There are many considerations when traveling with your tandem that should be discussed even before you purchase. The first consideration is whether to purchase a coupled bike or a traditional, non-coupled tandem. Here are our professional thoughts and personal experiences from traveling with our own tandem.
What is a “Coupled Tandem”?
S&S Machine, a company in California, created the Bicycle Torque Couplers or BTC in 1994. Designed to allow your bike to come apart in sections, couplers allow you to pack your tandem bike into cases for easy airline travel. (Note: bikes with couplers are NOT the same as bikes that fold.) The BTCs add minimal weight to your bike, with no compromise in ride quality. We have never seen a single problem with the couplers.
In our opinion, these couplers are truly engineering marvels. As a leading dealer for Co-Motion tandems, we have sold more coupled bikes than we can count. It’s a terrific option to consider, if you have any notion of traveling with your tandem. Keep in mind that a traditional tandem frame cannot be retrofitted with couplers.
Do Couplers Affect Ride Quality?
No! Many customers ask if there is additional frame flex with a coupled bike. The couplers actually increase the frame stiffness. The ride quality on a coupled tandem is every bit the same as a tandem without couplers. We have never had a customer dissatisfied with the ride of their coupled bike.
How Much do Coupled Tandems Weigh?
Today’s coupled tandem bikes have a “no-lateral” design and only four (4) couplers are required; the additional weight is LESS than two (2) pounds!
How Much do Coupled Tandems Cost?
The price of coupled bikes depends upon many things. At Tandem Cycle Works, our coupled tandems start at just under $5,200 for the Co-Motion Primera Co-Pilot. The most popular bike we sell is the Co-Motion Carrera Co-Pilot. This bike is approximately $8,300. Yes, you can spend more on a coupled bike.
Both Co-Motion Cycles and Calfee Design offer coupled tandems. Both tandem builders offer models with couplers as an OPTION. The additional price of the couplers on a tandem adds $1,350 to $2,500 (depending on frame builder) to the price of the same bike without couplers. Remember that a frame without couplers cannot be retrofitted to add couplers at a later time.
We recognize this is a considerable sum. When spending this much, it is important to work with us at Tandem Cycle Works to make CERTAIN you are fitted properly, know all the options available to you, and that you have had the chance to see and ride a variety of tandem models. While there is a wealth of information online, you simply cannot ride a bike on the internet! Because of this, we have customers from around the world who recognize the value of our expertise in making this very important purchase.
What do the Airlines Charge to Fly with a Tandem?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions we get and it’s really a two-part answer, depending on whether you have a coupled tandem or a non-coupled one.
Flying with a Coupled Travel Tandem: Cases are All-Important!
We highly recommend the Original S&S Hard Cases that measure 26x26x10 inches, or 62 linear inches. They protect your tandem, from both the inside and outside. You will need 2 for your tandem. They may seem a bit pricey, but your bike is worth it! Remember that your vacation depends upon you AND your tandem arriving safely. These cases are NOT oversized and your bike in the cases will easily stay UNDER the 50-pound weight limit imposed by the airlines — provided you resist adding too many “extras” to the cases.
We have NEVER been charged additional luggage fees for flying with our bike. Our bike has NEVER been damaged in the cases. Please RE-READ those last 2 sentences. No charge. No damage. No kidding!
Protection from the Outside:
The Original S&S Hard Cases are very durable and have served us beautifully for many years, with no damage to our bike. Soft-sized cases can tear or rip quite easily. The shop’s previous owners, at one time rented a full-sized, soft-sided, Bike Pro case with hard plastic inserts. This is a very expensive full-sized tandem case. After the first rental, the case came back with tears in the fabric and one wheel ripped off.
On the other hand, we have watched baggage handlers THROW our hard-sided cases across the tarmac. Seriously! This struck fear into our hearts, as you can imagine. When we got to our destination and opened our cases with trepidation, much to our amazement our bike was perfectly fine.
Protection from the Inside:
The inside advantage of the hard cases focuses on plastic dowels called Compression Members. These are not used with soft-sided cases. Compression members protect your tandem from the inside-out. These plastic dowels with end caps are slightly wider than the cases. When you pack a tandem in the Original S&S hard cases, these compression members are placed inside the case and brace the case from the inside. So, when the baggage handlers toss your tandem around at the airport, the bike is protected and the compressions members take the brunt of the handling rather than YOUR BIKE.
Still not convinced that hard cases are the way to go?
Look at the photo at the top of this page. See the BLACK case toward the right of the picture? It is the ONE soft case among all those gray cases, which are the hard cases we prefer. Notice that it is covered with DUCT TAPE. Need we say more?
