How to Take your Bike on the Bus

September 28, 2018 • Transportation

How to Take Your Bike on the Bus by Anna Walters, Bike Make Life Better

The first time I thought about putting my bike on the bus, I got a little panicky. In fact, so petrified was I that I wouldn’t be able to get the rack down, or I’d seat my wheels improperly and the driver would yell at me (or worse—I’d wind up with with a pancake for a bike), that I decided it was best to practice first.

Luckily the "end of the line" of one bus route was near my college, so one day I biked over and waited for a bus to shut off its engine and park. Then I begged the driver for a lesson. She was more than happy to show me how to release the front rack, hoist my bike on to it and secure both wheels. I was slightly embarrassed that I had even needed a tutorial in the first place.

When the time came to load my bike on the bus during a real live commute, I found I excelled at the task. If you’re thinking about pairing your bike commute with transit (do it—it’s easy!) here are some things to keep in mind:

Type of bike

Most bikes will fit on the exterior racks fitted to the front of buses, including VTA buses. You’ll need to be able to lift your bike 1-2 feet in the air to place it in the rack. If you need help you can always ask the driver, but it’s a best practice to ride a bike that you’re able to lift over impediments.

If you’d rather avoid loading bikes altogether, try a folding bike. These bikes compact or fold so they can be carried onto vehicles and stowed. Some even fit inside an overhead bin on an airplane when folded.

What to do when the bus arrives

Wait at the bus stop close to where you think the front of the vehicle will come to rest. When the bus approaches, signal to the driver that you have a bike you’d like to load. Drivers are used to cyclists loading their bikes, and may even lower the carriage of the bus to decrease the distance you’ll have to lift your bike. Once the bus stops and you’re sure the driver is aware of your intention, begin to load your bike.

How to load your bike

First you’ll need to lower the rack that sits flush with the front of the bus. It’s easy, but even so, the instructions are posted on the rack itself. First squeeze the top handle with one hand to release the rack. Continue squeezing and gently pull the rack away from the front of the bus and down. Once down, you can release the handle. You’ll likely hear a click when the rack is fully extended and locked into place.

Next lift your front wheel into the slot designated “front wheel.” As long as the bike wheels are kept parallel, the rear wheel will automatically come to rest in the appropriate space on the rack.

Once the bike wheels are seated, pull the hook lever out and up from where it rests, stretching it over the front wheel of your bike. Push the hook down over the top of the wheel, snug against the front fork. Then you should be all set! I like the give my bike a tiny shake to make sure it’s secure before boarding the bus.

A quick note on placement: Most bus bike racks have space for 2-3 bikes. If yours is the first bike on the rack, it’s courteous to place it in the open rack space closest to the bus itself. That way, others won’t have to lift their bikes over yours to access the rack.

But what do you do if the rack is already full of bikes? It depends on which transit service you’re taking, but in some cases drivers will allow bikes aboard, space permitting. Otherwise, you may have to wait for the next bus with available rack space. The VTA’s exact policy permits bicycles “onboard buses at the driver's discretion when:

a) The bus does not have a fully operational bicycle rack, or ;

b) The exterior rack is filled.”

Note that in this case, a maximum of two bikes are allowed on board and bicyclists are responsible for attending to their bikes when bringing them inside the bus. If you’re taking VTA Light Rail, it’s a maximum of six bikes allowed per car.

The VTA has additional helpful info on taking bikes on their vehicles. And if you’re a visual learner, this quick video goes over how to load your bike on a bus bike rack.

To lock or not to lock

I almost always answer this question with: to lock (of course!), but it is a matter of personal preference. I usually use my U-Lock to lock the front wheel to the frame so if anyone decides to lift my bike off the rack at a stop, they won’t get too far. But I’ve noticed most people don’t lock their bikes when they’re riding on the bus.

Where to sit on the bus

Feel free to sit anywhere that’s open, but I like to sit in the front so I can keep an eye on my bike as the bus travels along the route.

Exiting the bus and grabbing your bike

When you’re nearing your stop, start making your way to the front of the bus. When the bus stops, thank your driver and let them know you’ll be removing your bike from the rack. Once you know the driver understands your intention, step off the bus and walk in front to the rack.

Undo the hook arm from your front wheel and lay it down on the rack. Lift your bike off, then, if there are no other bikes currently on the rack, squeeze the metal handle again to unlock the rack from the down position. Lift up, and lean the rack flush against the front of the bus. Again, you’ll likely hear a click when the rack is locked in the upright position. Wave and/or smile at your driver as you wheel your bike to the curb and get ready to ride.

What about Caltrain?

Check out this post on how to get you and your bike on and off Caltrain the right way.

New Caltrain Shuttle Service

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