Traveling with your bike can be a real hassle. But landing in a new location ready to hit the ground riding on your own two wheels can often outweigh the pitfalls associated with flying your bike or having to rent a bike at your location. That of course assumes that you can actually get your bike to your destination in one piece – which is not always guaranteed, regardless of the airline.
There are a number of different ways to pack and transport your bike, but when you get into the world of mountain bikes, especially with larger 29″ tires, things get a little more tricky. I ended up requesting a new EVOC Bike Travel Bag when I realized that my original Bike Travel Bag wouldn’t easily fit larger 29″ wheels. The newer bags have larger wheel pockets to fit more common tire sizes – though you may still have to deflate the the tires a bit if they’re on the larger side.
In addition to fitting most modern mountain bikes with ease (and road, gravel, and many other bikes), the EVOC Bike Travel Bag Pro has a number of other benefits going for it as well. Yes, soft sided cases are well, soft sided. But I’ve seen just as much damage done to bikes in hard cases as soft cases. How? It usually happens when TSA opens a hard case, and doesn’t put the bike back in properly, which usually results in pricey damage because it’s harder to put the bikes in those cases properly. To protect the bike, the EVOC bags have a rigid PE board perimeter with glass fiber vertical supports at the end and hard plastic rods inside the wheel compartments. Combined with using the wheels and wheel compartments as structural elements and additional PE board reinforcements with a hard plastic tub with aluminum rails on the bottom, the EVOC design seems to do pretty well for most in terms of protection. There’s also the fact that to an airline employee, a large soft bag (hopefully) won’t get stuff piled on top the way a hard case would.
The soft sided design also has a huge benefit in terms of storage. Once you take out all of the supports, the bag can be folded down to the same size it ships in. This is far easier to store in your house, apartment, shed, than a full size hard case. Soft cases are also usually lighter than hard cases – an important detail if you’re trying to make checked baggage weight.
And what about cardboard boxes? Well, in terms of rigid protection, cardboard is probably equal to a bag like the EVOC, but it also takes a lot more work to properly box the bike so that it doesn’t get damaged. And if it’s raining while your bike box is on the tarmac, it likely won’t hold up so well.
One of the main things that sets the EVOC Bike Travel Bag Pro apart from the standard Bike Travel Bag, is the addition of the Bike Stand which features thru axle (or QR) mounts for each end on an aluminum tray that is adjustable for different wheel base lengths (maximum wheel base of 126cm). This makes it a lot easier to load the bike in the case, and prevents the bottom of the frame, derailleur, and crank from resting on the bottom of a dirty bag.
Up front, there are four different end cap sets included along with a set of spacers that can go under any end cap set for Boost spacing. That allows you to mount standard QR, 12mm, 15mm, and 20mm thru axles in both standard and Boost 110 spacing. There are also three vertical positions to mount the axle to best fit the fork/bike/bag.
Out back, it’s the same story, this time with dummy axles in 5 x 130mm, 12 x 135mm, 12 x 142mm, 12 x 150mm, and 12 x 157mm (DH or Super Boost).
The axles slot through one of three vertical positions, and you install the thru axle through them and tighten it down like you would a hub.
One nice feature is the fact that the stand provides something for the derailleur to rest against. This way, if it gets hit from the side, it won’t bend the hanger, and you can leave the derailleur mounted in place. I was a little nervous to leave the derailleur on as I always remove it, but not having to do so saved a lot of time and effort. And it arrived at both ends of the journey with a straight hanger.
The other thing that makes the Bike Travel Bag worth the Pro upgrade? The front wheel. It’s crazy how such a small detail can make the biggest difference, but when you’re trying to wheel a bike bag and a large roller bag through a crowded airport, the little wheel makes all the difference. Just remember to take it off and stash it inside the bag in a pocket before checking the bag. It clips in place solidly, but I wouldn’t trust it to stay on during the flight.
The rear wheels are also excellent, with oversized replaceable wheels that can roll down stair cases and over curbs fairly easily. They’re also widely spaced to prevent the bag from tipping over.
You will notice the bike above does not have a chain. Removing it is way easier than wrapping the chainstay to prevent damage from a flailing loose chain. Yes, SRAM says that their Power Lock chain connectors are not reusable. They may have a point, but I’ve also taken this one apart a few times now without issue. Do so at your own risk though, and make sure you bring a spare just in case.