What We Have Learned
We have had ticket agents question us about the cases but we have never had to pay a penny extra. If the ticket agent indicates that the cases are oversized they are mistaken. The Original S&S Hard Cases we sell at Tandem Cycle Works are 26x26x10 inches (total linear dimensions of 62 inches). This is NOT oversized on any major airline, to our knowledge. Having said this, we have been challenged by ticket agents but when given the dimensions, they acquiesce. We think that because the cases are square in shape, ticket agents are concerned that the cases will not fit on the luggage belts. THEY WILL.
Case Weight, Contents, and the Devil is in the Details!
When your bike is packed, each hard case weighs approximately 43-45 lbs.; the weight limit per bag is 50 lb. You WILL be charged if a piece of luggage exceeds 50 lbs. You must be careful to avoid exceeding the weight limit by packing too many extras into your cases. Make sure to weigh your cases after the bike has been packed, to ensure they stay under the 50 lb. weight limit.
We make it a point to AVOID telling ticket agents that the cases contain a bike or a tandem. If asked, we simply say the cases contain “bike parts.” This is a true statement; the cases do indeed contain a bunch of bike parts! Customers have told us that sometimes ticket agents try to charge for travel with a bike, regardless of case size or weight. In the new era of airline fees, we think it best to NOT use the “B” or the “T” word!
We recommend that you print the luggage size and weight information from the airline’s website on which you will travel and take this with you to the airport. If you are going somewhere where English is not the first language, we recommend you print the airline luggage info in the language of the country you visit. This is back-up in the event you have “discussions” with ticket agents since, when it comes to fees, the bottom line is that you are at the mercy of the ticket agent at the airport. Remember, too that you attract more bees with honey than vinegar!
Flying with a Non-Coupled Tandem: Be Prepared to Pay
You can fly with your NON-coupled tandem on all major airlines. The issue is not IF you will pay, but how much you will pay for this privilege. PLEASE NOTE: it is NOT cheaper to send the bike via freight or shipping company! This will only incur extra costs and time on your part.
Excess baggage fees that you will pay for non-coupled tandems are moving targets. You may pay $0 one way and several hundred dollars on your return trip. There is no rhyme or reason to this, so there is little value to calling ahead to determine these charges. The one thing that we will guarantee is that when you arrive at the airport the actual charges you pay will be different than those quoted to you on the phone. So don’t waste the time and energy trying to figure this out beforehand. Recently some customers reported to us a new high-water mark of $550 one-way to fly with their tandem on an international flight. OUCH! Coming home, however, the bike flew for free. Go figure.
Beyond the Airlines: Trains, Taxis, Hotels and Shipping Tandems
Travel by train with a coupled tandem is a breeze. The cases are regular luggage, so there should be no issues with taking your tandem on trains.
Many newer high-speed trains, such as the TGV in France, cannot accommodate a non-coupled bike. If you have a non-coupled tandem, you must make certain to verify the type of train and their policies about bikes before your trip.
When you arrive with a packed coupled bike in a European city, you may need to request a larger taxi to transport you, your bike, and your other luggage to your first night’s hotel. We have found these larger taxis readily available. Many large cities also have shuttle services that can work well to get you to your destination.
With a non-coupled bike, a taxi or shuttle van is likely not possible. You may need to arrange special transport from the airport to your hotel after arrival and this will incur significantly more costs than a taxi from the airport. This should be scheduled in advance!
When we travel by ourselves, we often ask hoteliers in our arrival or departure city if they will store our cases for us while we are off riding our tandem. Every time we have asked, the innkeepers have graciously agreed to store our bike cases, sometimes for more than two weeks.
We are certain this would not be possible with a full-sized tandem case. Many hotels overseas, particularly in large European cities, are cramped with very small lobbies, and space is at a premium. These hotels simply have no place to store the giant tandem case, which we affectionately call “the coffin.” If you travel with a non-coupled bike, do not make the assumption that a hotel will have space to store your large tandem case.
In the US, we have done point-to-point trips where we fly into one city, ride for a week or two, and then fly home from another city. On this type of trip, we arrange to ship the cases from our starting point to our ending destination. This is easy with the S&S hard cases. They can be sent via UPS for a very reasonable price. We always make it a point to let the innkeepers know our plan and this works beautifully. When we arrive at our destination, our bike cases are in our room, waiting for us.
UPS will not accept your full-sized tandem case. It is just too big.
Many customers have traveled on tours with their non-coupled bikes. After their first trip, we often see them at our shop, ready to buy a coupled tandem. These customers have seen firsthand how easy coupled tandems make the travel experience. Since they have been bitten by the travel bug, they are ready to make the move to a coupled tandem!