How to take your bike on Caltrain

August 28, 2017 • Transportation

How to take your bike on Caltrain

Biking anywhere for the first time can be intimidating. Taking unfamiliar public transit can be equally nerve-wracking. So it’s not surprising that some commuters get stuck when considering taking their bikes on Caltrain.

The good news? Doing the bike + Caltrain commute is one of those things you do once, and then you’re a pro. Plus it’s an efficient and enjoyable alternative to getting tangled up in traffic to and from work.

For Joe Ryan, a regular Caltrain + bike commuter from San Francisco to the Research Park, riding to the station beats out other modes: “Not to disparage public transit, but riding a bike is the quickest way for me to get to and from the train station and with an already lengthy commute, I can ill afford to spend more time commuting.”

Do you want to try riding and railing to work? Read on for a play-by-play that removes all the guesswork and will help you confidently take your bike on Caltrain for the first time.

Joe

"Riding a bike is the quickest way for me to get to and from the train station."

Joe

Bicycles to and from Caltrain

Type of bike

First, you’ll want to be able to easily lift your bike several feet off the ground to go up and down stairs. This doesn’t mean you should bring your carbon fiber racing bike aboard, however. Once on the train, bikes stacked on top of one another for storage—so a sturdier bike that won’t be bothered by minor scrapes and dings is recommended. A steel or aluminum city bike of a manageable weight should be fine.

Another great option is a folding bike. These bikes actually compact or fold, so they can be easily stored and moved. This is especially helpful when taking Caltrain during rush hour, since bikers get “bumped” from time to time.

Waiting in the right spot

Plan your ride to the station so you arrive at least five minutes before your train departs. Before boarding, be sure to buy a ticket, scan your Clipper card, or have your GoPass on you (note: there’s no extra charge for taking your bike on Caltrain). Then choose a spot on the platform where you can quickly access a bike car.

Trains typically have 2-3 bike cars, and the number of bike cars per train is listed on the engine or cab car. You'll be able to see it as it approaches the station. Bike cars are always the cab cars—located on the northernmost end of the train—and 1-2 cars in the middle of the train set. It’s easiest to wait for the train at the northern end of the platform; this ensures a short distance to the cab car once the train arrives.

Boarding and securing your bike

Caltrain bike cars themselves are marked by yellow signs. Depending on the type of train you’re riding on, your bike car will either have room to store 80 bikes or 24 bikes―typically enough space for all.

When your train arrives, lift your bike and walk up the stairs into the bike car. Once inside, you’ll need a yellow plastic bike tag. You can get these from the conductor, inside the bike cars themselves (sometimes), or download a template and make your own. The tags―which list origin and destination―help organize bikes onboard.

Bikes are stored four to a rack, and stacked on top of one another; use tags so other bikers boarding will know not to stack their bike on top of yours if their destination comes after. An ordered list of stops is affixed to the windows in bike cars, so check there if you’re not sure if “San Antonio” comes after “California Ave.” (Hint: It does if you’re on a southbound train).

After you have a bike tag and you’ve found a rack to store your bike (i.e. one where you won’t be blocking a bike getting off before yours), secure your bike by wrapping a provided bungie around the frame. If you need help here, look at how other bikes on the rack are secured.

There is usually enough room in the bike car for bikes and their riders. Try to sit close to your bike since bike thefts on Caltrain do happen, although they are rare. Feel free to lock your tire to your bike frame if you want to further discourage theft.

Exiting the train

As the train approaches your destination, go to the rack where you stored your bike; unlock it (if needed), remove the bungie, and remove it from the rack. Make sure to leave enough room in the aisle for other commuters who need to get by.

Once the train is stopped at the station, lift your bike, disembark, be sure to tag off if you’re using a Clipper Card, and then hit the road! Note that you must walk your bike on the platform.

Biking to work

If you’re riding to Stanford Research Park, check out the below routes:

Win prizes

This month, we’re promoting taking your bike on Caltrain for Bike to Work Day (every second Thursday of the month) by offering some sweet prizes. Log your September 14th trip on SRPGO.com to be entered to win either a $200 Clipper Transit Card or a $200 gift card for a customizable Timbuk2 backpack—your choice. And be sure to post a photo of you and your bike friend on social media with #SRPbikes.

Want more?

Here’s a helpful video that describes the process of taking your bike on Caltrain. Caltrain’s site also has good information, including a Bicycle FAQ. If you need specific help or would like someone to do your first bike + Caltrain commute with you, please email SRPGO@stanford.edu

Christopher

"The weather here is just prime for biking - I love it! In fact, I bike in a suit!"

Christopher

Bicycles to and from Caltrain

Bike Palo Alto is October 1!

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