Flying to Colombia with Not a Bike Bag

Traveling to major cities, figuring out the taxi/train/bus to and from the airport, then bumbling about yet another globalized concrete jungle is usually not the experience we hope for when we dream of exploring the world.

To really get a feel for a city, you want to get on a bike. To really get a feel for a country, you want to get out of the city. I’ve promised myself I’d get a rental bike when I arrive, but half the time even when I’ve managed to find one they’ve been rubbish.

I tried that in Serbia. I had to get a friend to phone up a week ahead to get a proper road bike, then on the day they refused to let me have it. Another friend came to sort it out and eventually I got the bike, but I spent longer sneakily putting SPD-SLs on than I did riding the thing; the chain snapped at the first sign of an incline.

One way to avoid all of those problems is to take a bike with you.

I know, I was nervous too, even with an extra layer of cardboard over the top.

The trade-off between bike boxes is: “lightish and minimal padding”, or “strong and heavy”. There are some bomb-proof cases out there, but the heavier and bulkier they are the more you’re going to pay for the case (obviously), and the more you’ll end up paying to check them.

If I was off for a cycling holiday in the Alps with some mates and planned on taking the carbon road bike, I’d pay through the nose for a hard-shell, give the airline whatever they asked, and dump that treasure chest in the rental car.

This trip was a little different: A solo trip to Medellin, Colombia! I’ve been lucky enough to go there a few times, but never had a chance to ride. The route between airport and city is amazing, with some serious mountains. The airport is at about 2000m, so after a 500m climb, you just bomb down 1500m of switchback dual carriage way, playing Mario Kart with zero-fuck giving taxis and scooters.

A hard-shell was not an option here, and any sort of padded bag would lead to a tricky experience getting down the hill. I decided to go with a bag from Black Star Bags, designed for this sort of sneaky/lightweight situation, aptly named Not a Bike Bag. I shoved some cardboard in there, wrapped some bits with shit and old t-shirts, and it’s off to the races.

Watch me build and ride the bike in Colombia. I edited out the 20 minutes of trying to find a rogue headset spacer.

An amazing but hard 36km ride. My cross only has the one bottle cage so I was gasping half way into the 500m ride, and the 1500m descent was not as fun with the shoulder bag. I’d have loved to take my Surly Cross Check and shoved all my crap on the rack, but with a one-armed shoulder bag stuffed to the limits, I was getting pulled sideways and couldn’t see over my left shoulder to check for traffic.

I ended up riding the brakes a fair bit due to the messenger bag + missing spoke getting me down. A 32 spoke wheel shouldn’t give a damn about one spoke gone, but it was messing with my head anyway.

The spoke fixed the next day for the equivalent of $3 at Personality Bike. Go there, it’s an awesome little shop, and they tolerated this gringo idiota nicely. It was the only shop open due to the Pope being in town, so I’m extra glad I didn’t try renting.

An amazing experience, and the bike seems happy enough now the spoke is replaced. I’m buying a wheel bag, and right now the Zipp Padded Two Wheel Bag looks like the one. Even with the padding, I can strap itto my rack when I’m riding from the airport, and it should protect the wheels a damn site better than the layer of cardboard I shoved on there.

I’m also aware that I was lucky, and I’m not going to keep pushing that luck. Coming home was a real panic due to a two-stop Hurricane Irma dodge. I’m gonna write about building my Surly Cross Check into travel bike, to avoid panics in the future.

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