Living with S&S Couplers — a Love Story

DSC_9141

My Baby

For years I have dreamed of getting S&S Couplers put on my bike. S&S Couplers are stainless steel connectors that allow a full size bicycle to be disassembled and packed in a single airline legal suitcase.  I am probably not the typical S&S Coupler user, I did not get the couplers put on my bike so that I could do epic rides in Tuscany or ride through Mongolia. I got the couplers because I am a business traveler and I log about 75-100,000 air miles and 120 hotel nights a year.

bike1

Packed (minus tube protectors & TSA Net)

This spring I sent my beloved Bridgestone RB-1 off to Bilenky Cycle Works in Philadelphia to have the conversion done. The cost for the conversion, hard case, powdercoat, and accessories was about $1700. Some of the accessories, like the Velo Orange Quill Stem Adapter and Threadless Stem were necessary to make the bike easier to pack, others like the upgrade to Dura Ace BR-7700 brakes were not :) Since then I have taken the bike with me on 9 domestic round trip flights. Since Delta Airlines charges $150 each way to transport a bicycle, in 4 months I have already saved $2700in fees. One might argue that I would not really have spent $2700 transporting my bike — true, but I would not have had my bike with me either. To paraphrase the commercial, getting my bike converted $1700 — being able to ride my bike in San Francisco, Memphis. Washington DC, Annapolis, etc. … PRICELESS!!!

So, even though I have had the couplers only a few months, I consider myself a veteran. If you are considering S&S couplers for your bike, here are some things (in no particular order) that I have learned:

  • Packing will get easier — the first time I packed the bike, it took me forever and I could barely make it fit in the case. Now I am much faster at it and it seems that every time I pack it, the case gets bigger.
  • The TSA thinks your bike is a bomb — I fly out of the same small airport 2-3 times every month. No matter how many times the TSA sees my bike in its case, they open it. I think it’s ‘da bomb, apparently they think it’s a bomb. :(
  • Use the TSA net and compression members — buy the TSA net and the compression members to make the case more rigid and make it easier for the TSA to repack once they open the cast.
  • Chain wax is your friend  — consider waxing your chain. (Try this tutorial) I de-greased my chain with Simple Green and then I bought a potpourri sized crock pot to wax the chain in. The advantage is that the chain stays mostly dirt free. Since I take the chain on and off the bike almost weekly this is huge!!! I pack the chain in a ziploc bag in my case.
  • Use a quick-disconnect link on your chain — If you wax your chain, use quick disconnects so you can take it on and off the bike easily. I am able to easily disconnect the chain my hand.

