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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

S&S couplers considered useless

My issue with the couplers are that they're expensive and take forever to use. My first tandem had couplers and disassembly took 2 hours (with two of us on it), and assembly took an hour. And this was after we'd gotten good at it! And of course, take pictures when you first get the bike or you'll never be able to pack it away in the boxes ever again!

Anyway, after I'd had enough of this, we finally sold the bike, and bought an uncoupled tandem. We took it to Europe, and this time, wrapped pipe insulation around the tubes and took it with us on the plane unboxed. They bent the deraileur hanger, which cost me 5 Euros and 15 minutes to fix at a local bike shop. On the way back I removed the deraileur and had no damage to the bike. Packing time: 5 minutes. Unpacking time: 5 minutes. (Removing and putting pedals back on) All through Europe the trains took our tandem and us, no problems. All the
hotels also found a place to keep our bike.

When we flew to Colorado last year for a tour, we had to box up the bike. On the way there, we got a Santana cardboard box (cost: $45), and took it with us on the plane ($80). Packing time: 20 minutes. On the way back, we rode to the Denver International Airport, bought 2
United Airlines boxes ($20), packed the bike there and then (20 minutes), and brought it back to San Jose International. The airline scratched the front saddle and gave us a $20 United airlines coupon for a minor scratch, we reassembled the bike (10 minutes), and rode
home. In Colorado we just kept our bikes in the hotel room with us.

Both my experiences travelling with the uncoupled tandem were superior to travelling with the coupled tandem in a hard case. We spent less time packing, and more time enjoying the biking. (but note: we don't have a carbon fiber bike --- those might be more fragile, in which case you might have no choice but to go S&S)

Finally, this year, I went to Europe again on my single. One of my friends brought a single bike with ritchey breakaway coupler. It took him more than an hour to assemble the bike! And more than 1.5 hours to take it apart at the airport. For myself, I would not pay the extra cost in either time or money, just to save the 15 Swiss Francs (30 for a tandem) it costs to take a bike on the train.

One of the couples in the club I'm in has both an S&S Santana and an uncoupled Calfee. They're signed up for 2 Erickson tours this September, and guess which bike they're bringing? The uncoupled Calfee. Even though they're retired and have lots of time, it's still less fun assembling and disassembling bikes than riding them, and they'd rather risk damaging their $10,000 bike.

I ran into a cyclist last year who said he surveyed every tandem couple he met while riding because he was shopping for a tandem. He said that whenever he asked about couplers for couples that had them, the usual response was "We thought they'd be a good idea, but we've
never used them." For those couples, maybe the cost of the couplers meant they didn't have any left over to take a vacation, but still.

There are a few good applications for couplers:

  1. Private plane owners. You're not going to fit a full sized tandem on a propellor plane, no matter what. (When travelling, every time I could have taken a prop plane I could also have taken a ferry, so it's not an issue that comes up unless you're a private pilot)
  2. Cruises. This was what S&S was designed for --- so you can bring your bike into your stateroom disassembled, get off the cruise boat, and assemble your bike and ride around town. A folding bike is probably cheaper for this task than adding S&S couplers to your Calfee.
  3. Frequent domestic flights. At $80 a pop, if you take 13 domestic flights, you've made back the cost of the couplers. ($2000 after you throw in the suit cases) Of course, after you've done the assembly once or twice, you might discover (as some folks I know did), that you'd rather *drive* to your domestic destination than go through the assembly/disassembly process again.
  4. You can't bear the thought of a $10,000 bike being protected by a $20 cardboard box, even though in my experience the $20 cardboard box in 10 years of travelling has never failed me.
I suspect that in practice, reason #4 is why folks buy S&S couplers.

[Update: there have been recent reports that even coupled S&S tandems are no longer escaping airline domestic charges. In addition, real world experiences have vindicated this article over and over again, as described in a later blog entry]

28 comments:

TropFish said...

I picked up a Dahon 7 Speed Folding Bike for just over $300

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew said...

