September 5, 2012

Packing a Bike Bag

A news bulletin and an upgrade. News: wheels are a brilliant invention. Not just on bicycles, on bicycle travel bags. An upgrade: it is time for me to stop moving bikes in cardboard boxes. That was h-a-r-d to do ... awkward, heavy, unwieldly ... very hard to do. So I purchased an EVOC travel bag. It is a soft bag, and so weighs less, costs less and provides less protection than rigid cases. A compromise, but a compromise that has received good marks in the blogosphere.

First, if you are a new reader, this is my sturdy, stable, delightful, touring bike Papillon. Named after the little green butterflies on the route to Col de la Barrière in the Cévennes, Cannondale calls it a Touring 2. For me, it is a great bike to travel with. Here also is the empty Evoc bag.

I am not mechanically oriented and was intimidated by packing up my bike. This post is to help others who might feel that way also. If I can do this, so can you. That said, before my first two trips with a bike, my bike shop, Arcadian Shop in Lenox taught me how. Also, there are other good descriptions on the web. Look at them, this is just my as yet unproven method.Taking photos as you go might help job your memory when you put your bike back together.

1. Remove the mirror and pack it somewhere safe.

2. If you're not accustomed to adjusting your seat, draw a ring with a sharpie around your seatpost to show where it is. Loosen the screws, drop the seat, tighten the screws.

3. Position the chain on the smallest ring in front, and the biggest ring in the rear. (This brings those derailleur units in as close as possible to the bike, minimizing the chance of damage.)

4. Remove the pedals, using a pedal wrench. They are long and have good leverage. Position yourself so you don't hit yourself in the shin, or elsewhere. Pedals are threaded to tighten themselves as you ride. Left pedal removes clockwise. Right pedal removes counterclockwise. I can never remember that, I just remember forward tightens. Brace yourself against the other pedal to get some leverage and stabilize the bike.  Pedals are labelled left and right. It matters. Pay attention later when you put them back on. Put them in a bag.

5. Remove the front wheel. Do not forget when you reassemble that the brake cable needs to be in the hanger and the hanger positioned correctly.When you reassemble, remember that the fork needs to be pointing forwards.

6. Remove the back wheel. I prefer removing the back wheel with the bike upside down. That is more confusing to some, but I like having both hands free to use, the bike not on my shoulder and better visibility. Put plastic protective end pieces into the four wheels. Put the skewers back together and put them in a bag. Note: the rear skewer is the long one when you put it back together. The quick releases go on the side opposite the derailleur. Be careful of the derailleur. I take the pressure off by pulling it backwards.

7. After the tire is off, I remove the derailleur from the derailleur hanger. Some people don't remove it, just pad it.

8. Wrap the chain and derailleur in bubblewrap. There are 2 goals: to keep chain from twisting into itself, a real nuisance, and to keep bike bag cleaner. Put them inside the bicycle. Wrap hanger in bubblewrap to protect it.They are frequently bent during transit. I carry a spare, just in case.

9. Put fork separators in the front and rear forks. My bike shop gave me a set. Most or all bikes are shipped with them.

10. Lay bike on side  Do not remove any cables. Remove the handlebars, or (turn them sideways as needed by your suitcase), by loosening the two screws on the stem, then the screw on the top. Retighten these. Balance the handlebars or temporarily tape them to the top tube.

11. Front fork goes in its protector.

12. Down tube and top tube wrap goes on.

13. Bottom bracket rests on support.

14. Handlebars attach to straps. There are straps on the interior of the bag itself, and on the wrap around the top tube.

16. Strap everything down.

17. This bag has plenty of pockets for tools, skewers, the bike lock etc.

18. Anything not in a fixed place should be secured so it doesn't bounce around and damage something. (When doing this for real, I'll use more bubble wrap and twisters to hold the wrap on. I just don't have them during this test run.)

19. Wheels into exterior pockets.

20. If you care about excess baggage charges, weigh your packaged bike!


  1. Always enjoy your posts and wish you happy travels.

    1. How nice to hear from you! I think of you often when I'm here because you were a big part of my finding the courage to attempt the Pyrenees ... thanks! Loved your coverage of the Colorado race, it brought it to life. I work with a retired doc, a cyclist, who has a house in Boulder also, with TeeJay for a neighbor.

  2. That's a brilliant bike bag. In our pre-kids, cycle touring days, we resorted to torn up cardboard boxes to wrap around our deconstructed bikes when we had to put them on planes. Your way is so much classier!
    Have a wonderful time in France. Looks like being a warm September so you've got great weather. Can't wait to read about your adventures.

    1. Hi Steph,

      I have only used cardboard before and now that I'm here I can say this is much easier! Bike came through perfectly. Funny to be in the same country with you, and Gerry also. The blogosphere doesn't feel so different, but the world does!

  3. Great post, Suze. I hope I never have to fly with my bike again, but if I do, I'll come back and review this article! Doubt we'll be seeing each other on your trip, but I look forward to you tablet updates.

    1. It would be fun to meet someday ... if you're not flying with a bike, guess that makes it France!

  4. Unlike Gerry, I will be flying with my bike within the year, so this post will prove very valuable. Thanks for sharing. It looks like a lot of work.

    Bon voyage, and happy climbing!

  5. Actually, it wasn't so much work. I did add a lot of bubblewrap before leaving. It came through the flights without any damage at all. I do think the rigid bike boxes must be more certain protection.

    Et merci!

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