I did a sorta not-so-Cheap-Athletey thing recently
And I’m also sorta glad I did it.
A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Boulder, Colorado and participated in a Half Ironman triathlon. For those wondering, it was a tough race and Jersey boys don’t get a lot of chances to train in elevation so deduct from that what you will. Now add to whatever you pictured an image of a skinny, spandex-clad dude in a folding chair barfing in the finishers corral.
Now you’re close.
Anyways, I travel to run all the time but my triathlons have been in places like: New Jersey, New York, Quebec and New Hampshire. All places I could slap Trogdor the Burninator on top of my trusty Outback and schlep on up to.
But Boulder ain’t close to Jersey and bikes can’t fit in a suitcase. How did I manage to get my bike out there?
First, understand that traveling with a bike is a pain in the you-know-what
If you’re going to do a destination race that requires a flight there are only a few options for getting your rear-end on a saddle come race time. Most of them are not cheap and all of them come with their own set of annoyances.
So it’s up to do you to decide which method it the least inconvenient!
Method 1: Rent a bike
Honestly this is a method I hadn’t really thought of until about 20 minutes prior to writing this post. If you’re willing to put up with whatever bike is available you could rent one from a local bike shop or see what’s available on Spinlister.
However, most triathletes spent a ton of money on their bike and have had a professional fitting so it seems a little weird not to go with your own bike after dropping that kind of coin and time on a bicycle.
If I were going for a century ride or a training trip I’d probably give this option some serious thought but if I’m racing a triathlon, Trogdor and his unnecessarily expensive wheels are coming with me. I was silly enough to purchase them so they’re sure as hell coming with me.
Pro(s): No lugging a bike around the airport; no boxing or checking a bike
Con(s): You’re at the mercy of whatever is available on the other end with no experience on that bike whatsoever.
Recommended for: Unfussy cyclists who could care less what they’re racing on
Method 2: Check your bike
I figured this was going to be the cheapest and easiest method so most of my time was
spent wasted researching how to go about it.
But then things got…overwhelming.
Checking a bike is not like checking a suitcase. Airlines charge way more when they realize you got yourself a bike with you and it can vary significantly by airline. I was flying Southwest for this trip which charges $75 (round trip $150) and appears to be on lower end.
OK, I can handle $150.
But what am I gonna pack it in?
I read article after article where people used a number of methods to pack the bike. Deep into the rabbit hole I came across one which suggested using a see-through, plastic bag with the belief that baggage handlers will know the cargo is fragile and treat it accordingly. Maybe I’d try that with an old mountain bike but a carbon fiber triathlon bike at Newark airport? Yea, zero chance.
Baggie aside, the most common recommendations were either obtaining a used cardboard bicycle box or any number of recommended bike travel cases.
So I looked up travel cases and HOLY CRAP, they ain’t cheap! And believe it or not bicycle shops wanted to sell me a cardboard box that I could totally dumpster dive for at 6:01pm after the shop closes.$300-400 bucks for a transport case plus another $150 to check the bike? This is getting a little pricey.
How the heck do I take apart this bike?
So maybe I buy a case or borrow one from a spendy friend. I still need to figure out how to take apart the bike and then, gulp, put it back together once I get there! Back to the internet and that overwhelming feeling again.
Of course bike shops will gladly help you here and charge you $40-60 to take apart the bike. And then another $40-60 to put it back together on the other end. And then you gotta pay for it all over again when it’s time to bring it home. So that’s $160 on the low-end if you don’t dissemble and reassemble yourself.
How am I gonna get this bike around?
Once you’re at the airport you have all your luggage plus this massive bicycle case that needs to go with you. You are probably renting a car to drive to wherever the race is so instead of that Chevy Spark you had planned on getting, you need to rent a car large enough to hold all of this stuff.
Ugh. More moneys.
Pro(s): That bike is coming with you the whole way; can be cheaper if you know what you’re doing and utilize a free or borrowed box.
Con(s): Bikes can get messed up in transit; bike cases are expensive; assembly/disassembly costs money; need to rent a bigger vehicle; have to lug bike around the airport
Recommended for: Someone who can turn a bike wrench or has access to a buddy’s fancy-pants bike case
Method 3: Ship your bike
Rather than boxing and checking your bike like in Method 2, services like Bike Flights will ship your bike directly to the destination for you. Neat!
