How (Not) To Ship Hetchins

The Editor would like to offer some advice to people on how to ship a Hetchins, but most especially on how not to. They do occasionally go astray underway and are never heard from again.

First, get yourself a good cycle carton. Bike shops have lots of them and are happy to get rid of them. Just ask.

Second, get dowels or blocks of wood or plastic spacers (some new bikes deliver with these); bike shops have lots them and are happy to get rid of them. Just ask. Wedge these between the dropouts to hinder bending the fork or triangle if the box should get crushed.

Make sure the frame fits into the box without sliding around inside. Wrap the frame in layers of bubble wrap until it fits snuggly inside the box. If the fork is unmounted, use duct tape to secure it to the bottom of the box where it can't get loose and damage the frame.

Once you've got it packed, ask yourself whether you feel secure tossing the box at least 26 feet 6 inches (the record for the Hetchins toss in Minneapolis). If so, then it's ready for the postal service.

Now for the documentation. Do not declare the contents to be a HETCHINS. Documentation may be inspected by dozens of people along the way, whether you use the postal service or a curier; these people may include processing and delivery personnel, as well as security officers, not to mention customs agents both coming and going. If the word HETCHINS appears in the documentation, one of two outcomes is likely: either a) someone does not know what this means and he tears open the box to find out. Or b) someone does know what it means and he tears open the box. Either way, once the box is open, you're three-quarters of the way to losing the Hetchins. At that point, you have only the good will of man to count on--for whatever you think that is worth. So long as people don't open the box, you have a much better chance of getting it through. Yes, I know, you can put a trace on it later if it doesn't come through--for all the good that will do you. Generally, that only means that you find out where it was last logged in, not where it got lost, much less who has it now.

Declare the contents to be a used bicycle; include the serial number. Nothing else. This serves two functions. First, it does not alert people to the fact that it is a Hetchins, something rare and valuable and worth stealing. Second, used goods are tax-free. If you are shipping a frame abroad for renovation, declare the frame "temporary import only; for renovation". Temporary imports for renovation are tax-free. However, be aware that re-importation after renovation is taxable, for the amount of the renovation.

For import to the USA, be aware that the importation of goods of historic interest is a special case. One U.S. buyer who purchased a Hetchins from a man in Scotland was surprised when the curier levied a $140 import duty on a 20-year old bike in like-new (recently renovated) condition. You can't really expect a freight firm to know or care whether a bike is new, and therefore taxable, or 20 years old but looking like new because someone else just had it renovated, and therefore not taxable. To quote the buyer, "... the freight broker assumes that every bicycle is the same and charges, not surprisingly, the highest fee of 11% of the declared value. Lightweight bicycles that meet specific weight and tire width requirements (such as the Hetchins) only incur half that. The fees the broker charges are a function of the [import] duty--what a surprise!" In other words, it is in the interest of the freight broker to levy the highest possible duty, and then pass the duty on to U.S. Customs. According to U.S. Customs regulations, the fee can be waived if the item is "on display in a museum". As it happened, the bike had been featured at this web site prior to the sale and the buyer was able to persuade the freight broker to raise the issue with U.S. Customs. In the event, U.S. Customs found merit in the claim, accepted as a virtual museum, and the buyer's fee was eventually refunded.

Moral of the story: mark the box as USED GOODS. It'll be easier. And it's the truth. The original buyer already paid sales tax/VAT on it. The next one shouldn't have to.

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