09 August 2012

Care Packages: Mailing a Folding Bike to a Military APO with USPS!

My mom is a member of the Air Force Nurse Corps. She was recently deployed on short notice to an undisclosed location, where she will be stationed for six to nine months. It's the Military, so who really knows, right?

Once she had arrived and settled at her undisclosed location, Mom quickly realized that she wanted a bike for getting around the base.  While she could purchase a larger men's frame bike from her small base exchange, she doesn't feel comfortable mounting and dismounting with a high horizontal top tube. The base exchange could not order her the step-through women's model of the same bike due to some import restrictions. These same restrictions also prevented her from purchasing a bike online and having it shipped directly to her APO address. Plus there are other restrictions specific to certain APO zip codes, so most retailers won't (can't?) do it.

But I can mail her care packages! And what better treat to receive than a bike? Mom thought a folding bike would be well sized to her stature and small living quarters, so I found the best deal I could on a single speed folder, which at the time was this Dahon Boardwalk from Performance. It was on sale and I saved roughly the cost of having it delivered to my house. The local Performance store may have had one in stock, but I also wanted the box and the packing materials. These folding bikes are shipped with some plastic covers for the hinges that were nice to have considering the distance this box would ultimately be traveling.

The bike arrived at my house in a matter of days. I removed the bike from the box, taking pictures of how it was packed so that I could repack it easily later. I adjusted the front brake and took it for a test ride to assess the bike mechanically. A bike shop should do this for you if you want to keep the warranty valid.

I then went to my local bike shop and assembled a basic tool and accessory kit for Mom's new bike: spare tube, patch kit, hand pump, lock, head light, multitool, tire levers and chain lube. I threw in a handful of cable ties and some clean rags, too. I reinforced the box and repacked the bike with the accessories. I biked it to the Post Office on my Xtracycle. Bike, bike, bike.

This is where the folding part becomes important. The box is oversized by USPS standards, but still much smaller than a standard bike box. USPS limits the length+girth measurement of a parcel to no more than 108 inches. This box measured 106 inches.  The postal employee said, "Phew! Sir, this is your lucky day!!"  He added that there is a HUGE surcharge for boxes over 108 inches, but the USPS website indicates that they just won't ship parcels that size.

Sending a folding bike with 20" wheels (or even 16" wheels) becomes critical if you are trying to do this on a budget, or at all. The total cost for the bike, accessories, and Priority APO shipping was about $500. Mom was more than willing to pay this price for the convenience of having her own reliable transportation.

Mom is now happily bike commuting to work at the hospital and running errands around the base, which apparently is far better than walking or taking the shuttle bus.

Have you needed to ship a bike to your deployed service member? How did it go? I'm hoping that this will help someone in a similar situation. Mom says one of her co-workers rode her folder and already plans on getting one, too!


Bunny said...

Enjoy riding this bike everyday, temps are 110+ daily and at night the humidity is rather like a sauna. Get a good workout. Thanks for the bike care package!

sara said...

You are a good son!

What a great care package. I hope your mom has a safe and bike-happy deployment.

tasha said...

That is super awesome, Matt! Glad you could get around the APO issues and still stay in size range for USPS. :)

El Salvador Shipping said...

Thats such a great gift for your mother! I'm sorry to hear they refused to import the womens bike she wanted. Thats a little ridiculous, even if for the military.

-Gloria Karmanites

13mx said...

If you don't mind me asking, how much did the shipping cost you? I am currently deployed and from the pictures it looks to be the same place your mom is/was deployed. I have acquired a nice mountain bike and I am wanting to ship it home. I'm just checking to see if the cost is reasonable or if I can even ship it back. What does you mom plan on doing with her bike when she comes home?

Thanks for the post, and tell you mom I say thanks for what she does. She may have been the one that fixed me up when I got hurt a few weeks ago. Small web huh? Lol

Matt in Tacoma said...

@ 13mx - Small web, indeed. :)

Priority Mail (West Coast to her APO) was ~$90. Rate was based on dimensional weight of ~45 lbs (box actually weighed less.) When she shipped it back home (AFB to East Coast home) Priority rate was only ~$50. If it's a regular, full-sized frame, you may have to disassemble it and pack it in more than one box to meet dimensional limits. Worth inquiring about if you like the bike.

When she recently returned home, Mom's bike was one of the last things packed and it arrived at her house just a few days after she did. Last I heard, she was planning to unfold it and test-ride it around town before maybe using it as a commuter once the weather warms up.

I'll have Mom read your comment. Thanks for reaching out and Many Thanks for serving.

Bunny said...

Thanks for your comment! I had a great rotation at the "undisclosed place in SW Asia" and the folding bike was great! It only cost $35.50 to mail her to the East Coast and that was priority. As for shipping back your bike, check with the PO and see what the max allowable size that they will allow, they never measured mine. All I heard was that there was a max weight for the gorilla boxes. As for the little bike I am thinking on riding her as a commuter bike to my work on the base, about 4 miles form home to hospital, but will wait until the daylight is longer and the temps a bit warmer. Do take care and stay safe! Thanks for your service as well!