A quick conference trip to Mexico – with the Tern Verge S27h folding bike

A few months back I traveled to southern Mexico for the International Association for Cross Cultural Psychology conference in San Cristobal de las Casas in the Chiapas region. I was there to do a couple of talks about my own research in Japan. It was a real fly-in fly-out sort of conference – I was only in Mexico for four days, three of which were taken up by the conference.

Mexico City, Mexico

Despite the really tight schedule, I decided to take my Tern Verge S27h folding bike (in  suitcase), so that I might find a little bit of time to explore the outer areas of the city of San Cristobal de las Casas. Sitting in the terminal building at Mexico City airport, waiting for my fourth flight in order to get to the Chiapas region from Japan, I was feeling impatient…itching to jump on a bike for a first ever bike ride in Central America.

San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico)

In the end all I did was a three-hour bike ride early in the morning on the first day of the conference: up before dawn and back in time for the first speaker at 9am. Accordingly, the city was still well and truly asleep by the time I got out in the morning.

San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico)

San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico)

I followed a few deserted streets out until I hit dirt roads, and carried on towards the outer east-side of the city.

Dirt road south of San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico

 By around 6:30am the outskirts of the city were waking up. Cheerful locals, all heading in the direction of the center of the city greeted me as I cycled past.

I took the chance to take a few pics of the way I had the bike set up for this very bare-bones trip. No rear rack for this trip…just the bare essentials.

Tern Verge S27h in San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico)

As always, the Tern Verge S27h is great fun to ride on gravel. Despite the small wheels, the fat Schwalbe Big Apple 2.15 tires smooth out the bumps. Just watch out for potholes…they’ll swallow those small tires whole!

Tern Verge S27h in Mexico (San Cristobal de las Casas)

Tern Verge S27h in Mexico (San Cristobal de las Casas)

I back-tracked a little to the west, and took a northerly ring road around the city, and followed my nose up a steep hill to a spot overlooking the city. At an elevation of 2,200m above sea level, it was a brisk but clear morning.

San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico)

Heading further up the hill, I found myself in largely indigenous locals’ areas…small farmlets and the smell of woodsmoke…and locals a little more stand-offish.

San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico)

By this time it was getting close to 8:30am, and I had to high-tail it back to the conference venue for the first talk of the morning. The road I was on looped back downhill, back past a beautiful church, brilliant white against a quarry background.

San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico)

Tern Verge S27h in Mexico (San Cristobal de las Casas)

From there it was a screaming downhill back to the city center, where I headed straight for the conference venue, arriving just in time for the start of the morning session. For which it seemed many registered participants had not bothered getting up!

San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico)

The rest of the four days consisted of two presentations that I had been accepted for, and listening to some other great research by others in the cross-cultural psychology field. Along with, of course, plenty of opportunities to network and make new friends and collaborations, whether it be over a civilized dinner…

San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico)

San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico)

Or over shots of home-made smoked tequila…this stuff tasted more or less like the smell of the fuel I put in my alcohol stove….

San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico)

Overall it was a great few days which left me wanting to get back to this area of the world for a more thorough exploration by bike.

San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico)

Packing a Tern Verge S27h Folding Bicycle into a Suitcase

I like to have a bicycle wherever I travel. And my recent five-day conference trip to Mexico was no exception.

Tern Verge S27h in Mexico (San Cristobal de las Casas)

And with many airlines offering free carriage of bicycles as sports equipment, often there’s no need to pack them into a box. Just put them into a bag of some description (either padded or not), and check them in. So long as the final package doesn’t exceed the weight limit (often 23kg for international flights), you’re good to go. Airlines I’ve flown recently that accept bicycles as free sports equipment include Air New Zealand, ANA (Japan), Austrian Airways (pre-registration required), Lufthansa (pre-registration reguired), and Air China.

Some airlines, however, still charge exorbitantly for bicycles that exceed the regulation size (157 linear cm for most flights). Some recent airlines I’ve flown recently include United Airlines and Aero Mexico. For airlines like this, you’ll either have to pay up to US$200 one-way for the bike, or try to fit the bike into a regulation-sized package.

This is where a small-wheeled folding bike comes into it’s own. Even a long-wheelbase, touring-oriented Tern Verge S27h folding bike (see my review here) fits into a regulation suitcase in less than 30 minutes. You can have your cake and eat it too.

Tern Verge S27h folding bicycle in an airline regulation size suitcase

Fitting a folding bike into a suitcase for the first time, however, is sort of like doing a jigsaw puzzle. So here, I’ve outlined how I managed to fit Tern Bicycle’s flagship touring folder into a cheap, very run-of-the-mill suitcase.

Suitcase size

Mine was a 75cm x 31cm x 50cm semi-rigid suitcase. To be honest, the size was less than ideal. A few extra centimeters in width would have been helpful. Being a semi-rigid case, however, I was able to force the case to accept the bike. The suitcase weighed 4kg when empty. Other options for suitcases include Tern’s Airporter, but the total linear dimensions of that case are 192cm, and this makes me reluctant to use it. It would only take one over-zealous check-in staff member to cost you US$200. That said, the Airporter option is super attractive, as there is much less disassembly required. Bike Friday also produces an awesome suitcase-tralier option which would allow me to ride away from the airport (I love being able to do this after a long flight), rather than having to lug the heavy suitcase to accommodation. The wheels etc add weight to the entire package though.

Total package weight

Including the suitcase, padding (tarp, cardboard, and foam pipe insulation), bike (Shimano Alfine 11-speed internal gear hub equipped) with no rear rack, tools, pedals, and locks, the total weight was 23.3kg. Add the collapsable Tern Cargo rack, and you’re probably looking at something around the 24kg mark. Remove the locks and add them to carry-on baggage, and you’ll be within the 23kg limit.


