Bike Travel and the TSA

Each time we travel with our folding or coupled bikes, I pack in anticipation of the TSA. What new rules and procedures are in place? Are they going to trash my pack? Packing the Modal, my travel bike, is a spatial puzzle. It goes in the case one way because of the wide rear dropouts that accommodate the custom sliders. After a dozen trips and Mark V’s master bike traveler tutelage, I’ve got it down to include a helmet and shoes.


For all the traveling we do, never had the TSA unpack my bike to swab it and then attempt to repack it (or seen it happen). LIH is a small airport so the agent did this in public view and I kept an eye on what he was doing. After carefully working with the parts and gear, he was struggling to get it back together and I signaled the supervisor and first asked if I can assist him. The supervisor agreed, as long as I didn’t touch anything. A few attempts later and making little progress with my boarding time approaching, I called the supervisor over again. I asked politely if I could repack it with them watching and they could swab the case again and swab me. The supervisor agreed and in a few minutes of stress, I repacked the case and got it closed.


A Quick Pack

That was the worst and quickest pack ever and won’t know until tonight how the bike survived. The TSA did not swab the case or me again. I told the supervisor I appreciated their assistance and proceeded to the security line. I later discovered I had bike grease all over me, including what looked like black war paint across my nose and face.

Advice from this trip is to not overpack the case or complicate it. When you’ve got a puzzle to pack, even a well-intentioned TSA agent just doing his job will not solve it. Anticipating case inspections, Mark V has created a pictogram for his case.


What did work was toe-strapping the frame and big parts together, but I’d not use a net because that’ll just cause them to dig around more.

When I posted the TSA agent photo to our Facebook page, a reader wrote that the TSA dumped his backpack S&S case out and refused to let him repack it. His bike got trashed.

Have you had this happen to you? How have you faired traveling with your bike?


The inside of the travel case looked like Chuck Norris roundhouse kicked it to Jens Voigt who ran over it with his bike. Then David Banner opened it, got angry, and turned into the Hulk while packing it, but there was NO DAMAGE!

That proves Pam’s method of packing is better. She just tosses everything into the case and closes the lid in about half the time.


next time i fly, i’m going to use the toe-strap overkill tactic even more.

also, though it’s tempting to try to put more things in your S&S case, I often pack **less** so that there is less for the TSA to be curious about.  in particular, i usually pack my tool kit in with my clothes bag.  a tool bag is a dense clump of metal that may attract attention in the x-ray scanner. as a result, my S&S case usually weighs around 42 lbs, but my clothes bag is often right on the 50 lbs limit.

Byron has a 12” deep case, while mine is a 10” case, so there is less interstitial space (and thus less temptation to pack more) in my case than his to begin. 

This case was not overpacked, but what caused the problem was the helmet. As that one goes in one place for a bike that only goes in one way. As anyone that travels with a bike knows, helmets take up much “rigid” space. My case always comes in under right at 50.00 pounds and that’s with the tools, shoes, helmet, and lock.

Color me not sympathetic. Designing a packable bike without taking TSA/Customs/Baggage Handlers—who might or might not care about getting things exactly right before trying to force the case shut—into account is a travel bike design fail. Maybe simpler dropout design which doesn’ t make the bike wider out back?

Conversely: You think that people working security at TSA have to pass “spatial puzzle” test before gaining employment? Maybe TSA tosses a tavern puzzle at them and gives them 15 min to solve it or they don’t get the job?

I got no sympathy for TSA, they can all go away for all their “security theater,” but not a lot of sympathy for not planning to deal with them in a bike supposedly designed for travel. You got lucky—when I’ve travelled, TSA went through my bags somewhere after I handed them off: imagine what your bike would have looked like if it had been inspected somewhere out of your view…

Did I ask for your sympathy or design critique? To the contrary, the bike is designed explicitly for travel and does its [job exceptionally well]( The case is opened each time we travel and this time I saw it happen with a TSA agent in full view. Sharing a bike travel story was the purpose of the post and much thought has gone into S&S couplings and how to pack the bike, as Mark’s comment said. My opening to the post said, “What new rules and procedures are in place? Are they going to trash my pack?” It’s an arms race between those that inspect luggage and those that travel with it. Also note that when we’re not traveling to tour or ride long miles, it’s with folding bikes [from Dahon](/tag/dahon). Those pack in about 3 minutes. Another travel bike option is a soft or hard case and then you’re going to pay 100 or more to fly it. The purpose of traveling with S&S is to arrive at your destination with a regular-size road bike and not pay ridiculous fees. If I packed that case without the helmet or shoes and instead put those in my suitcase, much less of a puzzle.

Easy boys - It does seem like the TSA are increasingly getting into peoples business.  Bikes, or set designs, or audio equipment - whatever the subjust.  Things are getting opened and doing what you can to make it easy to go back together isn’t a terrible idea.  I’m going to be bringing my new S&S bike on a trip here shortly as well and I’m also a little afraid of what they might try and do. 

I had problems years ago when they couldn’t get the simple Performance Hard Case back together.  They paged me at O’Hare and had me help them close it.

See what I said about “shoes and helmets.” Packing at an origami level with a bike, helmet, shoes, electronics and doing it to travel lightly is no easy task. I like Mark’s sign. Good luck on your pack and travel.

Nice Martaint… now you have me worried about taking my bike in the Performance case… I’m snapping a picture of how the bike should look packed and including some nicely designed job aids for the TSA agents…

I may pack some of my wife’s chocolate chip cookies.. and a card with my cell phone probably wouldn’t be a bad idea…

Are you traveling with a coupled, folding, or complete bike? If it’s complete in a hardshell, much less to worry about an inspection and repack. You’ll instead have the “how much will they charge me” and “did a crate of walnuts get stacked on it?” worrries. For a hard case, remove the bars and derailleur.

I have traveled with my folding bike in a hard case - I’ve never had a TSA problem with it, but the case is also oversized so it does cost more…maybe better than dealing with a damaged bike though? I don’t know.

We’ve talked to Montague a few times at Interbike requesting a review bike—like to try them out; especially, the single-speed. Noted above, I can pack our Dahons or Bromptons in about 5 minutes in comparison, but that’s for shorter trips and business travel. The penalty of 150 one way plus potential damage pays for itself in one trip for the case, a few more for the bike and/or conversion.

Byron, happy to coordinate getting a review bike for BikeHugger. I’ll contact you offline.

Dave Criswell - Montague Bikes

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