If you had heard that travelling with your bicycle could suddenly be easier, enough so that you might pack a bike for trips on which you were officially doing other things, you would investigate, I trust. A standard bicycle - racing, touring, off-road, whatever your preference - that can be collapsed quickly into a modest travel suitcase, wheeled from your car to the airport ticket counter, checked in as regular luggage without comment from the airline or extra fees, later slipped into the trunk of even a "sub-compact" rental car, and re-assembled for a ride in a fresh location, that would be something.
And it already exists.
I reported on the Tour de France for the first time this summer. My biggest question while packing was one I had faced before: can I travel with a bike, or will the hassle be too much? This was to be a work trip, but it was about cycling: days spent in the car, driving the Tour de France route, eating breakfast with racers to talk strategy, training, team tactics, Tour lore. With clothing packed for all climates, and computer equipment, I had enough luggage already. But my wife said she wouldn't go to France unless I took a bicycle; she's seen me fidget and hop up and down when I'm forced to watch a race rather than compete in it. On the other hand, we almost spoiled one short vacation by trying to fit bicycles into a busy schedule and an inflexible rental car.
But when I thought I had decided I could go without riding for a month, I pictured the Alps, the Peyrenees, and countries where motorists actually salute cyclists when they pass. Then, just days before we flew to Europe, I discovered a travel bicycle at Wedgwood Cycles in Seattle. It was fitted with two discreet S and S Machine Couplings. It was a real bicycle - full size - that fit into a tiny case. I was smitten.
Thanks to express mail and the generosity of the S and S Coupling inventor, Steve Smilanick, I had a travel bike for five weeks in Europe.
I'll skip the technical descriptions; this website provides all you need. But let me tell about some of the riding, and how this new travel companion behaved.
I rode the last 60 kilometers of Stage 7, the first mountain stage in the 1996 Tour. (This was the day Miguel Indurain bonked [for the first time], took an illegal feed in desperation, and was fined and penalized time.) Sixty kilometers sounds like a jont, a little joyride. It's not even forty miles. No, consider the profile of this short ride. It climbed 4100 vertical feet, then descended 3700', and finished with a 2900', ten-mile knock out climb.
I mean to be writing about the bike, but my head is beginning to droop again just thinking about this ride. It was glorious riding, right up to the moment when I blew up so hard that I got off my bike, ate half a bag of Celestial Seasonings cough drops (great sugar source, odd cycling snack), and crept the final mile.
The bike was what got me in trouble. I was still fit from several months of racing, and before me were some of the world's most inviting roads for cycling. S and S Machine had loaned me a bright red, Steve Rex road bike. Beautifully fillet brazed, with light, well-configured steel tubing, this bike wanted a challenge. So up and up Rex and I went on the first climb, me thrilled to be riding, the bike happy to be have its top and down tubes re attached. [Here I must interject: if you are concerned that the S and S couplings, tightened with a simple spanner, compromise the ride, forget it. My Steve Rex model, equipped with Mavic parts and wheels, felt lighter than the top-of-the-line Bianchi that I race at home. While you might not choose to retro-fit your favorite race frame with couplings just for novelty's sake, a coupling-equipped frame will still perform like a perfect race machine. I found out on the descent.]
The drama of the 3700 foot descent in Stage 7 is that you can see almost to the bottom of it as you crest the mountain pass at the top. A giant alpine valley opens in front of you. At the far end of the valley, as it dips down into the alpine town of Bourg St. Maurice, is a narrow road; that's where you're headed. I didn't count switchbacks, but it was easy to see why many the Tour pros dumped their bikes in the turns, and why one rider even missed a corner completely, and went airborne.
The compliment I paid the travel bike through this undiluted stretch of high-speed descending was that I didn't worry about it. I thought about it, enough to ask myself what the signals were from this unfamiliar bike, supporting me well past 50mph. But the bike didn't flex unpredictably; the couplings didn't seem to exist. I was simply riding a smooth, precise steel bike. I looked ahead, not down. And I passed several hundred Tour cars; they couldn't handle the turns.
This was meant to be about the bike, and it has ended up being about the riding in the Alps. Maybe that's a better focus. The point is, without the invention of S and S Machine Bicycle Torque Couplings, (their full and proper name), I wouldn't have endured the bother of packing a bike for this month of Tour de France reporting. And when I did get out for rides, the coupling-equipped Steve Rex bike was simply another sweet-riding frame. By the time the Tour passed through Spain, I'd even stopped carrying the coupling spanner: the couplings had never needed retightening, despite some very jarring tar-and-pebble roads.
If you would no longer go out for a ride because you had to carry an extra half-full water bottle - that's the weight equivalent of a pair of couplings - you've probably stopped loving all your bikes. But weight, shmait! Eight extra ounces has liberated travelling with a bicycle! The question is no longer about where you can take a bike, it's why didn't they think of this before?