You say that they aren't worth the trouble, yet you admit that your bike was damaged twice by the airlines, and you were charged to take it on a domestic trip. And how long did it take to find a bikeshop to fix your bent hanger? Probably somewhat more frustrating that screwing together a couple of S&S fittings.

This is all very interesting as I've trawled through the Tandem @ Hobbes archives looking for reports on people's experiences of the couplers, and the majority of people have the opposite feelings.

I'll be in the market for a good tandem sometime in the next year so I'm genuinely interested. The way things are going with airlines they are getting nastier and nastier when it comes to luggage, particularly anything oversize. And the cheaper carriers are switching to Airbus 320s etc that have a smaller luggage hold that won't take something as long as a tandem.

Piaw Na said...

The majority opinion is always going to be positive towards Couplers. Just like someone who's bought a $3000 Mac isn't usually going to admit that Windows does a lot of things better (and I'm a contrarian there to), someone who just burned $3000 on couplers isn't usually going to admit that they've made a mistake.

(And indeed, whenever I've seen S&S coupled tandem for sale on tandem@hobbes, I've asked the folks there what happened and usually they've admitted that they didn't use them at all, and that purchasing a bike with them was a mistake)

It didn't take us any time to find a bike shop, because we didn't even try --- by setting the bike to friction mode, we were getting around just fine. But upon emerging from a train station near Munich, we saw a bike shop, and they pointed us at a shop literally around the corner which had the proper park tool. It literally took the guy 15 minutes to fix, and actually, if I had carried a spare deraileur hanger with me (which I should do), I could have performed the fix in the same amount of time.

As for the scratched saddle, I'm still riding it. The minor damage is not worth even thinking about.

Gary Keene said...

Comments about S&S etc. I much appreciated the gorgeous fotos and facts on Switzerland, but the S&S commentary does not line up with our experience-- which is twelve years of international touring with solid (uncoupled tandem) followed by a coupled tandem which solved ALL of the hassles with the solid bike (of which there were legion, in virtually every country on the European continent.) Perhaps the distinction has to do with destinations: anyplace beyond a major hub airport (Paris or Frankfurt) has always meant hideous delays and confusion precisely because a full tandem (in a box or dedicated case) won't fit in many small connecting airplanes and even some busses; I further wish I'd had a coupled tandem when we tried to take the solid one on a train out of Split, Crotia to Zagreb. We finally coughed for a coupled CoMotion and took it into Slovenia last season, starting from Venice: absolutely no way that would have happened without a coupled bike. There's no buyer's remorse to hide here-- we love the thing! I would also observe that something is missing in the extended take-down/re-assembly times: I'm usually at 60 minutes on either end, max. Granted, using Santana's full size box is deliciously quick in terms of packing/unpacking, but it is a complete bear in every other respect (as suggested above.) As for packing as protection for a bike, we had a hard case for the uncoupled tandem, and it survived five trips abroad before Delta literally destroyed it (saved the bike except for scratches, but its an indication of what they can do.) I made cardboard boxes work (as you've described) but still the size was an issue, as above. As for simply wrapping tubes, sometimes you can get away with it inside Europe, but not otherwise anymore.
There's lots of people that get into tandems who don't stick: I doubt S&S is the determining factor. It'd be interesting to check some broader feedback: my hunch is "the exception proves the rule." Gary in Pasadena

Piaw Na said...

Of course, there are people who can make S&S couplers work for them. However, I know many more people who've gone the other way (S&S bike to normal bike) than your way.

Gary Keene said...

A follow-up question then: you say you know many more who've gone from couplers to standard. I guess I am curious to know where you live (the market) and where the folks who've made the switch to std are riding. For several years I worked in a tandems-only bike shop with the largest volume sales for several manufacturers:pretty much anyone who had a tandem and had been touring and was looking to upgrade purchased a coupled bike.
Gary/ Pasadena

Piaw Na said...

