This blog brought to you by former TriSports Champion Dan Dezess (former only because his wife now works for us and he gets all the benefits of being part of the team, anyway!). With the race season upon us, many people spend a ton of time researching how to travel with their bike. Ship it? Fly with it? Bike transport? Here’s one man’s experiences flying with his bike.
I love triathlons and I love to travel. Who doesn’t? Now put the two together and it could be a little intimidating, frustrating and, not to mention, stressful! Questions about how the bike will fare under the scrutiny of TSA inspections, how much it costs to ship and the horror of “what if something happens to it between point a and point b?” race through one’s mind.
I have done a few “fly-aways” throughout the years and each time I think I have it mastered, I learn something new.
The first time I flew was for the 2010 Big Kahuna Triathlon in Santa Cruz, CA. I had just bought a Velo Safe Pro-series Bike Box from TriSports.com. I packed it with care, making sure that nothing could move which could damage the bike. Flying to San Francisco was fine. Coming back, however, I found that the company outsourced by TSA to inspect baggage did not re-secure the tool bag I had packed in the box. Lesson learned – do not put excess items in the bike box! What if it had shifted during the flight or handling and had damaged the bike? Shudder!
In July of 2011 while packing for Ironman Racine 70.3, I felt like I had a handle on the travel thing. Again the box was packed with care, foam padding and all. After some thought, I also decided it couldn’t hurt to place a nice little note inside asking them to please re-secure the items and thanking them for keeping us safe. A little kindness could go a long way.
All was well until I boarded the airplane. As I sat down and looked out the window, I saw, much to my horror, the airline baggage handler grab the box (which was upside down on the cart) and flip it end over end onto the conveyer belt, landing on its side and up into the airplane. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I dreaded what I would find upon landing.
We arrived in Detroit and I anxiously made my way to baggage claim. I found the box and opened it. The bike was fine, but the wheels were no longer secured. The end result was a nick in each race wheel about the diameter of a pencil eraser. I immediately went to the airline baggage office to file a claim, but was told that I needed to do that at the home airport. Fortunately, I was able to patch the wheels with fiberglass filler. Meanwhile, my wife and I researched what we needed in order to file a claim. We had all of our ducks in a row, or so we thought.
Back in Tucson, we went straight to the airline baggage office to file. To make a long story short, the airline denied responsibility despite the fact that we had photos showing the box being mishandled. They stated they were not responsible for damage done due to my lack of making sure it was safely packed. Lesson #2 learned – pack your wheels in wheel bags, or a separate wheel box, and do not expect the airline to pay for damages.
Determined to finally master the art of traveling with a bike, I invested in a wheel box and decided to fly non-stop from a larger airport nearby to lessen the number of times the box would have to be moved, and thus reducing the chance of it being man-handled. At baggage check in Phoenix, on the way to the 2012 Ironman New Orleans 70.3, I was happy to see that the workers recognized that it was a bike box and knew it contained fragile cargo. Finally a problem-free trip!
After New Orleans, I read about a product called Albopads in a triathlon magazine. They are re-useable pads with Velcro that you attach to the bike frame during transport. I decided to ditch most of the worn Styrofoam padding in favor of the newer, less bulky pads.
I used the same non-stop flight strategy to travel to Ironman Steelhead 70.3, again with much success. Flying conquered. Piece of cake!
Just when you think you know it all, though, something happens. I checked in for my flight for the Rocketman 70.3 in Orlando. Not quite a non-stop flight, as it stopped in Saint Louis, but at least we got to stay on the same plane. All was well until my wife and I had to stop near where over-sized baggage was manually inspected. I was rummaging through my backpack when I overheard the TSA baggage inspector tell the other inspector, “We have a HAZMAT.”
Being a firefighter, I knew what HAZMAT meant and was a very alarmed. I looked over and them standing around my open bike box. Oh no. I wracked my brain trying to think of what I could possibly have packed that could cause such panic. What if the airport was shut down? Yikes! It turned out it was the CO2 cartridges. They are apparently banned by the FAA from being transported on aircraft. I had never heard of that before, but now I know not to pack them. Ever.
Just when you think you think you have the game figured out, you get thrown another curveball. Live and learn. I can deal with all that, though, as long as the bike gets there safely!