With the boom in road cycling showing no signs of abating and ever more demanding challenges being proffered on an almost daily basis, it is not surprising that many of us are looking further afield to satisfy our cravings and passion. So whether it is a training camp in Murcia or a sportive in Queensland, a road trip in the USA or following the pro peloton at the Tour of Langkawi, transporting your cherished steed safely and securely is a prerequisite of any cycling trip abroad.
Anyone who has nervously watched baggage handlers loading hold luggage into the belly of a plane will appreciate that 'sensitivity' and 'gentleness' are two words they would fathom to understand. Even if your bike makes it unscathed into the hold, boxes are routinely packed on top of one another, compressing those lower down the pecking order. You can hire bike boxes, but if you envisage multiple trips aboard then investing in a box that will provide both protection for your bike and peace of mind for you is vital.
Bike box design has to accommodate two competing demands: weight and robustness. Weight allowances vary from airline to airline so always check with your carrier (Easyjest and Ryanair currently have a bike box limit of 32kg and 30kg respectively), but the more robust a bike box, the more it is likely to weigh. Airlines will state that only a bike can be carried in the box, but packing around the bike is advisable, so the weight can quickly sneak up, but 30 kilos should easily cover even the heaviest of steel road bikes.
So, weight and strength are the overriding factors governing your choice of bike box. All boxes have a shelf life and some will take the knocks better than others, but other factors to bear in mind are the durability of the wheels and how fluidly they run, the positioning of the exterior handles to ease transportations, the locking systems and the provision of a suitable mechanism to fix a lock.
Packing and unpacking is also a major consideration. Some bike boxes will come with built in foam, but ensuring the bike does not move around the box is important so try to assess if there is adequate internal straps to secure the bike and the provision of additional compartments for stowing away smaller components like pedals and quick release levers.
If you are travelling with a large frame or time trial bike, then the internal dimensions are going to be an issue. In this case it would be advisable to check with the respective manufacturer, but there are specific models on the market that are designed to transport larger bikes, including those with integrated seat posts.
The Wheelsuckers' team recently road tested some of the most innovative designs on the market on a trip to Mallorca. We are pleased to report that all bikes made it safely and securely to the carousel at Palma Airport and back again, so here are our thoughts on the respective boxes, both their strengths and their flaws.
Thule RoundTrip Transition 100502
This is a beast! That said, it is a beast that is brilliant in its conception, which is what one would expect from the Swedish brand with an enviable reputation for providing high quality, well thought out transport solutions for bikes. Just as James Dyson completely re-invented the vacuum cleaner, Thule have done the same with the humble Bike Box. In fact, you could say they have thought outside the box! (One can almost imagine the Thule designers staring at a blank sheet of paper in the company's Malmö HQ and starting from scratch). What is immediately apparent is that the RoundTrip differs fundamentally from all other boxes on the market in that the whole top of the box lifts off - it is not hinged and the bike is simply lowered into the bottom section and the lid fastened on top. To ensure the bike stays firmly rooted to the base of the box, it is supported on a stand that is clipped (reassuringly firmly) into the internal floor.
This stand that supports the bike in transit is the really innovative USP of the RoundTrip, as it transforms into a work stand for reassembling. It's also a useful bike holder if you need to work on your bike whilst away (or at home for that matter!). The three long, sturdy aluminium legs pack neatly into the base of the box and assembly, once you have arrived, is quick and straightforward. With the bike fixed onto the stand it is very solid and sturdy and so long as the bike is well balanced, there is no danger that it will tip over.
There is no escaping the fact that this is a bulky box - even the taxi driver who met us at Palma airport muttered an Iberian expletive under his breath as he hoisted it onto the trailer (and he must see a fair few different boxes on a daily basis!). Whilst is waltzed through Gatwick, it failed to fit in the standard luggage weighing and scanning machine at Palma airport when we departed the island, which necessitated a detour to the machine for oversized luggage! Despite its size, it has a relatively low centre of gravity and though on the heavy side, the wheels run very smoothly and the box is reasonably easy to manoeuvre and transport, thanks to three handles that offer good grip. The 'ABS Construction' shell is hard enough to take the knocks and though it showed signs of a few scrapes, the bike was thankfully held rigidly in place and there was no damage to any of the contents.
I mentioned the weight above and this is something worth flagging. My bike weights in at 8 kilos and I packed in a lot of stuff around the box - bidons crammed with energy bars, my helmet, a few tools and a track pump and it hit the scales at a shade over 30kg - just under the Easyjet limit, but I would have been sweating if I'd been flying Ryanair!
