Compact Bicycles for Air Travel Requirements

Whether for work or pleasure, air travel with a bicycle has never been an easy proposition even under the best of circumstances. We take a look at three innovative ‘travel’ bike designs that will help to avoid excess baggage fees and break down in 30-60 minutes. Most importantly, all perform like a ‘real’ bike and can easily serve as your main ride.

Whether for work or pleasure, air travel with a bicycle has never been an easy proposition even under the best of circumstances. These days, travelers are greeted at the airport by the TSA’s bureaucratic dog-and-pony show, long check-in lines, and exorbitant fees from airlines looking to gouge customers with any possible revenue source they can tap into. Baggage fees are now pushing $100 one-way on domestic routes and $200 for each segment on international flights. It’s almost enough to make the most ardent cyclist think twice about taking a bike on their next trip. Almost.

We take a look at three innovative ‘travel’ bike designs that will help to avoid excess baggage fees and break down in 30-60 minutes. Most importantly, all perform like a ‘real’ bike and can easily serve as your main ride.

Bike Friday – Pocket Rocket

Early in my days as a partner of Burley Design Cooperative, I found myself traveling extensively to a wide range of cycling events and festivals, usually with a bike in tow. The skies were still ‘friendly’ before 9/11 but boxing and transporting a bicycle always complicated my schedule. So I was intrigued when one of the innovative companies we collaborated with in Eugene, Oregon, Green Gear Cycling/Bike Friday, offered me the opportunity to put some miles on a compact 20” wheel bicycle they had in development. Green Gear Cycling’s Bike Friday ‘Pocket Rocket’ (the name inspired by Man Friday of Robinson Crusoe fame) fit into a stock Samsonite suitcase ($285), and looked like a normal piece of travel luggage.

Of all the travel bikes we looked at, the Pocket Rocket Pro had the best design for easy transport and packing. Bike Friday’s media guy, Matthew Corson-Finnerty, says the “Pocket Rocket Pro is going to pack much faster, with less disassembly, and less effort than (a) Co-Motion or Ritchey”. The frame comes with a lifetime warranty. Depending on options, an Ultegra-level build ranges from $3,500 to $4,000; and weighs 21-22 lbs approximately. If a non-conventional design and 20” wheels don’t appeal to you, we have two other great alternatives.

More than a decade later, after 100-plus business trips and over 25,000 road miles, I was sold on the concept of a ‘travel’ bike. Sure, I had to put up with comments about the looks of my compact ‘clown’ bike but it rode well enough that completing a double century wasn’t a problem.

Co-Motion – Espresso

In 1993, S & S Machine, an industrial machine shop located in Northern California, designed and produced a bicycle frame tube coupling mechanism that is now used by over 100 frame builders around the world. Counterintuitive as it might seem, ‘cutting’ a frame tube apart to install couplers actually increases the strength of the assembled frame. Co-Motion Cycles, a custom frame builder also located in Eugene, would design and build my next travel bike using this S & S coupler design, the Co-Motion “Espresso”.

After 40 trips and 30,000-plus miles on my coupled machine, I can attest to the design’s durability and strength. While you can fit everything (frame and wheels) into one of the special Co-Motion cycle bags ($395), I purchased two so I could substantially reduce the amount of packing time: one case for the frame and the other for the wheels. Other than separating the frame, no other major disassembly (like the handlebars, crank, pedals, etc.) is required with this two bag method. I use the rest of my travel gear, like clothing packed in plastic bags, to ‘fill out’ both cases – which helps to not only pad everything but keeps gear from sliding around (not a bad idea, actually, with any of the cases).

You can purchase an S&S padding kit ($89) which I did initially; but, after many years of experimentation, I opted to just cut up old comforters into several squares matching the inside luggage dimensions; in effect, making a padded ‘sandwich’ of the frame and wheels. Everything stays protected and the tedious process of installing various pieces of frame foam padding is eliminated. With any of these travel designs, you’ll find your own shortcuts for making packing a relatively easy task. Consider purchasing an inexpensive, compact hand scale (check Amazon) for your travels – the airlines have become real sticklers for the 50 lb limit with each piece of luggage.

A Co-Motion “Espresso” with Reynolds 853 steel tubing and an ENVE carbon 2.0 fork starts at a base rate of $1,895; with the S&S coupler option adding $700-800. A full Ultegra-level build will set you back around $6,000 (again, depending on options), and hit the scales at around 21-22 lbs. According to Co-Motion, this would be a great frame for those looking for a “perfectly balanced, classic road-racing machine that couples the unmatched ride quality of steel with the ultimate in lightweight design”. S&S couplers are an option for almost any bike they manufacture.

Ritchey – Break-Away

Many cyclists might be leery of riding a bike called the ‘Break-Away’ but the name is an apt description of Ritchey Bicycle Component’s concept of a versatile travel bike. Ritchey’s marketing manager Fergus Tanaka, however, is quick to point out that “I don’t refer to our Break-Aways as travel bikes, per se, but bikes that travel”. A patented locking compression system, which enables the frame to be split apart, adds only 100 grams and doesn’t require any special tools to assemble (like the custom S&S spanner required on the Co-Motion). The Break-Away steel frameset (5.2 lbs for 56cm) comes with a Pro Carbon fork and headset; case, padding, cable disconnects and couplers are all included in the $1,499.95 suggested price. You should be able to keep the full bike with an Ultegra build under $3,500. As for the ride, Tanaka just completed a tour of Nicaragua on a Break-Away, while many of their customers buy the bike as their main ride.

Be forewarned that the Ritchey case is slightly over most airline dimension standards but Tanaka says he hasn’t ever been charged for his case at the airport. If you want to avoid any potential hassles, several of their retail shops will switch out the stock case (for a slight upcharge) to a hard shell S&S case which does meet the airline’s requirements.

Check out each company’s website for a more detailed look at how everything comes together (or apart). Bottom line, any of these bikes will be more than adequate for your next adventure – not only being air-friendly, as well as performance-ready for the serious enthusiast.

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