Step One - Remove the rear wheel, front wheel, mudguards, front and rear racks, kick-stand, seatpost, seat, handlebars, stem, and front forks. Collapse the Tern Cargo rack. Deflate the tires to reduce the diameter of the wheels; the Schwalbe Big Apple 2.15 tires are big! With a slightly wider and deeper suitcase, I think I would not have needed to remove the saddle from the seatpost, nor the handlebars from the stem, nor deflate the tires. If you’re using the standard (and in my opinion sub-optimal) DualDrive setup, you’ll need to remove the rear derailleur also. To avoid the rear triangle being crushed, make sure to insert a pipe secured by a quick-release or something similar. My pipe is made from cheap PVC tubing cut to the right length.

Tern Verge S27h folding bicycle in an airline regulation size suitcase

 Step Two Place the saddle, padded seatpost and stem, and Spartan rack on the outer bottom of the suitcase. Next place the rear wheel on the bottom right-hand-side of the suitcase, with mudguards around the tire. It is highly recommended to remove the disk brake rotors, to avoid them getting bent. To protect the bottom of the suitcase, a plastic axle disk is recommended.

Tern Verge S27h folding bicycle in an airline regulation size suitcase

Step Three - Fold the tarp over this layer. Place the handlebars at the top. Place the folded main frame into the suitcase top-tube down, with the rear triangle at the left bottom. Slide a piece of cardboard between the top tube and handlebars to protect against rubbing. The forks can now be slid into the rear triangle. Make sure to pad all metal-on-metal contact points with cardboard or foam. In particular take care to pad the area where the axle on the rear axle protrudes; I missed this point on my first try and ended up with some serious gouging on the seat tube.

Tern Verge S27h folding bicycle in an airline regulation size suitcase

Step Four - Fold the tarp over this second layer, and lay the front wheel down. Once again, better to remove the disk brake rotor to avoid it getting bent. Make sure there’s a generous layer of cardboard or other padding between the bottom of the wheel and top of the wheel.

Tern Verge S27h folding bicycle in an airline regulation size suitcase

Step Five – Cram that suitcase closed, and use a suitcase strap to reduce load on the zippers, and to keep everything in place.

Tern Verge S27h in a suitcase

Step Six - Fly to your destination store that suitcase somewhere, and go for a rice (in my case this was southern Mexico).

Tern Verge S27h in Mexico (San Cristobal de las Casas)

Day 576 – USA (TEXAS) and MEXICO: There and back again

I’m in the clear. I now have enough time to stay in the US in order to complete the journey to Los Angeles. Popped over the border at Eagle Pass, into Mexico at Piedras Negras today. And then popped back into the US. Hey presto, another 90 days.

Market street in Piedras Negras, Mexico

Rob Inglish, the guy who I have been staying with for the last three days was a legend and drove me all the way down to the border from Boerne, Texas. That’s a 2 and a hald hour drive. “I’ve never been down to that border before, and I’d like to get some vanilla…” he reasoned. A fantastic opportunity for me, and many many thanks to Rob for helping out in this way.

Market arcade in Piedras Negras, Mexico

We left Boerne at noon, just after seeing Rob’s wife and kids off. Liesl, Madeline and Cade were headed for Dallas for the weekend to visit friends. Rob wasn’t going. “As soon as I get near Dallas, I start to tense up,” he said. The Inglish family had lived in Dallas for some time before moving to Boerne, a small town of 10,000 people, and they seem to appreciate the slower pace of life and more rural surroundings. Rob and Liesl are both into eundurance racing such as Ironman events and triathlons. They are both very successful at what they do, Rob even having trained in Belgium as a cyclist.

With the Inglish family in Boerne, Texas, USA

But anyway, we arrived at the border at 3pm, and proceeded to park the car and wander across the border. There is no check at the US side of immigration. Noone seems to care if you leave the US. We walked the 500m across the bridge that spans the Rio Grande, the river that separates the US and Mexico. I was expecting a bigger river. It’s not as grand as the name suggests. No wonder so many illegal immigrants get across it each year into the US.

Entry into Mexico was interesting. No passport checks. Wander in and noone would ever know you entered. I wanted a stamp in my passport however, and had to ask for one. The official was perplexed and had to call his superior to find out if it was indeed OK to give me a stamp.

Church in Piedras Negras, Mexico

We wandered around the immediate vicinity of the border, in all the overpriced tourist markets. Rob found his vanilla, and we spent not much more time in the country.

Market shop in Piedras Negras, Mexico

The small taste of Mexico I did get however, has left me interested in traveling there a little more. It has that familiar and comforting lack of regulations that so many less developed nations have. The western world is so full of regulations and rules that as a traveler I feel trapped. Mexico has an exciting free feel to it. Not to mention the colour and vibrancy of the place.

Hats on sale in Piedras Negras, Mexico

But Mexico will have to wait for another day…first, I had to get back into the US. This was relatively painless however, the immigration officials more interested in my story than anything else. I was able to show them my website, assuring them that I wasn’t just trying to dodge the system and work in the US. They did however want to search my pack. Pulled everything out. Put it all back in again. I was out and back onto US soil by 5pm.

Then we drove all the way back to Boerne. 2.5 hours back. Again, Rob Inglish, what a legend. Thank you so much. Great fun.

So now it’s all go. I have an unconfirmed speaking engagement in Hemet, California, booked for the 28th of March, so I have 6 weeks to cover about 1,400 miles. Easy.