I get e-mail from all over the country. Locally (San Francisco Bay Area), I know several folks who've gone from S&S coupled tandems to uncoupled tandem for their second tandem. The touring they do is mostly European or US centric. Major airports, etc. The folks involved seem pretty affluent (as you might expect from people who can afford $5000 bikes, which is what an S&S coupled tandem would run you). As a result, finding a direct flight and paying for it to a major European airport just isn't an issue.

And of course, trains in most of Europe (excepting the French) also happily take tandems, and many of these folks are very comfortable with trains, and so would rather do a longer journey on a train than a shorter one involving multiple hops with a bike.

I have no doubt that if you needed to fly into Macedonia, cycle through Africa and then hop onto a puddle jumper in Kenya to get into South Africa, an S&S coupled bike might be exactly what you need. Most people don't do such tours, however (though many aspire to and frequently overbuy as a result).

Gary Keene said...

Two strands here: first, cudos on the Hendaye to Med France trip; did you follow the Raid Pyrenees route and checkpoints?
Second, to wrap-up on the S&S coupler debate, I would suggest there is some degree of "we see what we are looking for" going on. It's your blog of course, but putting information out there obliges some degree of 'fessing up about one's biases: obviously there is a broad variety of experience out there about touring with and without couplers. And as I've stated, we've got abundant experience on both sides personally, as well as via connections in retail and the industry. To say unilaterally that couplers are "useless" is simply not true, and deters folks from seeking the honest information that would help them make their own decision specific to their interests and abilities. I guess I am against both absolutism ("couplers are useless") and extremism ("only nutbars aiming for Macedonia & beyond, with $5000 to drop on couplers" would find them useful.)Again, experience trumps hypothesis (or at least balances hyperbole): our travel has been limited to western and eastern Europe during the past 18 years, so we're not that far off the map; airports as "large" as Geneva, Graz, Warsaw and others have all been problematic with a full/uncoupled tandem. Second, statements like "tandems are welcome on trains (except France--"--true)is misleading, since we've encountered difficulties and prohibitions with increasing regularity across the continent. And as for expense, it is all relative; there's plenty of people who think it insane to ride a tandem much less pay for one. And what we've spent we've scrimped and saved for, because its a HUGE part of our life and pays big returns over time. "Overbuying" is applying your own values to someone else's decisions.
So I would humbly suggest that good advice to those perusing your rich and otherwise rewarding blog would be: question deeply what you want and how to get it, gather all the UNBIASED info available, and make your own decision about equipment, places, pace, etc. The main thing is Go Do It!
gary / pasadena

Piaw Na said...

No, as independent tourists we always have the option to do different cols from the Raid Pyrenees route. As unsupported tourists there was no easy way for us to make the time cut off, and the point of touring is to have fun anyway, so putting time restrictions into our ride didn't make sense.

It's ironic, but as we were having this discussion someone on my other S&S page just commented with his experiences about S&S, which were also largely negative. Also note that I point out the many places where an S&S coupled bike makes sense.

This is the internet --- my blog/page doesn't have to provide any "balanced" account, since a web search for "S&S couplers" invariably turns up S&S's page as the number one hit, and they have plenty of well-heeled and well-paid customers/testimonials. Providing balance to that page was one reason for me to write this article, and if it's caused a few people to spend more money on traveling instead of on S&S couplers, I have no regrets.

When I moved to Munich this time I also moved the tandem via Lufthansa. It was no problem at all. Real world experience traveling with the uncoupled bike has not been in congruence with the "you will damage/lose/destroy your bike without couplers" camp.

Gary Keene said...

