Used with permission from Cycle June '98

Pack up your cycle in your old kit bag'

by Charles Maurer

When flying to the start of a cycling tour, I always throw a
spanner into the works. The works of our bicycles, that is.
That's because our cycles fly knocked down inside suitcases
and I need the spanner to put them back together.

Shipping cycles this way removes all worry about damage but used rarely to be possible. Until recently, few cycles could be broken down compactly enough and even fewer of them suitable for long-distance touring. Only the Bike Friday and the Moulton come to mind (see the review by Chris Juden, February/March 1995 issue) plus the Trice recumbent tricycle.

Now, however, any ordinary steel cycle can be made to knock down. The device permitting this is the patented 'Bicycle Torque Coupling', a device made by a Californian company, S&S Machine.

Any ordinary steel cycle
can be made to knock down-
the device permitting this
is the patented


Well connected

Bicycle Torque Couplings are threaded couplings like those used to splice hoses or water pipes but with a significant difference: the matting surfaces are tapered teeth (above) which take most of the bending and twisting. The couplings are superbly machined from stainless steel in two mating halves. Each half is brazed like a lug to the end of a tube that has been cut in two. The halves screw together, align the teeth, slide the collar over the threads and twist tight.

For tightening the collar, S&S supply a special spanner. It resembles a bottom-bracket spanner and, for good measure, works on pedals too.

The couplings are completely rigid-more rigid than the tubing itself, since they are fatter-and they require no attention in use once a few torquings have seated the threads. S&S have done destructive tests that show the couplings to be stronger than 531 tubing. Thus, if they are positioned toward the butt ends of tubes, where the wall thickness has not been reduced, they ought to have no detrimental effect on the frame.

The couplings come in seven sizes to fit tubing from 7/8 in. to 2 in.-round steel only, not oval or aluminum (although S&S do also make them in titanium for the Rolls-Royce crowd). Sizes for normal diameters of tubing weigh between 120 and 180 g.

The only fault I can find with them is that they have allowed some seepage of rainwater. A few rust spots have appeared inside the frame. The proprietor of S&S, Steve Smilanick, told me that he never expected the couplings to be used much in the rain (this is California), so that it never occurred to him to make them intrinsically waterproof.

Smilanick did worry that grit might foul the threads, so he supplied rubber sleeves to seal the couplings from the outside. He expected that those would do for rain as well. Unfortunately, he did not supply them for all coupling sizes and they were too tight for me to fit. 'Mot people don't bother with them,' he told me.

Much to his credit, though, when I explained my difficulty and the problem with rain, he sought out sleeving of a suppler rubber and sent me some in every size. Now, too, Smilanick supplies with each coupling a pair of thin discs that can be brazed inside to seal off the tubing properly.

Knock down, drag out

My wife Daphne and I own a tandem made by St. John Street Cycles for long-distance touring with extra-wide dropouts (160mm), fat tyres, full-sized mudguards, and carrying racks front and rear. All of it fits into two suitcases. It's a Chinese puzzle but it fits. The first time I unpacked it, I photographed its unpacking item by item. Those snaps have proved to be invaluable.

Six couplings divide the tamdem's frame into three chunks. In addition, the rear brake and deraileur cables split with the frame. The cables split with cable couplings-available through S&S too-that screw together something like the frame couplings. Packing the tandem requires removing both wheels, both handlebars, both seats, all pedals, one crank, most accessories, and unscrewing the cable and frame couplings. This takes me 90 minutes. This is exactly the time it takes me to pack our two solo Bikes Friday into a pair of suitcases.

Reassembling the tandem-or the Fridays-at the start of a tour takes as long as disassembling them and leaves us with empty suitcases. Green Gear, the manufacturer of the Bike Friday, make a device to convert suitcases into a trailer but I dislike towing a trailer, so we always arrange to fly to and from the same city and to store the suitcases somewhere.

Once we ditch the suitcases, we have exceptional freedom. We can take our bikes into all sorts of places where they are not allowed. All we need do is disassemble the tandem partially or fold the Fridays and stuff them into a couple of shoulder bags.

To get an idea of the flexibility this can add to a cycle tour, consider three examples:

This flexibility has removed us forever beyond the caprices of the successors to British Rail.

Carrying on

Our tandem fits into a pair of shoulder bags roughly 90cm square by 15 to 25cm thick. Fitting it in requires removing water bottles, pushing down saddles, turning both handlebars, derailing the chain from the front chaining, then separating four cable couplings and six frame couplings. From the fishing out the tool kit until everything is packed away, takes me 25 minutes. Folding a Bike Friday takes little more time or effort than locking it.

The only problem we have had with carrying the bikes in bags is their bulk. In railway carriages with compartments there is rarely a luggage rack or bin large enough to hold them. Either we block the corridor so that the bicycles are trodden on, or two of us occupy nearly all of a compartment. For this reason, on some crowded European trains we have thought it advisable to travel first class. It was annoying but the alternative would have been to ship the bikes separately. Better, we thought, to purchase comfort for ourselves than space in a van.

The only disadvantage to a knock-down cycle is its cost. For S&S couplings and corresponding cable couplings, St John Street Cycles charge roughly £175 for each place the frame is cut-£350 for a solo bike and £500 to £1100 for a tandem, depending upon how it is to be broken down. The premium in the UK for a Bike Friday over a comparable equipped conventional cycle appears to be roughly similar.