The process is relatively simple – just select your dates, locations and type of bike and then arrange for a pickup and drop off. For me it was about $78 each way which was about the same as the cost to check on Southwest. If your airline charges more than Southwest this may be a way more enticing option.
You will still need to take apart and box the bike which will require all the costs noted above if you don’t know how to do it yourself. The big differences here are that you don’t need to lug the bike around the airport and that you potentially have someone who actually gives a few craps about your bike handling it.
You will have to pick up and drop off your bike at a separate location which may or may not be in a convenient place for you.
Pro(s): Better option than checking a bike; can be cheaper depending on which airline
Con(s): Bike cases are expensive; assembly/disassembly costs money; need to rent a bigger vehicle; need to arrange for a separate pickup and drop off
Recommended for: Someone who can turn a bike wrench or access to a buddy’s fancy-pants bike case. Or no access to Method 4
Method 4: Tribike Transport
Finally, the method I chose!
But why am I listing it last after all these other ideas?
To fully appreciate this service it’s important that you know your options and the variety of pains-in-the-butt they are. Also, this was initially last on my list of viable options so you’re just following my thought process.
But why was I so dismissive at first?
Because it’s $350 and I’m the Cheap Athlete. I can do better than that!
As the days ticked by and the race quickly approached I became less and less convinced that I was going to 1) learn how to dissemble and correctly reassemble a bike 2) have time to actually learn how to do this 3) not destroy my bike in the process. Plus the additional cost associated with renting a SUV instead of a little car would eat into that $200 I was planning on saving.
And then there was lugging this thing all the way from baggage claim to the rental house. And then from the rental house to transition.
And then I get to do it all over again to get it home!
That’s when Tribike Transport started to make sense to me.
Here’s how it works. You visit their site and click on reservations to see if your race is supported by them:
Since my race has already passed I selected Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, TN as an example.
Once you select the race you will then need to check if a local bike shop works with Tribike Transport and set up a reservation. Tribike Transport will arrange to pick up your bike and DRIVE IT TO THE RACE FOR YOU! No disassembly required, no losing your perfect seat height and no I-don’t-get-paid-enough-for-this baggage handlers throwing your prized possession around.
Now this is the one spot where Tribike Transport can be a hassle. If there are no shops nearby that participate then you’re SOL. I was lucky enough to find a shop about 35 miles from my house which is a bit of a pain given the distance and the fact that it’s in Jersey which means I’m gonna pay some sort of toll to get there.
But it still made sense to me so I made the reservation and headed over after work.
The only thing that was required from me was to:
- Drop off the bike before a specific date
- Fill out some paperwork
- Take off my pedals
- Meet them on the other side
After I landed in Boulder I hopped into my rental car and drove over to the reservoir for check-in. And wouldn’t you know, right by transition was a Tribike Transport tent with ole Trogdor sitting there safe and sound!
But now for the real beauty of Tribike Transport!
After I finished barfing in the finisher corral I took my sweaty, disoriented butt over to the same tent and muttered out “here, take this thing back to Jersey.”
And that was it. No lugging the bike back to the rental house with me. No taking time out of the rest of my vacation to pack up a bike and lug it over to FedEx. I handed over the bike on my way out of the venue, ate, showered and then enjoyed me some Rocky Mountain National Park!
Pro(s): No need for a bigger rental vehicle; no checking a bike; no assembly or disassembly; bike is right there at transition for you; no lugging your bike around
Con(s): Not amazingly cheap; may have a difficult time finding a participating shop
Recommended for: First timers; people with a lot of other stuff to be carting around (i.e. every triathlete ever)
Although I probably could have finagled a cheaper way of getting my bike to the race, Tribike Transport was far and away the easiest option of getting my bike out there. Given that triathlons are generally a logistical headache to begin with, the peace of mind associated with this service makes it worth serious consideration.
I recommend Tribike Transport to athletes competing in their first destination race before they go out and buy an expensive bike case. Even then it’s debatable whether or not you’re saving much in the long run. I will most likely be using them again for my next destination race.