Protection and ease of use for traveling abroad with your wheels
Every overseas bike vacation brings with it dilemmas regarding the packing of the bike. Transportation of bicycles is always a stressful event for the concerned owner, who constantly worries over the safe arrival of his precious steed from the moment it is ferried away at the airport and until it lays safely again in his or her arms.
In recent years, the common and simple option of packing your bike in a cardboard bicycle box obtained from your LBS has made room for more sophisticated solutions. Nowadays there is a wide variety of boxes and designated cases for rent or purchase, all of which provide better protection, increased ease of carrying, and in some cases also simplify the packing. During our recent bike trip to Slovenia we got to explore a number of transportation solutions, and I was lucky enough to examine the bike suitcase by Pro from the Shimano group.
The Pro Mega semi-soft suitcase has a rigid base with a semi-rigid frame and a top made of padded nylon fabric. The suitcase includes padded walls and plastic reinforcements in locations prone to be damaged by the rigors of traveling cargo, such as the upper corners of the bag. The interior includes an adjustable base made of lightweight aluminum tubes and two plastic anchors for connecting the wheel axles, which enable your pair to “stand up” on its own inside the case. The front hinge includes two openings – one for road bikes, another for mountain bikes. The Mega includes foam padding on the inside wall at critical points, such as axles and stems, on both sides, which are adjustable using Velcro strips.
The Mega’s base can be disassembled from the rest of the suitcase and connects to the case using four tightening straps, so that packing can be done separately. The level of detail invested in the design is proven in solutions like a plastic cover for covering the chainrings and cassette to prevent the rest of the case from getting grimy.
The wheels are stored in outer pockets with zippers on both sides of the suitcase, which double as rigid sidewalls, and adjustable foam pads protect the axle/rotor/cassette area. The suitcase also includes a dedicated foam protector for the bottom-top-steerer tube connection point of the front triangle, and provides the option of securing the handlebar (after removing the stem) with dedicated Velcro straps – a very elegant solution. The pad protecting the saddle gets an additional Velcro strap to further secure the seatpost to the side of the suitcase, so that everything will remain steady. Also included is a large mesh bag for packing cycling accessories such as pedals, a helmet, and clothing.
The Pro Mega rides on four wheels and has carry handles on the top and on its sides. When empty, the suitcase weighs 8.6kg (18.9lbs), which I find is a reasonable weight for the type of protection it provides.
Traveling with style
It is obvious that much thought has been invested in designing the Pro Mega for a variety of bicycle types, in maximizing the ease of use, and especially in protecting the traveling bike. At first glance the suitcase looks great, but exactly how to pack the bike using all the different parts of the suitcase is far from intuitive. However, a quick glance at the instructions and the picture becomes clear soon enough.
First, all you have to remove from the bike is the pedals, handlebars and wheels. Then, when the aluminum base has been separated from the suitcase, you lay the bike frame on it, tighten the wheel axes according to the directions, secure the front triangle protector, and fasten the handlebars to it. In the next stage, you slide everything into the suitcase and tighten the securing straps to the base. You then adjust the protective pads and fasten the seatpost strap. Finally, you can insert the wheels into the designated side pockets – which fit all wheel sizes – and the bike is packed and ready to fly.
My first attempt at packing my bike into the Pro Mega took me roughly 15 to 20 minutes. In addition to my 13kg (28.6lbs) All-Mountain bike, I threw in my helmet and crammed the mesh bag with additional equipment, bringing the total weight to approximately 24kg (52.8lbs). With a handle at the top level and two on the sides, lifting the suitcase is a breeze. The suitcase fit into the back of the taxi which picked me up to the airport, and slides in just as easily into the trunk of a station wagon. The four wheels turn smoothly, but because each wheel has 360-degree axis, it is at times difficult to guide it using only one hand; having at least two wheels fixed forward would have made the suitcase easier to roll towards its destination.
The flying bit went well – the bike arrived safely and undamaged, even though I used only the suitcase’s built-in protection without any extra padding. For those especially anxious about scratches, such as on the brake handles or frame, I recommend adding a piece of cloth or bubble wrap, because there may be some minor scratching.
To my surprise, the plastic device which anchored the rear axle did not survive the trip and arrived broken at its base. This did not cause any damage to the bike, but I did not expect such a result upon first using the Mega; this faulty part will likely be replaced as part of the product’s guarantee. In any case, packing to ship back home I still used the axis anchor as is, and I fortified it using duct tape; however, this decreased the ease of the packaging and assembly process, because the bike frame could no longer stand up by its own on the Mega’s aluminum base.
The Pro Mega suitcase is an elegant and professional bike packaging solution, which provides an efficient alternative to rigid boxes and other suitcases. It is clear that it was designed by riders with extra attention to detail. Two points dampened our enthusiasm – first, the snapping of the plastic anchor on the flight to our destination, and second, transporting the suitcase back was a bit cumbersome because of the structure of the wheel anchors.
However, after some comparisons with other traveling friends and product-testers using bags and cardboard boxes of different strengths, it appears the comfort and elegance of the Pro suitcase, in addition to the level of protection it offers, prove this suitcase to be a very effective bicycle transportation solution. Whoever travels frequently and is willing to invest the amount required will likely enjoy using it very much.