Copied with permission from Bicycle Guide November '95


By Mark Riedy

It only takes one smashed bike and one ruined cycling vacation to realize that a good bicycle travel bag is a wise and worthy investment. I learned this lesson when I witnessed my bike, which had been ejected from a rain-soaked cardboard box, sliding across the tarmac of the Zurich airport. The only trace I ever saw of that bike was a reimbursement check from the airline--a payment that fell about $1000 short of replacing my rig. Traveling with a full-size bike, however, leaves you with the question of what to do with the travel case once you arrive at your destination. And the use of a foldable travel bike often leaves you feeling a little cheated in the performance department. Well, rest your troubled soul, fellow globetrotting cyclists, S&S Machine of Roseville, California, has the solution.

S&S Machine manufactures a pair of stainless steel couplings that allow for a bicycle frame of up to 64cm in seat tube length to be broken down into two pieces which fit into a space as small as 26x26x10 inches; this, not so coincidentally, meets most airlines' regular luggage size limitations. The S&S couplings, which sell for about $300 to $500 as a retrofit or about $200 as original equipment, are designed to fit on a traditional diamond frame and are available in four outside diameters (1 to 1 3/8 inches), which will work on just about any steel tubeset currently on the market (S&S has also introduced a titanium model in use by Ti-Cycles and Merlin Metalworks, among others).

S&S owner Steve Smilanick, inventor of the couplings, happened upon the idea for what he considers "a no-compromises travel bike" when he began to investigate the possibilities of taking a bike on a cruise ship. "My travel agent looked into it and the cruise lines were refusing to accept any piece of luggage larger than 26x26x10 inches. I didn't want to settle for one of the folding bikes on the market so I had to figure out how to fit my Bianchi road bike into a piece of regulation luggage," he explained.

Traveling with an S&S-equipped bike is made even easier with the accessories that are offered by Smilanick. If you're planning to fly with the S&S bike (the best reason to use the couplings), you'll want to purchase the 26x26x10-inch polyethylene hard case ($333). Pack your S&S bike in the gray bomb shelter of a case, and even the most disgruntled baggage handler won't be able to damage your machine. The price for the hard case and the couplings (something like $600) may seem a bit steep, but when you consider that the average charge for carrying a bike on a plane is about $45 one-way, you'll realize that it will only take half a dozen round-trip flights to pay for your S&S components.

In addition to being cheaper to travel with, the S&S hard case is also a lot less hassle than traveling with a full-size travel case. The S&S hard case will fit in most cars (in the trunk or back seat), won't scare off cab drivers, is easy to carry on public transportation and, most important, will stop people from asking the mind-numbing "What ya got in there?" Also suitable for airline travel is the S&S backpack case, a 26x26x10-inch nylon case that can be folded down to a 26x16x5-inch backpack.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to using the S&S couplings is jumping the mental hurdle of feeling as though the bike might come apart on the fly. Smilanick reports that he has had to educate both the industry and the public as to the integrity of his product. "The couplings are stronger than a frame tube," he said, "and I've never heard of any coming loose, including those on mountain bikes."

I checked the couplings on our Waterford/S&S test bike after every ride and never found them to be loose. And as to the integrity of the frame, if you didn't look down, you'd probably never know they were there. In fact, I know of one person who used them on a downhill mountain bike and loved them. The couplings do add a bit less than a pound to a typical steel frame, so if you're a weight freak, you may opt to lug around a regular travel case.

S&S Machine lists 23 frame builders in the U.S. that build frames or retrofit existing bikes with the couplings (Salsa and Co-Motion have stock frames with the couplings). You can reach S&S at 9334 Viking Pl., Roseville, CA 95747; (800)763-5564.

Technical Correction by S and S Machine - S and S Machine noticed a weight discrepancy in this article stating that the couplings "add a bit less than a pound to a typical frame." In actuality the total weight added to a typical road bike with a 1 inch top tube and a 1 1/8 inch down tube is exactly 8 ounces or one half pound. The Waterford tested in this article uses oversize tubes so it is 9 ounces heavier than the same bike built without couplings.

Copied with permission from Bicycle Guide/Bicyclist / Petersen Publishing Co., 6420 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, Phone (213) 782-2201

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