The Hase Pino is a big bike. It’s slightly shorter than a conventional tandem but it’s more awkward in some ways as it has unusual wide handlebars that wrap around the wide front seat. However it does split in two for transport and I was confident that we could transport it by air as others have done in the past but it wasn’t clear how to pack it.
We had a good baggage allowance on our flights with Etihad and they seem to be OK with bikes but my previous experience had all been with transporting a Brompton in a custom-made soft bag, a much simpler proposition. I had looked at the special bags and cases designed for normal bikes but they are quite expensive and heavy and not the same shape as our Pino, or its two halves.
One idea that I had considered was to parcel it up with bubble wrap and the stretchy film that they use for awkward luggage at airports, like the photo above, and I bought a supply of those two items to experiment. However it became clear that getting a good tension in the film when wrapping such a big complicated object was very difficult and I tended to end up with a rather “soggy” assembly that didn’t seem likely to resist rough handling.
Having wrestled with all these options for several months, doing endless calculations of weights and dimensions, with the departure date looming, I eventually decided to cut out any fancy stuff and look at the corrugated cardboard boxes that bikes are delivered in. These are quite popular with people flying conventional bikes although I had tended to look for more durable solutions that could be re-used.
I rang round the local bike shops and J.E.James had some (shops will happily give you one if they have recently unpacked a new bike and need to dispose of the box). It was just right for the bigger back section of the Pino. In fact I was able to remodel the box to remove one of the corners, which made it a bit more compact, especially to go in the back of a car.
With the pedals, seat and handlebars removed I set to with some protective foam and bubble wrap to protect the bike from damage but importantly as well to prevent the bike from damaging the box, as it would have to survive for a return trip. I also cut some extra handholds in the box to make it easier to lift and made some strengthening pieces from corrugated board to fit inside the box after the bike, holding the two sides apart.
The trick with all this is to think about the way the box will be heaved about and probably dropped. It’s not a problem if it gets a bit torn or punctured but you want it to hold its shape and you don’t want the bike to be able to move around inside the box. My experience of working out a padding and packing system for the Brompton over 10 years of flying was a great help. Here’s the box (opened) in Kerala after the first leg of the trip (palm trees and heat after the February snow in the previous photo):
I also bubble-wrapped quite a few of the removed parts of the bike, such as handlebars, and taped them to the frame tubes which created quite a neat package. That blue foam channel is packaging saved from some wooden doors we had bought but I also was able to buy a similar material from the local branch of Staples, who are pretty good at packaging materials.
I’m a big fan of gaffer tape and used a good amount of it to make the box as strong as it could be, especially round the corners. I also packed a roll of gaffer ready for the return trip as I anticipated that the box would need some repairs. Gaffer is also the best material for “wrapping” the bike with protective materials. Here’s the box after arrival back home in Sheffield, heavily gaffered on the corners but still good for another trip?
I felt it was important to ensure that security people and airport staff could see easily what was inside, especially as it wasn’t a conventional bike. So I made some big labels to explain that.
Finally, if the security people needed to look inside I didn’t want them to destroy the packaging so I gave instructions how to open the box – with a dashed red “cutting line” on the gaffer tape and a note to say there was some spare tape inside to close it up again.
That dealt with the big rear section, which is quite bicycle-like. The front section is much more complicated made up of several awkward parts.
Being the seat, front frame tube and front racks, Wheel with forks and boom extension with front cranks
Luckily I had a very large Regatta pack-flat holdall that I had bought some time ago by mistake (it was much bigger than I expected). Although it was both lightweight and packed down quite small it seems to be made of very strong fabric. Just the right size to take all these parts and few smaller items, then I stuffed it with lots of spare bubble wrap to make it a stable package and ensure that I had spare packaging material for the return journey. When zipped up it made a strong taut package that was within the normal hold baggage size. I don’t remember if I used any additional strapping but it would make sense to wrap it with a couple of strong luggage straps to ease the strain on the zip and keep it together if the zip failed.
That particular holdall doesn’t seem to be available now (2013) but there’s a similar-looking one that seems to get good reviews for durability. Not in stock at Amazon when I looked but if you search there seem to be a few places that stock it.
To get to the airport we arranged a minibus (we were travelling with a friend who was going on the same cookery course in Kerala) so there was no problem transporting the bike. On the way back we had expected a Citroen Picasso which is roomy and high but the taxi company had replaced its vehicles while we were away and it was a more compact VW estate car. But everything fitted fine, the cut-off corner was helpful in fitting into a vehicle with curved sides and back.
At the airports the bike box and holdall fitted onto a luggage trolley (you have to choose between placing the box upright which blocks your forward vision or across the trolley which is rather wide) with another luggage trolley for everything else. When we arrived in Trivandrum our hosts had brought a typical large Indian taxi to meet us, I think it was a Chevrolet with three rows of seats. All the people and luggage went inside except the bike box which strapped onto the roof rack. Indian taxi drivers are not challenged by odd-shaped large objects and carry a good supply of strapping materials.
So in the end we had a very successful experience, the big box was easy to handle and the airport and airline staff were unfazed. On arrival I had to ask where to pick up oversized luggage and the box was waiting there. Both packs survived the four flights in good condition and I’d be happy to do it again the same way. At the end of the trip you need to give yourself a full day to pack it all up again, luckily we were able to leave the packaging with lovely Unni and Shanta who run the Keralan cookery course and stay with them for a day before we left for Trivandrum airport at midnight.
So to do it this way you need:
- One bike shipping box (free) from your local bike shop
- Two rolls of Gaffer tape (one for the return journey).
NB, make sure you avoid sticking the tape directly to the paint of your bike as it leaves a sticky residue which is hard to clean off. Wrap then tape is my system
- Sharp knife (don’t pack it in your hand luggage)
- Lots of bubble wrap
- Some foam protective channels (Staples sell them) or I have used sections of foam pipe insulation which you can slit and open out or split in half with a sharp knife. Because I travel a lot with a Brompton I tend to look out for scrap stuff that can be used for this purpose.
- A large holdall that will accommodate all the front parts of the Pino
- Time to disassemble the bike and pack it and plenty of time and space to re-assemble the bike in a relaxed way at the other end.
- Make sure you pack the tools you will need at the other end
- Make sure you consider the vulnerable and more delicate parts of the bike, especially brakes and transmission. I was careful to pack the holdall so the front disk was not going to take the brunt if the bag was dropped or struck by a heavy object.
Incidentally, people worry about whether they should deflate the tyres and some airlines say you should do that. However the effect of lower air pressure on bike tyres is negligible (ask a science teacher to do the sums if you aren’t sure) and leaving them pumped up makes them more able to resist impact