Global Bike Distribution System
It’s been a long time. I’ve been traveling non-stop since early October and before we get to the tour report, here are some tips about flying with bikes.
My first bike distribution system was on the first trip in October – to Tel Aviv, Israel. I flew with Swiss Airlines from Berlin to Zurich and then further to Tel Aviv. I took a fixie with me to leave behind in Tel Aviv, since, well, that city is near, is warm, is flat and is fun to ride around. I packed the bike well, taking off the wheels, flattening the handlebars and managing to squeeze it into the original box it came with. It was a 2009 Aluminum Charge Plug Racer. I did not have a lot of love to it and did not mind it living away and getting used and abused a few times a year when winter gets too much and I feel like getting some nice weather.
Swiss charged me absolutely nothing for the bike nor did they complain. They simply took it, transferred it and delivered it in its final destination. The Israeli customs did not seem to mind me walking in with an obvious bike box as well. The biggest problem was probably the taxi drives that really could not be bothered to shift their stuff around to accommodate for the box. Still, after some convincing I managed to pack the bike into the back of a taxi, ride to Tel Aviv, build it in 10 minutes, and have a blast riding around for 4 days. It’s now living in Tel Aviv, waiting on the next visit.
The next flying with a bike adventure was the beginning of the Camino De Santiago tour. This happened a mere 5 days after returning from Tel Aviv and, as opposed to the previous report, was slightly more rocky.
Both Mr S. and myself were under a lot of stress before the tour. Between actually building the bikes, having a demanding work schedule and not actually having access to a car, procuring boxes became a big challenge. I asked at my local bike shop, but the boys said that since they are really not moving a lot of stock, they did not have anything. At some point, as we were two days away from departure, Mr S. picked up the company van and procured two massive bike boxes.
Now these things were massive with a capital M. They measured 2 meters long and 1.5 meters high and were clearly designed to pack a whole bike. And this is what we did! Other than removing the peddles and setting the drop bar on its side I did nothing to the bike. I just lifted Hunter, put it inside the box, setup some carton support, and taped the top. It looked massive in the living room and I was loosing sleep the night before the flight just thinking about getting a taxi to the airport not to mention considering the possibility that the airline will just say NO.
Since the first leg of the flight was departing the airport at 06:40, and I was too nervous to sleep, I called a taxi already at 5AM. I explained on the phone that I have something big to transport, but for some reason the operator sent a “combi” as opposed to a large taxi as I asked. Well, that did not work. Both the poor taxi driver and the nervous passenger stood in front of the car, scratching their heads in agreement that it will not work.
So I called the next taxi, made sure that they are sending a big one, and waited downstairs, fretting, until the VW arrived and packed the massive carton and nervous rider with it and took me to the airport. On the way the driver asked me how I was planning on moving it inside the terminal, a question that I really did not consider. Even on the carts in the airport the box was simply too big to maneuver. I somehow managed, positioned myself in front of the lady at the checkin counter and was promptly asked if I told the airline that I was bringing a huge box. When I said no, she said that I am in luck since the plane was BIG ENOUGH for the box, but sadly she must charge me.
Brussels Airlines accepted my 70 Euro bike transport fee with a smile and explained that they really do have planes that are simply too small to cary such massive boxes which is why it is prudent on customers of my specific disposition to inform the airline of the arrival of such box so they can send the right plane. I did not really buy it, but nice try. Of course the next challenge was getting the monster box to the special luggage X-ray machine (picture above). The box, in all its 1.5 meters, barely fit the machine, but after some shifting we managed. I waved goodbye to the boxed up Hunter and hoped for the best.
It was pouring outside the terminal and creepy, unsavory ideas ignited themselves in my head. It was pretty clear from my position by the window that the luggage carriers did not really care to protect the luggage from the pouring rain and that a huge carton box was just a good place to collect rain. I tried to fall asleep and hope for better weather in Brussels.
Indeed the weather in Brussels answered to my promises and after 4 hours of waiting, I got on the next flight, this time to Bilbao. When I saw the plane that was taking us to Bilbao it became painfully obvious that the lady at the gate in Berlin was not lying. The machine was tiny with one sit to the right and two seats to the left. Standing inside the airplane was not possible for me without risking the loss of my head.
I did not have high hopes for the arrival of my box in Bilbao. I stood there at the luggage carousel and waited and was shocked to see that the box was merging out of the wall, like the wall was giving birth to a very wet and mostly torn massive box. At this point I was mostly oblivious to the state of the box and was just interested in the health of the content. 30 minutes later I rode out of the small Bilbao airport and into the city on a very cold yet healthy and perfectly functioning bicycle.
The return from Santiago De Compostela was a completely different story. I rode my bike in Santiago to an excellent bike shop that took it upon itself to pack the bike into a small size box which I pre-registered with the airline (Vueling) and pre-payed for (90 Euro! 45 Euro per leg of the return trip). The shop, Velocipedo, did such an amazing job that I took notes on how to pack my bike next time like they did. They even used old tubes to protect the frame from the components they tied to it and put all the screws in a nice bag. That box is still in my basement and will be used in the future. The whole service cost 20 Euros and I could not recommend them enough.
The last trip, was the return home from California with my new Seven Mudxium. The airlines was Lufthansa and the service did not cost a cent. They simply took the frame box, which also included the Edge fork and a few other bits and bobs, slapped a tag on it, and sent it to Berlin. It was one of these moments where all the stars aligned and things just worked out and I wish every one of you road warriors such relaxed and uninterested gate agent. My you fly in peace and your bikes arrive.