I'll Have Couplers With That

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The threat of winter makes me want to bundle up with a cup of tea (not Earl Grey!), lots of blankets, and – don’t judge me – trashy TV shows. Since I avoid cold weather at all costs, the winter definitely cuts into my riding time. Luckily I have a Kurt Kinetic trainer and Spinervals DVDs on the way to keep me from turning into a lump. Hey, an indoor trainer might help me with my speed since there will be no stops to say, “hi” to random dairy cows or farmers’ markets with irresistible treats.

I then start thinking about the alternative to hibernation – a vacation to somewhere sunny and warm! That gets me thinking whether or not it will be a bicycle trip, which leads me to travel bikes. When I first started working at Bilenky Cycle Works (for real – not just sorting bank slips), I was 19. Handling steel and titanium retrofits became my “specialty” early on since custom bicycles had too many technical and geometrical (that’s math) details for me to confidently sell at the time. I have since learned a whole lot more about the ins and outs of custom Bilenky bikes, but that’s a story for another day! Maybe my next column?

A little background on turning an existing bike into a travel bike: Almost all steel and titanium bikes can be retrofitted with S&S couplers – even bikes with ovalized tubing. Some builders even retrofit carbon, but we stick to our two loves, steel and ti. The bikes are cut and then the couplers are brazed (for steel bikes) or welded in (ti bikes). Paint is touched up or completely redone and then the bike is sent back in a nifty airline-legal hard case with all the accessories to get your bike travel on.

Oh, you want my top reasons why you should have at least one bike with couplers? Well then:

1. Your retrofitted bike in the case now flies as regular baggage. That’s about $25 for us regular folks, $0 if you fly Southwest and also $0 if you are ballin’ and have some sort of elite airline status. I hope to get there one day….That’s a whole lot cheaper than shipping your bike to your travel destination ahead of time or checking it in a huge bike box for a couple hundred bucks.

2. The awesomeness of having your own bike that fits you while you are traveling. If you are not normal-sized (like me – waaaa!) then it’s really hard to find a rental bike that fits. Hello, kid’s beach cruiser bike. And you could buy a folding bike, but I don’t think I’d want to go on a two week European tour on a folding bike. Fast descents in the Alps on 16” wheels? No thanks. This is not a hate letter about folding bikes for anyone thinking I’m getting mean; they are awesome and perfect for commuting. I’d take the 20 second fold-up time for riding NJ transit (or any daily mass transit) over the conductor yelling at me for not having bungee cords for my full size bike any day. Yes, that really happened, and yes I’m still bitter over it.

3. The general convenience of being able to make your bike smaller if need be. You can break it in half to put in your trunk, backseat, or boat. Unless your bike is ridiculously small like mine and can fit in the backseat completely together, (sad, I know) this is a huge help!

4. Couplers make a great conversation starter. And if you just moved to a new town like I did and are looking for new friends, you need all the help you can get!

And speaking of travel and bikes, who wants to join Bilenky Cycle Works for their 2nd epic Framebuilder Express train trip from Chicago to Sacramento for the 2012 NAHBS?! Guaranteed shop talk and shenanigans!



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