All Aboard! Taking your Bike on Transit

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the online edition of the Mountain View Voice on July 11, 2013.

My bike alone can only take me so far so fast, and sometimes I’d rather arrive somewhere without looking like I’ve been pedaling for hours. That’s when I turn to trains and buses to extend my cruising range. Here in the Bay Area, we are really lucky that almost all of our transit operators allow bikes on board.

Caltrain leads the way in bike-friendliness not only here in the Bay Area, but in the country. Every train is equipped with two bike cars where lower-level seats were replaced with bike racks. The old-style train cars hold up to 40 bikes and the newer cars hold 24, which means every train can accommodate 48-80 bikes. The service is so popular that Caltrain reports that one in 10 riders brings a bike aboard. Some days it seems like all 4,200+ daily bike commuters are getting off the baby bullet as I get on for my commute to San Jose.

When I take my bike on Caltrain my no-sweat 10 mile cruising range grows to a 50 mile corridor from San Francisco to San Jose. It helps that the rail line has stops every 1-3 miles and runs through the downtown business districts of most Peninsula cities, which are my favorite places to eat and shop.

While VTA light rail and buses don’t have the bike capacity of Caltrain, they dedicate space for 6-12 bikes inside every light rail train and every bus has a front rack that holds two bikes. When the rack is full, the bus driver may allow up to two bikes inside the bus, as long as the bus isn’t too full. VTA light rail and buses are not as fast as Caltrain, but they offer more frequent service, longer running hours and their lines fan out across the whole valley.

Your bike + transit options don’t stop on the Peninsula and South Bay. From San Francisco, ferries can take you and your bike to Sausalito, Angel Island, Oakland, Vallejo and more. From San Jose, you can roll your bike aboard the Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains to Sacramento or the ACE train to Stockton, or you can rack your bike on a bus to Santa Cruz or Monterey. And as of this week, BART has loosened its restrictions with a five month trial of all-hours bike access.

When do I appreciate bikes on transit the most? On my work commute when riding five miles instead of 14 means I don’t have to change clothes when I get to the office. On trips to places like San Francisco where I don’t want the hassle of driving or parking and would rather get around town on a bike. On recreational rides when I’d rather ride one-way and go further than ride out-and-back. On any ride where my bike has a mechanical problem that I can’t easily fix on the road. Yes, VTA has rescued me more than once on a ride.

Have you ridden a train or bus with your bike before? Where did you go? Why did you take transit?

Riding Caltrain with your bike
* Each train has two bike cars that are labeled a large yellow sticker near door. One is the northernmost end of train, the other is in the middle of the train.
* Before boarding bicycles, let people without bikes get off and on first.
* Bikes share racks. Either choose an empty rack or put your bike in front of a bike that will be getting off at a station after yours.
* To keep people from loading their bike in front of yours, create a destination tag and attach it to your bike. Post-it notes work fine.
* Use the bungee cords provided to secure bikes to the rack. Don’t lock bikes to the rack.
* Sit in bike car and watch your bike to make sure no one with a destination after yours puts their bike in front of yours.
* Children must be at least 6 years old to bring a bike aboard. Children under 12 years old must ride with an adult and be able to carry their own bike on and off the train.

Riding VTA Light Rail with your bike
* There are four racks in the center of the train car where you can hang your bike by its front wheel.
* If your bike is heavy, you can hold it on the floor in the turntable area of the car.
* Unlike Caltrain, there are no stairs required to board.

Bay Area Bikes on Transit:
More Tips for Bikes on Caltrain:
Bikes on VTA Guidelines:

Caltrain Bike Profile Wide

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