Packing your bike so you can take it abroad and then unpacking it at the other end are two of the biggest headaches in triathlon. The last thing you'll feel like doing after a long journey is rebuilding your bike. But all the work you've put into training will be worthless if you don't do it properly.
A poorly reassembled bike can lead to all sorts of problems, such as finding yourself stuck in the same gear or being forced to ride for many miles with your brakes rubbing. I know of one triathlete who didn't tighten his front wheel properly and ended up having a mid-race accident - his wheel came off. He was rushed to a hospital 50 miles from where the accident happened and two days later, battered and bruised, he had to borrow £150 to pay for a taxi back to his hotel. Take the time to unpack your bike properly and you can avoid such race-ruining mishaps.
Travelling long distances with your bike usually involves packing it into a protective box, bag or case. This requires at least an hour removing bits from your bike so it fits inside. Typically, you need to take off the seatpost, the wheels, the pedals and also remove the handlebars from the handlebar stem.
If your journey involves plane travel it's also important to deflate your tyres - flying causes pressure changes that can burst them. You should leave a little air in them to cushion your wheel rims from potential damage. Some people also like to remove the rear derailleur, so that it doesn't get bashed in transit. Taking your bike apart is the easy bit, putting it back together causes the problems.
The first step to rebuilding your bike after a journey is to put the wheels back on. Once they're in place, spin them to make sure they are not rubbing on the brakes. If they are, take them out and slot them back in again. Tighten the quick-release levers so they are secure, but not so tight that you can't undo them if you puncture.
When the wheels are on, inflate the tyres. Using a track-pump is easier than using a hand-pump and it means you can ensure the tyre pressure is just right. Follow the guidelines written on your tyre walls, which normally recommend a pressure of around 8 Bar or 100psi.
Put on the handlebars next. It's simply a case of slotting them into the right place and screwing up the four bolts on the handlebar stem. These bolts need to be tightened evenly and securely so that your handlebars don't slip down mid-ride, as can sometimes happen. Test that they are secure by putting your weight down on the handlebars, while pulling on the brakes.
Putting the seatpost and saddle back into the frame is the next job. It's easy, really, but make sure your saddle height is just right. Marking your saddle height with sticky tape beforehand is a good idea or you could use a tape measure. Ensure the saddle is pointing directly forward, not off to the side at an angle that might rub against your thigh.
Attach your pedals next and then you can take your bike out for a test ride. Testing your bike after you have unpacked it is the golden rule, never to be broken. Ride it for at least 30 minutes because problems can sometimes take a few miles to become apparent. Try to ride a day or two before your big event to allow you time to correct any faults.
Gears often don't behave themselves after your bike has been rebuilt; your once-reliable gear shifting can become noisy and unpredictable. If you're not confident in your abilities as a bike mechanic there are usually plenty of people around to help you sort things out. Big races often have a bike-servicing tent or try a local bike shop. Just make sure you have the time to sort out the problem; do not leave it until just before the race.
Think about the time and money you invest when you travel a long distance for a triathlon: entry fees, travel costs, accommodation, equipment, food and drink, not to mention all those hours spent training. It would be a shame if you had problems with your bike after all that effort. Take the time to rebuild your bike properly and it won't let you down on the big day.