Saturday, January 31, 2009

Flying with a bike.

Every now and then I like to post something useful on this blog, even if it's by accident. Today's lesson is how to pack a bicycle for air travel. There's probably more than one way of doing it - this is mine. Use it as a guide. You may well be able to improve on it.

Flying with a bike is a nerve-wracking experience - it's really easy for something to go wrong. I travel from Hobart to Melbourne with a bike about half a dozen times a year and unless I take the utmost care something always seems to get damaged. Usually it's the paintwork but I've also had brake levers damaged and derailleurs bent. Here's how to avoid the worst our nations' baggage handlers can dish out. Click on the photos to enlarge.

Allow about 30 minutes at each end for packing and unpacking. You'll need a cardboard bike box. I've tried soft-sided bike bags, but I don't recommend them. Hard cases are available but they're expensive and easily damaged themselves. Boxes have given me the least trouble. You can buy a box from one from the airlines for about $20 or you can get one for free from your friendly local bike shop. The advantage of getting one from a bike shop (apart from the price) is they usually also have a few little bits which can come in handy: like plastic dropout fittings to protect your forks from being crushed together and inserts to stop the wheel axles from poking through the box. (You can just see one of these at the bottom of the the photo to the left. It's round and black.)

Once you've procured a box and removed any protruding staples, you'll also need some packing tape and small knife, a smaller box so oddments don't get lost or float around causing havoc, a pedal spanner, some allen keys and about three metres of foam pipe insulation: it's black foam tubing which you can buy in hardware stores. About $20 worth will last you a few trips.

Ready to go? Take some of the tape and mark your saddle height so you're not messing around trying to get it right out later. Remove the seat post and saddle. You might need to tighten the seat post clamp a bit to make sure it's doesn't come loose and be lost in transit. Remove the wheels. Take the quick release skewers from the wheels and put them in the small box. Remove the pedals and put them in the small box. (Putting them inside a plastic bag will help stop getting grease on everything else.)

Once this is done, it's time to add some protection. I simply cut some pieces of the pipe insulation to length and slide them onto the forks, brake levers and crank arms. Cut a piece to fit the right seat stay and tape it in place. You can tape the chain to this piece to stop it flapping around as in the picture to the left. Cut lengthwise slits in the remaining insulation and tape it in place so it protects the main tubes. I also tape a piece under the chainset to protect it and the box from damage.

Once this is done, remove the stem cap and stem fixing bolts and lift the handlebars clear of the steerer tube. (You may need to secure the steerer - I use an old stem part to keep it all nice. Tape will work in a pinch.) Rotate the handlebar assembly so it's parallel to the forks with the brake levers facing forwards. A couple of big rubber bands can be useful to hold the handlebars in place. Replace the stem top cap and bolt so they don't get lost. Pop the lot into the box.

Find the back wheel and carefully wrap the cassette in a rag, taping it in place if need be. (I usually let a little air out of the tyres so they're less likely to blow out in transit.) Pop an axle protector on the non cassette side and put the wheel in the box so the cassette side is facing inward. Repeat the process for the front wheel (though no cassette obviously).

Made sure the small box contains the following: your allen keys, the pedal spanner, a left and a right pedal. The small box will usually fit neatly on top of the seat stays and seat post and saddle sit on top of that. Now is the time to check - very carefully - that nothing metal is rubbing on anything else metal and that nothing is likely to shift too far in transit. Use spare insulation an old rag or expendable clothing to protect the bits from each other. Keep in mind the box will very likely be dropped or laid flat and have luggage placed on top of it and may well be upside down at some stage.

Some airlines which carry bikes are pretty relaxed about the weight. Virgin Blue, who I use and recommend - count sporting equipment as 5kg of your 23kg checked baggage allowance regardless of its actual weight. Handy! This means it makes some sense to pack other items in your bike box too: shoes, water bottles, empty panniers, filthy clothing and so on spring to mind, but don't take the piss and remember you will have to lift or carry this box yourself at some stage. 15kg is good, 20kg will stretch your arms. I don't recommend putting your helmet in with the bike, it's very likely to get damaged.

When you're happy with your effort, tape the big box shut. Write your name and address on the sides, whack on some fragile stickers for a laugh and you're nearly ready to go. Advanced students tape a piece of string to the box with their knife attached and drop it inside through one of the carrying holes so they've got a easy way of reopening the box at the other end. Put the unused packing tape in your carry on luggage for the return voyage and you're away.

Some final tips. Get to the airport in plenty of time because you're going to have to check in and then take the bike to the oversized baggage department which is usually some distance away from the check-in counters. Keep the weight down, particularly if you're too stubborn or cheap to hire a luggage cart at each end like me. And if you're hiring as car, making sure it's a hatchback makes it much easier to transport the bike at the other end. Good luck!

