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‘Scuse me. Is this the trail to Terminal C?

On May 21, 2019, American Airlines announced it was ending its policy of charging oversized baggage fees for certain types of sporting equipment. Spoiler alert: bikes were included, and people rejoiced.

Say what you will about American (people say a lot, and loudly), but it’s the biggest airline in North America whether you’re measuring passengers carried, fleet size, destinations served, or flights per day. If you’re trying to travel, there’s a good chance American Airlines will be taking you there — and with the new baggage policies in effect, there’s a good chance they’ll be taking your bike, too. Many other domestic airlines followed American and dropped bike charges too.

Bike bags under 50 pounds are now eligible for the standard checked bag rate of $30, which is far more reasonable than the previous $150 American was stealing from poor dirt surfers everywhere. To accurately experience this brave new world of air travel with a bike, I decided to bite the bullet for Singletracks readers and venture from Asheville up to Whistler. Selfless, I know. Before I could head out on my pilgrimage to Crankworx, I needed a way to transport my bike. Fortunately, Dakine stepped up with their Bike Roller Bag.

Is that Johnny Bravo? Getting photobombed by cartoons in Squamish.

The Bike Roller Bag is a soft-sided case that sacrifices hard-shell armor for a few key benefits. The main advantage is that it weighs in at a feathery 17.75 pounds, which is crucial. If bike and bag can’t make it under American’s 50-pound weight limit, you’re back to paying a medieval $150 to fly your bike.

There is plenty of room in terms of both size and weight for my size large Giant Trance with 27.5″ wheels, but Dakine claims the bag can accommodate XL frame 29ers with ease. The other benefit is that the bag can be folded up to a more manageable size when not in use. Our truck had room for three bike bags folded up (and all the rest of our gear), but rigid cases would have presented a problem.

With a few pounds to spare and plenty of space in the bag, I strapped my helmet to my frame and filled a few voids with riding gear. As you can see, the TSA left their signature calling card. They were probably just making sure I had a 1x drivetrain.

When you’re ready to travel, all you have to do is remove your bike’s wheels and handlebars and unscrew the rear derailleur from the hanger. You can remove the rotors as well, but I opted not to thanks to the built-in pads in each of the wheel bags.

It would be easy to remove your brake rotors, but I trusted these built-in pads to keep them protected.

One wheel goes in the bag first, and then a padded sleeve goes around the fork lowers before the frame is placed inside. The rear triangle is buckled down onto a rigid foam block, and the fork is buckled to the hard plastic bottom of the bag.

The rear triangle is secured down onto the block with the axle in place for rigidity. The rear derailleur is removed from the hanger (but not the shifter cable) and tucked in a bag between the chainstays.

The fork sleeve is buckled to the bottom and held in place by a strap that goes over the stem.

A Velcro pad is then wrapped around the top tube and the downtube with an additional flap on the side to secure the handlebars. When everything is in place, the second wheel goes in next to the rear triangle and buckles to the first on the other side.

A pocket on the back of the fork sleeve keeps one bar end tucked away, while a pad secures the bars to the frame.

The system involves quite a few buckles, but they’re color-coded to make everything foolproof. Once everything is properly strapped down, the bike feels very secure inside the bag, and I was confident it could take anything American’s baggage handlers could throw at it. The bag itself is also built to last with smooth, rubberized wheels, a burly zipper, thick stitching, and a comfortable handle.

There are a TON of bike bags in the Vancouver airport during Crankworx. This tag confirms you have your baby and not someone else’s.

Now, let’s talk price. At $420 for the bag (compare prices, as low as $330 as of publication), this thing is not cheap. Judging from their sold-out status online, no one seems to mind. Deciding whether the bag is worth it for you comes down to a quick assessment and some simple math.

I was headed to British Columbia for 10 days, with riding planned in the North Shore, Squamish, Whistler, and the Sunshine Coast. Assuming bikes are always in stock (they aren’t), rental prices along the way ranged from $60 to $100 per day. If you rent, don’t forget that you’ll need to return the bike within business hours to avoid additional fees — which probably means missing the last three glorious hours of daylight.

On the other hand, paying $420 plus $30 each way to transport my bike would set me back $480, or $48/day. Interesting. Less money to ride my own bike, which I’m a big fan of, and I would also return from the trip with a bag for future adventures. Which means the same itinerary could be repeated next year for a “cost to ride” (CTR) of $6/day. Woah. Now that we’ve framed that $420 price tag in terms of an investment, it looks a lot better. In fact, I would argue that it’s the best money you’ll spend on biking all year.

Thanks to Dakine for loaning us the Bike Roller Bag for review.

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# Comments

  • tacklingdummy

    Nice gesture that American is dropping the fees. They will probably get a lot more MTB travelers now. However, the 50 lb limit is really tight. Most trail/enduro bikes weigh 30+ lbs and the bag weighs close to 18 lbs, so it is really cutting it super close with just the bike/bag. You are not able to pack necessary gear in the bike bag. I guess all your MTB gear has to go in the luggage.

  • 1sved1

    I’ve owned this bag for over a yr and flown with it at least 8-10 times. Never had a problem leaving my rotors on UNTIL I had an overzealous TSA inspector (or several- there were 3 of the TSA calling cards in my bag) who took everything apart and then put it back together like he/she was blind. Both rotors got bent on that trip. Now I take ’em off. Adds about 5 minutes to the packing process on each end. For reference, I have an Ibis Ripley (size large) 29er. I have to deflate the wheels to get them in but they fit easily after that. Bike with pedals is 29.5 lbs. Bike and bag together are 47.5 – 48. Flies as checked bag. I used to rent a lot, but no more! No worries about getting back to the shop before closing and I can be riding long before they open as well.

  • kastaupp

    The article gives a good sense of how to pack the bike, but not really on how well protected the bike is… I’d be curious to know how well the frame is protected from all sides, the fork and the wheel rims and spokes.

    • Michael Welch

      @kastaupp Sorry for the delayed reply! It’s tough to say from just one trip with the bag, but I certainly felt like my bike was well-protected. Everything is very securely strapped down so nothing shifts internally. As far as frame and wheel protection on the sides, it’s pretty much just the thick bag material and the space inside it keeping the frame from impacting anything. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more than you think.

      The bag obviously offers less protection than a rigid case, but given the weight penalty (and resulting upcharge) with a hard shell design I would rather travel with this thing. I had to send the bag back to Dakine after the review and for what it’s worth I plan to purchase one next time I have an opportunity to take a trip.

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