Instructions for packing the bike were minimal and a little hard to decipher, which was a little annoying given the unique design, but after a bit of head-scratching it all came together logically. Does one need to add packing around the bike to avoid potential impact damage? Well, the information on the Thule website is a little ambiguous, though I did add some bubble wrap and pipe insulator to the more vulnerable parts of the frame. I was chatting to a couple of guys in my LBS and they had a RoundTrip on display - they both advocated additional packing, though the Thule rep had not specified that this was a requirement.
The width and robustness of the box, combined with the fact that the frame is held rigidly in place, plus the provision of two nylon wheel bags (that sit comfortably either side of the frame) was enough to convince me that I would not get any nasty surprises when I peered into the box on reaching my hotel. Sure enough, the bike was sitting there as I had packed it in my kitchen and the stand, once assembled, garnered a lot of interest and positive comments from fellow cyclists.
If I have any niggles, then the external fastenings are a little clumsy, though secure once ratcheted down tightly. The provision for a padlock could be a little more substantial and the handle for pulling the box is a little tight - my knuckles rubbed uncomfortably on the shell.
These are minor quibbles though, as the Thule RoundTrip is an innovative design that will transport your bike safely, simple to pack and well constructed. Thule have to be applauded for the integrated work stand - it's a clever attribute that works brilliantly. Furthermore, the 5 year warranty suggests that Thule are confident their box will endure the roughest treatment metered out to hold luggage.
Dimensions: 137 x 94 x 39cm (length x height x width)
The RoundTrip Transition is available to buy online from Evans Cycles. For more details on the RoundTrip visit the Thule website and this video gives a good idea of how the box and integrated stand operate.
This box has continually won awards since coming on the market a little under ten years ago and with the likes Laura Trott (below), Team Sky rider Ben Swift, Sarah Storey and the Brownlee brothers all fans of the ubiquitous brightly coloured boxes, it is no surprise that I was not alone in pulling one off the carousel in Palma! In fact, nearly the whole BikeBoxAlan team was present - red boxes, green, black and blue and even a bright pink model!
Boxes of many colours: this was heading to a (patriotic) Dutch customer!
But firstly, let me share my one quibble having used BikeBoxAlan, though admittedly it is only a small one. The instructions on how to pack your bike were a little bit minimal, but having said that, once you've worked it out, it's a doddle. It took me an hour the first time, and twenty minutes the second. There you go, quibble over (and if I'd watched the informative video guide on the BikeBoxAlan website, then I would have saved myself a lot of head scratching!).
So, what makes the BikeBoxAlan quite so good? The box is relatively small, but feels very strong and robust. Alan Hamshaw, who invented and gave his name to the box, did his homework when working on the design. He spoke to airport baggage handlers in order to understand what happens to your bike box once it disappears from view at check-in. Boxes, he discovered, are routinely packed on top of one another, so compression is a constant danger and leaves the contents vulnerable to damage, especially over a prolonged period. His solution was simple, but highly effective: he inserted an anti-crush bar that slots into either side of the box, negating any danger of crushing. So confident is Alan of the robustness of the design that he even threw his own £3000 Colnago out of the back of a 4x4 - check out the video on the BikeBoxAlan website if you don't believe me!
It's not just the unique anti-crushing bar that has made BikeBoxAlan so popular. To succeed it still has to tick a lot of boxes and it passed all tests with ease. The bike is easy to pack (once you know what you are doing!) and there is no need for extra protection as foam sheeting is provided. There are plenty of velcro straps inside to secure your frame, track pump, helmet and saddle and the wheels are securely fitted in dedicated compartments.
Externally, the well placed integrated handle makes it very easy to manoeuvre and the wheels are tucked underneath and not too exposed, reducing risk of accidental damage. The exterior fixings are also well positioned and strong.
With a ten year guarantee, ample choice of colours and the option to customise your bike with your name and component stickers, it is really hard to fault BikeBoxAlan. All of this backed up with a friendly and efficient customer service. And did I forget to mention that Chris Froome has got one too?!!
Prices start at £415, stickers and bright colours will add to the cost!
Dimensions: 90 x80 x 30cm (external length x height x width):
To buy online and for more details, visit the informative BikeBoxAlan website.
Polaris Evo Pod Plus
A new addition to their stable of bike boxes, the Polaris Evo Pod Plus has been designed to snaffle the market in larger frame bikes - most obviously triathlon or time trial bikes with integrated seat posts. I initially removed the saddle on my 58cm Pinarello road bike, only to realise that the box would happily accommodate the saddle in situ!
The large interior measurements means that the is plenty of room inside for additional kit and the adjustable strap system ensures the bike stays where you want it to. The box comes with two wheel bags, though I thought them a little flimsy. The overall look is rather stylish I thought - the exterior lime green zip and straps are a nice touch and the heavily moulded Ethylene Vinyl Acetate shell (essentially a hard canvas), is visually striking and offers protection.
