Saturday, April 30, 2011

Green Travel: Bring a Folding Bicycle on an Airplane

I was in Los Angeles last week to attend an event; a friend from high school had gotten married, and his wife was having a baby shower. Shortly after I received the invitation, the best deal I could find was 3 weeks away, and so I booked the first flight leaving Oakland on a Tuesday morning, and the last flight coming back to Oakland the following week on a Wednesday night. My sister, who lives in LA, being a mother of an almost 4-year-old girl, hadn't been getting much sleep, and she balked at picking me up when my plane arrived at Burbank airport at 7:15 am. I decided that, when I arrived at my destination airport, I was not going to jump into a rented car, but get on my bike and, depending on the grace and mercy of the public transit system, ride to where I needed to go. The last time I was in Los Angeles was 4 years ago, for my sister's own baby shower, and I had a rental car for a week; by the time I came back to the Bay Area, I had gained 10 pounds, due to increased caloric intake and lack of physical activity. This time I was going to save money and get some more exercise. Here's what I did to become a green traveler (or, a green traveller, as they say in the United Kingdom):

What you will need:
  • tape measure
  • folding bike
  • bicycle lock
  • clear plastic garbage bag
  • bungee cord, also known as a shock cord
  1. Confirm your airline's baggage policy. I was allowed to check-in two bags for free, in accordance with the Southwest Airlines checked bags policy:
    Weight and Size Allowance:
    Maximum weight is 50 pounds and maximum size is 62 inches (length + width + height) per checked piece of luggage. ...[O]verweight items from 51 to 100 pounds and oversized items in excess of 62 inches but not more than 80 inches (e.g.; surfboards, bicycles, vaulting poles) will be accepted for a charge of $75 per item.
    If you don't want to be forced to pay $75 at the ticket counter, use measuring tape and a scale to make sure your bicycle conforms to the size and weight limitations. Besides your folding bike, I recommend you bring a backpack as your other bag, because your folding bike's wheels are smaller than your standard bicycle, and you don't want to make your ride even more unstable by having a heavy bag slung around your neck, hanging off one side, making your bicycle ride unpleasant and unsafe.

    If your bicycle lock is a U-lock, it's likely the TSA agent may consider that it can be used as a weapon, so don't try to bring it onto the airplane cabin in your carry-on; rather, lock your U-lock to your bicycle during the check-in.

  2. Pack light. Erykah Badu, in her famous "Bag Lady", exhorts, "Bag Lady, you're going to miss your bus. You can't hurry up, cause you got too much stuff."

    Do not be the bag lady, who would surely hurt her back, dragging all her bags like that! Besides my folding bike, I had one backpack, into which I put my laptop computer, a change of underwear and an extra pair of shorts, an extra 16-inch inner-tube, and hard plastic steel-core tire levers, in case I got a flat tire. I got a lot of my tips for how to pack light from this article.

  3. I decided to enclose my bike in a plastic bag in an effort to conform to Southwest's Special Luggage Sports Equipment Policy:
    Bicycles (defined as nonmotorized and having a single seat), including Bike Friday and Co-Pilot, properly packed in a hard-sided bicycle box that fall within the dimensions and weight limits established for normal Checked Baggage, (i.e., 62 inches or less in overall dimensions and less than 50 pounds in weight). Pedals and handlebars must be removed and packaged in protective materials so as not to be damaged by or cause damage to other Baggage. Bicycles packaged in cardboard or soft-sided cases will be transported as conditionally accepted items.
    "Conditionally accepted" means Southwest assumes no liability for damage sustained during transport. I decided on a see-through transparent bag because I imagine the airport baggage handlers will be a bit more careful if they are able to see that it's a bicycle they are handling, than if the bicycle was in a canvas bag or hard-sided case. Once your bike is unfolded at your destination airport, you can easily store the plastic bag in your backpack.

