Joe Bike

Becky Jo’s Carfree Life: Going intermodal

Posted by on March 10th, 2020 at 10:07 am

There’s a practice bus rack at PSU and it helped calm my bus/bike fears.
(Photos: Becky Jo)

About 20 years ago I worked for Greenbrier, the corporate headquarters for Gunderson Rail and Marine on NW Front Ave here in Portland. I learned about — and loved — the concept of intermodal transportation. A steel box container can go from ocean barge to rail to truck, creating the most efficient mode of global transportation. Instead of specialized modes, intermodal always seemed more efficient to me.

So it just made sense that eventually I’d get to the point of traveling with my bike on public transit, thus making myself intermodal.

The thing is, I’ve been comfortable with MAX light rail since I was a teenager when the line was installed all the way to Gresham. I spent 10 years of my school-age life out in Boring, so bike and transit culture wasn’t really something I was raised with, but that’s another conversation. Until this year, the times I rode a city bus could have been counted on one hand. Now that I’m taking this life-crash-course on biking and transit, it has taken me awhile to get up the nerve to combine the two.

The other day I needed to get to Portland State. I started with the MAX as I was more comfortable with that. That was uneventful. If you know of anything I need to be aware of on this part of the human-intermodal venture, please let me know. Like, what times should I avoid for certain? Granted I can easily ride downtown, but this was a test trip for longer ventures.

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Bike on MAX, nbd.

Got to PSU, had lunch with the college kid, and headed out to find the TriMet bike rack practice spot. I realize it’s not rocket science, but when observing people load their bike on the bus, I hadn’t witnessed anyone do it with fenders on and I didn’t want to muck up my wheels, so wanted to check first both for my own security and to share with any other new cyclists/intermodal humans here on BikePortland. I went all around the block trying to find it, and couldn’t see it anywhere. I didn’t see any signage pointing to it and for whatever reason did not assume it would be inside the PSU Transportation Information Center, which is exactly where it is! I popped into the PSU Bike Hub to get help finding it and they were super cool about me being completely clueless.

So, get this. As I was futzing around with the bike rack, Clint, the PSU Transportation Options Manager, actually came in and asked how I was doing. How cool is that? We had a great conversation. Did you know that PSU students get free BikeTown membership? I had no idea. PSU also has 150 “Vike Bikes” for only $15 a month, all inclusive. We’ll get more into bike and college culture another time, but I thought all of that was really cool.

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What about less able-bodied folks? Do you find that transit intermodal options have too many barriers for use?

The bus-bike rack test went great, and I caught the bus back home without incident. So, now that I’ve conquered my intermodal transit fear for Portland, I have a couple questions.

Do you regularly use human-intermodal transportation options? What is your mileage-threshold for adding transit into your biking commute? And the one that is really got me curious: Have you gone on the C-Tran to Vancouver? Is there anything I should be aware of hitting up the ‘Couv?

And, the big question that even Clint at PSU didn’t have an answer for: What about less able-bodied folks? I had no problem getting my bike perpendicular on the MAX or up on the rack of the bus, but I’m physically capable and my bike is very lightweight. Do you find that transit intermodal options have too many barriers for use?

There’s a new sewing co-op in Vancouver with (sing it with me) industrial machines! I must go, and I can report back. You’ve got to mend your bike gear somewhere, and I can do some tricky stuff with a domestic machine, but sometimes only an industrial will do. As always, thank you!

— Becky Jo, on Twitter at @BeckyJoPDX
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40 Comments
  • Avatar
    Bikeninja March 10, 2020 at 11:12 am

    I have intermodal commuted from the western burbs on Max for 9 years now, and my number one piece of advice is be aware of when rush hour crowding happens. It is fine if you get on before the crowds but frustrating if you have to watch train after train (or bus)go by that has all of its bike facilities full. I rearrange my schedule to avoid this. As for the Couve, after experiencing drivers here in Portland with Washington plates I am scared to go there, and have avoided it for many years. In my mind I imagine the metro area north of the river as some strange cross between Death Race 2000 and the Dukes of Hazard.

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    • Becky Jo (Columnist)
      Becky Jo (Columnist) March 10, 2020 at 11:43 am

      These are all my assumed concerns. Avoid rush hour saturation in-city, and be wary of suburban aggression. I’d also like to visit my mom out past the last stop in Gresham, and being I grew up out past that way, I know what I’m in for…. Vancouver is similar.