OK, I'm getting a clearer picture, especially since you've been speaking to the issue of couplers for more than a year. Certainly no one solution answers every dilemma, and insofar as S&S appeared to be THE answer then I agree a more tempered approach is warrented. But what sparked my response was (again) the lack of a tempered/reasoned approach to the issue. Perhaps the initial response you received of "derision and scorn" contributed to that-- or maybe that's the climate of blogs = which may be why so much discourse these days is in the mode rant instead of reason. Biking is fun, healthy, green, etc. and we should be able keep that as the baseline to everything that follows. What supports that is allowing that differnet people have different interests, different talents, different tolerances. I can support your expressing your experience, your opinion and your assessment: but in the interest of a civil culture AND holding to that "it's mostly fun" baseline that would welcome others into greater cycling, then your input is best and most compelling when it makes its assertions without deriding others, especially their experience which is equally valid. And where it has gaps in logic, then those are open to naming and correction.
Finally and FWIW, one of the highlights of our tandem riding career was to become the first American tandemists to complete the "touriste" version of the Raid Pyrenees in 2005-- on a standard old Bilenky, no couplers. Your photos match our wonderful experience, which we commend to those with a love for grand vistas and high places. And good wine.
gary / pasadena

Piaw Na said...

I think we'll have to agree to disagree. I definitely am not saying S&S is unsuitable for all purposes, but I definitely express the opinion that they are all too frequently pushed. And clearly, given my high ranking within search results, others find that opinion useful.

biorider said...

I used the S&S couplers on our Santana Cabrio for car travel. Our 10’ + bike wouldn’t fit in our Toyota Previa minivan normally, but I could stuff the big bike inside by removing the wheels and popping the back section of the triple off. It took about 15 minutes with four couplers (and practice); reassembly took about the same amount of time. I carried my Park PCS-1 work stand in the van to facilitate disassembly and reassembly. This is an off-nominal use of the S&S couplers, and worked quite well.

As for the normal S&S use, we tried the ‘converted’ mode of our triple once, as a tandem, and it was bad enough that we never tried it again. Our uncoupled Burley was a lighter, much better handling tandem. We planned one trip with the triple, and I thought, after a long flight, of moving my cranky family and 75 lbs. of bike through CDG, and reconsidered.

Piaw Na said...

Yeah, if you have a triplet, you might not have a choice but to use S&S couplers to move it around in a car/van. For a normal tandem, though, you can just use a Honda Fit, pop off the front wheel, and you're done.

Jack said...

Thanks for the great discussion. I was thinking of spending $1,500 to $2,000 on a Surly Traveler's check or similar coupled bike but now I think I'll wait.

I am planning a 3 week trip to UK this spring.

After considering the cost of a bike, and the hassel of shipping or even renting a bike I think I've come up with a better idea.

I'm just going to look on gumtree.com or Craigslist and buy a bike for $100 - $200. When I'm ready to go home I'll just give it away or donate it to charity.

For someone like me who isn't real picky about equipment and just wants a bike to knock around on for a couple of weeks this seems a lot simpler and probably cheaper too.

martin said...

Being mechanically skilled is required to enjoy a coupled bike. One point worth mentioning is that the taxis in europe are small. A full size bike box will not fit in a taxi let alone two of them. Also, foreign travel requires a lot of walking, whether from the baggage claim to a taxi stand, or from a train station to your hotel. I use the S&S soft bag which has shoulder straps. It is heavy, but I can walk a half mile and climb up onto a train with ease. When I rode the Raid Pyreneen (tourist 10 day version) I rolled up my soft bag and mailed it general delivery to Cerbere. No problem.

NONE said...

I am sorry but the criticisms of the coupled bikes is way over-stated, if not ridiculous.

You said about your friend with Ritchey Breakaway: " It took him more than an hour to assemble the bike! And more than 1.5 hours to take it apart at the airport."

As an owner of Ritchey Breakaway, the actual time should be closer to 10-20 minutes.

Yes, you do need some very minimal, basic mechanical competence (as in: can you take the wheel off the bike? Can you operate allen keys?).
For anyone who possesses those basic skills a COMPLETE disassembly of Ritchey breakaway bike, careful wrapping of all frame surfaces and components and then packing them into suitcase should take no more than 15 minutes. Assembly - about the same, if not quicker since no wrapping/packing is required, and unpacking/unwrapping takes 30 seconds each, saving more than 5 minutes.

People who know what they are doing can easily do it in under 10 minutes each.

Don't believe me? Just watch this youtube video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqFh9drpPLI

In fact it does not take any more time than preparing and packing regular, non-breakaway or non-S&S coupled bike.

