Travelling with your bike is (in our opinion) the best way to turn a good holiday into a great one, but there’s nothing that’ll ruin your trip faster than getting to your destination and finding your pride and joy didn’t survive the flight.
If you’re considering going on a cycling holiday, then it’s well worth looking at a protective bag or case to protect your bike in transit. But will you be better off with a soft-sided bag that’s less expensive and easier to store when you’re not using it, or a more expensive – but more durable – hard case?
In order to explore the pros and cons of each system, we took a look at the most popular case in each category from Scicon in a head-to-head matchup. Representing the world of soft cases is the Aerocomfort Road 3.0 TSA, while the realm of the hard case is championed by the Aerotech Evolution X TSA.
Soft case – Scicon Aerocomfort 3.0 TSA
External dimensions: 109cm L x 103cm W x 50 cm H
Folded dimensions: 98 x 41 x 34 cm
Frame size compatibility: Up to 62cm
Hard case – Scicon Aerotech Evolution X TSA
External dimensions: 114cm L x 36cm W x 94cm H
Folded dimensions: N/A
Although different in outer appearance, on the inside most hard and soft cases will be very similar, and the two tested bags from Scicon are no different. Any good modern travel case will have most, if not all, of the following: • a way to keep your frame from moving around during your flight; • the ability to accommodate both quick release and thru-axle frames; • somewhere to store your wheels during transit; • storage pockets for tools and other goodies that can’t be taken in passenger luggage (multi-tools, pedal wrenches etc.); and • ideally some wheels on the bottom to make rolling through airport terminals easier.
Will it fit?
Once you’ve weighed up the pros and cons of which option will best suit your needs, the last you thing you want when buying a travel bag or case and forgetting to measure whether your bike will fit inside. This won’t be a problem for most riders within a standard size range, but fitting everything inside can be a concern for very tall folks or cyclists whose bikes have an integrated seat post (ISP). Thankfully Scicon have an online tool on their website that enables riders to enter some basic measurements such as frame size and the bottom bracket-seat post collar length to determine whether or not a bike will fit inside before any money is outlaid.
Assembly and disassembly
Once you’ve determined whether your bike will fit inside, the next step is the most crucial – being able to disassemble your bike. When you’re stressed out and trying to make it to the airport on time, simplicity is key – the more steps there are in the process, the more that can potentially go wrong.
Thankfully with the Aerocomfort bag it’s reasonably straightforward – remove the wheels and place them in the bag’s interior pockets, attach the bike frame to the internal structure via the dropouts, strap it all down and close the zip, with no need to remove the seatpost or handlebars. If you forget any of those steps, there’s a handy sticker on the inside of the bag that reminds you of what you’re meant to be doing.
The Aerotech Evolution requires a little more disassembly, but still no more than is required for most hard cases. The first step is removing the wheels and attaching them to the integrated wheel chambers on one side of the bag, which can be organised pretty quickly. Once that’s accomplished, the next step is to lay the frame down on the padded bag liner and strap it in place. A little more disassembly is required for the hard case than the soft bag – you’ll most likely need to rotate the handlebars and remove the seatpost and pedals – but it’s nothing beyond the capabilities of anyone with a mini-tool to hand.
Scicon’s website boasts that the whole process with either bag can be done in the space of a few minutes, but based on our (admittedly ham-fisted) attempts with both the Aerocomfort and the Aerotech Evolution it’s probably best to allocate around 15 minutes to make sure everything is properly set up.
Travelling through the airport
Once your bike is securely strapped inside, it’s time to get to the airport. Thankfully the wheels on both the Aerocomfort and Aerotech Evolution make this a breeze, as both have recently had their wheels upgraded to make any comparisons to shopping trolley wheels a thing of the past.
Another consideration when flying with a bike is whether or not you’re trying to avoid being smacked with extra airline fees for transporting a bike - depending on the airline you may be charged with a few extra dollars or the equivalent of an arm and a leg. As a general rule, bags or cases that are fairly plan and nondescript have a better chance of skating through without attracting extra fees, while anything that obviously signals that you’re carrying a bicycle are more likely to attract attention. In this regard the Aerotech Evolution X is at a bit of a disadvantage compared to most soft cases, as the rear side of the case has a silhouette of a bicycle on it that will be difficult to explain away.
That being said, the extra peace of mind you gain from having your bike protected by the Aerotech Evolution’s hardened ABS composite exterior may be worth a few extra dollars in airline fees. Once your bike is checked in, you’ll need to attach a luggage tag. It’s a minor thing, but the labelled hanging point for a luggage tag on the Aerocomfort bag is a really thoughtful touch, while the hardened exterior of the Aerotech Evolution means you’ll need to find a flat part of the exterior to attach a tag to.
Another consideration is where to store your bag or case when it’s not being used – just like most cars will spend the majority of their time parked, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that your bag or case will spend a lot more time in a cupboard than in transit.
In this regard the Aerocomfort soft case is the clear winner, as it’s capable of being folded down to a much smaller size, and even comes with its own storage bag. It might sound weird to have a storage bag for a storage bag, but once everything is folded up and tucked away it makes a lot more sense, and is easily capable of fitting inside a household cupboard. The Aerotech hard case on the other hand can’t be packed down, so if you’re thinking of buying one it’s best to have a place in mind beforehand as to where it should be stored.
The choice between a hard case or soft travel bag is one that will ultimately come down to your personal preferences and priorities. Both options are meant to protect your bike after all, and if that protection is at the top of your wish list, then there’s really no going past a hard case to look after your needs. On the other hand, if you’re willing to compromise a little on that protection for greater ease of use, easier storage and a lower price, then a soft travel bag will be better suited.