Traveling with a bike (and a note on road riding with traffic)

This week, I’m in Chapel Hill, NC, working with some colleagues.  I flew down Sunday and, since I’ve been having so much fun riding back home, this time I brought my bike with me.

Since this is the first time I’ve ever tried to take a bike with me when I travel, I thought I’d sum up some of what I’ve learned:

  1. Amtrak.  Amtrak seems to welcome folding bikes but is spotty when it comes to full-size bikes.  Some trains are specially-equipped with bike racks to accommodate commuters.  But the train I took was not.  I had packed my bike in a hard case to protect it on the train.  These cases are not small.  Getting onto an Amtrak train is completely dependent upon the good graces of the conductor.  When the conductor saw me with my 3 foot by 4 foot case, he said “Looks a little oversized to me.”  But he let me on.  Later he asked me “What do you have in there?  A transmission?” and I told him it was a bike.  He rolled his eyes.  If your trip includes Amtrak, scope out the way before hand and be ready with a backup plan (I could call my wife if I needed to).
  2. Regional Rail.  These are the sorts of trains you’ll only find in the Northeast or around cities like Chicago.  They include commuter trains like New Jersey Transit or SEPTA.  I took the SEPTA from downtown Philly to the airport.  When I asked if I could leave the bike at one end of the train, they refused and made me take it to my seat.  I have seen people sit at the end of the train with their bikes on New Jersey Transit, though.  Be prepared to lug this thing with you everywhere.
  3. In the Air.  This is the one part of my trip I didn’t have a good alternative for, so I had to make sure it worked before I went.  USAIR will accept bikes but charges $80 (unless you have a folder that folds down really small).  I was only charged $25 because there was some confusion at the self-check kiosk and it treated my bike like extra baggage.  Southwest (my return flight) will charge you $50 to take a bike.  USAIR says they’ll take an un-boxed bike, but I really didn’t want to leave it in the hands of the baggage handlers like that.  For this trip, I rented a hard case.  I’ll probably be buying one in the near future.
  4. Taxi. A regular taxi cannot easily accomodate the bike case.  You’ll want to get a SUV or Minivan taxi.

Of course, bring along a tool set.  I deflated my tires because 120psi might do funny things at high altitude.  Next time I’ll pack a real pump instead of just the frame pump I have right now.

Finally, a note on the differences in traffic. I ride in traffic.  Lots of people are scared to do this.  Even many people who ride regularly are not comfortable riding in traffic.  And, to be sure, there are some frightening drivers out there.

In Lancaster County, though, there are plenty of biking Mennonites, so drivers know there are cyclists on the road.  They seem very accomodating and I haven’t had any problems.

Here in Chapel Hill, NC, a place filled to the brim with Liberal Eco-concious Hippie wanna-bes, when I travel just a little into the country, things get weird.  There are no shoulders to speak of on the road and drivers get a little cranky when they see me.  Most, of course, are great. But one or two this morning were noisily upset to see me in front of them.

For this, there is only one solution: more cyclists on the road.

3 thoughts on “Traveling with a bike (and a note on road riding with traffic)”

  1. Thanks for the heads-up and reminder on various travel modes. We’re going to Ohio to visit family this summer, and wanted to take a tandem, but the various big name airlines have awful bike policies.

    If only Alaska or Southwest flew into Toledo…

    On the frame vs floor pump, may I strongly recommend the Topeak Road Morph G? Frame pump, but with built in gauge and a short hose, so you can generate floor pump pressures without breaking the valve post off. Not a total replacement for the floor pump, but beats all other frame pumps and CO2 cartridges.

    1. Ah, yeah, a Tandem!

      Those are particularly difficult. Even airlines that take unboxed bikes will balk at a tandem.

      If you’re up to it, Sports Express ( can probably deliver it for around $200.

      If you want to try and under-bid that, you can try something like uShip (

      And thanks for the recommendation on a frame pump. I have a Bell frame pump similar to what you you describe, and while it didn’t break, I’ve bent the pump.

      1. Oh, for Alaska…

        Yeah, when we did our Alaska trip, Alaska Airlines offered $50 for any bicycle, one or two seats. The contract of carriage was a little ambiguous about whether that was per leg or per trip, though, so when the gate agent decided to charge us $75 on our flight back I didn’t contest the extra twenty five.

        For the most part what I’ve been told is that you take the handlebars off, turn the fork around, box it up and call it a bicycle, and for the most part you’ll just be billed as in any other bicycle. In our case, flying out of one small airport and into another, with a probable change in between airlines, meant that we’re gonna skip the bike this time.

        Besides, when I look at the prices of the various bike shipping services we’ll be cheaper renting a car…

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