The bike portion of triathlon is unique because it involves the most mechanics and supportive systems. An athlete can swim and run naked, but round balls and boobs don’t count as wheels when it’s time to ride (a bike, that is). It is the fastest and most complex mechanical portion of the triathlon, and by extension, the most dangerous. A mechanical error at 30 mph can result in serious injury, even death. Now take this complex machine upon which the athlete depends bodily, take it apart, transport it hundreds or thousands of miles to a foreign city, reassemble the machine, and then attempt to achieve a personal best time on the thing. Good luck with that.
I’ve never traveled with a bike, I’m not very competent mechanically, and I’m still new to multisport. Which means when it came time to transport my bike to Boise I totally freaked out. I called around some tri shops and found a bike box rental for $100. Scott at Triathlete Zombies was also willing to show me how to pack the bike for transport so I could repeat the process on the way home.
Packing the bike involves almost a complete disassembly of the critical parts of the bike and strapping them in to a case that will be thrown by baggage handlers merely out of spite for being a large, heavy object. Here is my process for my bike:
Step 1: Remove pedals. I needed to buy a pedal wrench for this because I couldn’t remember if I had one at home. ($20. Ka-ching!)
Step 2: Removed the seat post assembly (everything attached to the seat, including beverage holders, equipment bag, and seat remained connected to the seat post assembly).
Step 3: remove both wheels from frame and remove spindles from inside wheels. Place inside plastic bag with pedals.
Step 4: unscrew stem cap, remove bike computer. Remove entire handlebar assembly, reattach stem cap loosely to prevent losing the 3 spacer washers set during bike fit. There is a possibility that the forks will drop out during travel, but keeping the stem cap screwed in will hopefully prevent losing any internal pieces. Like ball bearings.
Step 5: zip tie bike chain to rear seat stay to pull rear derailleur up and inside so bike frame will fit inside bike case. Remove forearm rests from aero bars so case will actually close. Put inside ziplock bag with bike computer, place inside larger bag with pedals and wheel spindles.
Step 6: Place bike frame into bike case, laying handlebars/aero bars as flat as possible without tensioning the brake and derailleur cabling when TSA gorillas tear box open to sniff for bananas.
Step 7: Secure bike frame to case with internal straps so that frame is firmly suspended to top of case and cranks do not touch bottom or bang around. Zip ties and internal straps for forks. If possible pack bike pump securely to bottom of case, strapped in so it doesn’t destroy the other precious cargo.
Step 8: lay down padding, deflate wheels and strap to opposite side of bike case.
Step 9: close box. Ponder cruelty of world to precious things.
Now that the bike was packed it seemed a simple matter of transporting it to the airport. That meant finding a shuttle that could accommodate the large box. We found one for $36, and we live 20 minutes from LAX. Ka-ching!
I flew Delta, but on an ExpressJet plane. The check-in clerk looked at the box and said it would not fit on the ExpressJet plane. I’d have to take a later flight on a Delta plane getting in to Boise at 10pm instead of my planned 2pm. I begged her to check with the baggage handler chief. He came over and said he would manually re-route the bike so I could take the earlier flight and then come back and pick up the bike which would be sent on the later flight. I agreed – I had no choice – and then she charged me $170 for the oversized box and the weight – 59.5lbs. Ka-ching!
My flight to Boise was easy, as domestic air travel goes, and I was thrilled to find my bike box waiting for me at the baggage claim. It made it! I opened it up and found my bike was intact. Hooray!
Given what I have said before about not being mechanically inclined, it fell to me to reassemble my bike that I would be relying upon heavily in my race. It was with no small amount of terror that I put The Butcher back together in my friend’s driveway as his 5 year old and 2 year old watched asking, “is it a bike yet? Is it a bike yet?”
Bike reassembly went smoothly, reversing the instructions above. Nerve wracking was putting the handlebar assembly back together, ensuring that the aero bars lined up straight down to the front wheel, and not tightening the two clamps on the stem too tightly. Carbon fiber cracks under too much pressure and I’ve been known in the past to Conan bolts until they pop. Scott said anywhere from 6lbs to 9lbs of pressure only, using one hand and not overcranking. Without a torque wrench (and not knowing how to use one) I did my best. The test ride around the block did not result in death of rider (or “negative outcome” as surgeons like to say), and that was that. The bike performed flawlessly on the course, though this rider was passed by a lot of very nice French and Italian hardware.
Coming back home we had a very nice check-in clerk who informed us that the LAX clerk had undercharged me for the oversized, overweight box. It should have been $230! She charged me $170, the same as my inbound. Which means my total charges for rental and transport, when factoring proper cost, would have been $560.
Compare this to the late-announced bike transportation service which offered the option of dropping off the bike at a shop, who would then drive the bike to the race, ensure it was assembled and in good working order by a bike mechanic, and would be waiting for me at T1 on race morning. After the race they would FedEx the bike back via ground. Cost? $225. FedEx charge unknown.
Lesson: next time I’m using the bike service. It will cost the same (maybe less) and I’ll lose the worry of my own mechanical ineptitude affecting my race. More concretely, I’ll gain back the hours spent assembling the bike and moving it around town. It’s sad that the title sponsor for many Ironman events is Ford, an auto maker whose name has been mocked in acronym as “Failed On Race Day”. The last thing I want going through my head in the middle of the race is doubting my mechanical ability just as I’m trying to pass a grandmother under the 20 second USAT penalty limit.