If you've ever tried taking a bicycle on an airplane, then you'll know what a hassle it can be to pack the things. Having a folding bike helps, although cyclist Bert Vermeulen found that even on that front, there was room for improvement. That's why he developed the ultra-flat-packing Alpaca Bike.

"Airlines charge money if your bike is oversized," explained Vermeulen, who is a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Colorado State University. "So I said, what I want is a bike that for all intents and purposes is just a normal road bike – uses normal [700c-sized] road bike wheels – and yet it's got to pack in this small suitcase."

One particular challenge to meeting that goal was the wheels. When two conventional wheels are packed side-by-side, their hubs line up with one another, making the suitcase too wide once allowing for the frame to be in there with them (according to the case's combined length, width and height). Bert's solution was to give the front wheel a removable hub. Once that hub is taken out, the front wheel can nest over the cassette on the rear wheel, taking up significantly less space.

Handlebars can also be a challenge when it comes to getting a bike to lie flat. To that end, the Alpaca is equipped with MORF bars. Designed for use by triathletes who want the option of riding in an aero position, these can be folded in and forward, so they stick out to the front instead of to the sides. By flicking a lever on the handlebar stem, they can then be rotated around so that they face backwards, then slid down.

Finally, of course, the bike's titanium frame does indeed fold. The rear end swings around and snugs in against the front end. Even once the wheels are laid on top, the resulting package is still flat enough that it doesn't qualify as oversize luggage.

The Alpaca Bike is currently being hand-built in limited numbers, and will be sold through production partner Black Sheep Bikes. It was on display at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, and should be priced at approximately US$8,000.

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