Biknd's clever Helium bicycle travel case blends features and benefits of both hard- and soft-shelled designs – plus some you won't find in either one. Most notable are the two giant inflatable side cushions that not only lend ample protection in most situations but also help keep the case's contents from shifting about while in transit.
These are two key metrics in determining whether your precious cargo will make it to its destination intact, and ours consistently did during testing this past travel season, with minimal exterior wear to show for it.
Loading your bike is relatively straightforward and showcases the unique hybrid, foldout construction. Unlike many pure soft cases, the Helium lets you firmly fix your frameset to the rigid plastic base via a quick-release aluminum fork mount up front and a dense foam bottom bracket pad and adjustable nylon strap out back.
After the usual initial prep steps (padding and covering the frame and cranks, removing the bars and securing them to the fork, removing the rear derailleur, seatpost and pedals), simply lock everything down, insert the wheels into their dedicated receptacles in the sides, fold everything up, secure the zippers and supplemental buckles, and inflate the pillows with the included pump to form one cohesive brick of luggage.
Once it's all together, the Helium easily rolls around on the four casters mounted down below. Multiple zipper pockets are included for smaller bits like pedals, skewers and tools, and included sturdy metal-and-plastic caps guard the ends of the hubs. Though the top, sides and back of the case are soft, the rigid front cap lends extra protection to the fork and handlebar area, and combines with the stiff bottom – not to mention the wheels sitting upright inside – to form a surprisingly sturdy-feeling enclosure.
The fairly capacious dimensions are surprisingly accommodating of various frame types. We easily fitted a medium-sized 29er hardtail, full-suspension trail bike and integrated-seatmast-equipped road bike (separately, of course) with room to spare, suggesting that even larger sizes should still fit with a few caveats.
Cyclo-cross racers and triathletes should note that Biknd's case design easily swallows two sets of wheels, though mountain bikes will generally only fit one. Moreover, through-axles will requires dropout adapters, and some full-suspension designs will require you to flip the fork around and possibly deflate and compress the rear end.
Total packing time is pretty good, taking around 30 minutes our first time around and subsequent packings coming in closer to 15. That's not bad at all, though the foldout design does occupy an inordinate amount of floor space – something to keep in mind if your travels frequently have you doing this sort of thing in cramped quarters like a motel room shared with four of your closest strangers.
When empty, the Biknd folds down to a remarkably compact size and stores in its own carrying bag. It looks good, too, and garnered compliments at the airport from bike-toting travelers. That being said, we still see some room for improvement. The inflatable sides and sandwiched construction provide lots of protection to the frame but the wheels are still left relatively prone to damage since the airpacks reside inboard and the sides of the case are relatively unpadded by comparison.
More durable steel-spoked and allow-rimmed wheels should be okay in most situations but carbon rims and spokes are still susceptible to crush damage as a result. We'd also like to see more armoring around the rear dropouts. Though Biknd wisely include an aluminum dummy axle to protect the stays from crushing, there's little padding otherwise to protect the area from careless baggage handlers (we supplemented the stock setup with our own foam padding). In addition, the dummy axle is sized for 130mm spacing so mountain bikers are somewhat on their own.
Despite the mostly soft-sided construction – not to mention the suggestive name – the Helium doesn't seem to have quite as much room for miscellaneous doodads like shoes, helmet, and hydration packs as true soft bags. Nor is it super-light, at 11.68kg (25.75lb). Depending on airline policies and the type of bike inside, that could easily put you at/near regulations for overweight baggage, though it's still more than 3kg (7lb) lighter than a Thule Round Trip hard case. Finally, we'd like to see a few more exterior handles and grab points for easier loading and unloading into and out of vehicles.