The following article provides instructions and tips on packing a bike for travel on planes and trains.
I spotted this on Burnside/SW 16th Ave., Portland during a recent visit to the Emerald City. What used to be a nice looking road bike has been reduced to a sad looking frame with strong lock still protecting it. The moral of this sad tale, is not to leave your bike even when locked in a public place, overnight or for extended periods.
Even more brazen, some thieves will saw through a standard issue bike rack, like the one on the left used by the city of Portland. There are about 6,000 of these racks in the city costing about $80 each. Typically, the city experiences about two of these type of thefts a year. They usually occur at night or early morning hours since the operation would call attention to the thief who would be operating a battery operated saw.
Bike parts can easily be worth hundreds of dollars and are dishearteningly easy to steal. The parts are easy to sell on bulletin boards and places like Craigslist.. While frames can be tracked, handlebars, saddles and even cranks are usually impossible to trace. Thieves can strip a bike of most its components using Allen keys in the space of just a few minutes. Components attached with quick releases, such as tires and bike seats, can go missing even quicker. Using cables to tie components to the frame do not work well since they can be cut relatively easily. They will deter the casual opportunistic thief. To help combat bike component theft, Atomic22, a British startup, manufactures a variety of component fasteners that are virtually impossible to unlock without a special tool.
To avoid having your bike stripped, or stolen, if at all possible, do not leave it unattended for a long period of time in a public place. It is best to lock it up inside a shed, garage or store. During my West Coast bike tour when I went inside a store to shop, I asked for permission to lock up the bike inside the store. This is preferable in big box stores. In smaller stores, lock up the bike near a window so you can keep an eye on it while shopping.
For additional comments on bike touring security, read my recent post here.
No other city in North America has more cyclists per capita than Portland. Cafes have special seating and bike racks for riders. Dedicated bike streets are marked in green as pathways for cyclists. Rain or shine, in Portland one does not need a car to get around, as there are 319 miles of bikeways. Six percent of commuters go by bike. This is the highest percentage of bike commuters for a large American city and means more than 17,000 workers in Portland choose to bicycle. Nationally, 0.5% of commuters bicycle. If you are interested in stats, you can read about them from the Portland Bureau of Transportation. There some business, such as Courier Coffee in the downtown area, which are so bike radical that they transport all their roasted beans from their roastery on the other side of town by bike.
Bike riding in Portland is not only a green addiction but also a cause for celebration. "The Worst Day of the Year Ride" is a 17-miler which brings out 4,000 riders out into the gray gloom each February, to celebrate misery and self-flagellation. The route ends, of course, at a brewpub (about 50 of them dispersed throughout Portland proper). And don't forget the 9,000 rider "Naked Bike Ride" day in June through downtown if you are true Portlandia nudista.
After a visit to the green city, which lives and dies by the F.L.O.S.S. philosophy (Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal, Sustainable), you will understand that the city is on the vanguard of commuter biking. It does not matter that the sky is a brooding gray with a constant gentle mist of rain from May through October. It can be so cold that your gloves will almost freeze on the handlebar. You are in a city of bike and "Go Green" zealots. Don't get in the way, go with the flow.
Whether touring or just out on a casual day ride, watch out when traveling on a lane with parked cars on the right. Some drivers may swing open the driver's side door without looking first, thus creating a potential collision with the car door. This could be along side streets or beach areas where cars park on side of road. Depending on the city and specific riding environment, about three to eight percent of bike accidents are due to collisions car doors.
If a bike rider is traveling in the right lane or bike land alongside parked cars, who is legally responsible when car door-bike collision occurs?
Most areas have laws that require car users to check for bicyclists before opening the door of their vehicle, but there have been serious injuries and deaths caused by drivers illegally opening their doors in the path of a passing cyclist where this is prohibited by law.
Many areas have laws allowing cyclists to ride in the door zone, meaning they may expose themselves to danger in order to keep out of the way of motorized traffic. These laws typically have exceptions; avoiding hazards, such as an open door, is sometimes among them.
The so-called "door zone" is the space in which a cyclist is in danger of getting hit by a car door. It varies depending upon the model of car one is riding by. It can be almost zero when riding by a vehicle with gull-wing doors or much larger if one is riding by a truck.
Some local ordinances spell it out clearly. For example, in my hometown of Bellingham, Wash., the law for this is spelled out in RCW 46.61.620:
"Opening and closing vehicle doors - No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side adjacent to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle adjacent to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers."
Things get a bit murky sometimes as laws in some jurisdictions indicate to ride as far to the right as possible in a safe mode. One is sharing the road with other passing cars and trying to avoid opening car doors at the same time can be in conflict.
I would recommend to always ride with a mental red flag that a parked car door could swing open at any time. I try to look if I can see anyone in the driver's seat as I approach. If there is, I assume that the drive may not be aware of my approach and I proceed cautiously. Riding at full speed alongside parked cars is not a good idea. Most of the time, all will be well, but every now and then, there is a painful exception...If there is a bike lane outside the door zone, it is safer situation. During my West Coast tour I only encountered the parked car door opening issue in bigger cities, especially in Southern California. Another problem area is along roads which beach access where cars often pull over and park on the side of the road. This is where I encountered my only close call where a beach goer parked mostly off the road and swung open the door in as I was approaching. Fortunately, I had slowed down in this area and was able to avoid the collision.
One of the biggest issues when solo touring is leaving the bike and gear outside a store while going in for necessary shopping since there is no one available to look after the bike. There is no obvious foolproof solution to this dilemma but I have a few suggestions:
Bike security is a bigger issue in larger metropolitan areas and not as critical in smaller cities and towns. A golden rule is to never leave your bike locked up outside overnight in a big city.