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        Matt S. March 10, 2020 at 10:23 pm

        Last summer I rode in Vancouver with my wife on our tandem and someone yelled at us, “go back to Portland!” I know this was one person, but to assume we’re from Portland (which we are) suggests how some couvians see people on bikes.

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      Alan 1.0 March 10, 2020 at 11:50 am

      I have no doubt that some drivers with WA plates do dumb things in Portland. The same thing happens with some OR plates in Vancouver. Overall, though, I find ways to ride in Vancouver just as you do in Portland, and knowing the right, safe(r) routes is a big part of that. Here are links to some maps, should you wish to venture north:

      https://www.cityofvancouver.us/ced/page/bicycle-maps

      For Becky Jo, here are C-TRAN’s guides for busing bikes:

      https://www.c-tran.com/how-to-ride/learning-center/bikes-on-c-tran

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      • Becky Jo (Columnist)
        Becky Jo (Columnist) March 10, 2020 at 12:47 pm

        oh, thank you Alan. I didn’t even know Vancouver had special bike maps.

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      Michael Steiner March 10, 2020 at 12:10 pm

      A folding bike can make your life easier in multi-modal case: i commute on MAX with one and never have really to worry about lack of racks. Also makes it easy if you jump on Amtrak trains (although at least the Cascade ones always had slots when transported a “grown-up” bike for longer rides …)

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    David Hampsten March 10, 2020 at 11:50 am

    Next steps:
    – Intercity bus: Some providers require that you put the bike in the baggage bays and that you remove your pedals and turn your bars.
    – Amtrak: Most routes have bike storage hooks that the attendant will put your bike, but you’ll need to hand your bike to them, so you have to able to lift it.
    – Airlines: The joys of finding a bike box at PDX, usually from an airline you aren’t flying with.

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      Matt S. March 10, 2020 at 10:35 pm

      I’ve ridden the train and bus many times down to Albany. The train was always nice because there’s hooks. On the bus you have to put your bike sideways in a storage area. All in all, both work pretty well. Just FYI though, took me about 3 hours from doorstep to doorstep (NE Portland to South Albany). That’s just 70 miles which equates to about 23 MPH…

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    Todd Boulanger March 10, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    There is a little known magic public carpet ride to Vancouver from Portland transit mall: the CTRAN Express buses: like the 105 (city center to city center via I-5) the 164 (City Center to Fishers Landing via 205), etc….or take the Yellow Line Max to Delta Park and then a 15~20 minute bike ride to Vancouver’s downtown. (Practice on a Saturday / Sunday and treat yourself to the Farmers Market, The Fort, etc.)

    Perhaps I should reboot the old “R U Bridge Curious Bike / MAX Tour Rides”…especially in time for the Trunnion Repair. [Mr. Shawn ‘The Palm Tree Ride” Granton did the art work for me]:
    https://www.sito.org/cgi-bin/egads/showart?show=sgr.0070

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      igor March 10, 2020 at 1:12 pm

      I was going to mention the 164 as well, with the caveat that although you can transfer freely between regular TriMet and CTRAN busses, the CTRAN express busses have a higher fare ($3.85), so you have to pay the difference in order to transfer to them.

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    • Becky Jo (Columnist)
      Becky Jo (Columnist) March 10, 2020 at 5:14 pm

      Todd – Yes. I mean.. yes. Yes please. I looked up the biking across to Vancouver… I live close enough to the I-5 bridge that *should* be my first option, but having experienced some of the Marine Drive “now it’s here, now it’s not” biking…ditto the “sometimes path” along Columbia… I’m not confident in that ride.

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        Matt S. March 10, 2020 at 10:26 pm

        Just a few times being confused and you pick up the route. However there’s a couple tunnels you go through which can sometimes feel like Madmax with the people camping out. Just be aware.

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      raktajino March 10, 2020 at 10:18 pm

      There are also cross-river Regional routes that cost the same as TriMet: 60 from Delta Park to downtown Vancouver, 65 from Parkrose TC to Fishers Landing TC, and 70 from the airport to Fishers Landing. They’re limited routes and basically just hop over the river and back.

