Traveling for cycling events can be tricky. There are so many additional items that need to be prepped and packed beyond the typical fresh clothes and toothbrush of regular travel. When that cycling travel is done via air, it can be even trickier. Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years to help you and your bike fly as smoothly as possible.
All tools need to go in your bike box. Even more, they need to go in an easily sealable and containable bag in your bike box. I often see riders who only need a few tools for their bike, so they put them in a backpack or small suitcase to carry onto the plane. This almost always gets them some extra one-on-one time with security. And while I’m sure you can make a pretty good argument as to why your multi-tool is safe to bring onto the plane, this whole situation is easily avoidable by simply checking the tools with the bike.
Help them out, so they help you out. Going back to the first tip, make sure every item that you don’t want bouncing around freely in your bike box is in an easily sealable bag. TSA’s job is to figure out what is in your bike box. So if you’ve got a convoluted mess of tape, zip-ties, and bubble wrap to keep your belongings safe, you can guarantee those items will not be packaged the same after they leave security. Keep your packaging minimal and simple so that they can easily view all of your items, and return the internals of your bike box to the way you had it.
Also, never travel with unlabeled nutritional products. Electrolyte drink mixes, protein powders, gels, etc. should all be left in their original packaging. Again, help them out so they help you out.
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket:
I hate to say it, but anytime you’re flying with a bike you have to realize there is a very real possibility it will not arrive at your destination (on time at least). With that in mind, it’s important to plan for the worst. If for some reason it doesn’t arrive, what are your options? Can you borrow a bike? Rent a bike? Or are you just out of luck? I try to always keep an option open so that my race isn’t ruined due to an airline error. And with that, I always pack my shoes, helmet, glasses, and at least one kit in my carry-on. It may seem silly sacrificing all of that carry-on space for those items, up until the one time your emergency kit saves your race by allowing you to ride while the airline tries to track down your bike box.
There are two things that all endurance athletes across the world can agree upon: 1) airport food is over-priced and under-nutritious 2) you can never get enough water on an airplane. Unless I’m traveling for 24+ hours, I try to pack enough food to tie me over for the entire duration of my travels. A box of fig bars, a few baggies of trail mix, and some containers of fruit/veggies will usually do the trick. Beyond that, I always make sure to have a water bottle to carry through security and fill up once I’m at the gates. Your own water bottle is key to staying hydrated over long flights.