    sfo

    San Francisco

  • Carry spare disconnect links — the disconnects are small. I keep a spares in my seat bag, in my suitcase, in my computer bag and in the small tool bag that I carry in the case.
  • Pump your tires at an LBS — on the advice of another traveler, I bought a Topeak Morph pump. It is small, light, has a pressure gauge, and acts like a mini floor pump. I still carry it with me but now I take my bike to local bike shops (LBSs) to get the tires pumped. It is simpler, faster and I get to check out bike shops — what’s not to love?
  • Ask the locals where to ride — another advantage of going to the LBS is that you can ask about where to ride. The Internet is a great resource but nothing beats going into a shop and asking local cyclists about current trail conditions, route recommendations and other advice.
  • Get an aheadset adapter if you have a threaded fork — most S&S owners will tell you that the hardest part about packing a road bike is making the drop bars fit. My bike has a threaded fork (old school!) so the stem made this task even worse. My first post-conversion purchase was a Velo Orange threadless adapter and threadless stem. I just remove the stem from the adapter but since it is a four-bolt stem, I could also remove the stem from the bars if I had too. The stem and adapter are shiny polished aluminum so I bought a polished aluminum seatpost to match :)
  • The cable disconnects work — I was surprised, I thought I would spend a lot of time adjusting my derailleurs. But the cable disconnects do a really good job. I do not spend any more time adjusting my derailleurs now than I did before I got the couplers.
  • Get a cart — the S&S case (I have the original grey one) is fine for short walks but in SFO, where it is a looong walk from baggage claim to the rental care, I have started using an airport baggage cart.
  • Check the tightness of the couplers before every ride — one day in Memphis, I was riding and something didn’t sound or feel right. After stopping and examining the bike I realized that my top tube coupler had come loose. I had to hand tighten it for the 7 mile trip back to the car :(
  • Carry an S&S wrench in your seat bag —I have a very small seat bag and the standard S&S wrench (the one with the pedal wrench on the other end) doesn’t fit. I bought a lightweight spanner wrench to go with the standard wrench that I got from Bilenky. It fits in my bag and now I have it as a spare.
  • Use high quality supple tires — one of the problems that I had initially with the bike was the tires. I had Continetal Ultra Gatorskins in 700×28. The problem was that even deflated the wheels really had to be forced into the case. The rear wheel was no problem but when the TSA opened the case, they always had to force the front wheel back in and on an early trip the case and wheel got somewhat damaged. My first attempt to solve this issue was to simply remove the front tire and tube. The problem is that the combination of the Gatorskin and Velocity Deep-V rims was very hard to work with. I’ve been working with clinchers for almost 40 years and these were still difficult to get off the rim. Even worse, I found myself puncturing a tube about 30% of the time and it was getting expensive. I decided to try a different tire. I switched to Shwalbe Ultremo ZXs with a folding bead. I originally switched because I believed they would be easier to remove. Even better, the tires are very supple and when I deflate them they fit into the case without forcing them at all. I also like the ride.
  • Toss some rags in the case — make sure you bring some rags along. There are many reasons, sometimes i use it to soften the grip on the S&S pedal tool when I need extra torque. I also give the chain a quick wipe before packing it and you never know when the bike will get dust or even mud on it and you’ll want to wipe it off before packing.
  • Bring the right tools — I bring a Park 3-way allen wrench with 4, 5 and 6mm heads, The S&S t0ol with pedal wrench, a small phillips screw driver (which I have yet to use) and a Pedros 8mm wrench for extra torque mounting and dismounting my crankset. I also bring along a tube of Finish Line Extreme Flouro Grease for the couplers, stem, seatpost and pedals. Of course I also bring a frame pump and seat bag with an extra tube,patch kit, tire irons, allen wrenches and lightweight S&S wrench to carry on the bike.
  • Protect the area where the freewheel rubs against the down tube — the one consistent problem that I have is that the way I pack my bike the freewheel has chewed up the powder coating on my down tube. Sort of removing the freewheel or the threaded headset, I just cant make the geometry work. Waterford recommends protecting the tube with a piece of heater hose. Oh well, I am going to get the bike powdercoated again this winter. Bilenkey’s shop did a good job, but I chose the color over the Internet and it’s too orange. I am going to have a local shop redo it in Little Red Wagon Red.
  • Wrap your seat and bar tape — Your seat and handlebar tape will get scuffed if you don’t protect them. I use plastic grocery bags and rubber bands.
  • Ride, ride, ride! — after all, that’s why you wanted S&S couplings in the first place.
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8 Responses to Living with S&S Couplers — a Love Story

  1. Tony D says:

    Great post, I’ve been considering doing the same to my XO-3… Particularly interesting to me because I do similar work travel to what you describe (though less of it). Do you have a ‘minimum’ stay that you’ll consider bringing the bike for.. i.e. 2+ nights?

    • Dave says:

      Tony, it really depends on where it is. Most of my trips are three days or longer, but if I am going someplace where there are really cool opportunities to ride (i.e. by the ocean, Central Park), I would definitely take the bike even for a short trip. I’d encourage you to take the plunge!

  2. You have links to many of the tools and other things that make this all work, but what is a TSA net and what are compression members? Furthermore, how do these keep the TSA from messing up a re-pack? Thanks.

  3. Pingback: In Praise of Local Bike Shops — Race Pace Bicycles, Columbia, MD | A Bike Life

  4. Craig Hicks says:

    A kind wheelbuilder recently showed me how to take on and off tires – I was skeptical there could be anything new to learn – but I was wrong, and several years of ignorance were removed. The trick is to get the bead into the center of the wheel. If you already know this then I apologize.

  5. Ron Zentz says:

    Thanks for the great info. Still working well? I have a 1986 RB-1 that is still my favorite. I’m thinking of taking the plunge since I now travel 2 to 3 times a month. Only 3 to 4 years until I retire, but there will be travel then too. I’m in Indiana so I may check out Waterford Bicycles for the conversion. I met Bilenky when we lived in PA. We got an estimate on a new tandem but my wife injured her back so not much tandem riding anymore. Thanks again. Love the RB-1!

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