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    esther March 10, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    My biggest problem with taking my bike on the bus is that there is no way to predict if the two spots are already filled, and the main route i would use it on only comes every 30min and i do not have an alternate option once i commit to waiting for the bus there. It would be neat if that could be added to the info shown in apps or on google maps – i had noticed that google maps is getting MUCH better at intermodal and has FINALLY figured out that i BIKE to the TRAIN rather than want to bus to it. It also often shows some prediction of how full of passengers the train or bus is, but it cannot also tell me if the bike racks on either buses or trains are already in use. I wonder how difficult a problem that is to solve with the technology already in use…

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      raktajino March 10, 2020 at 10:20 pm

      Have you tried Trimet’s intermodal trip planner (link in bio)? You can designate how far you want to ride, how flat of a route you want, etc. Just choose “Transit + Bike” from the Travel By dropdown.

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    Todd Boulanger March 10, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    Those Trimet / CTRAN practice bike racks for bus use are getting pretty rare these days. I would suggest to PSU to update it to the more complex triple rack which you need more orientation with as a novice user…though these modern racks are sooo much easier then the first generation racks made by Yakima that you needed a class and a user pass to use way back when. (NO bike rack pass, NO bus ride with bike…)

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      David Hampsten March 10, 2020 at 12:41 pm

      Yeah, I remember being tested in 1997 to use both the bus rack and the MAX spring mechanism they had on the high platform cars at each end. We had to show both our transit tickets and the $5 plastic card that indicated that we had been trained on using the facilities.

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    Allan Rudwick March 10, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    I found out the hard way- Fat tire and long-wheelbase bikes DO NOT fit on TriMet’s racks.

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      Chris March 10, 2020 at 4:13 pm

      I was curious about this. So my XXL frame, 27.5×3″ tired mountain bike won’t work on the bus racks?

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      • Becky Jo (Columnist)
        Becky Jo (Columnist) March 10, 2020 at 5:09 pm

        that’s a good question… the site https://trimet.org/bikes/bikepolicies.htm

        “Only single-seat, two-wheeled bikes, folding bikes, and recumbents the size of a standard bike are allowed on TriMet.
        The racks on the front of TriMet buses can accommodate bikes with:
        wheel sizes from 20 inches to 29 inches, excluding tandems and recumbent bicycles
        a wheelbase dimension of up to 44 inches
        tire widths up to 2.35 inches
        bicycles that weigh up to 55 lbs.”

        BUT goes on to say:

        “Some bikes have wheels that are too large or too far apart to fit in TriMet’s racks.”

        My bus driver lowered the bus for me to get to the rack, which would be helpful for a heavier bike or less physical ability… my bike frame is a women’s L and fit fine w room to expand a good 3 inches I’d say, but really that isn’t a complete view of max fit size. You might want to try out the tester rack at PSU.

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          Timo Forsberg March 13, 2020 at 3:41 pm

          Great discussion of multi-modal adventures!
          Two ideas – a potentially easier way to put the bike on the bus rack is to approach from the side and roll it on the back wheel to position the front wheel over the rack. Then (as best as possible) roll the front wheel forward in the rack while lifting the rear wheel. Essentially, try to use the power of rolling instead of doing a dead-lift (and potentially straining your back).

          This can also work for lifting onto the MAX hook: roll the bike vertical as the back wheel stays on the floor, then put your knee under the saddle and use your leg power to help lift the bike onto the hook.

          Also, some longer bikes will fit on the bus rack if you turn the handlebars toward the seat (a friend with an Elektra Townie told me about this trick).
          Happy (bike) (&) (transit) riding!

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    Sheilagh Griffin March 10, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    Haha, I still have my tri-met bike on bus card! As for bike capacity, this is what I use my folding bike for… I commuted to Wilsonville via bike + transit (and then Waze carpooling) and with a folding bike I knew I could 1) carry it on the transit 2) make connections that could not be made walking. I got the over 2 hour journey down to about 1.5 hours. Then when Waze carpooling I could ride to meet a carpool and be dropped off in a reasonable location convenient to my driver.

    Now I bought an electric car and I wish I could find a driver to share the journey with, I hate being a SOV!

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    Jason March 10, 2020 at 2:36 pm

    In principle, I love the city bus. It’s the best place to catch a second hand high. I just wish the bus drivers didn’t use the throttle like they were driving a Geo Metro. When I ride Tri-Met, I feel like a frog in a blender.

