I have flown three times with my bike and I'm here to tell you it is not the most fun thing you can do. In case you have not directly experienced this particular thrill, let me start by sharing the reasons of un-fun-ness here:
You have to drag your giant bike case along with your luggage into and out of the airport. This is extra-special when you travel alone and have to take all the gear for three sports, regular clothes for a variety of weather conditions/hiking/sightseeing, and computer/work stuff. Like many people, I am constrained to two arms for luggage maneuvering.
Bikes get delayed. About ten of us on my flight waited two extra days for bikes to arrive to ITU Worlds in New Zealand because they didn't have room for all of them in cargo and there were limited flights from LA to Auckland on Air New Zealand. It was pretty stressful and I spent a lot of time figuring out a "plan B" if my bike did not arrive.
TSA gropes your bike and can't be counted on to pack it back up safely. Once you pass your bike box off to TSA, all you can do is stand there helplessly as you watch them open the box, move things around, and swab it for drugs or explosives or whatever. The key to keeping things secure in my particular box is to have the straps cinched up very tight. TSA can be counted on NOT to do that.
Bikes can get damaged. So far I have been fortunate, but that is not always the case. The boxes get handled a lot - loaded, unloaded, thrown, transported, loaded again, unloaded again...each is an opportunity for damage. I saw one person in New Zealand filing a claim for a damaged box and bike.
You have to find a taxi that has room for the bike box.
If you are staying to travel more after the race, you have to store your bike somewhere.
It's expensive! You pay a hefty amount of money to fly with a bike ($100-$300 each way)
Read this recent article in the Washington Post, Airlines change gears on passengers flying with bikes. The author does not expect things to improve.
So for my trip to Age Group Nationals I looked into other options to get the bike to the hotel.
Tribike Transport, that ships your bike intact, was not an option because the closest pickup location was 200 miles away. Plus it's really not much/any cheaper than flying the bike.
I could have asked a driving friend to take it, but that feels like an imposition and honestly, I'm not that crazy about it hanging off the back of a car or sitting on top for 750 miles. That left shipping the bike.
ALTERNATIVE A: Ship direct with FedEx/UPS
First I took the bike box to our local packing/shipping store for an estimate. They used a formula that involved differential calculus, my astrological sign, and a patented chemical process to determine that it would be expensive as #$&*@ to send it. It was going to be around $200 each way. Forget that. It was no cheaper than flying.
It took four pieces of paper to get an estimate.
ALTERNATIVE B: Bikeflights.com
Oddly enough, just as I had given up on the idea of shipping my bike, an issue of Triathlete magazine arrived in my mailbox. Jesse Thomas had written an article about traveling to races called "Pack it up, Pack it in" in which he mentioned that he uses a service called BikeFlights.com, which "buys labels from FedEx using prepopulated dimensions based on your specific bike box or bag." They basically wholesale the shipping service.
Compare complexity of the photo above to this one:
examples of bike boxes, just pick yours off the list!
No PhD in applied Mathematics required...just two zip codes and knowing what bike box you have!! Then you get this:
Those ground rates of $62 out and $67 back seemed too good to be true (yeah OK not exactly a bike "flight" but that's OK), so I sent an email off to customer support and got a reply back almost instantly. It turned out I knew the person who emailed me back, so I gave him a call and asked if this was legit? That conversation put my mind at ease to give it a try.
I paid for shipping, added a little for extra insurance, and very quickly received PDFs of the shipping labels for both directions. Per instructions, I put a copy of the shipping label in the box, one in a small luggage tag on the outside, and another went in a sturdy pouch that FedEx cable tied to the box.
I packed as much as I could into the box, because unlike with the airlines where you need to stay under 50 lbs, the weight is not really an issue (up to 90 lbs or something?). I put in my bike pump, bike shoes, breakfast food, bike bottles, transition towel, and some other odds and ends.
I shipped the bike off on a Monday (thank you Equipment Coach for the drop-off service) so it would arrive at the hotel the day before I did. I called the hotel to let them know it was coming, then tracked the bike. It appeared to have been on just three trucks in total for the duration of its trip. It was nice to have that job done so I could focus on other things the last day or two before I had to leave. I loved knowing the bike was there waiting for me!!
When I arrived at the hotel, the box, and bike, were there in perfect condition! All set for two days of racing!
The morning of departure, I packed the bike up and took it as far as the hotel lobby. I called FedEx to schedule a pickup, and before I even checked out of the hotel, the bike had been picked up. It arrived back in town, two days later, safe and sound!
I will definitely use Bikefights.com from now on. Even if it was the same cost as flying with the bike, I'd still use it for the fact that it eliminates nearly all the hassle factors I list above.
It could not have been any more convenient or simple! (This was an unsolicited endorsement, I received no compensation, just very happy with the service and wanting to share.)