Posted on May 31st, 2017 by Broadway Bicycle School
Ellen here writing from the West Coast: Hello! I’ve biked through Washington state and Oregon, and now I’m in California where I sadly have to skip a section because a landslide took out a bridge in Big Sur. Instead of biking several hundred miles out of our way to make it around the detour, Erica and I are taking an Amtrak train from Salinas to San Luis Obispo where we can pick up the route again a la the Adventure Cycling Association’s awesome maps.
After 20-something days on the road, taking our bikes on a train is just one example of how we’ve had to figure out a few different ways to transport our bicycles other than riding them to make it this far. It turns out, bikes and public/private transportation options can integrate quite well, and sometimes they don’t integrate at all– but it tends to be very specific to what options you’re near.
So, if you’re looking to transport your bike for adventures this summer, here are your best options:
Option 1: If you’re flying somewhere far away, JetBlue lets you bring your bike in a box for $50 as long as it’s already packed, and it counts as oversized baggage. Panniers count as great carry-on baggage.
Option 2: If you’re going somewhere that JetBlue doesn’t fly to, or you generally plan a little more in advance, you can get your bike shipped ahead of you by using FedEx Ground or Bike Flights. Bike Flights usually ends up being a little cheaper than most other options, and the nice thing is you just drop your bike off at a bike shop (like Broadway, which will charge $40 to “flatten” it enough to fit in a box and pad it all with special packaging), book the shipping online, and the Bike Flights will pick it up from the shop for you. Then you choose a bike shop at your destination to ship it to, and you can either pick it up and assemble it yourself or ask the shop to do it.
Option 1: Trains are a really great way to get around! If you’re taking Amtrak, you have to book your bike slot ahead of time. Usually Amtrak adds $20 per bike to the cost of your ticket, and you have to roll your bike to the first car in the train, and then run to the back where you’ll sit. Then you just roll it off when you reach your destination.
Option 2: Commuter trains (like the MBTA, BART, Metro, etc.) will mostly be cool with you rolling your bike on and off. Many have restrictions about bringing your bike on trains during rush hour, but Erica and I got away with getting on the BART in San Francisco at the beginning of rush hour and taking it to the end of the line (a whole 1.5 hour trip) and nobody hassled us about it.
Option 1: If you are lucky enough to have inter-city bus transit options, the busses usually have a rack for two, maaaybe three bikes on the front. We’ve found that it’s helpful to carry a bungee cord so you can lash the part of the rack that hooks to your front wheel, because the bikes do sway precariously.
I’ve also had the hook jiggle completely off the front wheel midway through the busride, where the bus driver had to stop and let me reattach it. This jiggle-down probably was possible because my front rack (a Surly low-rider) didn’t let the hook move into where it wants to be – if your bike doesn’t have a front rack, you might not have this problem. The bus might charge you an extra dollar or two for the bike, but using this kind of transit is decidedly the easiest and cheapest way to get your bike across towns and cities.
Option 2: Word to the wise, Greyhound stinks when it comes to bicycle transportation. They require that your bike is in a box, and you can buy a box from them for $15 only at staffed bus locations (boxes which bike shops like Broadway will give you for free). You also have to book it ahead of time, and much of Amtrak’s Connecting Thruway services are contracted out through Greyhound. So even though it might LOOK like you can bring your bikes on easily, you can’t.
Megabus is the same way (bikes must be boxed), but BoltBus seems to let you stash your bike fully assembled in the belly of the bus (but they assume no liability for damage, because bikes sliding around down there might get a good amount of damage). Erica and I have not tested either of these companies though, so we’d love to hear if you’ve have experience with them.
Many parts of the country simply don’t have bike-friendly public/private transportation options. If planes, trains, or buses can’t get you and your bike where you need to go, cars can probably do the trick.
Tip 1: If you can drive where you’re going but don’t have a bike rack, you can fix two bikes in the back of a mid-sized sedan by lowering the back seats, taking out the front wheels of both bikes, and twisting the handlebars parallel to the bikes.
Tip 2: If you need to rent a car one-way, the rental company will usually tack on about $100 to the cost because they have to get the car back home after you use it. Ask ahead of time though, because not all companies let you do one-way rentals.
Tip 3: If you are transporting a lot of bikes and gear (line for a group of cyclists), U-haul is a great way to get a lot of space quickly. They even have flatbed pickup trucks for local-ish transportation, which is perfect for getting a bike or two across that tough spot. But, if you do a one-way rental, especially if the drop off is very far away from the pickup location, U-haul does have a steep upcharge that makes it impractical for many touring cyclists.
Tip 3: Obviously if you have a car with a bike rack, or you have a kind friend who had a car with a bike rack, this is always the most convenient way to get around. But, touring cyclists or cyclists who don’t own cars gotta figure it out somehow too!
It’s been a real adventure trying to figure out how to mesh country-wide public transit with bicycling, and hopefully this helps y’all figure it out easily enough that you can get your butts back on your bikes where you want to be!
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