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Creating the ultimate bike case for travel: the origins of Transfer Case

Travel has always been a passion of mine. My close family members live in all corners of the world, and I feel most at home when I’m exploring a new city or country. And ever since I got into cycling as a teenager, I’ve been hooked on taking my bicycle everywhere.

In 2014, I prepared for my most ambitious adventure yet: a solo cycling trip through Northern Vietnam. I had been inspired by the book Catfish and Mandala, a vivid memoir on exploring Vietnam by bicycle for a year, and the Top Gear episode touring Vietnam, with the stunning scenery the hosts encountered on the Hai Van Pass. I had no personal connection to Vietnam (my ancestry is Filipino), but those two sources of inspiration planted the seeds of the Southeast Asia travel bug that I still have today.

[UPDATE NOVEMBER 2018:  I finally rode Hai Van Pass taking my bicycle there with Transfer Case. Photo credit: Kevin Milhovic]

I chose my bicycle route with care. I had a hard case that barely made the 50 pound weight limit for United Airlines, so I arranged my itinerary to include bases in bigger cities where I could leave my luggage at hotels and ride out to explore from there. I packed my cyclocross bike with the fat 33c tires I thought I needed for rural Vietnam and a front rack for panniers, and I got ready to leave.

A big jolt at the airport

I took the local train from my house to the San Francisco airport and clumsily got off the train with my heavy case. I heaved it onto a luggage cart and pushed it to the United check-in counter. The moment I arrived, the United agent called me out for clearly having a bike in the case. “You know that will cost $200 each way to bring that on board, right?”

My heart dropped. With three legs on my flight, it would have cost me $600 out of pocket just to bring my bike. Ouch.

The most important aspect of the trip, having my bike, I didn’t look into the cost of bringing it. I painfully deliberated my options. Do I fork out the money? Do I simply buy a bike in Vietnam?

Reluctantly, I called up a friend who graciously drove to SFO at the last minute to pick up my bike and take it home. I got on the plane and went on my trip. Those few weeks ended up being a landmark adventure that cemented Vietnam as one of my favorite places in the world. But instead of touring the country on a bicycle, as I had been planning for months, I ended up spending it mostly on foot.

There was no great way to travel with your bicycle.

As much as I searched, there was no such thing as a compact, lightweight, and versatile bicycle case out there. I’m sure you’ve all weighed the options too:

  • Hard cases are protective but come at a massive weight penalty. Dragging the hard case around the airport was not only difficult and impractical. I felt a bit self-conscious, too, pushing a big case around.
  • Soft cases are a popular option for its lighter weight, but they’re but are not much smaller and not all soft cases provide adequate bike protection.
  • Cardboard boxes work if you have only one destination but not ideal if you’re moving around during the trip. Contending with the big size of the box while catching a train or bus in a new city isn’t very practical either.

Cost was the other major barrier. Most of us aren’t sponsored athletes, and we have no teams to cover the oversize fees and travel expenses. As appealing as a breakaway travel or folding bike that can fit in a “normal”-sized suitcase sounded, they came with compromises, and I preferred riding a full-size bike instead. I had researched ways to sneak bikes onto your plane, such as disassembling it to pieces and packing it in a way to not look like a bike. It works, but the trick was to make your box or luggage not look like a bike case.

I knew a protective bike case with no space wasted and no excess weight was possible. I wanted something that would make it easy for anyone to travel with their bikes wherever they went: on planes, trains, and the back trunks of cars. I had designed and sewn over a hundred bags and backpacks before, and with years of experience as an Industrial Designer, I knew it was time to try this project. In my garage workshop, fired up the Juki, and set out to design a case that was compact, protective, and lightweight.

Three years, seven prototypes, and a dozen trips later: Transfer Case

It's difficult to capture, in a single blog post, three years of work and many hours of research, prototype-making, and testing. But after several personal cycling trips, lending out the prototypes to industry friends for feedback and testing, and successfully taking prototypes on over a dozen flights - this is how I, and the team I later brought on, arrived at Transfer Case.