I realize your blog post is from way back and very euro-based, but in US the charge for traveling with a bicycle ranges from $50 to $100 and above for one-way trip within the US. Driving with your bike is often not an option, considering the distances.

See for example here:
http://www.bicycling.com/bikes-gear/bikes-and-gear-features/fly-your-bike

Keeping in mind that some of the most bike-friendly, small companies like Frontier, are not really an option for 90%+ flights most people do.

And Foreign trips with full-frame bicycle will cost at least $100 in oversized airline fees, for each leg of the trip.

So you do need about 10 one-way trips (5 round trips) with Ritchey Breakaway to cover the cost of the frame, assuming it's a steel frame, available for about $1,100 with bag included. Of course the good bag for your full frame bike might cost $200-$500 as well, and with Ritchey you get an excellent additional bike (I highly recommend Cross version, which can double as Cyclocross/Touring bike, and can be a fairly fast road bike as well).

My current airline fee savings are $2,400 resulting from 33 one-way trips (16 round trips, one of which included three legs of travel), not even 2 years into owning my Ritchey.

If you want more information about my Ritchey travel experiences, see my tumblr, http://bikeaway.tumblr.com/


Piaw Na said...

I've done many many trips with my bikes on flights on overseas trip, and I've been charged precisely once over the last 18 years. I do not have a coupled bikes.

I have no doubt a practiced person can assemble/disassemble a bike in less time than my friend did. But I also have no doubt they can't beat me with my uncoupled bike and cardboard box, which is easily less than 5 minutes.

I don't fly often on domestic flights. It very well could be on domestic flights the savings would be higher. But for domestic destinations, UPS is very cheap ($25 or so), so I'd use that instead of flying with my bike.

Cross bikes make terrible touring bikes if you tour in the places I do. The high BB's make descents less interesting, and I don't consider them a good substitute for a real touring bike.

Unknown said...

Interesting argument and posts. I've flown internationally (I live in the UK) a half-dozen times with bikes, both in cardboard boxes and broken down in a bike "pod" case.

I have been considering a frame (single) with couplers simply for the more compact size it breaks down to. I'm not particularly concerned with how fast the bike goes together, but I estimate 30 minutes from a cardboard box (opening, unwrapping, bars and pedals) to about 45 minutes from the "pod" (Handlebars off the stem, derailleur removed, wheels).

Considering the pod packing is overdone (extra bits to preclude crushing) it's still pretty straightforward. The issue is getting the bike to the airport - a bike box is not a small item.

Airlines are becoming more and more mercenary about luggage in general - let alone oversized luggage, so I don't see the harm in a smaller package. Nor do I see an issue with the S&S couplers inherently. How long can they add to assembly? Ten minutes? Insignificant even if you are riding away from the airport (oh that would be fun at Heathrow or JFK).

But, in truth, the simplest way is to get a bike box from a bike shop (often free), pack it up to the weight limit (now about 23 kg - 50 lb), close the top with zip ties through holes (so the TSA can have a look) and recycle the box upon arrival (if necessary). Then find a bike shop and a box on the way back. It's surprisingly easy to drag a bike box through an airport.

Don't forget you can often rent very nice bikes at a good price, too.

Piaw Na said...

You spend too much time putting it in a cardboard box if you're taking the bars off too. I don't, and have never needed to. In a pod, I don't bother with the derailleur.

You should try couplers and see. The reason why it takes much more time than 20 minutes is because to get the size down, you have to disassemble nearly everything. BB, cranks, cables, derailleur. That's to get it into the one suitcase.

It's incredibly time consuming.

NONE said...

Piaw - what countries do you fly to that allow you to check in a very large (90-100 linear inches? And you don't need to take off handlebars or pedals?!) cardboard box for free? I am very surprised by this as this is not the experience of most people I know, for both domestic AND overseas trips from/to US.