  4. You will also want to bring a spare inner tube that is in your folding bike's tire size, and tire levers, in case you get a flat tire. Los Angeles has a lot of gas stations, bike shops, and people with bicycles and tire pumps in their garages, where you can use a pump if need be, but if you will not be in a densely populated area, you may also want to bring along a bike pump. By the way, for those of you concerned with how the change in air pressure during a flight may or may not affect the compressed air in your bicycle tires: before I began my voyage, I had my tires inflated beyond the recommended upper limit, and at both of my destination airports, when I received my bike, there was never any problem with my tires or inner tubes.

My 2005 Dahon Presto Lite. This model is no longer available for retail sale. I bought mine second-hand. It came without mud guards.

Folded size, with right pedal, is 30 x 20 x 17, for a total of 67 linear inches. On this model, the right pedal is easily removable. Folded size, without right pedal, is 30 x 20 x 11, for a total of 61 linear inches. Weight is about 18 pounds.

Folded bike with U-lock, locked to frame.

Folded bike with U-lock, locked to frame, covered by clear plastic garbage bag, and secured with bungee cord.

Did you ever have any problems, or unexpected events or hiccups, with checking-in your bike at the airport?
On my recent flight, during both check-ins, with my removable right pedal affixed, neither Southwest ticket counter agent made an issue of the extra few linear inches or, for that matter, ever took out a measuring tape. There was one incident where, during my first check-in, a Southwest ticket counter agent said she would have to charge me $50 to transport a bicycle. However, I pointed out that, on their website, the Southwest policy is that bikes under the size and weight limit count as checked-in baggage and are not subject to a fee. The agent looked up the policy, gave my folding bike a once-over, looked at the bike's weight, and said it was ok.

If you're looking to buy a folding bike, I recommend:

though one drawback is the guide doesn't have folded-size dimensions. If you have the time to look for a second-hand, well-maintained bike for a good price, I recommend Craigslist, which is how I found mine.

Conceivably, you could also bring a folding bike with you on a boat cruise, or sight-seeing in an RV or tour bus. So now you have another option as a green tourist. Next time you travel, don't rent a car; bring a bicycle.

Friday, April 29, 2011

How to Pack Light, for Men and Women

In preparation for a recent trip to Los Angeles, I read up on some tips on how to travel smart and avoid baggage fees. Debra Saunders advises people to pack heavy, but this part of her column I definitely agree with:
European travel guru Rick Steves has recommended that, regardless of the length of a trip, that the savvy male tourist pack only three pairs of socks and underwear, a pair of shorts, two short-sleeved shirts, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweater, a windbreaker and one pair of shoes. On his Web site he tells vacationers they should fit everything they are taking into one "carry-on size bag."

A tip for couples traveling with a small child or children, from John Flinn:
"But you can't pack light if you're traveling with small children," protested several readers. Apparently no one told Andy Sedik of South San Francisco: "My wife and I just returned from a two-week trip to Eastern Europe with our 14-month-old daughter using only two carry-ons, an umbrella stroller and a diaper bag. Not only is it possible, it makes life on the road so much easier. Once you travel light, you never go back."

Tips for men from John Flinn (Note the sidebar, "The Art of Packing", which covers 'Packing for Cruises' and 'What Women Want'):
This is everything I pack for a typical three-week trip to Europe or South America, riding trains and buses and splitting my time between town and country. It all fits easily into a carry-on bag, with room left over for a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, a baguette and a few souvenirs.

Tips for women from Eliza Hussman:
I had carried around heavy suitcases for years, mostly because I always seemed to get a bad case of the "what ifs" while packing: "What if someone spills something on my dress and I need a backup?" or "What if it stops raining while I'm there and I need a swimsuit - or three?" or the dreaded "What if those sandals don't look as cute with that dress as I'd thought and my friend asks me if I brought a different pair?"

Tips for women from Christine Delsol
  • Two pairs of shoes is the maximum: Good walking shoes that will hold up for eight or 10 hours at a stretch, and a lighter pair -- comfortable sandals that can go with skirts for more formal outings in hot climates, or perhaps stylish flats in cooler weather.
  • A light, longish skirt is the best staple for hot climates. Unlike shorts, skirts can dress up or down, they are as welcome in restaurants and cathedrals as at the beach, they ward off sunburn and require little space. Take several.