Thinking Outside the Box

Has anyone else noticed that airlines seem to know when you have packed critical items in a checked bag? It’s like they can see the stress on your face, “I need this when I land, please don’t lose it,” and they put it on the “Lose this one,” conveyor belt.

That’s why all my critical race gear – pedals and shoes, a couple of favorite snacks, power meter, lucky socks – goes with me into the cabin of the plane. As a time trialist, my aero-helmet is a “must have” on race day.  Luckily it came in this awesomely-protective box.

There’s one critical piece of equipment that I have, since the day I got the helmet and box, dreamt of being able to tuck inside: my handlebars.

Indeed, I have spent literally HOURS  – mostly at night or while on my training rides, but also many in broad daylight when I should have been doing productive work-related things – mentally editing and re-arranging the items in the box, trying in vain to get my custom-molded, integrated, carbon-fiber handlebars to fit.

Because I am a competitive cyclist with a funny arm, my handlebars are a critical piece of equipment – I can’t just pack them in the bike box. I have to carry them on the plane with me because, in the worst-case scenario – when they permanently lose your $7,000 bike and give you $1500 to replace it- I can at least use my bars to race on a borrowed bike.

Taking your handlebars off your bike is significantly more complicated, time-consuming, and just plain annoying than removing your pedals. (Steps 1-3 of 15: unwrap the bar tape, loosen the shift lever, un-bolt the bar-end shifter [ooohh – careful! all those little bits inside want to escape!]…. ) Then when you get off the plane, and, through some air travel miracle, your bike box appears down in baggage claim, you get to repeat the whole process in reverse. Removing my handlebars takes a 20-minute chore and turns it into a 40-minute project, and that’s assuming the shifting works properly once it’s put together again, which it almost never does. Still, tempting as it is, I can’t just pack my handlebars in my bike box.

All of this would be marginally tolerable if the dang handlebars weren’t such an unwieldy shape. But they are horribly awkward – sicking out of my Timbuktu bag at bizarre angles, banging my shins when shoved under the seat, and whacking people in the neck as I shimmy down the aisle to my seat in front of the bathroom at the rear of the plane.

This is all to say, I really, really, really wanted my custom handlebars to be easily removable and to fit in my helmet box.

Enter the Creative Genius.  More commonly known as Craig Calfee. He had been enlisted by the designer (that’s another post altogether) to build Handlebars v1.0. I sketched out my ideas for a more portable, more adjustable set-up, and made an appointment with Craig himself. As I drove the twisty route from Silicon Valley to Santa Cruz, I recalled how his face lights up and his eyes get all twinkly when discussion turns to glues, epoxies, and resins. He is endlessly creative and a master carbon fiber tinkerer. If anyone could solve my handlebar puzzle, it was Craig Calfee.

I had no idea how elegant the solution nor how entertaining the creative process would be.

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