    As far as the distance threshold for riding a bus / train. I haven’t met it yet, probably 20+ miles per rush. I commute 23 miles a day, and I have no plans to drive or ride a bus. I will say, the bus drivers on my current route are much more mindful of my being there. But riding a bike is too much a part of my identity.

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    • Becky Jo (Columnist)
      Becky Jo (Columnist) March 10, 2020 at 4:47 pm

      20+ miles seems to be my threshold too. I can get from North Portland to SE 82nd or so and back, and still be able to function as long as I stop between for a snack. I did it one day without and accidentally took a nap on my couch afterwards.

      Jason: How long have you been biking? Or, rather, at what age did you start vs what age did it become part of you?

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        Jason March 13, 2020 at 6:49 pm

        Growing up, my folks knew the coowners of a bike shop, I was gifted a BMX bike in 4th grade, this was a prelude for greater things. I’m 46 and I bought my first production bike when I was in 7th grade. Which is when it really started for me. Until the age of 22 or so, I was a regular fixture at the bike shops in my home town.

        I have kept at least one bicycle around at all times. Aside from a few years in my 20s. Since the mid 90s, I’ve been a dedicated bike commuter. Partially due to working uodd hours and not have a car. I’ve taken a year off here or there, but for the most part, I’ve kept myself two tired. Not to say I’ve never owned a car.

        I’ve thought about the rationale for bike riding. For me, it’s just so much a part of my identity. But not in a way that makes me want to Lord it over anyone. At least don’t intend to come off that way. And it’s just so damn fun!

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    Keith Packard March 10, 2020 at 2:42 pm

    I ride my Brompton when I might end up on the MAX or a bus at a busy time. So far, I haven’t had any bus drivers question me when I haul it on board.

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    Jim Lee March 10, 2020 at 2:58 pm

    No need to restrict multimodal to poor (sic.) commuters.

    When one is retired (AHEM!) one can bus it to remote spots, i. e. Troutdale or Forest Grove, then ride back home, so doubling one’s radius of action.

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    • Becky Jo (Columnist)
      Becky Jo (Columnist) March 10, 2020 at 5:03 pm

      That’s an excellent point. Having grown up at the base of Mt. Hood, SAM and the Mt. Hood Express are heavily used by seasonal workers and high school kids working the slopes by pay or by recreation. My grandpa used to LOVE taking the free bus to Lincoln City/Chinook Winds. 😀

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    Mick O March 10, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    When I commuted from Sellwood to Hillsboro I would, of course, take Max. I found it handy to carry one of the 10-inch S-biner type clips in my bag that would allow me to hang my bike next to the existing Max bike hook if it was occupied. This was a few years ago so I don’t know if anything has changed that would prevent this

    Example: https://www.niteize.com/product/S-Biner-Plastic-10.asp

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    • Becky Jo (Columnist)
      Becky Jo (Columnist) March 10, 2020 at 4:57 pm

      My entire family has the key-chain-locking version of those S-biner clips in that brand – LOVE them. I bought one for every one of us. When I got on the MAX this time, I got on the low-floor car. I don’t think the bike hook + tire guide would handle another add-on bike in anyway that I can imagine without some serious personal/bike injury, but I’ll check the high-floor one next time.

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    raktajino March 10, 2020 at 10:13 pm

    I work in Vancouver and have done the intermodal cross commute (right now I carpool). The Hop card works for both TriMet and C-Tran, and has made my bus commuting MUCH easier.

    The Vine from downtown Vancouver to east Vancouver is like the MAX but as a bus, and I LOVE it. It’s faster than the routes it replaced, and putting my bike on one of the three roll-on racks is fairly easy, even for a tiny adult like me.

    The traditional buses are more frustrating. My bike experienced a lot of jiggling wear and tear sitting on the front of the 105 as it cruised up and down I-5, but that just meant I had to do basic maintenance more often, nothing more tragic. I’ve also taken the regional/limited buses (to Delta Park mostly). When the racks are full, the bus is usually empty enough that the driver lets me take my bike on.

    C-Tran has improved a lot in the 5+ years I’ve been working in the Couv. I don’t really ride my bike once I’m there–less than a mile from the VINE stop to my work–and I don’t trust Vancouver drivers any more than I trust Portland drivers. But the bus system has improved.