I never had any issues at the biker/hiker camps in state campgrounds or at private camping areas. Often I left the panniers on the bike overnight with the bike locked. I locked the rear wheel/frame to a tree or post when available ... otherwise the bike was locked free standing on its kickstand near the tent. I heard that some people like the bike to the tent poles with the bike lying on its side (without panniers).
At the few motels I stayed in, I took the bike inside the room. In most hostels, there is a secure bike storage area or room where one can leave the bike without the panniers. Note that in most hostels you will have to leave the tent and sleeping bag on the bike. They don't want these items in the room to prevent bug issues.
While I do not carry a U-lock on tours due to the weight, the following video shows how to secure a bike with locks for maximum security. This is most important if leaving for the bike for several hours or more unattended. On a tour, I would not leave the bike unattended for a long time or overnight.
Remember that there is no single lock that will protect your bike in all situations. Using multiple locks, including a U-lock will help in urban environments but will not prevent theft in all cases. The idea is to make it more difficult and time consuming for a bike thief to steal the bike.
Once the bike tour is completed, the rider is faced with the task of finding the most practical and economical way to get the bike back to his or her home port. This is assuming the rider is not pedaling back home.
There are four options to transport bikes home after the tour:
1) Partially disassemble bike, pack in a bike box, and ship via UPS or FEDEX ground
This is a practical solution where a local bike shop does the disassembly, packing and shipping. The touring biker rides the bike to the chosen bike shop and drops it off. The biker should do a bit of research on nearby bike shops to get an idea on costs charged by the shop to pack and ship. The prices can vary greatly, so getting estimates from the bike shop are in order. Recommendations from others or online reviews such as from Yelp.com may be helpful.
From, my experience, FEDEX provides the best ground shipping rates. But both FEDEX and UPS have online calculators, so check it for your particular situation (shipping distance, weight, box size).
There is an adder for over-sized bike boxes. Try to keep the girth of the box less than 130 inches for the best prices. The girth is the total of the length plus the distance around the width and height. A box 50" long by 26" high by 10" deep would have a girth of 50+(2*26)+(2*10) = 122" and would be less than the 130" limit. Boxes bigger than the 130 inch girth will cost significantly more to ship.
2) Partially disassemble bike, pack in a bike box, and check in as baggage with airline
Taking a bike home in packed in a bike box and checking it in as normal luggage may be the cheapest solution if the weight is less than 50lbs. but perhaps not the most convenient. Alaska Airlines, for example, charges $20.00 if under 50 lbs. for domestic travel for regular passengers (possibly free with mileage program members). However, there is a logistical and inconvenience factor in lugging a big bike box to the airport, such as the need for special taxis which can handle oversized luggage, or the need for transport assistance in carrying the box to the airline check-in counter.
For international travelers, however, this approach may be the most viable and practical option.
Again having a bike shop do the disassemnly and packing is a practical solution. The same comments apply as in case (1) regarding finding a good bike shop.
3) Take on AMTRAK, if returning by train
If traveling home by train, Amtrak offers several options for transporting the bike. In most cases, the bike will be checked in as luggage for $10.00. The bike must be in a box (yours or Amtrack will supply a box for $15.00). Bicycles must be partially disassembled in order to fit in an Amtrak bicycle box. Loosen and turn the handlebars sideways, and remove the pedals. Amtrak does not supply tools for disassembling. I would have a bike shop use a special tool to loosen the pedal nuts (usually they are very tight) and use a simple wrench to remove the pedals when packing the bike at the train station using a purchased bike box. Bicycles may be checked on Amtrak between all cities where checked baggage is offered but not all trains or locations are equipped to handle checked baggage.
Full-size bicycles may be carried on certain trains with designated "walk-on bicycle service." Bicycles must be stowed in the designated space within the body of the car. Passengers utilizing the walk-on bicycle service, where bikes are carried on select trains by the passenger and stored in designated areas, must be able to fully handle their bicycle, and be able to lift their bicycle to shoulder height. Passengers are responsible for stowage and security of bicycles. This option is usually available on shorter distances.
Amtrak fares may cost more than discounted airline fares and take significantly longer. However, for shorter or even moderate distances, I like the Amtrak option because you can ride to the Amtrak station, buy a ticket, put the bike in an Amtrak box (or just hang it up fully assembled where walk-on service is available), and enjoy the train ride.
Check for details with Amtrak and if there is a nearby station.
4) Rent a car
A one-way car rental to return home has the advantage of transporting you and the bike home at the same time with the most flexibility. Only minor bike disassembly is required (wheels off, twist handlebar). This option is a very good option for shorter or moderate distances.
This is the last regular post on the Blog until October 7, 2013. The West Coast tour will be documented on the Trip Journal page.
At Lettered Streets Coffeehouse, Bellingham, Washington. This my last test ride before departure on tour on Sunday. My favorite espresso stop because the baristas really know how to make great lattes. You cannot have latte art as shown in the pic without having perfectly micro-foamed the milk.
The most often asked question I get regarding the tour is shown below along with the answer I give.
Q. Who are you going with?
A. I am going with ME and MYSELF. ME is very complicated. MYSELF is much easier to get along with...always agrees with me, never complains, not necessary to feed him, and enjoys riding with me.
At the end of a day's ride, I will reserve one of the bottle cages for a Tecate or a Sapporo.
(click on picture for large size)
Steve Szirom is a semi-retired hi-tech executive who is seeking new adventures and challenges to broaden his horizons.
A Bike Journey
Adventure Cycling Association
Bicycle Touring Pro
Crazy Guy On a Bike
Down the Road
Save It For The Day
Survival Bicycle Touring