My biggest concern travelling to France for the Etape last month was figuring out a way to travel with my bike. I wanted a case that would, most importantly, protect my bike. But I didn't want to bring along a huge, heavy, hard case that would be a pain to lug around. I wanted something that I could move easily and that I could take onto a train or put into a taxi with minimal fuss. Essentially, like everything in cycling, I wanted something light and strong. I had heard about the Pika Packworks EEP case for a while through some other cyclists and some of the online reviews of the case were very favorable. So I decided to give it a try. And I'm glad I did.
Pika Packworks is a small company. Actually, I believe it's really just a one-man operation. I had a chance to talk to Mark Smedley over the phone before ordering the case and he sounds like one of the nicest guys out there. Mark makes all the bags... by hand... in his basement. He learned how to sew when he was young and, as a graduate student, gained experience sewing heavy fabrics because he was constantly repairing his rock-climbing bags. Using his experience as a mountain bike racer, he developed the EEP (Exercise Equipment Pack), which is the bag I used for my trip. His bags have been used by pro-level racing teams for years and has gained quite a following in the cycling community, despite the fact that he does no advertising. All his business is from word-of-mouth recommendations or user reviews.
The case itself is constructed of a tough nylon fabric on the outside. Think industrial strength. Inside, it's lined with a yellow fabric that lets you see clearly into the bottom of the bag. (This seems like a minor issue but when you're looking for that missing screw or skewer spring, it definitely helps.) The bag itself is extremely light (less than 12lbs) and measures 49"x28"x 10". In fact, it's so light that when I first received it, I began to have some trepidations about actually packing and traveling with my bike in this case. Fortunately, those fears were unfounded.
Packing the bike into the Pika was relatively straightforward. To pack the bike, you have to take the wheels, handlebar and stem (you can leave the stem on and just take off the handlebars but I'm a bit picky about my handlebar angle), the seatpost/saddle, and the pedals. The rear derailleur is unscrewed from the hanger. That probably takes less than 10 minutes to do. The frame itself is then placed in the bag on a "frame" of firm foam and the derailleur (which is still attached to the bike) is placed inside a little padded pouch. The handlebars are fastened to the frame with a few straps. The wheels are placed in the sides of the bag, the seatpost, saddle, pedals, etc. are placed in little pouches on the inside of the bag. Everything is then closed and fastened with some straps and you're done! Overall, the packing took about 20 minutes altogether. Easy as pie.
Of course, the main concern about a soft case is whether it'll actually do it's job of protecting the bike. As you can see in the pictures, the bike is actually very well protected by several thick pieces of foam padding. After I had packed in the bike, I felt very confident that it'd survive virtually anything that the airlines could throw at it. Yes, if they ran over the case with a truck, I'd probably be SOL... but outside of some catastrophic accident, I felt like it'd be fine.
The other benefit of the case is its weight. Fully packed, the case weighed less than 30 pounds. So it's light enough to carry around very easily, which is a big deal when traveling. And it's fairly small so it'll fit in the trunk of virtually any car. I took several taxis with this bag and it fit in every single one. Try doing that with a hard case. And finally, it's discreet. The bag has no markings on it that say that it's a bike bag so it's very possible that the ticket agent at the airlines may not think it's a bike and you could escape the draconian fees that they've been charging recently.
Ultimately, I traveled with the bike to Europe and never had a single issue. It was extremely easy to move around with and whenever I saw a fellow rider with a hard case, I actually felt a smattering of pity as they threw out their backs lugging their monstrosities around. And my bike was safe during the entire trip. Right before hanging up, Mark said to me "Thanks for trusting my bag to take care of your bike." You know what, Mark? It did. Thanks for making a great product.