I do have a few issues with this box though. The wheels bags, as I mentioned, are a little insubstantial and the protector on one side is made of cardboard. This is not sufficient to protect your most important component and it wasn't abundantly clear in the instructions where the cassette was to be placed. There is a moulded piece on the outside of the box that looks like the cassette should sit within it but I assumed it was to face inward, and I had to wrap it separately to protect the bike frame which sits over the wheel in case of movement. There are signs on the board of the wheels being squeezed, this happens because the box is semi hard and moves when pushed.
Polaris have obviously targeted a specific bike market with this box, but this also creates its own unique set of problems. The box is very slim and for that reason it feels unstable when you are pulling it, though the wheels run well and the handles are well placed. The dimensions also make it difficult to transport in smaller vehicles and once at the airport, you will discover that Eva Pod Plus does not fit in all airport scanning machines. As with the Thule above, I had to take the long lonely walk to the oversized luggage counter!
All said, it did the trick and for the money I'd give it an 8 out of 10!
Dimensions external: 1160x90x240cm (length x height x width)
Dimensions internal: 1150x910x230
B&W Bike Box
Alongside BikeBoxAlan, this was definitely one of the most popular boxes being used by UK cyclists in Mallorca. This, I think we can be fairly sure, is because the B & W box is a great little box that is very, very competitively priced!
Price is one thing, but it has to deliver your bike in one piece and the evidence suggests that it does just that! The box is robust - the hard plastic (ABS) construction is tough, with a rigid aluminium frame and includes a double shell thickness corresponding to where the wheels lie within the box.
Packing the bike is very straightforward and the instructions are easy to follow - it took me about an hour to pack and unpack from start to finish. The space is confined, but provides a snug fit for my 58cm bike frame. Two padded wheel bags are provided, which allow the wheels to 'float' in the box quite safely. The bike frame straps firmly against the padded interior and can't move. With the bike nestled in, there is still loads of space to pack other items for extra protection - clothes, helmet etc
I've now used the box on a couple of overseas trips and though it is showing a few very minor signs of wear it has still retained the original shape perfectly and nothing has failed. Needless to say, my bike has remained in tip top condition throughout! Despite looking a lot less impressive or strong when compared with much more expensive boxes, it is clearly very tough! (Though I admit that it does appear a little more flimsy in comparison).
The box is easy to manoeuvre around airports and hotels and the two exterior handles are well placed. It is also slim and compact - far more so than some of the bikes boxes on test and that makes for easier storage when not in use! Another plus!!
My one gripe is that the locks are difficult to do up, though this actually reflects the way the case is closed. If the contents allow the lid to shut properly and the lines are right (best done on a flat surface like a hotel bedroom floor!), the locks align and close perfectly first time, every time. If they don't close, it means that the lid isn't aligned, which either means the case is warping out of line due toan uneven surface underneath or because the contents haven't been optimally packed. When the locks align and close properly, it's a good sign that you've got the packing right! (Those of you who have ever wrestled with a car roof box will know where I am coming from).
The box comes in a several colours, the blue is rather fetching, but if you want to make an impression then the lime green might float your boat! For the price tag, this is cracking little box and one that I wouldn't hesitate in recommending!
Dimensions: Exterior 1150 x 870x295
Interior 1080 x 800 x 250
Evoc Bike Travel Bag
If storage space is an issue for you , then this is definitely an option to consider. Again, a popular choice amongst cyclists if the 'Palma Airport Carousel Count' is anything to go by! It is also a very lightweight option too, which has to be a consideration when faced with the baggage weight allowances of some of the more miserly airlines
Surprisingly robust, thanks to the strategically placed PE boards on the base and removable fibreglass rods that protect your wheels, which not only provide added stability but can be removed so that the bad can be packed down to 135x38x30cm. Not bad for a bag that can easily accommodate a larger frame road bike.
It's a well thought out design with plenty of clever details - pockets for stowing away smaller components, two separate wheel compartments, plenty of straps and padding to secure your bike and the well placed handles make manoeuvring and lifting the bag very easy. Despite this not being a hardshell case, the bag offers plenty of protection, focused primarily on the more vulnerable areas, which will hopefully ensure your bike will travel in relative safety.
It's important to note that for a road bike you will need to buy the road bike adaptor that slips over your forks and provides your bike with better support once in position.
There are some funky colours available and the newest addition to the stable, the multi-coloured striped version (above), is particularly eye-catching!
Price: from £330 (and add £19.95 for the road bike adaptor)
Dimensions: 135 x 80 x 38 cm
Inside: 128 x 78 x 25 cm