If you travel a lot, however, you are likely to recoup much of this cost, not in cash but in savings. Holidays abroad are usually dear and holiday time is irreplaceable. It does not take many days dealing with shipping forms or running around trying to replace broken bicycle bits to waste the cost of a set of couplings.

The only damage we have ever incurred has been to cables, and this has been my own fault. When packing and unpacking, it is remarkably easy to kink a cable, so I have learned to carry several spares. I use ordinary cable housings which are less likely to kink than high-tech ones.

To couple or to fold

I can recommend S&S couplings without reservations but any coupled cycle is a second choice. A cycle that folds is even more useful. After traveling with Bikes Friday, Daphne and I cannot conceive of ever again touring with conventional solo bicycle, not even bicycles with couplings.

We prefer the Bikes Friday around home, too, because they integrate better with other means of transport-we can toss them into any vehicle at all-and because we never need to leave them locked for hours on the street. They handle better with luggage, to boot. Soon after we bought them we sold our conventional tourers.

All-terrain bicycles used for real rough stuff are another story, though. Small-wheeled cycles are at a disadvantage on rough terrain even with fat tyres. If I wanted a transportable bike for off-road use, I would want a conventional ATB with S&S couplings. Since a bike for off-road use is usually bare of accessories, this would also knock down more conveniently than a tourer.

Tandems are so awkward that for us, who must begin every tour by plane, transportability is a sine qua non. We were sorely tempted by the Bike Friday's folding sibling, the Bike Two'sDay, but I was leery of its drive-train and brakes for loaded touring (for an unpublished review by Chris Juden send a stamped self-addressed envelope). That is why we went with a conventional tandem and couplings.

This machine was expensive but it has proved a joy. We prefer a tandem to solos and the couplings remove the usual logistical problems of traveling with one. We rode from St Malo to the Pyrenees, for instance, and dallied there until the day before we needed to return by train to catch the ferry to London. Bicycles were forbidden on the train and the SNCF required four days to transport one-but we just put the tandem in its bags and carried it aboard. A smiling controleur even gave us a hand.

The devil in the details

A tandem can be broken down into two pieces or three. Three pieces require twice as many couplings and cost twice as much. Unfortunately, to fit into a case that airlines define as conventional luggage requires breaking it into three. So, I suspect, would secreting one on a train.

S&S couplings can allow a conventional bicycle or half of a tandem to be packed inside a suitcase 26 x 26 x 10in-roughly 66 x 66 x 25cm. This is not a standard size but St John Street Cycle have one specially made. It is built of plywood clad with aluminum, appears to be serviceable, and costs £187.

A slicker alternative available to travelers to the US is supplied by S&S: a very sturdy molded ABS suitcase with wheels, costing $335. It offers remarkable protection when buttressed with a few internal braces (patented 'compression members,' $4), but rather wobbly in tow.

As an alternative to the suitcase, S&S also sell a patented rucksack the same size with stiffened sides and enormous pockets ($235). By stuffing those pockets and all the space inside solidly with clothing etc, this becomes protective for shipment, yet empty it can be compacted to something resembling an ordinary rucksack.

This is the idea, anyway. I can see it might be workable with a bare-bones bicycle but it strikes me as impracticably awkward for a touring bike with a full complement of mudguards and racks. I have not been tempted to try it.

To avoid scratches while packing a cycle, S&S supply rolls of padding with Velcro covering one face for $40. At that price, rags or pipe lagging and elastic bands will do as well.

On trains Daphne and I carry our tandem in zipped nylon 'Travel Bags" sold by Green Gear for their Bikes Friday and Two'sDay. We carry the rear section in the Friday's bag and the front two in the Two'sDay's, which is slightly larger. We do not bother with padding on trains. Although I have not tried it, it looks to me as though the Two'sDay bag would handle a complete conventional bicycle broken in two. Valley Cycles sell the bags for £63 and £88, respectively.

S&S offer a carrying bag as well but theirs is the same size as their suitcase, so that the bicycle would have to be disassembled completely to be fit in.


*S&S Machine, 9334 Viking Place, Roseville, CA 95747, USA. Web site; E-mail Their web site is unusually informative. Note that S&S will sell accessories by post to anyone but they will sell couplings only to professional framebuilders.

*Valley Cycles, Unit 2, Nene Court, The Embankment, Wellingborough, Northants NN8 1LD; tel (01933) 271030; E-mail

Dropped handlebars are awkward to pack and their protruding brake levers are exposed to damage. As a more practical alternative, Green Gear developed this H-shaped handlebar for their Bike Friday. When parallel to the ground it offers riding positions equivalent to all of those on randonneur bars except the hooks. It uses ATB brake levers, and any kind of shifters and has lots of places to mound accessories. Unlike straight bars with detachable ends, these put no uncomfortable joint beneath the hand. The H is formed from two T-shaped sections that join at the stem with sleeves inside and out.

The cost from Valley Cycles: £40, including an outer sleeve to fit one-inch stems.

Note the third gear-shift lever, the thumb-shifter to the left of centre. This makes the ideal control for a drag brake. The pilot can apply and adjust it while keeping both hands firmly on the bars and can flick it off in an instant.

It does not take many days dealing with shipping firms or running around trying to replace broken bicycle bits to waste the cost of a set of couplings.

Copyright 1998 by Charles Maurer. Used with permission.

Cycle' (formerly 'CT&C', the magazine of the UK's Cycle Touring Club) is published by Cyclist's Touring Club

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