(Update) Someone pointed out to me that many bike boxes are large enough to put the bike in with the back wheel in place. That's is the case and may be a better way to pack for some people. I still prefer both wheels off, which allows more space at the front of the box to protect the delicate and expensive shifters. As always your mileage may vary)

517km so far this year.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The benefit of the doubt.

Remember the prick who swerved into a bunch of cyclists on a highway in Sydney last year? Well, a convincing story has earned him a slap on the wrist.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ambling through the Alps.

Riding a bicycle long distances in summer is a good way of learning some valuable lessons. At this year's Alpine Classic I learned, once again, that riding up big hills on extremely hot days is a testing experience. But it is curiously rewarding.

The Alpine is unlike any other series of Audax rides. For starters, it attracts just under 3000 riders. The level of support on the ride is nothing short of extraordinary and the mountain scenery and atmosphere in Bright are both wonderful too.

My day started off farewelling the endless hordes of 200km riders at 6.20am before heading off in the 130km bunch an hour layer. No major dramas on the first climb of Towonga Gap nor on the ascent of Falls Creek, both of which I tackled at my normal slow pace. Although Falls Creek is a long climb, it's not overly steep and I was able to pace myself to reach the controle at the top just before noon without having over-extended myself. By now the full effect of the summer sun was beginning to tell. The descent from Falls is delight - as most descents are - and within 15 minutes I've undone 90 minutes of climbing and was on my way back to Mt Beauty.

The climb back over Towonga Gap is the hardest part of the ride for me - it's the steepest climb of the trip and is fully exposed to the sun. There was no breeze. I stopped every kilometre or so to get my heart rate down and enjoyed a lovely cooling spray down from the volunteers at the water station halfway up. At this end of the field all the riders are suffering. I stopped to help a bloke who'd broken a spoke then was back to the grind. The top never comes soon enough.

From there it's downhill all the way to Bright. About 5km out a group of six blokes riding together swept through and I jumped on their wheel for the quick roll to the finish line. The Alpine is the only ride I've been on where there's a band playing and a crowd cheering and clapping as you finish, which I find rather delightful. Then it's just a matter of parking the bike in the rack, punching the clock and heading to the brewery next door to the park for a rehydrating pint or four on the grass with the people who've already finished as you swap tall tales of your rides and wait for mates still struggling out on the road in the 200km event.

Happy just to finish, I was slightly slower than my last finish at this distance in 2007 - 17.8km/h rather a than 17.9km/h average speed. I must be getting older. I'm happy with that: it comes out as a shade under seven hours of riding time. If I rode a few more hills in preparation next year I'm sure I'd do even better.

If you've never done the Alpine Classic before and can get to Bright in January it's an experience I can't recommend enough. The ride itself is great and the carnival atmosphere that infuses the entire town for the three day weekend is just magic for the keen cyclist. Long may it continue.

467km so far this year.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Once more into the hills.

Every audax cyclist I know has been busily training for the Audax Alpine Classic. It's on this Sunday in Bright, Victoria. It's one of the best organised and well-attended rides in Australia and is stunningly scenic to boot. Not that the 3,000 odd participants will be there to admire the scenery.
The full ride is a brutal 200km with 3000m of climbing in four major climbs, all the heat of mid summer. There's lesser distances for lesser mortals, including the 130km which I'm attempting for the second time. The shorter distance means I only have to face two steep 600m climbs and a long and steep 1400m climb up to Falls Creek. I finished just inside the cut-off time in 2007 but my bid for the 200km last year was thwarted by the effect of a lingering hangover.
Some people go nuts for this ride. My friend Steve has ridden 700km so far this month - including a week's training in the Victorian Alps. NancyBoy has been training flat out for months. They'll suffer like everyone else - this is a ride of suffering - but at least they'll go faster.
Before I even set out, I have plenty of excuses this year. My training has been less than stellar. (I ride for fun, so the idea of training is a little alien to me anyway.) I don't have the physique for hill climbing. After a tough November and December I had a couple of easy weeks and have only just turned my mind to the punishing hill climbs that lie ahead with six days to go! I could use all the training I can get, although there's a limit to how much I'm going to get between now and Sunday. Two maybe three good rides?
But I have to do something. This morning I parked the car halfway up Mt Wellington and pretty much coasted the entire 14km to work. All day I'll have that 500m climb hanging over my head. Hopefully a couple of decent hill sessions will help. It has to be better than nothing right?
248km so far this year.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Fat Tyre Flyer

Since I bought my new Bianchi road bike, my old faithful Surly Cross Check has been sitting idle in the shed. After more than 15,000km of faithful service I had no intention of selling the frame and it's too good a bike to leave idle. Gradually over the last few weeks, I'd been scrounging up the parts to turn it into something useful.