I am willing to bet most flights originating in US and/or going to US are likely to charge you the oversized fee AND bicycle fee on top of it, since it is quite obvious from the cardboard shape and dimensions that you are transporting a bike. Some people report using soft-sided bag, like this:
http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2011/02/how-i-travel-with-my-bike.html
to avoid the fees, but I would have guessed cardboard box will get a lot more questions at luggage check-in, definitely if originating flight is from US.

Bottom bracket drop on my Ritchey Breakaway is 65mm, not very different from regular road geometry at 70mm - it descends and handes just great, I never even considered this is a serious issue, I ride it often on fast group rides etc., but it also gives a LOT more versatility if one wants to explore dirt or roads. More importantly, larger tire clearance helps a lot. I bet you most riders won't even notice a difference between Ritchey Breakaway cross and typical road geometry. It rides very similarly.

Shipping the bike-sized box via mail has several disadvantages - it adds cost (at least in US it is currently way more like $50+ for shipping one-way, coast-to-coast, similar to the airport fees for oversized bag). For example, FedEx lowest quote (https://www.fedex.com/ratefinder/standalone?) is $74 for 53"x29"x8" box, with zero declared value (more if you want to declare it). USPS lowest rate is $108.23. http://postcalc.usps.com/
The best rate is through Shipbikes, and is around $65 one way: http://www.shipbikes.com/HowMuch.aspx
The time for "cheapest" rate is 5-6 days of shipping, which means you don't have the bike in the meantime, have to plan ahead (call hotels or friends to warn them to expect a package) and someone has to sign off to receive it on the other end.

For most people shipping is not a viable option, or at least has as many if not more downsides as paying the exorbitant airline fees and take the box with you as luggage.

S&S or better yet Ritchey Breakaway provides much more practical and in the long run much more economical solution with very few, rather minimal downsides (packing time, up-front cost of ~$1,100 for frame+bag).

I really don't care too much about protecting my "$10,000" bike, so #4 in your original post is wildly off-mark. My Ritchey is a tool and it gets scratched up as it gets used, no big deal. The problem with cardboard is not the protection, it's the accumulated cost in the long run, since I am convinced almost all US carriers will charge at least $50-$100 per one way trip. Having made about 40 such trips with my bike just over the past two years (most domestically, a few international), the math is very simple, and is in favor of Ritchey Breakaway (or S&S bike).

Piaw Na said...

If fly to Switzerland and Germany. United now accepts bikes as a piece of luggage, and AirBerlin will happily take a bike for free if you join their premiere service (which is about 85 EUR), and fly you as often as you like.

I've similarly found other deals.

Your BB drop is 65mm. Mine is 80mm. I'd notice the 15mm difference. Not only that, but my friend with a Ritchey found his bike shimmy'd down the Swiss alps, an unpleasant experience. He's since given up on it. I have no idea whether it's because he was too light (130 pounds), or whether the bike's geometry was just wrong.

My 80mm drop bike has no problems on and off road, and has clearance for 32mm tires. I don't go for typical road geometries and consider them poor rides anyway.

In any case, I'm very happy with my current frame and won't trade it for any other solution at the moment.

Unknown said...

This continues to be interesting. I've flown British Airways (London to USA) both with bikes in boxes and broken down in a pod and not been charged extra, except that if you fly the cheapest fares, you only get one item of hold luggage. It is possible to pack other stuff inside with the bike up to the 23 kg limit, but more likely you would pay the second bag fee (about £30/$50 in 2013).

If the previous commenter with the Ritchey is subscribed, it might be relevant if it is the steel or titanium model of and which geometry. (I think they do both road and cyclocross?)

Piaw Na said...

The Ritchey was the steel road model. Not cyclocross.

Even $50/flight is cheap compared to the cost of couplers.

Morgan Venable said...

I travel with a bike to Asia with some frequency, and am often charged between $150 and $200 for each leg. I'm even gold on United. They charge me without fail when departing Japan, and rarely at SFO.
Obviously there is more leeway when you fly Business or First, too (thanks, job).

