No one looks forward to the Russian Roulette of transporting a bike by plane.
But when the deed has to be done, several methods exist to help best negotiate the ordeal, be it using cardboard bike boxes found in the local bike store, specialist vault-like hard cases, or even the humble polythene bag. My personal favourite – when it comes to burly mountain bikes or touring bikes at least – is something of a hybrid: Ground Effect’s Body Bag.
As the name suggests, the Body Bag is a capacious sack that can engulf your steed with the minimum of fuss – and then pack down so discreetly you can cycle out of the airport with it stowed in your backpack.
Or, better still, cycle out to the airport too. Because once you’re there, it’s simply a case of scoping out some cardboard (fast food chains and supermarkets are generally a good bet) to begin the packing procedure. Which goes as follows: remove seat, pedals and front wheel (handlebars too, depending on length and design). Pop in the plastic spacer tube provided to brace the fork. Slot the recycled cardboard you’re commandeered around all the contact points (taping them in place if need be), and bolstering the contents on either side too. Jam in softgear goods where there’s room. Check to make sure nothing is rubbing or liable to prod through the bag. Et voilà. (though if you can get some beforehand from a hardware store, I’d recommend a few lengths of pipe lagging too, to provide some additionally impact and scuffing resistance around your bike’s tubing)
Compared to a traditional cardboard bike box, the Body Bag is so much easier to manhandle – it can be carried over the shoulder (teamed with a duffel bag of gear on the other side), fitting neatly into all the X Ray machines I’ve ever encountered (and the back seat of a taxi too, if you’re leaving or arriving under cover of darkness). And being more manageable also seems to incite less glares from the steely eyed check-in desk. Once at my destination, I generally stash the folded up bag at a guesthouse or warmshowers host. If it’s an A-B ride, I’ll even post it onwards, seeing as it weighs just a little more than a kilo (thus saving the inevitable last minute search for a bike box).
Worth noting too it that the Bodybag is especially convenient if you’re transporting your steed on a train or bus that won’t accept a naked bike. I’ve used mine on Eurostar, Greyhound and Amtrak in the past, for both road and touring bikes. For overland transport, It’s a particularly quick and easy solution when companies are being awkward.
I’ve always liked Ground Effect products (the Robin Hood is a firm favourite) and found them to be well made and nicely thought out. The Bodybag is no exception. Build quality on the Bodybag is good – hard wearing Cordura with reinforcement patches in all the right spots. Mine has joined me on many of my journeys – I’ve ridden with it out to the airport in Havana, jammed it into a rickshaw in Delhi and stowed it in the back seat of a cab in Bogota. Only after years and years of successfully protecting my steed from bungling baggage handlers the world over, has the zipper finally blown. Apart from that, a few wounds incurred in the line of duty have needed to be patched up here and there – I try and wedge in big pieces of cardboard so there’s no excess material to be snagged, and make sure nothing can pierce the bag internally.
Rather than repair it this time round, I’ll be using this excuse to replace it with exactly the same – albeit the latest, even more capacious version, designed with 29ers in mind. Not that my old version isn’t roomy; perhaps to the detriment of my zipper, in the past I’ve squeezed in my XL Surly Krampus, with the fork removed. A Troll fits in easily, even with a rear rack.
More details can be found here, and another online review here. The new version is 172cm long by 80cm wide (15cm or so longer at the zipped end than the previous one). Cost is a very reasonable £69 plus £15 shipping from NZ to the UK, or $109 including shipping to the US. Weight is just 1200g.
In a similar vein
If you’re checking out the Body Bag, it’s worth knowing that Ground Effect also makes the Tardis. Like its Gallifrean namesake, it’s small on the outside and big on the inside. A good deal more compact than the Body Bag (135cm by 80cm), the Tardis requires more bike dismembering for the jigsaw puzzle to work. Weight is a little higher at 1800g, but less padding is required.