EVOC does sell chain covers if you choose to leave the chain on and they state it has a separation flap between the chainstay and the chain to keep things protected.
You’ll also notice the extra bits of foam wrapped around many of the tubes (especially important for the suspension stanchions). As far as I’m concerned, you can never be too careful when flying with a multi-thousand dollar bicycle. You can pick up packs of this Frost King pipe insulation from your local home improvement store in different sizes for less than $2. It’s pre-slit, so all you have to do is cut it to length, and slap it on. Then when you’re done with your trip, just throw the pieces back in the bag to use them again the next time. To make it even easier on yourself, use a Sharpie to label them for where they go on the bike.
I used some 3/8″ insulation I already had around the house which worked pretty well for the smaller tubes, and stayed in place around the 34mm fork stanchions without the need for tape. Around the larger tubes like the downtube, either foam for larger pipes or masking tape is needed to make it stay in place.
While we’re on the subject of safeguarding your bike in the bag, always remove your rotors. Just do it. I was hesitant to leave them on for my first trip with the Bike Travel Bag Pro, but I thought “it has disc rotor protection pockets, I have to try it.”
So I did try it, and I ended up with one severely bent rotor by the time my bike arrived in Italy. That wasn’t the only damage (more on that in a minute), but it was damage that was easily avoidable – especially with Centerlock rotors. Bring a tool, remove the rotors and reinstall them at your destination.
If your bike didn’t come with them, you’ll also want to go down to your local shop and ask nicely for some plastic hub/axle protectors that companies stick in the wheels for shipping.
The EVOC bags have a reinforced plastic plate on the inside of the bag, but in our experience, this is not enough to prevent the axle on the hub from wearing through. I recently had to send a review bike back that was shipped in a (well used) EVOC case because the hub had worn completely through this reinforced plate and then wore into the carbon chainstay. Not good. Adding these plastic protectors increases the surface area against the plate, and should extend the life of the bag (and your frame).
Ideally though, I’d like to see EVOC increase the thickness of these reinforcements, or maybe add a metal plate sewn in behind the plastic so that the hubs couldn’t ever wear through the plates.
This should go without saying, but you’ll want to slip in the correct pad spacer for your brake calipers. These are designed for this exact purpose and lock into place around the pad spring retaining pin, and it will save you a lot of hassle when you reach your destination and don’t have to reset your pistons.
The last bit of added protection I like to include is a layer of bubble wrap around the handlebar. The EVOC bags have a pretty decent way of securing the bar to the bike with the top tube pad and the bag with velcro straps, but there is still the chance of it getting knocked around inside the bag. Again, this is really simple, cheap protection that only takes a few seconds to add.
Once your bike is all loaded on the Bike Stand and placed in the bag, there are at least six velcro or buckle straps that are very important to attach around the chainstays, seat tube, top tube/downtube, and fork. These prevent the bike from moving around inside the bag which could damage the bag from the inside out if not secured properly. Clearly, dropper posts are an advantage here and I was able to leave my seat post untouched and just drop the saddle to fit. If you don’t have a dropper or have a particularly large frame, you may have to drop the post in the frame or remove it completely. The bike above is a medium Santa Cruz Blur TR which fit in the bag with lots of room to spare.
Bike Travel Bag Assembly Trick
For the most part, the EVOC Bike Travel Bags are super easy to put together. But this time I ran into an issue I hadn’t seen before – no amount of pushing could make the vertical supports insert all the way into their respective channels leaving two inches sticking above the top.
Before I broke out the hammers, an investigation of the channels revealed that the bottom of two of them had kinks that were preventing the support rods from passing through.
The solution was super simple though – just stick a flat blade screw driver into the gap between the plastic bumper and the fabric. This straightens out the channel, and allows you to fully insert the support rod.
What Tools Should I Bring?
Depending on your tolerance for assembling a bike with an annoyingly small or finicky multi-tool, you may be able to get away without many of these. But for me, I like to have tools that make the bike building process as easy and quick as possible. But I also had to be aware of the overall weight limit of the packed bike bag. Depending on the airline, your weight limit will probably be somewhere around 50-70lbs. The bag itself weighs about 26lbs, so depending on your bike, that may not give you a lot to work with.