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    Fred March 11, 2020 at 7:11 am

    I have to echo what others have said here about my biggest barrier to “going intermodal” on buses with my bike:

    It’s the lack of certainty that I can get my bike on the bus b/c the two slots will be filled already.

    I’m waiting for Trimet to create “express bike priority” buses and routes: if I could catch a bus that allowed me to bring my bike aboard and guaranteed a large number of spots for bikes, such that I could be reasonably certain I’d get my bike aboard, I would take it regularly. Also this kind of bus could be much faster than a regular bus b/c stops could be 1-2 miles apart (cyclists could easily ride to and from these stops). The hard part would be displacing people w/o bikes, who would be unhappy about having to get off the bus when people with bikes needed to get on.

    Now I’m waiting for someone to tell me why Trimet could never do this (Federal regulations, ADA, the Napoleonic Code, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, etc).

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      El Biciclero March 11, 2020 at 8:58 am

      “…why Trimet could never do this…”

      It actually goes back to the Magna Carta, with some roots in the Code of Hammurabi…

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    X March 11, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    The next bike that I probably will never buy is a Brompton, exactly for this purpose!

    Second best, a reasonably light steel bike w/ distressed paint, internally geared hub, rim brakes, quick mounting bag, and compact handle bars. My current touring bike has been around the block so it doesn’t bother me to toss it in a luggage bay, but the combination of drop bars, bar end shifters, and derailleurs is not ideal for intermodal stuff.

    I wish Trimet would mount triple racks about 5 years ago. Seems to me they are sorta annoyed by bikes… it’s still a good way to get away from town for a tour.

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    Tushar Gupta March 12, 2020 at 2:21 am

    A folding bike can make your life easier in multi-modal cases: I commute on MAX with one and never have really to worry about lack of racks. It also makes it easy if you jump on Amtrak trains (although at least the Cascade ones always had slots when transported a “grown-up” bike for longer rides …) I bought my folding bike from https://www.ecitybike.com/

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    Michael Rioux March 12, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    Multi-modal transport is really, literally, not an option for someone like me, who, due to neurological injury, cannot ride anything but a specialized cycle. No surface mass-transit, all the way up to Amtrak, is accommodative of adaptive cycles (handcycles, recumbent trikes).

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    • Becky Jo (Columnist)
      Becky Jo (Columnist) March 12, 2020 at 4:17 pm

      Thank you so much for your input; I was hoping to get input like yours. This is something I feel should be addressed even more so than my able-bodied ability to intra- or multi- modal. Being I’m able-bodied, I’m more capable of figuring out alternatives to a line or every-other-bus or whatever needs to occur for options to exist for someone who needs it more.

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        Michael Rioux March 17, 2020 at 3:50 pm

        The problem, unfortunately, is one simply of infrastructure, more even than a lack of will to solve it (though that is a serious contributing factor as well). There has to be a concerted effort to seek out input from those with, for lack of a better term, special needs, and all too often those with those needs are forced to insert themselves into the conversation, and also all too often then sidelined. And then there has to be that will to address those needs as they are identified. But, even when that will does exist, and I’ll cite Amtrak here as one making serious effort to correct their infrastructure shortfalls for accommodating adaptive cycling, there’s simply the matter of cost. And *that* feeds back into that lack of will problem because, after all, we’re talking about a minority of users.

        As a dedicated serious cyclist, one who has been cycling for over four decades not for fun but for transportation, I’m used to dealing with an inability to be multimodal simply because many places I lived did not even have the option. So dealing with it from my new perspective as an adaptive cyclist really does not change my outlook, but it’s an additional barrier for new riders who aren’t confident and ready to simply tackle the challenges that they face. And that discourages many enough to stop them from even trying.

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    Josh March 13, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    I think of myself as fairly looped in on bike stuff, and I only recently heard about the practice rack at PSU. Not sure how they think the general public will discover it beyond that one mention buried on a single page on their website.

    They should have more of these practice racks. I’d like to see one in Pioneer Courthouse Square near the TriMet office, plus at other transit centers or community anchors around the region.

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    Spitch March 14, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    Just a warning that people often steal bikes off the Max trains. They wait until the doors are ready to close, then snatch the bike and run. I cable lock my bike when on the Max. I get up one stop before my own stop to unlock it, then stay by the bike until the doors open. With the cable lock, I don’t have to watch the bike constantly. Otherwise, I’d feel compelled to stand by my bike the whole ride. Cheers.

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