That's for a non-coupled, boxed or bagged 26" single. Same deal with a rinko bag for Japan (which I still prefer because I can just carry the bag and it's like a $90 ~10-use consumable). United's policy is quite clear and does not agree with your statement about Germany and Switzerland. I wish it did, I'd be richer.

Their policy specifically allows bikes in cases under 50lbs AND <= 62 linear inches, which is a stretch even for a coupled bike with 700c wheels.

Here it is in full:


Bicycles
United accepts non-motorized bicycles with single or double seats (including tandem) or up to two non-motorized bicycles packed in one case as checked baggage. If the bicycle(s) are packed in a container that is over 50 pounds (23kg) and/or 62 (158 cm) total linear inches (L + W + H), a $100 service charge applies each way for travel between the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and a $200 service charge applies each way for all other travel. If the bicycle(s) are packed in a container that is less than 50 pounds (23kg) and 62 (158 cm) total linear inches (L + W + H), there is no bicycle service charge, but, if applicable, the first or second checked baggage service charge applies.

If the bicycle(s) are packed in a container that is less than 50 pounds (23kg) and 62 (158 cm) total linear inches (L + W + H), there is no bicycle service charge, but, if applicable, the first or second checked baggage service charge applies.

The following are bicycle restrictions:

Handlebars must be fixed sideways and pedals removed, or
All loose items must be enclosed in plastic foam or similar protective material, or
Bicycle should be transported in a sealed box. If a box is needed, see the Courtesy Bags section of this site.
If your itinerary includes a United Express flight, please contact United for information regarding aircraft cargo hold limits
United is not liable for damage to bicycles that do not have the handlebars fixed sideways and pedals removed, handlebars and pedals encased in plastic foam or similar material, or bicycles not contained in a cardboard containers or hard-sided cases.
Note: Bicycles will not be accepted during an excess baggage embargo when no excess baggage is allowed.

Piaw Na said...

4 of us flew to Japan in 2009 for a tour of Hokkaido. I was charged an overweight fee on the way there (because I exceeded the stated weight limit), and nobody else was charged anything in their cardboard boxes with their non-coupled bikes.

I was not charged on the way home either.

The secret? We flew ANA. You do have to do your homework.

Morgan Venable said...

That's a happy anecdote, though it's not ANA policy -- but I'm headed to Tokyo via United on Monday, and my GF is on an ANA flight, so maybe we'll both get lucky :P

Was that Hokkaido trip with a tandem?

Domestic handling of bikes in Japan was awesome -- my MB-4 in a rinko bag got the full white-glove treatement at Hokkaido airport way back in 2008.

Still, United is definitely *not*, as you suggested, allowing >62"linear bikes for free (by policy anyway) to Europe, even if enforcement is pretty arbitrary.

I'm not sure what "homework" one can do other than reading the policies and looking at anecdotes on enforcement... and if the policy says it's $150, you're not going to have much recourse.

For me, it's resulted in spending some money over the years. I still don't have a coupled bike, but that's mostly cuz I use a rinko bag that doubles as a flight bag, so I can fly in and out of different places without finding a bike shop/box.

Two other noteworthy strategies:
1) Wheels and frame as separates... can actually get you to two regular bag sizes. But more hassle and more likely to get beat up.

2) Departing from a regional airport where people don't know or care about policy. I bet if you check in at Hokkaido and transit through Narita without picking up bags, you might get away with whatever domestic leeway there is.

Personally, I just pay the $50-$200 when I have to. Better than riding a shitty rental or dealing with the hassle of buying and selling while there.

I definitely agree that $50 each way is still cheap. I have no problem paying extra for my bike to fly. It's big and a hassle to move around, so i can only imagine what it would be like to have, say, fifty people try to check bikes on one flight...

Anyway, yay bikes!

Piaw Na said...

The trip to Hokkaido (documented on this blog) was on singles. We got our bikes inspected at Narita, and the ANA policy was to accept bikes. They triple-checked the regulations before letting us fly on to Sapporo.

I checked the policies by calling and getting my calls documented.