Originally posted on 14 October but updated with photos on 27 October after my trip to Seoul.
Phil Moore from Canada recently asked me about taking his Brompton on planes so I thought I’d do an update on the information in my earlier post from 2003.
Fresh off a 14 hour trip with two transfers this lot looked in better shape than I felt
First there has been a lot said about this topic on the Bromptontalk forum on Yahoo Groups so it’s worth reading the diverse opinions there. Unfortunately the forum does not have very good search.
Second I have a summary of my approach on my original post after my trip to Japan in 2003
Although this is quite old now the approach has not changed much. I now have a Carradice bag.
In that article I talked about packing the bike up by the check-in desks at Heathrow, recently a member of Bromptontalk had problems with the check-in clerk on a Southwest Airlines flight in the USA. The clerk saw him packing the Brompton and wanted to charge him the very punitive extra charge applied to full-sized bikes, luckily he managed to get out the regulations and prove that the charge was not justified but, especially in the USA, it’s probably simplest to pack the bike away from the checkin desks, I usually do it on the train going to the airport if it’s a direct service and the journey not too short.
I’ve tended to reduce the amount of work I do on protecting the bike although I still attach some small lengths of pipe insulation at strategic places, on the trip out to Seoul for the first time I didn’t pad the bike at all and there was some definite damage to the carradice bike bag where the hinges had chafed it so on the way back I went back to using some foam as shown in these photos. I’m careful to remove and carefully pack/protect sticky-out bits that could get damaged or lost like the frame clamps, saddle, mirrors etc.
foam padding taped on at the points where the bike might chafe the bag
My Brooks saddle is taped between the wheels where it will not receive any impacts (I had a saddle twisted once when I packed the bike with the saddle in place). Note at bottom right a piece of foam jammed between mudguard and tyre, prevents the mudguard and stays being pushed out of shape. Without that you usually have to spend a bit of time straightening stays before you can ride away.
The Carradice bag weighs about a kilo and folds flat enough to be packed or strapped to your bike luggage, the main thing I’ve found is the need to put two stout luggage straps round the bike bag so it’s easily handled and stable, give the baggage handlers something to grab hold of.
Same thing applies to the touring pannier, I put a strap round it so there’s something to grab, handlers don’t notice the frame handle and tend to grab the rolled top which then starts to unroll…
that neat strap with the handle came from Muji
At the moment, for bigger trips, I tend to take
- Carradice bag for Brompton and bits (taped in the middle of the frame) – hold luggage
- Touring Pannier – hold luggage
- C-bag – cabin luggage, I’ve used an S-bag for this in the past but sold it when I got the C-bag
I’ve posted elsewhere information about how to attach both bags to the bike at once. That was based on the S-Bag but on this trip I used the C-Bag to good effect. Here’s the bike at Sheffield Station all loaded up
The only problem with the C-bag or S-bag as a saddlebag is that the bottom of the bag clashes with your heels, I solved this problem by using the rolled up Carradice bag as a spacer, solving the problem of how to transport it as well.
It’s not too easy to see what’s going on with everything being black but the nylon strap that holds the bottom of the C-bag to the seatpost also goes round the rolled up bike bag which rests on top of the suspension block, I have a separate strap round the bike bag to keep it rolled up, it’s a black one here but now I use one of the coloured luggage straps that goes round the bag when checked in.
As an alternative to a completely soft bike bag, the padded Brompton B-bag is used by some people, it’s easier to handle with wheels and a rigid base and better protected but weighs a lot more and not easy to transport on the bike.
For the ultimate cheap solution some people use the Ikea Dimpa storage case/bag which is the right size/shape and made from cheap reinforced plastic fabric. It’s reported to last one trip and a good strategy might be to buy three and layer them, they are light and flatpack well.
I always make sure I have Gaffer tape
Some people use bubble wrap to pack the bike, rather than a bag. This could be OK if you can lay your hands on some at the departure point, not so difficult in these internet days, for example if you can Google a branch of Staples near your return airport. A while ago I was camping in France and needed gaz cartridges because they shouldn’t fly. Google found me a Camping Gaz dealer in Toulouse (backstreet ironmongers) on my cycling route from the airport to the rail station. Ain’t the internet wonderful?
Finally, I’ve always thought that it would be quite good to take the bike to the airport and put it into one of those shrink wrapping machines they have for damaged luggage etc. Trouble is it’s not easy to find out in advance whether an airport has one of those readily available for passengers and you need to be certain that there is one at the airport for your return flight.
Update July 2012 – I have recently tried a Brompton B-bag as a method of carrying everything with a single piece of hold luggage. Full report here, it’s not ideal but it works. Also I saw one of those wrapping machines in operation at Milano Malpensa airport, including wrapping a road bike. The people operating the machine were not competent and I didn’t think they improved the bike’s chance of survival, quite the contrary as they managed to wrap it with the front wheel turned at 30deg so much more vulnerable than a completely flat package.