So my plan was simply, pack uber light and make my way from London to St. Andrews Scotland in 4 days on my fixed gear bike. The theme of this trip is about simplicity in a needlessly complex world. Hence why I decided to take only 10.5lbs (including backpack weight) for a month journey, to tour on a bike with only one gear and why the bike could have next to nothing attached to it.
You see, too often we are fooled by modern society into believing we need to buy, possess, and carry far to much crap. Not only is it a bother, but I think this ethos detracts from the quality of life. For me, I wanted to see how much I could do with the minimal amount of gear possible.
So that in mind I knew I could not start the trip (i.e. getting to the airport) without following that same ethos and here is the rub. Transporting a bike overseas can be difficult. You need to pack it down, put it in some sort of box and transport yourself and your bike-box down to the airport.
Clearly this will not do.
- I wanted to be able to ride my bike (with 10 lbs backpack) to the airport.
- Prepare my bike for the flight.
- Get on the flight.
Carrying the box large box on my back to the airport was out. Taking a taking a taxi flies directly in the face of my whole ethos for this trip. Then I remembered what a baggage handler (who cycled) had told me some time ago. Namely, that the job sucked ass because of how repetitive it was. Square box, square box, square box.
He told me the safest way to transport your bike was NOT to stick it in a box (ignore your first instinct). Instead, leave it tender and exposed to the world in a clear plastic bag. You see, once the baggage handlers encounter something new
Square box, square box, square box, funny shaped package...wait that is a bike, cool, lets be gentle
This is perfect. I have had forks bent inside bike boxes due to rough handleing, so I figured why not give this crazy baggage handlers advice a try. Plus it fit in perfectly with the advice of this trip, namely simplicity. I can ride my bike to the airport, get on and fly away, perfect. Not to mention a fixed gear bike is probably the best bike to attempt this with due to its bomb proof nature.
So did it work?
The answer would be a resounding and surprising YES!
I got up had my morning coffee relaxed in the knowledge that I was just a 30 minute ride away from the Vancouver airport. I did not have to worry about taking public transportation (2 hrs) or scheduling a taxi (I have at times been told I have to wait an hour + for a taxi to arrive).
The ride was quite pleasant with a small 10 lbs backpack. When I arrived I got funny looks as I proceeded to unpack my bike in the airport departure terminal. I took both wheels off and zip-tied them to either side of the frame. Next off came the handlebars and on the top tube they went. The seat was removed and placed in between the rear triangle to keep it from being compressed. Finally, I removed the pedals, put them in a small zip-lock bag and zip-tied them to the frame. Finally, I placed a drop-out protector in the front fork as a just in case.
Once that was done, the bike was much smaller than the size it would have been in a bike box. As a result it fit into the provided clear plastic bag and PASSED as one of my pieces of luggage. HA HA! No luggage charges here, especially since my other piece of luggage (10 lbs backpack) nice made its way on as carry on.
Only One Small Hitch
The only problem I ran into was getting the bike into the funny shaped luggage conveyor. You see, there can't be any items poking down on at least one side or it will tear the belts. Since I had wheels on either side of the frame, this posed a problem with the axles pointing out. All in all a minor problem as I found a piece of cardboard in the airport and attached it to the frame using the electrical tape I had wisely wrapped around the top tube before departure (Note: always carry a little bit of electrical tape on your bike, it will save you one day).
On the other side
On the other side the bike came out pretty much exactly as I put it in. The plastic bag had virtually no damage and the only problem I had is one of my brake levers rubbed on the stem (I should have attached the handle bar slightly better. With I arrived in London, took the train to Paddington station, assembled my bike among the much hurried Brits, then headed out onto the vicious London streets. (OH yeah, shit me the drive/ride on the wrong frickin' side of the road!).