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Bike Fun

By Janet Lafleur

About this blog: My love affair with the bicycle began with a crush on my first red tricycle that I pedaled in circles on the driveway. The crush grew into full-blown passion when my dad threw Stingray handlebars and a banana seat on my older sist...  (More)

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All Aboard! Taking your Bike on Transit

Uploaded: Jul 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:
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Enough already, a resident of Cuernavaca,
on Jul 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm

How many articles can you possibly write about biking? Serious question, just wondering.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Jul 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Enough already: That remains to be seen, doesn't it? But to put things in perspective, I have written over 400 posts on bicycling elsewhere so I think you may be stuck with me for a while. :)

Is there a particular bike-related topic of interest to you?

Posted by NSH, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Jul 11, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Enough Already: How many negative comments can you possibly write about something you don't enjoy? Serious question, just wondering.

Personally, I look forward to Janet's articles every week and I'm happy that the Voice is giving her space to write about something that's of interest to many in our community. If you feel differently, no one is forcing you to read something that is not of interest to you. (And certainly no one is forcing you to add more unpleasantness to the world through anonymous commenting.)

Janet: Back to the actual content of your article, my step-through bike isn't very light and I'm not very nimble, which has always made a bit concerned about my ability to get on and off the train safely and quickly. Any tips? (Also thanks for being gracious in the face of such grumpiness.)

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Jul 11, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@NSH You're right, it can be tough to get off and on the Caltrain with a heavy bike, especially on the old-style train cars that have three tall steps. But I can do it with my heavy city bikes, like the one you see in the photo.

What I do is stand on the left of the bike, reach over the bike and grab it low on the frame behind the seat tube. I lift it so that the weight of the bike in on my hip and the saddle in wedged in my airpit. The more weight I have on the rear rack the further back I grab it on the frame.

My left hand goes on the handlebar. Pushing down a little on the handlebar can act as a lever to help lift the rear. I'm 5'6" and I've gotten a 50 lb Dutch bike on the train this way but it took practice.

I hope this helps. It would be a lot easier to show in a video.

Posted by parent, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Jul 11, 2013 at 5:15 pm

I have seen people carrying their bikes on to Caltrain using a leather strap wrapped around the 2 vertical tubes of the frame. The strap apparently adds very little weight, but gives you a place to carry the bike comfortably and without affecting your balance too much. If you google "bicycle frame handle", you can see some photos and vendors.

Posted by Enough of Enough, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Jul 12, 2013 at 5:55 am

Enough, do you call up baseball writes and complain they talk about baseball too much? Do restaurant reviewers write about restaurants too much? How about travel many stories about trips abroad?
*You might want to notice the title of this blog. Its called "Bike Fun"
and I've noticed its become quite a bit more popular than other blogs in this space and since cycling is growing by leaps and bounds, I would take a big bite of a "get used to it" sandwich, and if that doesn't taste good, you can have a "Don't click on the story" cookie for dessert.

Posted by Scott Lamb, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Jul 12, 2013 at 8:13 am

Thanks for the article! I've never tried this and really should.

You mentioned each system's capacity for bikes, which leads me to wonder: how often are they full? Is the next train or bus that comes along likely to have space, or might you be waiting for a long time? I imagine I'm pretty safe on the weekends at least?

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Jul 12, 2013 at 9:15 am

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Scott Caltrain doesn't have as many overcrowding issues since they've gone to two bike cars per train. The issues are usually around big events like Giants games and parades or when there's another problem on the train line.

Starting in Mountain View helps since northbound trains are never full and there aren't that many times southbound trains are full past Mountain View, except maybe for Sharks games. If you're boarding in San Francisco to come home, arrive at the station 15 minutes early and you can line up in the station for a good spot.

For VTA, I've never hit a train with too many bikes, but I've seen plenty of buses with two bikes on the front rack. I've gotten lucky the half dozen times I've taken the bus. Then again, the VTA 22/522 on El Camino has buses every 12-15 minutes so if I had to wait it probably wouldn't be long.

Posted by MV Cyclist, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Jul 12, 2013 at 12:52 pm

One of my favorite tours on a bike involved cal-train and a pack of my friends (all riding abilities). The pace was leisurely and involved multitudes of stops to check things out along the way: We rode Cal-Train to SF, then rode up along the Embarcadero, stopping for a fresh pastry near the Cannery before continuing to the Presidio and Fort Point. After that we rode over the GG Bridge.
By then it was time for a brunch meal in Sausalito before continuing around to Tiburon. We then hopped the ferry to Angel Island where we rode around to check it all out the relaxed on the lawn while waiting for the ferry back to SF. Once back in SF we simply headed up the Embarcadero again and caught the train back to MV.
Its a full day, but its not as hard as it sounds, though you must be in _reasonably_ good shape. Its a memory making day :)

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Jul 12, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@MV Cyclist That's a classic route for a reason. You can ride past all the tourist spots and there's something amazing about riding across the Golden Gate bridge, no matter how many times you've done it before. So much fun to play tourist so close to home.

Posted by MV Cyclist, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Jul 12, 2013 at 2:33 pm

@Janet, agreed. Its so nice to be able to hit up places that a lot of times are stressful to drive to, but on the bike you simply roll through with a big fun grin. See something cool? Stop right away, check it out and off again...hmm I need to call some friends and plan another one of these :)
Enjoy the rides this weekend all!

Posted by Enough Already, a resident of Cuernavaca,
on Jul 13, 2013 at 4:30 pm

your posts provide alot of usefull information and are appreciated by many it seems.

Is there a particular bike-related topic of interest to you?

yes actually, slow moving bikes in the streets that think they are cars. It seems like they have no regard to cars what so ever. On el camino when they are in the number lane (i think thats nearest to the divide) casually riding drives me crazy! also not to vent but you did ask - what is proper procedure when a bike and a car arrive at the same time at a 4 way stop? bikes act like they always have the right away.

thanks in advance- i like your style of writing and articles.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Jul 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Enough Already Bicyclists have all the rights and responsibilities of drivers on all roads except freeways. That means that at four way stops bicyclist should take their turn with the same rules as drivers.

When bikes are traveling slower than the usual speed of traffic they should use the right lane unless they are avoiding an obstacle, passing another vehicle, or preparing for a turn. If the lane is two narrow for a bike and a car to travel side by side safely, the bicyclist may ride in the middle of the rightmost lane.

I suggest reading the full text of the law (CVS 21202) here: Web Link

Of course, people don't always follow laws regardless of whether they're driving, biking or walking, especially when it doesn't seem like a big deal to them. So drivers drive over the speed limit, bicyclists roll through stop signs and walkers cross roads against the traffic light (for example).

I find most people are courteous, which makes the rude drivers, bikers and walkers stand out more.

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