPORTS’ dedication to the best possible version of their product almost regardless of development required.
In the Real World: Baggage Gorillas and TSA Ninjas.
Real world advantages of TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight cases become apparent when you travel enough with a bike case.
When you wheel a TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight case through a crowded airport the case steers from the front wheels and is very narrow since it rolls upright, like a trailer following a truck. Other flight case brands are wheeled sideways, more than twice as wide while trying to negotiate curbside shuttles, crowded check in lines, packed airport elevators. The TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight cases simply travel easier in crowded places.
In the U.S., where Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials will open your case for inspection, the TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight cases offer an advantage since TSA inspectors don’t have to touch or move the bike while inspecting the entire contents of the case. In a foam-padded, sandwich style case the bike has to be lifted at least partially out of the case for inspection of the case contents. TSA inspectors aren’t schooled in flight casing bikes. They may get it back in your foam padded sandwich case right- they may not.
Because of the arrangement of handles and the upright orientation of the TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight cases it is less likely that your case will wind up sandwiched on the bottom of a stack of cases better transported lying on their side. When flying into destinations with a lot of athletes at the same time this is a real-world concern.
In the Real World.
I’ve used TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight cases traveling to the Discovery Channel Eco-Challenge, The Raid Gauloises in Vietnam, multiple Ironmans from France to New Zealand and Hawaii and countless other events. Seton Claggett has lent his case to “More athletes than I can remember” and believes it has over a half million miles on it. He’s taken TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight cases to each of his Ironman events and other races. It’s the only case he sells.
I’ve always been satisfied with TRI ALL 3 SPORTS Pro Series flight cases. After meeting Bill Langford I’m impressed. Flight cases are an inglorious necessity for athletes. They don’t come in colors, don’t use fancy graphics, never make magazine covers and don’t get designed in the wind tunnel. But if they fail on the way to your “A” race they could cost you thousands in bike damage, lost travel expenses and heartache. Langford’s cases are built like the ballistic missile submarines he served on; advanced, low key and necessary for your peace of mind.