To keep it to the essentials, I brought along a 4mm T-handle allen (for stem bolts), a 5mm L-wrench allen with spare Gorilla tape wrapped around the middle (don’t forget the zip ties), and a combination 6mm/8mm wrench for pedals. I also brought along the Wolf Tooth Component Pack Pliers ($32.95) which are a must if you’re going to remove the chain again to ship the bike back home. Plus they let you store spare master links, they work as a tire lever, and a valve core tool, so they’re incredibly handy to have along. If you’re running Centerlock rotors, you’ll need a Centerlock tool to avoid the aforementioned bent rotors. The WTC Pack Wrench is ultra light and it has a magnetic 1″ hex at the bottom to use with their steel hex inserts. This way you can also bring along a cassette lock ring tool and their Pack Whip ($44.95). Anyone who’s ever hopelessly jammed a chain behind a cassette after a crash bent the hanger knows that this combo can be a lifesaver.
The rest of the Pack Wrench inserts are interesting, but for most trips I don’t find it necessary to bring along a splined BB tool, 16mm hex, or 20mm socket (though the 20mm socket could be useful if you’re running one of Otso’s bikes with Tuning Chip dropouts). The 8mm could be handy for pedals though. These can all be purchased individually for $20 with the handle selling for $39.95.
Wolf Tooth also sells this Travel Tool Wrap which is handy to keep all your tools in one place, and you can hang it from a car door for easy access. But for me, this is a bit overkill for the minimal amount of tools needed for traveling.
If you’re really concerned about the weight of your bag, the tool wrap alone is 539g – more than the weight of most helmets. With the tools pictured above it was 1343g.
Instead I threw most of the tools into one of the zippered pockets in the Bike Travel Bag Pro, and left the chain whip and lock ring wrench in the ziplock bags they shipped in. This prevents grease from getting on the brake rotors which were sharing a spot in one of the zippered pockets. Alternatively, you could find a ziplock big enough for the rotors to protect them that way as well.
What Else Can I Pack In there?
This all depends on the weight requirements of the airline you’re flying with, but you should be able to fit some of the bulkier riding gear in there. That includes your helmet (a helmet storage pod is a good way to protect it during shipping), hydration pack or hip pack, and shoes and pedals. The area below the downtube works well to stash these items as it keeps them in place. Other lighter items like bulky jackets, clothing, and more can be placed anywhere else in the bag as well.
What Should I Do If My Bag or Bike Gets Damaged?
Unfortunately, I got to deal with this issue on the very first trip with the Bike Travel Bag Pro. Judging by the 15 or more other EVOC bags that all arrived to the Pirelli launch unharmed, it was clear that this was probably a result of the airline mishandling the bag during transit, but what now?
The most important thing you can do if you notice damage is to go to the baggage counter while you’re still at the airport. If you leave, and in many cases wait more than 12 or 24 hours, you will be completely out of luck in terms of getting compensation from the airline.
I learned that the hard way on this trip. I had just arrived to Italy on a delayed flight, it took forever for my bike bag to appear, and other journalists and the Pirelli crew were waiting for me. I thought, “OK, I’ll deal with this later.” Fortunately, Delta took pity on me even though it was a codeshare flight with Alitalia and they made it very clear to never make that mistake again. Don’t expect this to happen often though – or to be fairly compensated. This $695 bag was brand new on its first flight and Delta offered a $100 voucher for a massive hole that was ripped into the main compartment and broken stitching in three places. However, I was also told that this would be covered under warranty through EVOC if it was determined that it was a simple seam failure – with EVOC offering a two year warranty for defects.
Long story short, travel with some Gorilla tape – you never know when you may need it. This tape job held all the way back to my house, though it sure isn’t pretty.
It’s important to point out that in spite of the bag being roughed up, there was zero damage to any of the bike or components in the bag other than the bent brake rotor. The various reinforcement pieces seemed to do their job, and in spite of the damage to the bag, I was able to ride my own bike in a completely new location. Because of that, I would happily use the Bike Travel Bag Pro to fly with my bike again. It takes a little extra effort to get the most out of the bag, but if you plan ahead, you should arrive with your bike in one piece and ready to hit the trails.