Posted by Elly Blue (Columnist) on December 9th, 2009 at 12:38 pm
The holiday travel season is coming up. If you’re leaving Portland, maybe you’ve thought about bringing your bike along for the trip this time.
A bike doesn’t make sense for every trip or every destination. But if it does fit in with your plans, the experience of traveling with a bike comes highly recommended. A bike can give you independence, flexibility, adventure, and a surefire way to meet people wherever you go.
How you bring the bike, what kind of bike is best to bring, and how much it costs all depend on whether you’re flying or taking the train. Here’s the rundown:
Flying with a full-sized bike can be an expensive proposition. Here’s a rundown of different airlines’ bicycle baggage policies, but there isn’t much by way of good news there.
If you have a bike with S&S couplers that can be dismantled and fit into a regulation size and weight suitcase, you may be able to check your bike as a regular piece of luggage. Veterans of this method recommend that you avoid extra fees imposed by literal-minded airline personnel by saying, truthfully, that the suitcase contains “bike parts.”
Another way around the highest airline fees is to take your bike apart and ship it. We’ve never done this, but there are some good tips gathered in this Bike Forums discussion. Some bike shops will pack and ship your bike for a fee.
Besides being an amazing, rare opportunity to work, sleep, read, and think without distractions or stress, train travel also makes bringing your bike along a breath of fresh air compared with flying. The best part is when you get to your destination — train stations tend to be in the middle of the action, rather than in industrial wastelands outside of town like airports — you can just hop on your bike and and go.
(before the new BikeStation was built).
(Photo © Elly Blue)
Amtrak charges a $5 fee for bringing your full sized bicycle along. Some trains, including the Cascade line that passes through Portland on the way from Eugene to Seattle (and since this fall, straight on to Vancouver, BC), have a limited number of bike hooks in the baggage car — you’ll need to buy a ticket for your bike in advance.
On other lines, you’ll need to box your bike. Amtrak stations sell a roomy, $15 box that’s big enough to roll your bike straight into after taking off the pedals and loosening and turning the bars (bring tools!).
You can often find a free box by calling around to bike shops to see if they have any lying around. Regular bike boxes require more serious dismantling of your bike: bring tools, and know what you’re doing, or find bike shops who will box and unbox your bike at either end of the line.
Some stations will not allow you to check bikes and other luggage. Calling the central information number won’t always yield accurate information. As with all matters on Amtrak, it’s best to call or go to the station in advance.
If you can buy, borrow, or rent a folding bike, they erase much of the hassle of traveling with a full sized bike. You can also often get away without traveling with a heavy lock or worrying about your ride getting ganked, as with a bit of chutzpah and elbow grease you can just take the bike inside with you wherever you go. Folding bikes are also the best ambassadors.
If your folder fits in a suitcase that meets the airline’s baggage requirements, you can treat it as a regular piece of luggage (again, if you’re asked, the suitcase contains “bicycle parts”). Some airlines will still try to charge you the bicycle fee if they determine you’re carrying any kind of bike. (See this instructive tale of how a Portlander got one airline to change their policy to let folders fly free).
It’s a little iffy, but you can in theory just walk right through TSA and up to the plane with your folding bike and check it at the gate like a stroller. I’ve done this with a Brompton (just take the seatpost off to fit it through the x-ray machine), and Jonathan has made it work with a BikeFriday. I’ve found TSA staff to be friendly, while airline personnel have sometimes been reluctant to deal with the bike.
I’m a huge fan of the train and folding bike combination. It’s hands down the easiest, cheapest, and least heavy-and-awkward way to travel with a bike.
a trailer. This one is on the way to the airport.
(Photo © J. Maus)
Amtrak allows folding bikes on board as carry-on luggage. Tales of staff who object to folders are few and far between, and most will go out of their way to help you. You store the bike on the luggage racks at either end of the cars, or on the lower level of the distance trains.
[Note: Amtrak appears to have recently changed the language in their policy, saying that folding bicycles are allowed on “certain” cars — we’ll look into this and let you know what we find.]
Of course, you can skip the whole business of transporting your bike if you have one waiting for you at your destination, or are planning to rent or borrow one while you’re there. Readers have reported good luck riding to the Portland airport with luggage in a backpack or trailer and leaving their bike locked to the staple racks at the entrance.
A final word of advice while traveling by bike — don’t forget to bring all the things you need for riding at home: weather-appropriate clothes, helmet, lights, flat repair kit, and lock (though one of the best things about using a folding bike is being able to travel without the latter).
Do you travel with a bike? Share your own tips, tricks, and stories in the comments below.