Alternating Slip-stitch socks
Spring has officially sprung and the first daffodils are flowering in the garden, albeit looking a little the worse for wear as a result of the recent snowfalls. I’ve even done a little pruning and clearing up.
Still not really the weather to be thinking about summer knitting though, and I’m continuing to work on my blue socks.
Bikes on planes
I’ve begun thinking about making transportation bags for our bikes. We’re planning a ride from Girona to Toulouse in the summer, which means putting them on planes yet again. Once upon a time we would simply rock up to an airport on our bikes, let a little air out of the tyres, drop the seats and handlebars, twist the bars through 90°, remove the pedals and then wheel them over to the check-in counter. A baggage handler would be summoned to take them away, we’d ask him with a smile to treat them gently and off they would go. Or, when flying with British Airways, the check-in clerk would issue us (for free) with a large polythene bag each, in would go the bike and that would be that. All quite fuss free and, as long as our luggage including the bikes was less than the 20-25kg luggage allowance, at no extra cost. As a bike that is essentially still in one piece doesn’t fit on a check-in weigh belt, the clerk would normally take our word for how heavy they were.
Alas, things began to change when the budget airlines came along. Charges are now pretty much universal, usually at the level of £30 / €30 per single flight, except for “Riotair” which charges a lot more. I can live with £60 for a return trip, the overall cost of a flight is still no more than it was 25 years ago thanks to the downwards pressure on prices resulting from so many budget carriers in the market. It makes it more cost-effective to hire for short trips, but for anything longer than about a week to 10 days it’s still cheaper fly with a bike.
The real issue nowadays is the airlines’ packaging requirements for bikes. Virtually all insist they are bagged or boxed (and at a size which makes removing at least the front wheel necessary). This is problematic for touring cyclists who want to ride to and from the airport and have nowhere to leave packaging while they are touring. For A to B tours, there is no alternative but to carry the packaging with you, which means a box is out of the question and a bag must be lightweight and foldable into a small package.
For the last 8-10 years we have dealt with this by using heavy gauge polythene bags that were originally supplied by Cycling UK, and now by Wiggle to CUK’s specification. They are very similar to the free BA bags of old, and we usually manage to get 4 single flights out of each one before it is totally shredded. While touring, these bags can be rolled up and tied behind the saddle. They aren’t as lightweight as I’d like, but they do have the advantage that it’s easy to see there’s a cycle within, which (hopefully) means the baggage handlers treat them with a degree of care. Touch wood, after maybe 40 individual flights since we first got these bikes in 1996, we’ve only had minor damage, the worst of which was a bent wheel and a damaged chainring. There’s always going to be a risk when committing a bike that’s not in a rigid box to an airline, but it’s worth it for the comfort and convenience of touring on the bike that you know well and that fits you perfectly. I wouldn’t fly with an expensive bike though.
Unfortunately, airlines are becoming fussier and more and more check-in staff are refusing to accept that something that is essentially a big plastic bag is suitable packaging for a bicycle. Jet2 for example, the main budget carrier which flies from our local airport (Leeds/Bradford), now insists that a bike is wrapped in cardboard and its staff turn their noses up at the CUK polythene bags. We almost didn’t get the bikes onto the Nice flight for our Riviera tour last summer – no cardboard, because Jet2 had never actually taken any notice of that particular term in their conditions before – and had to sign limited release waivers. For the flight back from Pisa we begged a whole load of cardboard cartons from a bar near the airport and wrapped them around the bikes, inside their poly bags. Fortunately, our last night in Pisa was spent at an Airbnb less than a mile from the airport, or that could have been a difficult exercise.
This time around, I want to be better prepared. An opaque bike bag has the disadvantage that its somewhat fragile contents won’t be apparent, but that can be resolved with appropriate writing and symbols on the outside. The big advantage is that check-in staff won’t be able to say, “But that’s just a big plastic bag, it’s not a proper bike bag”. I have a lot of fairly large pieces of rip-stop fabric left over from a kite-making phase which should do.
I intend to make bags with internal slots in which large pieces of cardboard can be inserted, if available, to provide some stiffness and protection. On the outbound journey, the cardboard will simply be thrown away at the arrival airport and the rip-stop bags can then be rolled up and tied behind the saddle. For the return journey it would be tempting fate to rely on finding suitable cardboard boxes to cut up at the departure airport, but after last summer’s Pisa episode we know that we can carry flattened boxes on our bikes for short distances by just attaching them with bungees.
The first step in this plan was dismantling one of our bikes as if for flying, ie removing the front wheel and pedals, turning the handlebars sideways, dropping the saddle, etc.
I’ve tried wrapping an old shower curtain around it – we kept it to use as a dust sheet when decorating – to work out what size and shape the bag needs to be. I’m thinking that it will be fastened with Velcro rather than a zip – no possibility of it breaking or jamming, more foldable and openable at any point along its length, which might be useful if access to a particular part of the bike is needed. The bag will also need carrying handles that somehow go around the frame of the bike so that they don’t rip off if the bag is carelessly treated. Lots to think about.