There are miles and miles of lightly-trafficked dirt roads near my place. They're a bit harsh on skinny road bike tyres but a mountain bike is overkill. So I've turned the Surly - which was designed as a cyclocross bike - into a fast tourer. I whacked on some 32mm tyres, some friction shifters and my favourite Stronglight 46-36-26 chainset and it has come up a beauty.

Truth be told, the first test ride wasn't all that auspicious. As befits a Frankenbike, the left crank arm came loose every 500m, I snapped the chain and had two snakebite flats (front and rear) because the tyres were underinflated. All in 20km. So it was back to the shed for some fine tuning.

I rolled the Cross Check out again on Saturday. Because the previous ride was such a disaster, I had pretty low expectations. The nearest shop of any description is in Huonville, which is about 18km from my place, and the best route is along the North Huon Road which follows, unsurprisingly, the north bank of the Huon River. The first 10km is unsealed.

But didn't the Cross Check love it? With a bit more air in the fat knobby tyres, she went like a rocket. Not only did I zoom into town and zoom back after lunch at the cafe, but I enjoyed it so much I did it again today. Even the 2km, 250m climb back to my place was fun. I love my Bianchi, but the Cross Check reminded me why it would be my choice if I could only have one bike. I'm tossing up our next challenge, a dirt road century ride down to Cygnet or maybe having a crack at the 50km each-way trip commute to work, which includes 1000m of climbing. It might be some last minute but much-needed training for the Alpine Classic!

152km so far this year.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Slow news week.

Some random stuff for a Thursday. I'm staying off the bike for a week. After busting a gut to reach 6,000km for the year, I've gone a bit stale. Might do some miles on the weekend - slowly and for fun.
  • Something momentous must be afoot in the world when the Wall Street Journal recommends to American people they reconsider their relationship with the motor vehicle. Something momentous indeed.
  • The people who did the memorable Do The Test cycle safety TV commercial have done another one, which I reckon almost tops their first effort.
61km so far this year.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Day Zero once more

Another year over and the odometer resets to zero once more. How was 2008 for you bikewise? Apart from a few glitches it wasn't a bad year for me. Although some of my targets seem a little ambitious in hindsight, I did pass last year's mark of 6,000km with a day to spare. Interestingly, I covered the distance a couple of hours quicker. Not much of an improvement but at least I didn't go slower.

At the start of the year I set eight goals, here's how I went:

1. At least 7,200km on the bike. A 20% rise.

Fell slightly short of that one. If 1200km is slight. Can't complain about 6041km, but could have done better. I was badly let down by be effort in February when I rode only 104km. Mind you, November made up for it with 705km. I'm going to try to be more consistent this year. I wouldn't mind trying for a 1,000km month or two, like Treadly and wurple did.

The 6,000km mark came up on the grandly titled Hobart Intercity Cycleway, inbound just past the Tasman bridge near the angry seething seagull rookery.

2. Finish the year in the top 1,000 riders on

Not even close, I came in about 1300th.

3. At least 366 hours in the saddle - one hour a day for the leap year.

I'm not unhappy with 287 hours (12 days solid riding) , although it was an hour less than the year before! Doing fewer 200 and 300km Audax rides had cut into my hours a bit. In 2006, my best year, I did 6400km in 300 hours on 136 rides.

4. At least 183 rides - on the bike every second day. A 42% increase.

Final total 179 rides. Pretty damn close.

5. Lifting my average speed to at least 22.5km/h. A 4% increase!

Result: 21.46km/h. A speed increase of 20 metres an hour faster. 0.09%. Break out the champagne!

6. Seeing how many days in a row I can ride at least 10km, starting on January 1.

12 days before I got stale and sick of it.

7. Riding at least 400km in the Oppy (360km last year) and completing the 200km Alpine Classic within the time limit (130km last year).

387km in the Oppy. Damn close. Didn't finish the Alpine due to a hangover. Not close. Not smart either.

8. Blog more.

No joy here either. 44 posts, down from 58. Slack. Though this blog mainly continues to be a long conversation with myself, it is approaching to 200 post mark without having managed to impart much useful information. Still, I suppose that's what most blogs do anyhow.

This year's goals are fewer in number: 7,200km on the bike; top 1,000 finish on; 300 hours in the saddle over at least 180 rides; average speed to more than 22.5km/h; complete at least 360km in the Oppy, 130km in the Alpine and ride enough Audax events to win an award.

20.9km so far this year.