Testing bike travel cases is no walk in the park. While we would have loved to test these cases by galavanting all over the world with our bicycles, it just wasn't in the cards. Instead, we spent countless hours loading and unloading these cases with multiple bikes. We examined all of the nitty-gritty details in addition to the obvious, standout strengths and weaknesses of each case.
Not only did we pack and unpack these bike travel cases dozens of times, but we also hauled them in and out of our vehicles, walked down the street with them, collapsed them, stored them on shelves and in closets, measured them, and weighed the cases. Yes, it was a lot of work, but all in the name of compiling the most thorough review possible. All the while, we kept extremely detailed notes on each case. We ranked them on six unique metrics: protection (worth 30% of the final score), packing process (20%), ease of rolling/carrying (20%), security (10%), ease of storage (10%), and weight (10%).
Protection is absolutely critical. Bicycles can be worth a substantial amount of money. In some cases, they can be worth significantly more than a car. As a result, you want to make sure your bike arrives in one piece when you are traveling. You have been planning this bike trip for months or longer; the last thing you need is a snapped derailleur hanger or compromised frame because your bike travel case didn't offer enough protection.
To test the protective features of these cases, we packed bikes in the cases and left them in there for multiple days. During those days, we moved the cases/bikes around as much as possible. We took them in and out of cars/vans multiple times, we rolled them around, we stored them on their sides with items on top of them …we tried to mimic every airport scenario. After enough days, we opened up the cases and evaluated the bikes for damage.
The ease or difficulty of the packing process is critical. If a travel case is easier to use, there is less room for user error during the packing process. Some of the more complex systems open the door for a misplaced piece of padding or an exposed component. In addition, nobody wants to pull out the directions/instructions every single time they load the bike into the travel case. As a result, we strongly prefer a simple and straightforward packing process that leads to secure hold.
To test the packing process for each case, we packed and unpacked each case multiple times with different kinds of bikes. We used road/gravel bikes and 29-inch mountain bikes in the largest frame size we had available. By our logic, the larger the frame should make for the most difficult packing. We used an extra-large Trek Top Fuel and a 58cm Santa Cruz Stigmata. In addition to the geometry and handlebar differences between the road bike and the mountain bike, it was interesting to see if the full suspension aspect of the mountain bike came into play.
Ease of Rolling/Carrying
You can have the easiest to load and most protective bike travel case in the world, but if it is a pain to roll around/carry, it is rendered useless. Going to the airport or train station can be a stressful endeavor filled with thousands of people. Your ability to maneuver through these crowds, navigate lines, and move the case in and out of a taxi is critical. Once you have your bike checked in with the airline, there is a weight off your shoulders…it is just a matter of getting to that point.
To test the ease of rolling/carrying, we moved around with these cases as much as possible. We lifted them up onto countertops and vehicles paying close attention to how awkward or easy it was. We evaluated the grip points and handles to see how ergonomic they were. In terms of rolling, we took walks up and down the road looking for curbs to go up and off of. We did our best to mimic all of the obstacles you may find during a long day of traveling. We evaluated how each bike case handled the rolling and which struggled on cracked pavement and navigating obstacles.
In addition, we measured the wheels and wheelbases of each case. We checked the stance of the wheels to see if there was any connection between the stability of the case and the wheelbase. In addition, we measured to see if the larger wheels were more stable and confident over imperfect surfaces.
Ease of Storage
Ease of storage is quite important. The vast majority of the year, your case will not be hauling your beloved bike to exotic locations; it will be stored at your house. Whether it is stuffed in the closet of an apartment, buried in a shed, or posted up in the corner of your garage, it will not be in use. Many people are pinched on storage space at their residence and having a travel case that stores easily is critical.
To test this metric, we measured each case in its most collapsed position. For the soft cases, we rolled them up as small as possible and cinched down the straps. The goal was to create the optimal storage size. We also kept notes of the weights of each bike case, as this plays a roll in how easy it is to stuff it onto a high, awkward, shelf.
Weight is a bit of a double-edged sword when evaluating travel cases. On one hand, you want your case to be robust and burly enough to do its job and protect your bicycle. A flimsy and superlight case may not be able to stand up to abuse as successfully as a heavier-duty case. On the other hand, many airlines have weight limits to oversized luggage. While the majority of the weight will depend on your bicycle itself and not the travel case, the case is certainly a factor. If your case is three pounds over the weight limit when loaded, you will be wishing you purchased the travel case that was five pounds lighter.
To weigh our bikes, we used a Park Tool DS-1 digital hanging scale; a bike-specific scale that hangs from a work stand. We hung the bike cases from the scale to obtain a weight that we measured in pounds and ounces. The reason we used pounds and ounces as opposed to grams and kilograms is that is the unit of measure domestic airlines will be used to weigh your luggage. We weighed these cases without bikes in them but with the necessary packing materials in them.
Security features are noteworthy but not critical; that is part of the reason they are only worth 10% of the final score. If a thief wants your bike, he or she will just steal the whole case. An integrated locking system isn't going to be a major deterrent for the thief who breaks into a vehicle or hotel room to get to your bike. That said, it can serve as a minor deterrent for the opportunist who might want to sneak into your bag and grab something.
We tested the security features by evaluating any integrated locking systems that these bike cases offered. If they did not have any locking features, we looked at how difficult it would be to add a lock.
There you have it. Testing these bike travel cases was no easy task. It was quite the time-consuming endeavor and it involved a lot of lugging, rolling, and packing of these cases. We developed an excellent feel for the strengths and weaknesses of each option and our involved testing process was thorough. All in the name of finding the best case for you, your bikes, and your traveling needs.