Here’s what our ideal case looked like:

  • Fully mobile and versatile for moving around transit terminals and at your destination.
  • Fit the minimum dimension of a bicycle frame and wheels with little to no wasted space.
  • Compact and lightweight for ease of moving around, reducing or avoiding travel fees, and storage when not in use.
  • Protect the bicycle from most abuse that luggage is susceptible to during travel.

Prototype 1: A Revelation

For months after my Vietnam trip I had been sketching, researching and hypothesizing on a bike case. From my sewing machine and hands came the first prototype, made in my garage. I prototyped design details from removable side panels to 3D printed frame dropout holders. The latter proved to be unnecessary to traveling with a bike as I found it better to have the frame "float" inside the case instead of securing it. The best (and only) way to verify these ideas was to try it.

With my bike packed, the prototype's first trip was a trip from San Francisco to Vancouver and back. The airline counter agents didn't question the prototype and let me through. First test of avoiding or reducing airline fees: Success.

If you've been on a trip and longed to have your bicycle, then you know there's no greater desire than having your bike. It was like magic seeing the prototype come out of the baggage claim carousel for the first time, ready to explore Vancouver. There it was, my bike, instead of resorting to a rental or no bike at all, like before. I rolled the prototype case on its set of wheels through the airport and into the light rail to town, before building the bike at the hotel. Easy to move around: Check.

There where a number of things to be improved, as mentioned below, but most importantly, this prototype validated that travel with a bike in a compact and mobile way was possible. From that moment, I wanted to share this magic of traveling with a bike with all cyclists. Next steps: refinements.


Prototype 2: Reaching further

(That's the prototype, red arrow, looking discreet and compact next to other luggage on the train from the Taipei airport.)

After refining the geometry and lending out the bag to friends for some outside testing, dimensions were refined to fit most small and medium bikes for this first case size. However, this prototype didn't have exterior wheels which didn't make it as mobile as it needed. With a steel road bike, a U-lock, and a healthy amount of tools, it still only weighed in at 18.3kg.

Prototype 3: Refinement

In this round, refinements of the details, geometry, and graphics were made that would make its way to the two final sizes of Transfer Case you see on this website. It wasn't fully dialed, and it didn't yet have compartments for the fork and other small parts, but it was enough to be a sample for factories that we'd soon approach be approaching.


Prototypes 4-7: Getting ready for production

(Randall's 135L prototype for taking his bike through China and Steffan's 150L in transit to Germany)

Funny how my travels came full circle. Vietnam happens to be a prime location for bag and luggage manufacturing and I found myself coming back there to develop Transfer Case. Post has long been a personal brand of mine, but by this time, 2017, I needed to bring in a team to help with sourcing, branding, and marketing. After a long search for suitable factories, we found a wonderful factory outside Ho Chi Minh City with a dedicated development staff that enabled access supplies and manufacturing processes that an independent design team could never have gotten on their own. Several refinements later, with more cyclists testing the Case on their bicycle travels, we arrived at where we are today.

Where we are today: April 2018

Marc working with technicians at the factory to get every last detail right.

After another four prototypes and finalizing the last details of the product, we're getting ready to launch pre-orders for Transfer Case. We made the decision to base ourselves in Vietnam to keep a close eye on production. By manufacturing here and partnering with global logistics groups, we can ship Transfer Case to many countries around the world. By collaborating closely with the factory and having Post team members on the ground, we can ensure every Transfer Case made meets the quality standards that cyclists expect with all their gear. We can’t wait for what comes next: bringing Transfer Case to you.

Planning your next trip? We’re thrilled to announce that Transfer Case is now out! Sign up for our mailing list to stay in touch with us at Post and be one of the first to hear about savings and updates. We can’t wait to hear about your adventures.

- Marc Mendoza
Founder & Lead Designer of Post Carry Co.