When it comes to bike cases there are three basic choices: a cardboard box, a soft nylon bag, and a hard plastic case. Each option has its pros and cons, many of which don’t become obvious until you start travelling with them.
For the traveller on a tight budget, a cardboard box is great value for money (you can easily get one for free from most bike shops) but only offers minimal protection and is susceptible to the elements (such as heavy rain on the tarmac). In addition, cardboard boxes are difficult to drag through airports and load into hire cars or taxis.
In contrast, commercial cases are generally much easier to use — many are equipped with wheels, for example — and offer better protection and resilience. The extra protection comes at a cost though, both in terms of their retail value and weight. While hard cases are generally more robust than soft cases, they weigh more too, which makes them more difficult to load into a car. The extra weight also challenges the stringent weight allowances for international flights.
Budding cyclo-tourists can get a quick introduction to the bike case market by reading the work of the VeloNomad, this article at BikeRadar or these pieces here at CyclingTips. As you’ll see, there are plenty of choices that suit a wide range of budgets, though ultimately, regular travellers will benefit from buying a practical and robust case at the outset rather than worrying too much about the asking price. In this regard, prospective buyers will find themselves considering Biknd’s Helium bike case.
The Biknd Helium case occupies the upper end of the market, retailing in Australia for $700. Biknd is a Canadian company that was born in 2009 to bring the Helium bike case to market. With just one product in their catalogue, it’s fair to assume that the company is devoted to this soft case and indeed, have patents pending for the design. By utilising two large air bags (that look like small surf mats) to sandwich the frame, the Helium bike case aims to provide much of the same protection as a hard case without the extra weight.
The Helium bike case is 85cm tall, 127cm long, and 30cm wide, and weighs 11kg. The case is not a true lightweight, but even with the added weight of a modest bike, this case will barely tip the scales at 20kg, allowing for other items (such as a helmet, clothes, shoes and pump) to be added without any worries about excess weight.
The Helium case has a hard plastic base. On the outside, there are two sets of wheels, one of which swivels to help with maneuvering the packed case. On the inside, a front axle and quick-release skewer is fitted at one end to accept the forks, while a floating rear axle and skewer is attached via a strap at the other end so as to accommodate different wheelbases.
Packing the Helium case therefore starts with removing the wheels from the bike and attaching the front and rear dropouts to the axles. A large foam pad takes the weight of the frameset at the bottom bracket and a single adjustable strap is then used to keep it in place. The foam pad also keeps the chainrings off the bottom of the case.
Packing the rest of the bike is quick and easy — all that is required is to remove the pedals, seatpost and the handlebars or stem. Pads are provided to protect the fork blades and stem, and a sleeve is provided to cover the chainrings and chain stay of the bike. The instructions suggest positioning the frameset with the forks forward, but I prefer turning them around to protect the stem and keep the wheelbase as short as possible. I find that removing the bars rather than the stem saves on assembly time at the other end while keeping the front end locked down for the trip. The Helium case will accommodate frame sizes up to 64cm — after the seat post is removed — so owners of bikes with integrated seatposts will have to look elsewhere for a bike case.
The Helium bike case is equipped to pack a set of wheels on each side of the case, so travellers can opt to pack a spare set of wheels (or their preferred racing wheels). The hubs are held in place by recessed pockets, velcro straps and partially skewered caps. Once the wheels are packed, all that is left to do is remove the rear derailleur and find a spot for the seat, both of which fit easily within the rear triangle of the frame.
The air bags lay on top of the wheels and are best inflated with the provided pump after the sides have been zipped together. Biknd advise no more than 70 strokes and warn against overinflating the bags. The pump is easily stowed with the wheel skewers and pedals in one of two pockets at the top of the bag then the nose of the case can be closed like that of a cargo plane. Detailed instructions are included with the case and the video below shows the process in full.
The Helium bike case is very well thought out and provides lots of handy built-in features (such as the skewered caps for the wheels), so I was surprised that the designers didn’t provide a bag or pouch to protect the rear derailleur (after removal, of course) or an extra strap to secure the saddle/seatpost to the base of the bag. While the function of the Helium bike case is essentially unaffected by the absence of these features, their inclusion would have ensured almost total peace of mind.
I found this case to be intuitive to use and the only time I needed to refer to the instruction manual was to find out what all the extra padding was for. Packing and unpacking was quick and simple and, when not in use, the Helium case collapses into a compact bundle that is no larger than most artificial Christmas trees, and a lightweight nylon bag is provided for storage purposes.
This is perhaps one of my favourite features of this case, because it’ll be easy to pack away in a small hotel room and readily stored at home in a shed or roof-space. I had no trouble fitting the Helium case into the back of my small station wagon without having to fold the rear seats, guaranteeing an easy trip to the airport.
Some may find inflating the bags a little tiresome, and there might be a concern that anyone inspecting the case may deflate the bags during transit, but I consider these to be minor issues compared to all the great features on offer here. Unfortunately, I didn’t travel with this case so I can’t report on its performance in the hands of baggage handlers, but based on the strength of its features, I’d find it hard to consider another case for the job.
- Great design
- Easy to pack and unpack
- Compact bag that is easy to store
- Pumping up the air bags